Every year, one of my absolutely favorite times to be in New Orleans is for the two weekends of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which everyone calls “Jazz Fest.” It starts this Friday, April 28, 2023, and runs through Sunday. For the second weekend, it starts on Thursday, May 4, 2023 (known as “Locals Thursday” because many of the out-of-town tourists haven’t arrived yet) and runs through Sunday, May 7, 2023. Despite the name, “Jazz” is only a small part of the music. Yes, there is the WWOZ Jazz Tent, dedicated to great Jazz music. But there are 12 other music stages with every kind of music that you can imagine: rock, country, blues, gospel, cajun, R&B, and more. And Jazz Fest isn’t even just about the music: the food is equally impressive. The competition to even be able to serve food is fierce, and the food offerings are amazing. There is also a stage where famous and not-yet-famous chefs show off how to make popular dishes (and typically provide samples). Plus, there are tons of arts and crafts to browse and purchase.
If you look at the list of artists for the first weekend, you get a sense of how wonderful and diverse the music is. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Jason Marsalis, Kermit Ruffins, Wu-Tang Clan, Charmaine Neville, Galactic, Michael White, Ed Sheeran, Steve Miller Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Kenny Loggins, Los Lobos, and so many more. For more information on many of the artists, I recommend downloading a copy of this week’s issue of Gambit, a free alternative newspaper in New Orleans. (Click the download link at the top left of the viewer to get a PDF version, which is easier to read on an iPad or a computer than the web-based viewer.)
But better yet, why not listen to those artists? Many people have that one friend that you turn to for music advice, For decades, for me, that has been Bill Kelly, founder of Kelly Law Partners in Denver. Bill has an appreciation for classic artists while also somehow being keenly aware of the best new acts. And he is an even bigger Jazz Fest fan than I am.
To get in the mood for Jazz Fest this year, Bill created a playlist composed of artists playing at the first weekend of Jazz Fest, and he picks out one great song for each artist. It’s not quite everyone who is playing this weekend, but it is pretty darn close. I was surprised to see a song on the list by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, a band started by Louisiana native Joseph Nathan “King” Oliver in Chicago in 1920s. Louis Armstrong played with that band. It turns out that this year is the 100th anniversary of some of the best music released by that band. So this year, there is a tribute to that groundbreaking band at Jazz Fest, led by Don Vappie.
After Bill shared the playlist with me, he said that I could share it here on iPhone J.D. This is an Apple Music playlist, but if you instead use Spotify, I know that there are many ways to transfer a playlist from Apple Music to Spotify, so hopefully you can listen to on your music service of choice. I’ve listened to this playlist many times now, and it is fantastic.
Alas, I will not be at Jazz Fest this year. As I explained at the end of the last episode of the In the News podcast, I recently had an orthopedic surgery, so my leg is in a cast for four weeks, making it difficult to get around. No Jazz Fest for me. But at least with this playlist, and streaming music from WWOZ, I can appreciate some of the music. If you are not attending Jazz Fest this year either, with this playlist, now you can do the same.