As we were going to press, city officials announced that, at long last (two and half years after Katrina), sufficient funds are now in hand to "jump-start" 119 priority restoration projects of damaged public facilities in the city. Though they are not among the costliest of projects, the list includes Armstrong Park and the adjacent Mahalia Jackson Theatre of the Performing Arts and Municipal Auditorium.
This should bode well for continuing work being done at the Jazz National Historical Park within the confines of Armstrong Park. Can we hope that, by the time of Satchmo Summer Fest in early August, this corner of the city will be accessible to the public once again?
For those wishing to track the progress of all of these ambitious and diverse projects, the city has established a website. It can be accessed by a link to the city's main website: www.cityofno.com. (Click on the Recovery Projects Information Website.)
On Feb. 9 the Jazz Park's Visitors' Center hosted a tribute to Al Hirt, organized by Sally Young and hosted by Jerry Brock. It featured the music of Hirt played by a band made up of alumni of his bands: Rene Netto (the senior member of the group who worked with Hirt for 10 years), clarinet and tenor sax; Ellis Marsalis, piano; Doug Potter, bass, and Freddy Staehle, drums. The role of Hirt himself was played effectively by Barney Floyd. All members of the band, especially Marsalis, shared many affectionate memories of the late trumpeter.
Other notable performances during February were a tribute to Mahalia Jackson featuring vocalists Marva Wright and Kim Prevost (along with husband Bill Solley) at the Old U.S. Mint on the 17th and a concert by Dr. Michael White's Original Liberty Jazz Band in the Music of New Orleans Series at the Contemporary Arts Center on the 22nd.
The annual spring Nickel-A-Dance series got off to an auspicious start on March 2 with a performance by Detroit Brooks and his Syncopated Percolators. It's not often that one gets to hear seven-piece bands around here anymore, and this was a particularly hot one: Gregg Stafford, trumpet and vocals; Michael White, clarinet; Freddy Lonzo, trombone; Steve Pistorius, piano; Brooks, banjo; Jesse Boyd, bass; and Gerald French, drums, and there was the added bonus of vocals by Detroit's sister, Juanita. A real treat for the large crowd gathered at Ray's Boom Boom Room on Frenchmen Street. Incidentally, Ray's will be hosting all future performances in this series, which continues every Sunday throughout March.
The full schedule of the silver anniversary edition of French Quarter Fest will not be made public until March 19 (for which see their website, www.fqfi.org), but we are told that it will include several "special events" in addition to the regular lineup of bands on 15 stages over the three-day weekend (April 11-13). We do know, thanks to Ralf Black who coordinates all of this, the names of the foreign bands that will be taking part this year. They are: Jack McLauglin's OZ band (Australia), the Bourbon Street Stompers (Germany), the Magnolia Brass Band (Canada), the Old Jazz Union (Germany), the Canal Creepers (Sweden), the Happy Pals (Canada), the Liberty Hall Stompers (England), KBR (Canada) and the multi-national Pontchartrain Owls. These bands will also be appearing daily (afternoons and evenings) at the Mississippi River Bottom, 515 St. Phillip Street (just off Decatur), April 9-14. This year's FQF promises to be special, so come on down if at all possible.
The Norwegian Seamen's Church, 1772 Prytania Street (Uptown), will also have a full schedule of musical events in April. Rabbersvigen Jazz Band from Norway (see www.rabbersvigen.no) will give an evening performance on April 10 and a jazz service on Sunday morning April 13. Topsy Chapman and Solid Harmony with Norwegian trombonist Gunnar Gotaas will perform in concert on April 18. The fine Swedish band Kustbandet will give a concert on April 23. The annual "Crawjam" (all the crawfish you can eat) will be on April 26 and feature the music of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers with Swedish trombonist Gunhild Carling. A jazz service on Sunday, April 27 features the Norwegian band Gronnes Bad og Jazz, and the well-known Norwegian band Ytre Suloens Jass-Ensemble will appear in concert on April 28. That's a lot, but there will be more to report next time for May.
As part of its Tom Dent Congo Square Lecture Series, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation presented the premiere screening of the film Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans on Feb. 16. Written and narrated by local journalist Lolis Eric Elie, the hour-long documentary is the account of his personal discovery of the fascinating history of the neighborhood. Combining post-Katrina footage with never-before-seen archival footage, the film has already received considerable critical acclaim. It will be shown again on public television later this year. In the meantime, it is available on DVD through California Newsreel (www.newsreel.org).