International Jazz Day was celebrated, appropriately enough, in the city where jazz was born on the 4th day of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2015.
From the steps of the New Orleans Museum of Art, musicians Terence Blanchard and Poncho Sanchez led a second line parade into the gates of Jazz Fest and the music didn't miss a beat. New Orleans musicians from Jelly Roll Morton to Buddy Bolden to Louis Armstrong gave jazz its start, and the music is still performed by family bands like The Paulin Brothers who held court at the Economy Hall stage on what's known as Local's Day.
Paulin patriarch, Ernest "Doc" Paulin lived to 100 and having founded his band in the early 1920's, he was one of the pioneers of jazz. Doc played with Kid Ory, Danny Barker and Papa Celestine back when jazz seemed like something that just may catch on. "We learned it in the street," Rickey Paulin said. "Daddy would say - play something background." His widow Betty was watching her sons stage-side at Jazz Fest and Rickey said, "Our mother is the glue that holds the family together. She's watching very intently for any mistake, and then she's gonna sock it to us."
Rickey can more often be found in the French Quarter busking on a clarinet that could hold its own on a world stage, with a smile that seems a mile wide and raspy singing voice that suits his genre. His "Give Me a Kiss to Build a Dream On" had the festival crowd slow-marching to a second line, umbrellas and all. Dwayne Paulin held down the trombone with Aaron Paulin on bass drum, Philip Paulin on trumpet and Ronell Johnson on sousaphone.
As undulating umbrellas and white hankies floated past courtesy of the Second Line Jammers Social Aid & Pleasure Club, Rickey told them: "Awww come on up ladies, I see you - only in New Orleans." From 8 to 80 they danced past because you're clearly never too young or too old to funky dance to Professor Longhair's "Go To The Mardi Gras." The band recognized friends and neighbors with a: "How you doin' my Baby?" Rickey said, "Our fans come from around the world and they come see about us and our city."
The Economy Hall Jazz Tent's crowd is loyal to a fault. They come year after year, some bringing their own seat cushions to truly settle into when not second lining. Overall the crowd isn't as young as the hordes waiting for big stage headliners, but one young fan danced past sporting a FESTING IS MY CARDIO tee shirt. All ages and nationalities still love jazz; because as a genre the door is wide open. The end of Milneburg and Storyville didn't kill it. Hurricane Betsy 50 years and Katrina 10 years ago didn't kill it. Streaming music and the music business itself didn't kill it. Jazz is still alive and kicking at Jazz Fest on International Jazz Day. As Rickey put it: "It's about love. It's about tradition. It's about y'all."
Photos by Jeff Beninato