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Jazz Fest Day 2: Billy Joel Offers Honesty on Honesty, and New Orleans Legends Get Their Due

04/28/2013 02:38 am ET | Updated Apr 28, 2013
Jeff Beninato

Deacon John Moore offered a crystalline take on Steely Dan's Deacon Blues at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest on Saturday. Rounding the festival track later, my husband told Moore he remembered him playing his CYO dances in high school. "I was so much older then," Deacon John said with a smile.

By day two of Jazz Fest, serendipity takes over at the racetrack. At the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra, a crowd outside the packed tent was dancing as enthusiastically as those inside. We stayed for awhile, then danced through.

Jason Marsalis drew us in with a xylophone set so intense, it could levitate the extras in Fantasia. Gerald French & The Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, a jazz band over a century old, played a tribute to the late, great, ever-outspoken Bob French.

Bob, never one to mince words, would have enjoyed Billy Joel's honesty. After playing The Entertainer, Joel said: "Every once in a while I wrote a bullshit song. Honesty ..."

He was like a truth volcano. But Honesty is more than balanced by Allentown, which he played next.

Joel touched on the fact that almost eight years ago, the East Coast watched Hurricane Katrina, "And we all wondered what would happen if one did hit New York. And it did, we got Hurricane Sandy. So we know how you felt. We're trying to rebuild, we're taking inspiration from you guys..."

For years, Jazz Fest was the annual cathartic gathering as we all slowly came home from cross-country evacuation locations. So it's a welcome change, to be looked to as inspiration for city of resilience, rather than a worst-case scenario.

Joel was the breakout hit of the 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief, if one can be a breakout hit after a lifetime career. From the first lines of Miami 2017, Saturday's festival crowd was rapt. "The storm came out beyond the Palisades, out in the Rockaways the oceans overflow..."

Down the track from Joel, the tribute to Sidney Bechet offered songs from the pantheon of a New Orleans music legend. From Dr. Michael White to Donald Harrison to Roderick Paulin, the stage overflowed with jazz masters. Bandleader Leroy Jones introduced Summertime with the side note that Bechet accomplished something unusual in 1959 with a George Gershwin tune recorded with New Orleans flair: "A hit jazz record."

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Deacon John

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Jason Marsalis

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Allen Toussaint

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Billy Joel

Photos by Jeff Beninato