Monday, May 5, 2008

Sisters and Brothers

Yesterday might have been the most perfect day for Jazz Fest that I've experienced since my halcyon days as a footloose and fancy-free bachelor. True, there was quite a bit of residual mud left over from several days of downpours and sloshing by festival goers, but the music and spirit of revelry carried the day. Despite cloudless skies, the sun was moderate and, with a generous application of sunscreen quite manageable. Copious amounts of water enabled me to keep hydrated throughout the day and I found the humidity levels much more tolerable due to the cold front that moved through on Saturday. The day began for me at Economy Hall, where I had a third row seat for the Pfister Sisters. The Pfister Sisters have been together since the 1980s as a tribute vocal group to the Boswell Sisters, the original jazz vocal group of three real New Orleanian siblings who took the nation by storm in the Roaring Twenties. The Pfister Sisters, Holly Bentsen, Yvette Voelker, and Debbie Davis, have recaptured the intricate jazz harmonies of the Boswells (Martha, Vet and Connee) to perfection, lovingly mixing them with their own original compositions like "Laissez Faire" and "Down at the Jazz Fest." If any group could ever represent the sweetness and slightly naughty nature of New Orleans's fairer sex, it would, no doubt, be the Pfister Sisters. Debbie Davis, who took over the important midrange vocals from her early predecessor Suzy Malone, added ukulele to the program and asked her husband, sousaphonist Matt Perrine, to accompany the group on stage. Oddly, two other musicians with the same first names, guitarist Matt Johnson and violinist Matt Rhody, were also heard and seen onstage to enhance the heavenly vocals of the Pfister Sisters. Amasa Miller, a gifted pianist, who is also known as Charmaine Neville’s musical director, led the entire musical ensemble. Following the show I made sure to get to the front of the line to have them sign their new CD, "Puttin' It On," titled after an original Boswell Sisters classic. When in town for the French Quarter Festival a few weeks back, well-known cabaret singer and songwriter Amanda McBroom noted at her last show at Le Chat Noir that she was incredibly impressed with the Pfister Sisters. That was a great tribute from a great source and I so informed the Pfister Sisters, who were cooling down from a hot performance. Following a bit of Festival food, I headed over the to the Professor Longhair Acura Stage, where I encamped for the remainder of the day. Up first was Carlos Santana, who brought back many of his classic early hits like "Jingo," "Black Magic Woman," "Oye, Como Va," and "Soul Sacrifice" along with new hits like "Maria, Maria" and "Smooth." The very sultry and sexy guitar stylings of Santana were a perfect intro to the deans of New Orleans music, the Neville Brothers, who appeared for the first time at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival since Hurricane Katrina. The set was mostly old time favorites like "Yellow Moon," "Brother John/Iko Iko," "Meet de Boys on the Battlefront," and "Fire on the Bayou." By far and away the most anticipated part of the Nevilles act was the angelic voice of Aaron Neville, who dedicated several of his selections like "Tell It Like It Is" and closer "Amazing Grace" to his late wife Joel. Aaron has recently relocated back to New Orleans, after living in Tennessee for most of the last three years. Towards the end of their set, the Nevilles invited Carlos Santana to sit in with them for a song to the delight of the audience who could see the stage directly or those watching on two huge video screens on either side of the stage. Sometime as the sun set on the massive crowd assembled in the infield of the historic Fair Grounds, I knew I had finally arrived back in the city of my birth. The Nevilles were on the Jazz Fest stage closing things out. The crowd was swaying back and forth to the music. Everyone was happy and God was in his place in the universe.

No comments: