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Jazz Fest Roils Frederiksted Waterfront

Nov. 17, 2007 — Rhythm and blues, funk, boogie woogie and straight-ahead jazz echoed off the brick and stone of the Frederiksted waterfront Friday on the first night of the St. Croix Blue Bay Jazz Fest. Walking up and down Strand Street among the well behaved throng were a veritable who's who of St. Croix society, with senators, commissioners and characters mingling with musicians and tourists, saying hello to friends, eating drinking and dancing.
""It looks like the night life is coming back to Frederiksted," Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said, when cornered in Buddhoe Park on his way to the stage."People clearly are thirsting for something and want to come out to something like this. If we can keep this up without any incident, I predict it will continue to grow."
From before dusk to long after midnight, all of Strand Street was one big party, with entertainment provided by some of New Orleans' current best.
The New Orleans Trumpet Summit, composed of five of the best Big Easy trumpet players, opened with a string of Louis Armstrong and other old-school jazz classics and modern interpretations. James "12" Andrews and his brother Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, of the large musical Andrews family, Christian Scott and Marlon Jordan of the Jordans, another New Orleans family with several generations of musicians. The Trumpet Summit smoked, though down one man. Kermit Ruffin, co-founder of legendary Rebirth Brass Band, was unfortunately held up by difficulties at the airport. The Summit went on without a hitch.
Henry Butler, the blind keyboard prodigy called "the pride of New Orleans" by fellow ivory tickler Dr. John, took the waterside stage across from the Caribbean Museum Center next. Backed by electric bass, guitar and drums, Butler belted out boogie woogie classics, early rhythm and blues numbers and his own distinctive originals.
Bringing people to their feet and dancing to his infectious, uptempo rhythms, Butler sprinkled his repertoire with tunes that have become emblems of New Orleans and Mardi Gras: Robert Parker's "All Night Long," "Hey Pocky-Away," made famous by the Funky Meters, and Professor Longhair's street party classics "Going to the Mardi Gras" and "Big Chief."
The tempo and volume came down a bit when Stephanie Jordan and the Jordan Family hit the stage at nine o'clock. Backing up Stephanie Jordan's haunting vocals were sister Rachel on violin, brothers Kent on flute and Marlon on trumpet. Mike Esnault on keyboards, Peter Harris on bass and drummer John Jones rounded out the sextet.
Restaurants and cafés along Strand and King streets were filled with musicians, crew members, tourists and locals, drinking, making friends and talking music.
Alvin Batiste Jr. was over at Pier 69 for a bit in the early evening. Batiste Jr., is son of Alvin Batiste Sr., a famed New Orleans music teacher who taught Butler, Wynton Marsalis and a legion of New Orleans greats. The elder Batiste passed earlier this year, just prior to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and was honored at this year's festival, Batiste said.
Perched on another stool there was Judd Nielsen, a 21-year-old transplant to New Orleans hailing from Brooklyn. Nielsen plays keyboard for Trombone Shorty and the Orleans Ave. Band, who take the stage Saturday, leaving Nielsen free to relax and sample the fruits of St. Croix for the first time.
Nielsen shared some insights and anecdotes about the musicians and the New Orleans brass band heritage from which they spring. "Trombone Shorty," a/k/a Troy Andrews, is younger brother to famed trumpeter James "12" Andrews, Nielsen explained.
The Andrews come from the musically rich Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans' 6th Ward, the cauldron that produced Louis Armstrong. Ruffin too came out of Tremé.
"He's keeping his New Orleans roots while branching out in other directions," Nielsen said, when asked to describe the band's influences. "Troy's direction is real thick New Orleans, authentic to the roots, and on the flip side he's pulled in rock, pop and funk, which grew out of those roots."
Trombone Shorty and the Orleans Ave. Band have been touring with another famed New Orleans band: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who revolutionized New Orleans jazz in the late '70s, bringing funk and bebop into the brass band form. They inspired Ruffin to co-found the Rebirth Brass Band and continue to inspire and move audiences and fellow musicians.
Nielsen shared a little-known (outside of New Orleans) bit of history about the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
"The cool thing about the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is the name has nothing to do with the number of band members, though people think it is," he said. "Sometimes there are a dozen and sometimes not. The name is from a social club."
New Orleans has a number of old, storied social clubs, many of whom put together teams and floats for Mardi Gras parades. The Zulu social club and its Krewe of Zulu is the most famous example. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band was the house band for the Dirty Dozen social club, Nielsen said.
The party kept on going after the New Orleans visitors left the stage. Stanley and the 10 Sleepless Knights hit the main stage with their distinctive blend of quelbe and jazz. The Eddie Russell Quelbe Latin Jazz Band struck up at Pier 69 and music filled the town from all directions until long after midnight.
The festival winds down on Sunday, with bands at Frederiksted's Blue Moon and Sand Castles restaurants in the morning, then moving to Christiansted in the afternoon for a jazz crawl, with bands in the restaurants and shopping specials throughout the town.
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