This year marks the 50th annual edition of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. To celebrate, Smithsonian Folkways will release Jazz Fest, a five-disc box set of live recordings from the iconic fest, spanning 1974 through 2016. You can preview the set now with Trombone Shorty’s hard-grooving 2010 version of “One Night Only (The March),” a track from his album Backatown, which came out that same year.
The set’s 53 tracks span the various genres represented at Jazz Fest, while putting the focus on local artists rather than big-name headliners. Disc One covers jazz; Discs Two and Three spotlight blues, R&B and gospel; Disc Four features Cajun and zydeco artists; and Disc Five winds the set down with everything from funk to hip-hop.
In addition to Trombone Shorty, New Orleans greats represented on the set include Allen Toussaint (who appears several times, once in a duet with Bonnie Raitt), Irma Thomas, the Funky Meters, Earl King (heard in a 1974 recording), Donald Harrison, Terence Blanchard, Kermit Ruffins, Buckwheat Zydeco, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Professor Longhair, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, BeauSoleil, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, Henry Butler and Big Freedia (captured at the 2016 fest).
The set also includes a series of essays and recollections dealing with the history of the fest, plus detailed notes on each track. In a foreword, Jazz Fest producer George Wein — also the man behind the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals — looks back at the circumstances surrounding the creation of the fest. As Wein writes:
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“In 1962 Jim Crow was king; the jazz world was controlled by those who still worshipped Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver who never gave up looking for the holy grail of the Buddy Bolden disc. The Mardi Gras Indians were unknown to the outside world, Fats Domino represented New Orleans music to Americans in general; contemporary jazz (bebop at the time) was only a small segment of the jazz community and Wynton Marsalis was one year old.
“After working through a maze of political problems in both the jazz and civic world, it was with a sense of joy that in spite of the fact that my wife Joyce was African American, we would be able to present the type of festival that I felt belonged in New Orleans.”
The 50th installment of Jazz Fest kicks off on April 25th. Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is out May 10th. [Preorder here]