Sylvain Music Notes -- The St. Croix Blue Bay Jazz Fest 2007 let loose a star-studded compact of New Orleans Jazz greats and the very best that St. Croix has on offer in a four-day long event from Thursday, November 15 to Sunday, November 18. Bridget Dawson, Executive Director of the Frederiksted Economic Development Association, proclaimed the festival the "best event in nearly 20-years on the island," touting the economic boom to the local downtown economy.
Bill Kassler writes, "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.
The New Orleans Trumpet Summit, composed 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, made the "Trumpet Summit" sizzle. James, who is also known as "Satchmo of the Ghetto" has a way of making his audience dance to tradition jazz tunes.
Henry Butler, the blind keyboard player from the Crescent City brought the waterside crowd to their feet with a series of rhythm and blues numbers. "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."
Stephanie Jordan and the Jordan Family held true to the straight-ahead jazz style which has become their signature sound. Opening with "Fly with the Wind," brothers Kent Jordan used the tune to show his range on the piccolo while Marlon Jordan’s feature on "The Great City" exposed St. Croix to his encyclopedic knowledge of the entire jazz trumpet tradition. During their performance of "Here’s to Life" it was as if even the waves were listening to every lush word uttered by Stephanie. No wonder she has been called the "Classy Lady of Jazz."
Backing up the Jordan family were Mike Esnault on keyboards, Peter Harris on bass and drummer John Jones. Stephanie held the crowd captured by her silky voice and fluid movements, more than earning the label the "JazzHot!"
The Jordan Family paid special tribute to their late uncle, jazz clarinetist Alvin Batiste, performing two selections, one from Batiste’s Music D’Afique Suite and the latter from the Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste CD. Stephanie led the group in an up-tempo bounce blues of "My Life Is a Tree" which had the crowd tapping and singing along to the vocals written by Edith Batiste which is a message about steadfastness. On "Glimpses", sister Rachel Jordan played a stunning violin solo which had the audience mesmerize in a trancelike state.
This year’s inaugural Blue Bay Jazz Fest was dedicated to the memory of the late clarinetist Alvin Batiste who died at 74 on May 6, 2007. His wife was on hand to recite a poem in his honor. While the ideal for the New Orleans-theme festival was hatched in St. Croix and cultivated by Dawson, it was Alvin who made the suggestion of selected artists.
"We had so much fun on St. Croix we hate to go back home," said trumpeter Christian Scott in a pre-show interview. "St Croix's culture, architecture and cuisine are really special," Scott told interviewer Carol Buchanan. Scott said his music blurs the lines between neo-soul, indie rock and 19th century Western classical music. His sextet performed selections such as "Like That" from their latest CD, "Anthem."
Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and his band Orleans Avenue, got the evening heated up with funk, pop, hip-hop and a mix of jazz in tunes "I Want My Money Back," "Orleans Claiborne" and "Act Bad 5th Ward Weebie." The group took the audience down a musical voyage from James Brown to Morris Day and The Times with a bit of New Orleans brass thrown in for good measure.
Their performance transcended generations. "This is doin' it," said Harold DeMund, dancing with his wife Norma, both in their 60s.
"These young lions amaze me," said Jerry Jones, DJ from Mongoose radio 104.9, and master of ceremonies for jazz fest. "It sounds like they have been playing and playing together for 40 or 50 years."
Saturday’s headliner Donald Harrison Jr. and his band started off set with Louis Armstrong's classic tune, "What a Wonderful World." Their rendition of the Jackson Five's "Want You Back," got the crowd shaking. Joining alto saxophonist Harrison in a jam session was pianist Henry Butler, Harrison's nephew Scott and Andrews.
The week began on Thursday, November 15 with an invitation-only Hugo to Katrina benefit hosted by the United States Virgin Islands Governor John deJongh Jr. and FEDA at the Government House in St. Croix. Lieutenant Governor Gregory Francis welcomed the New Orleans musicians and thanked them for sharing their musical talents with the people of St. Croix. He spoke of the many similarities between New Orleans and St. Croix.
"All in all, the Blue Bay Jazz Fest promises to become a major event on the Caribbean’s Jazz calendar so long as the producers can come up with exciting rosters in the future as was conceived for this year’s edition. The concept, New Orleans style, is unprecedented in our region to my knowledge" according to a St. Croix jazz enthusiast.
"All the seats on flights to St. Croix are full and hotels are close to capacity," added Rupert Ross, chairman of the board of directors of FEDA. "St Croix is a sleeping giant awakening and we're making it happen." Entertainment at the Governor’s Ballroom was provided by St. Croix’s Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights with a cameo performance by Donald Harrison.