The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds Race Course continued Sunday (April 26) with performances by Pitbull, Allen Toussaint and Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett. Here are the highlights from day 3 of Jazz Fest 2015.
1:55 p.m. Beninese-American singer/songwriter Angelique Kidjo flung herself into her funky Congo Square Stage set like a colorful whirling dervish. Kidjo sprung to life, singing mostly funky uptempo songs in English, French and Western African languages like Fon and Yoruba. Ever the activist, she dedicated one song early in her set to increased education in the developing world. “When we invest in girls’ education, the GDP of a country goes up,” Kidjo said, extolling its many virtues. “Those girls know what time it is and want to take the lead in their own lives.”
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2:30 p.m. The Neville Brothers have long defined funk music in New Orleans. Siblings Aaron, Art, Cyril and Charles Neville — the sax player of the brothers, interviewed on the Alison Miner Music Heritage Stage on Sunday– have performed together and solo in various configurations since 1977. But they’ve performed together all too rarely in the last 10 years. That’ll change with Nevilles Forever: A Celebration of the Neville Brothers and Their Music, an all-star tribute to their family music legacy created by Keith Wortman with musical director Don Was, taking place in New Orleans on Saturday night. If what Charles says is any indication, fans will come all over the world to see the brothers’ first reunion in almost three years.
“I see [our music] becoming recognized as part of the spirit of America and not just something that happens in New Orleans,“ Charles said. “Even musicians all around the world have been influenced by it. We’ve played with some bands in Japan and they can play it just like the cats in New Orleans.”
3:40 p.m. You could be forgiven for perceiving the worlds of secular top 40 and gospel/Contemporary Christian music as different industries — different planets — altogether. Notable crossovers of both markets today (Katy Perry, Michelle Williams) are rare. But there’s no questioning which of them has more passion and fire in the belly. The First Lady of Gospel Shirley Caesar makes that clear. Comparisons to Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and the late Whitney Houston — all rooted in gospel themselves — are justified when it comes to the kind of fandom Caesar inspires in the gospel world. When she stepped down from the Gospel Tent stage Sunday afternoon, the seated front row descended upon her for pictures and a touch of her hand. Caesar, dressed in an elegant dark-red gown, flanked by her vocal ensemble, owned the crowd for her hour long set, there for Jazz Fest’s version of Sunday church.
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4 p.m. Another musician exuding regality, Allen Toussaint, played opposite Caesar on the Gentilly Stage. For fans of ’70s R&B, Toussaint is a songwriting legend that has songs you don’t even know you know (“Lady Marmalade”, “Mother in Law”, “Workin’ in a Coal Mine”, “Southern Nights” and so on). He played through these enshrined New Orleans standards, as well as “Get Out of My Life Woman,” which Toussaint claimed was his most re-recorded hit (most notably by The Grateful Dead). The end of his set featured one of his sidemen vamping on jazz flute, making the likes of Ron Burgundy seem amateur by comparison.
5:20 p.m. Standing in a muddy field isn’t the optimal setting to enjoy show tunes and vocal jazz standards, but tell that to the thousands of people packing the Gentilly Stage to see Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. The classy pair, backed an orchestra worthy of Frank Sinatra, took turns solo and duetted on some of the finest songs from the Great American Songbook: “Anything Goes”, “Cheek to Cheek” and “Sing, You Sinners”, among others. “The record company says, ‘You only do old songs.’ That’s because I don’t like the new ones,” Bennett cracked wise on stage.
Bennett continued on, with his rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and “World on a String”, while Gaga joined him for “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and, near the end of their set, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”.
Sadly, the crowd to see the duo was so large, they were difficult to hear at the end of the Gentilly Stage’s field, at one point inspiring at least one pocket of the crowd to chant “Turn it up!” The technical difficulties were eventually fixed and Gaga, as usual, gave a feast for the eyes, darting on and off stage for as many as eight costume changes, one inspired by Marilyn Monroe, another by Jessica Rabbit.
5:45 p.m. Don’t doubt for even a second that Pitbull has earned his Mr. Worldwide nickname. Before his Jazz Fest set on Sunday, he and his crew and performers flew in from a gig in China. The rapper said the Chinese crowd didn’t quite get his “roof is on fire” chant, introducing “Fireball”, one of many club-ready jams the rapper had at the ready. He kicked it off with a rousing “Don’t Stop the Party” followed by “International Love”, “Get It Started” and “Rain Over Me”, among other bangers.
In between short snippets of rock-radio hits from the band (“Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), Pitbull’s music sounded and felt like an EDM show with an charismatic emcee at the helm. And he looked like he was having the time of his life, throwing himself into the live show, leading cheering section of attendees from Latin American countries, one by one (Mexico cheered the loudest). Pitbull put out so much energy, his shirt was noticeably soaked through with sweat 30 minutes into a 90-minute set. But, hey, that’s what hard work looks like. Dale.