Annual festival in New Orleans honors the memory of jazz musicians who have passed on
Annual festival in New Orleans honors the memory of jazz musicians who have passed on

The 41st annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is taking place in the city where jazz was born.  Over a period of seven days the Festival will be visited by approximately 400,000 jazz music fans from around the United States, as well as from foreign countries.  Proceeds from the Festival will go to support educational and cultural programs, and to aid struggling musicians.  The Festival combines the music, culture and traditions that are unique to New Orleans. 

This is the way New Orleans honors the memory of musicians who have passed on.  There is joy and sadness and again joy.   After all, this is the way the departed would have wanted it.  A jazz funeral during a Jazz Festival is an old tradition here.

It is a great honor for the deceased to be memorialized in this park -- considered sacred to musicians and others who made major contributions to the history of jazz.  And for the living, it is considered an honor to be invited to take part in the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

Musician David Egan says it is his favorite festive and that he was honored to be invited.

Over a period of seven days, the sounds of jazz, as well as other musical genres that trace their roots to New Orleans jazz, will pour from 12 stages set up at the local horse racing track.

Leroy Jones has been playing jazz for about 40 years.  He first fell in love with the music at age 12.

"From jazz came the other so-called popular forms of music -- combinations of different genres of music to make it a different type of sound.  But the basis, the foundation, is rooted in jazz, which started in New Orleans," he said.

The music performed by this group of young musicians, who call themselves Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars, is an example of the mix of styles that evolved from jazz and other local forms of music.

"It crossed many genres," Roddie Romero, band leader explained.  "You know, we're Cajun, we're Zydeco, we're a little bit Funk, we're a little bit R&B,  All of the above."

The first New Orleans Jazz Festival in 1970 drew only 350 jazz lovers.  This year approximately 400,000 people intend to have a good time at the festival, despite a pouring rain on the first day of the event and a sea of mud on the second.  
Organizing an event on this scale requires the effort of thousands of  workers and volunteers.  But it's not just a matter of putting in the hours [doing the work].

"This festival is 41 years old now.  So it takes, to do it at this level, all those years of expertise, and I think a lot of heart, actually, and a feel for the culture of New Orleans," said Louis Edwards, who has worked on the organizational committee for the past 25 years.

New Orleans is an ideal place to hold a festival.  Musician Joe Krown says the city truly breathes music. "There's just so much going on.  Everybody wants music for everything.  They don't have a meal without having music.  They don't, you know, have an event without having music.  It's in the middle of everything," he said.

The city draws jazz musicians from around the world.  Katja Toivola experienced the Jazz Festival 15 years ago as a tourist from Finland and fell in love with New Orleans.  She has now been living here for almost 10 years. "Playing traditional jazz, New Orleans, out of the whole world, New Orleans really is the best place to do it," she stated.

The New Orleans Jazz Festival is neither the biggest nor the oldest such event in the world.  It is, however, unique -- being held as it is in the city that is the cradle of jazz.  Jazz has now been eclipsed in popularity by some of the musical styles it helped give birth to, but it remains a beloved and uniquely American art form.

Narration by Wayne Bowman