While scrolling through twitter late Monday Night/early Tuesday Morning I saw a tweet by @Elementsofjazz with a link to the official lineup for the New Orleans Jazz Festival. I was shocked when after reading through the article all I read about was Elton John, Lady Gaga, No Doubt, and T.I. Not a single well known Jazz artists headlining! How can this be? I was filled with anger and confusion. I sat there for a few minutes trying to make sense of how, in the birthplace of Jazz, the city of New Orleans, would have these non- jazz musicians as the focal point of this festival.  This really made my blood boil.

Let me continue by saying that this post is overdue. This kind of crap has been going on for quite some time all over the country. Even last year, New Orleans had acts like Christina Aguilera and Arcade Fire at the New Orleans Jazz fest. The issue is not that these acts are bad. (I have my own opinions on these musicians, but at the moment that’s neither here nor there).  The issue is that this is a Jazz Festival. And if we are going to be true to that name, if we are going to take this opportunity to celebrate our music, and bring in a large variety of jazz acts from around the nation and the world, then bringing in acts like No Doubt undermines and destroys the entire purpose of having a Jazz Festival in the first place.

Jazz music is slighted, undermined, and ignored by the general population on a daily basis. All record sales, music award shows, and attendance of live music shows proves this. My theory is not that this music is inferior, but that the market has been manipulated so that jazz music really doesn’t have a chance to be exposed to the general population unless they go out of their way to look for it. These Jazz Festivals are an excellent opportunity for the average person to be exposed to jazz music and not only listen to it, but to be exposed enough where they might take interest in the music after the festival is over. Sure this is more likely to happen at a Free Jazz festival like the one here in Chicago, but still New Orleans is a jazz city, and large crowds are expected at this jazz festival even with paid admission being required.

So instead of taking advantage of this opportunity to celebrate jazz music, to have large crowds of music fans listening to jazz music, to have jazz fest being the buzz in town for back to back weekends in the city of it’s birth, what do the organizers of the New Orleans Jazz Fest do? They shell out big bucks for Elton John, No Doubt, Jimmy Buffet, Pitbull, T.I., Keith Urban! What a slap in the face of the jazz community! Fine our music is not the most popular music around, but this is OUR festival. Calm me crazy, but I thought a jazz fest would have, you know… Jazz!?! This is the birthplace of jazz and to celebrate it you bring in rock, rap, and pop stars? What a disgrace.

Now before you go on and post angry comments like. “Who cares! “so and so” is playing on the first day” and “If you don’t like Jimmy Buffet listen to someone else!”  please finish reading this post. I’m well aware that there are many local acts (I believe forty or so) that will represent the New Orleans Jazz scene appropriately. I’m sure you could attend this festival and never listen to those acts I mentioned earlier since Jazz still dominates the festival. That’s not the problem. The problem is that they don’t represent the jazz community. They are diluting this festival and undermining the purpose of having a jazz  festival in the first place. Large crowds are traveling to New Orleans to listen to The Who and have no intention of listening to jazz music.

Pitbull doesn’t represent the jazz community. He represents the exact opposite. He represents music corporation manufactured music. Music created solely for the purpose of being consumed by as many people as possible. There is no art, there is no craft, there is only the intent to create a product that will generate a profit. The music is not only not Jazz, but it is the opposite of what nearly every jazz musician is about. If you like Pitbull, or The Who, or No Doubt, that’s cool, but I thought at a Jazz fest, while I may not like every act, I would only be exposed to this type of music. That this was a place where I was safe from that scene. That this was our festival and for these few days, we owned the town. I guess I was wrong.




3 thoughts on “My problem with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

  1. Since its inception, the New Orleans Jazz and HERITAGE festival has never been strictly jazz. It has always included rock, funk, blues, zydeco, and the list goes on. It is not just a “jazz fest”. Of course there are major headliners to draw crowds and get money, and that originally started after hurricane katrina to help in the rebuilding of the city. But considering Elton John definitely draws influence from New Orleans pianist and that Lady Gaga(who just recorded a standards album) is performing with Tony Bennet, the headliners are not as far off as you claim. There are few festivals where you even get this juxtaposition of popular music and jazz, if anything it is more opportunity for exposure for the jazz artist there. And the festival is still predominantly jazz. My main problem with your article is that even though the festival is called New Orleans Jazz and Heritage fest it has never been strictly just jazz, there has always been a wide variety of musical styles represented. It would pay to take an hour of research before going on a pointless and ill informed rant. It’s certainly not “OUR festival”, and the inclusion of these acts is far from a disgrace.

  2. The inclusion of funk and blues in my opinion is not much of a stretch since, it’s a key element in the growth and development of jazz. I did mention (in the beginning of the second paragraph) that this was not the first time I’ve been irked by the line up just the first time I’ve written about it. So yes I am aware that there is a history of non jazz acts at this festival. My question is how far from jazz are we okay with going? is No Doubt and Pitbull really a beneficial addition to this festival? Financially yes, but what about musically? How far are we willing to deviate from jazz and be okay with it? Ten years from now will The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival be closer to Lollapalooza or The Newport Jazz Festival? I’m concerned that this Festival is heading closer to Lollapalooza than to Newport.

    1. No Doubt and Pitbull are two acts out of probably around 100 or more, all who seem to fit the festival “format”. Saying they don’t help the festival musically, are you saying that any and all jazz is better than these two artist? “How far from jazz are we willing to go?”, well the fest was never just about just jazz so that really doesn’t matter here. The fest is really about New Orleans music which is rich in rock, bluegrass, folk, cajun, country, rap, zydeco, blues, and jazz. I don’t think it shows any indication of heading in a direction like Lollapalooza and it doesn’t show any sign of being like Newport Jazz Festival. New Orleans Jazz and Heritage fest is about the music of New Orleans, its is not supposed to be a Newport Jazz Festival… at all. It’s a celebration of many types of music, get past the title, just because it says “jazz” in it doesn’t mean the festival absolutely has to be 100% jazz. And another reason I’m sure the festival is staying the same format it has since it’s inception is because the same producer from the fest’s beginning is still the producer putting this great fest together. You’re reacting as if Pitbull was headling the Chicago Jazz Fest, which would be a big wtf moment, but here that is simply not the case.

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