Movie Review: Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story

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The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (JazzFest if you’re in a hurry) had the chance to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2019 before COVID knocked the world aside. It recently completed its 2022 edition, the first in three years.

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Directors Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern were there to celebrate the milestone with a look back at the history and highlights of the venerable music and food festival, which would have been even older if Jim Crow laws in the United States didn’t exist. didn’t forbid black and white musicians from mixing. . Festival founder George Wein, who died last year aged 95, recalls being approached to start the festival in 1962. It wasn’t politically possible until 1970.

Wein and his “young” sidekick Quint Davis (now 74) form the backbone of the festival’s institutional history, but the meat on this rambunctious doc’s bones are the performances, everyone from Herbie Hancock to Earth, Wind & Fire, Pitbull to Jimmy Buffet. (An important aspect of the outdoor jazz festival is that it is much more than jazz.)

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We see Bruce Springsteen play My city of ruin in the first JazzFest after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katy Perry sings the Gospel number Oh Happy Day supported by a sprawling church choir, before moving on to Fireworks. And Al Green makes his first concert appearance in years to perform let’s stay together.

The film features stellar editing, with performances and audiences from decades ago blending seamlessly into modern imagery without missing a beat. (It helps that New Orleans music has its own syncopated sound, a kind of double beat that comes closest to a heartbeat for a city.)

We also learn the difference between Cajun and Zydeco, two close musical cousins, globally black and white in their racial histories, but living together harmoniously. It may sound sappy or overly idealistic, but you’ll walk away from it. Jazz Fest: A History of New Orleans with a renewed belief in the power of music to bring humans together.

Not to mention its serendipity. As rapper Boyfriend (aka Suzannah Powell) notes, the outdoor nature and chockablock stages of JazzFest mean you’ll be on your way from one performance to the next when you’re pulled into a third along the way. It’s delightfully analog and anti-algorithmic. “You’re going to experience something that your computer wouldn’t have put into your feed. »

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story opens June 3 in Toronto and Vancouver, and June 10 in Montreal, with more cities to follow.

4 out of 5 stars

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