A regal return for the sounds of New Orleans

Aug 30, 2006 at 12:00 am

As the 2005 Detroit International Jazz Festival began, fresh images of Hurricane Katrina victims fleeing their homes in search of safety were in our minds. We'd witnessed wind-lashed ropes of rain devastating the Gulf Coast, floodwaters washing through the streets of New Orleans. We saw suddenly homeless Americans trudging past abandoned cars on highways, and others stranded on rooftops or splashing their way through fetid waist-deep waters. So many of them lost their homes, their possessions, their very lives.

"The way I really feel about it, a lot of family history been lost," said Dirty Dozen saxophonist Roger Lewis. "Photo albums and stuff like that. I've got an 8-year-old daughter and now I can't even show her a picture of when I was 8 years old."

During last year's festival, only a depleted Regal Jazz Band could perform with aid from Bon Temps Roulle and other Detroiters; some members of the New Orleans-grown group were still missing or stranded in the flood area. And there was a somber pall over their performances. Meanwhile, fellow Louisiana-based musicians Dr. John and Marcia Ball kept a focus on what was happening in their hometowns.

A year later, not much has improved down there. The realization has sunk in that it's going to take 20 to 30 years to rebuild the region.

Keeping New Orleans and Louisiana alive in the minds of those outside the area became a focus for the Detroit International Jazz Festival this year. Hart Plaza and environs will have a bigger Louisiana presence than ever before. There's even a dedicated stage — the Boogie Bayou Pyramid Stage — that will host most of the performers from that area.

And, after last year's troubles, the Regal Brass Band returns with its full cadre of musicians.

"We wanted to make a real effort to build on what we did last year," said festival director Frank Malfitano. "There will be New Orleans street parades daily by the Regal Brass Band."

With Charlie Gabriel's New Orleans Traditional Jazz Band, Cajun music from Bon Temps Roulle and BeauSoleil, zydeco from C.J. Chenier and Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas, barrelhouse piano player Marcia Ball (born in Louisiana and raised in Texas), the Dirty Dozen Brass Band rolling out their new interpretation of Marvin Gaye's classic What's Going On album, and iconic New Orleans pianist Dr. John, those with a taste for gumbo music should be able to get their fill.

"I think its something that's here to stay," says Malfitano. "We want the festival's emphasis to be on Detroit jazz and the Detroit jazz legacy, but if we had to pick another city to focus on what could be better than the birthplace of jazz? We can't let the birthplace of jazz die. It's just that simple."


New Orleans and Louisiana-based performers play continuously on the Boogie Bayou Pyramid Stage from late afternoon through closing each night of the festival, and are featured on other stages throughout.

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