Jazz Fest Minutes

Weekdays through May 3rd

Learn a lot about the top performers at this year’s Jazz Fest in just a little while, with a fresh set of WWNO’s multi-award-winning Jazz Fest Minutes. Join producer Fred Kasten for these 120-second profiles, and find out about the musical backgrounds, influences and inspirations (and even sample some of the music!) of a diverse cross-section of the artists performing at this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell. These twenty spots will cover them all, from multiple Grammy winners to those deserving wider recognition.

Catch Jazz Fest Minutes weekdays through May 3 right here on 89.9 WWNO — New Orleans Public Radio, at 7:59 a.m., during Morning Edition; at 1:04 p.m., just after the news from NPR; at 5:59 p.m., during All Things Considered; and anytime at all right here at WWNO.org!

Courtesy of the artist

George Cables is a superb pianist, an outstanding composer with a real gift for melody. He was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Queens. He started piano in grade school, and liked taking traditional lessons and studying classical music right away.

“I did like the piano. I had a crush on my piano teacher,” he said.

Cables studied classical piano at the Manhattan High School for the Performing Arts, and found a way to incorporate jazz into his afternoon commute home.

Johnette Downing is an award-winning singer and songwriter of music for kids. A New Orleans native, and the daughter of musical parents, Downing felt the call to perform since she was in kindergarten.

georgeduke.com

George Duke is one of the most sought-after and accomplished players and producers in music. He grew up in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.

topsychapman.com

Topsy Chapman is one of New Orleans’ most engaging and soulful singers. Her mix of gospel, blues, traditional jazz and swing proves both captivating and uplifting. And, when Topsy Chapman blends her fine voice with those of her daughters Jolynda Phillips and Yolanda Windsay in the vocal trio Solid Harmony, it’s magic.

Robert Ascroft

Wayne Shorter is one of the top saxophonists and composers in jazz. It was, strangely enough, getting caught at 15 years old playing hooky from school that put him on a path into music. His punishment: enrollment in the music theory course at his Newark, NJ arts high school.

Bluegrass Hall of Famer Del McCoury’s folks came from the mountains of western North Carolina, but he grew up on a farm in York County, Pennsylvania, less than an hour’s drive from Baltimore.

“My dad and my older brother listened to the Grand Ol’ Opry every Saturday night,” McCoury said. It was before television, in the middle- to late-1940s.

“At a young age I heard Earl Scruggs, and that’s what got me into music.”

Saxophonist, composer and Mardi Gras Indian Chief Donald Harrison, Jr. started learning about Mardi Gras Indian culture firsthand and early.

“The first time I put on a suit was at two years old for the Creole Wild West," Harrison said. I was a little chief of the Creole Wild West. I had on a dark blue and white suit my father made for me. I remember them running and going fast up and down in feathers, flying and singing.”

David Eagan is one of Louisiana's most recorded songwriters. A short list of artists covering his tunes includes Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball, Solomon Burke, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Mavis Staples, John Mayall and Johnny Adams.

Egan grew up in the music-rich environments of 1960s Shreveport.

"You had the whole chitlins-circuit thing," Egan said. "You had the Bossier Strip, which was, of course, somebody's going to write a great book about that someday; just a hotbed of neon and music and vice. All those clubs and everything. And you had the Louisiana Hayride."

Małgorzata Miłaszewska-Duda

C.J. Chenier is the son of Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier.

"I didn't know to what magnitude my dad's popularity was, but I knew he played music and because he played music I wanted to play music," Chenier said.

C.J. took a few piano lessons, messed around with guitar a little bit, and by the fourth grade was ready to try a horn.

Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves is one of the finest jazz singers on the planet. Born in Detroit, she grew up in Denver in a family full of musicians.

"There's a lot of musicians in my family," Reeves said. "My uncle is a bassist and he was with the symphony for many years, as well as a jazz bassist. A couple of great aunts were performers, and then I have another cousin who actually produced a lot of my records, George Duke. So music was very much part of the family."

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