This extraordinary documentation displays, through photographs, the evolution of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which in New Orleans has become a seasonal ritual comparable only to the revelry of Mardi Gras. Dividing the book into four sections spanning five-year periods, photographer Michael P. Smith compiled a running history of Jazz Fest from its first year, when it drew a crowd of only several hundred people to a small site in Congo Square, up through 1990 and its present thirty-five-acre site on the Fair Grounds Race Course.
Captured as never before are such musical greats as Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, Professor Longhair, the Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, and Bonnie Raitt, as well as lesser-known but well-remembered performers such as the Como Fife and Drum Corps, the Meters, and Big Joe Williams.
The philosophy of Jazz Fest has always been to create “an environment where people could communicate with the musicians on a conversational level, and feel as if they had touched them” while preserving the musical forms that have developed in Louisiana. A combination of jazz, blues, gospel, rock, the traditional Louisiana sounds of Cajun and zydeco, and the African, Caribbean, and French sounds that were the basis for forms such as reggae, the festival is truly a rare celebration of musical culture in general. The continuous change in the composition of the Jazz Fest makes this collection a vital historical document.