NEW ORLEANS -- The memorial garden at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is about to get a lot more crowded as fellow musicians honor the many musical icons — known as “Ancestors” — who have passed since the festival was last held three years ago.
Jazz Fest, which began Friday and will conclude on May 8, will feature on-stage tributes, as well as jazz funeral processions that will cross the Fair Grounds and conclude with the unveiling of the honoree’s likenesses alongside the other Ancestors at the rear of the Congo Square field.
“That’s Jazz Fest,” Quint Davis, the festival’s longtime producer/director, told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Like many African cultures, “we stay connected to our ancestors. These people are part of us, part of our lives, part of New Orleans.”
Multiple commemorations, spread across both weekends, are planned for George Wein, Jazz Fest’s founder.
Wein helped found the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals and then replicated his success worldwide. In 1970, New Orleans leaders recruited him to remake the city’s two-year-old music festival. Wein added an outdoor “Louisiana Heritage Fair,” which became the blueprint for the contemporary Jazz Fest. He remained a fixture at Jazz Fest through 2019 and died on Sept. 13, 2021, in New York at the age of 95.
The festival will honor Wein with jazz funerals on both weekends, as well as discussions about his legacy and a performance by his band, the Newport Allstars.
A jazz funeral also was held Saturday for Malcolm “Dr. John” Rebennack, who died June 6, 2019, at age 77 after a heart attack. A tribute concert on the main Festival Stage will be held in his honor on May 8.
Folk and blues guitarist Spencer Bohren performed one last time at Jazz Fest in 2019, dying six weeks later of prostate cancer on June 8, 2019, at age 69. On Sunday, his fellow members of the Write Brothers songwriters’ quartet will join his sons and others for a tribute on the Lagniappe Stage.
Lafayette zydeco and blues guitarist Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal, who recorded and toured with Clifton Chenier, Buckwheat Zydeco and Rockin’ Dopsie, died June 10, 2019, at age 75. Fellow musicians will honor him in the Blues Tent on May 6.
Dave Bartholomew, the trumpeter who co-wrote and produced most of Fats Domino’s hits, died June 23, 2019, at age 100. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Elvis Costello and pianist Al “Lil Fats” Jackson, will salute Bartholomew on May 5.
Jazz piano patriarch Ellis Marsalis Jr. died April 1, 2020 at age 85 of pneumonia brought on by COVID-19. On Sunday, a jazz funeral procession will be held and a tribute concert featuring his youngest son, drummer and vibraphonist Jason Marsalis.
Adonis Rose & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra will celebrate Allen Toussaint’s legacy at the WWOZ Jazz Tent on May 6. He died in 2015.
James “Jim Boa” Olander, an audio engineer who spent decades as the stage manager for the Blues Tent, died on March 1 at age 67. On Thursday, the festival will unveil an “Ancestor Photo” of Olander inside the Blues Tent.
Neville Brothers and Meters keyboardist Art Neville died July 22, 2019, at age 81. He’ll be commemorated along with his saxophonist brother Charles Neville, who died April 26, 2018, at age 79. On Friday, their youngest brother, Cyril, will join family members, plus members of the Neville Brothers Band and the Funky Meters, for a tribute on the festival’s main stage. A joint jazz funeral will be held the next day.