Jazz Fest

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is an annual celebration of the music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana. Use of the term "Jazz Fest" can also include the days surrounding the Festival and the many shows at unaffiliated New Orleans nightclubs scheduled during the Festival event weekends.

According to the official Jazz Fest website, "The Festival celebrates the indigenous music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana, so the music encompasses every style associated with the city and the state: blues, R&B, gospel music, Cajun music, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk music, Latin, rock, rap music, country music, bluegrass and everything in between. And of course there is lots of jazz, both contemporary and traditional."

Jazz Fest is currently held during the day, between the hours of 11am and 7pm at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a horse racing track, on two weekends. The weekends are the last weekend in April (from Friday through Sunday) and the first weekend in May (Thursday through Sunday). For two years following Hurricane Katrina, the second weekend was Friday through Sunday only, but the Thursday was restored in 2008.

Many more music events than usual take place around the city during Jazz Fest and the week in between the two weekends. The Festival is a major tourism destination, with an importance for New Orleans rivaled only by Mardi Gras.

Early Jazz Fests featured almost exclusively local acts; as the Festival grew, more nationally known acts (most recently in 2009, Joe Cocker, James Taylor, Dave Matthews Band, Pete Seeger, Tony Bennett, Bon Jovi, and Neil Young) were scheduled in addition to local performers.

The Festival also features a wide variety of vendors with local foods and crafts. The official food policy of the Festival is "no carnival food." Indeed, there are more than seventy food booths, all with unique food items, including but not limited to: Mango Freeze, crawfish beignets, cochon de lait sandwiches, alligator sausage po' boy (sandwich), boiled crawfish, softshell crab po'boy, crawfish Monica and many other dishes. All food vendors go through strict screening for quality, food handling practices and capacity. All food vendors are locally owned small businesses. Craft vendors are juried. There are three distinct areas, contemporary, Congo Square and Folk.

One of the unique aspects of the Festival are the large areas dedicated to cultural and historical practices unique to Louisiana depicting many cultures that exist including Cajun, Los Islenos and those found in several geographical areas of specific neighborhoods of New Orleans or other parts of Louisiana. Many of the folk demonstrators have been recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts for their work.

The Jazz & Heritage Festival is owned by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, which uses the proceeds from the festival for year-round community development programs in the areas of education, economic development and culture. The Foundation also owns the broadcast license of radio station WWOZ. The festival is produced by Festival Productions, Inc. - New Orleans, as a contract service to the Foundation. Since 2006, the festival's presenting sponsor has been the Royal Dutch Shell (the oil company), and the festival's full name is: "The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell."

The Festival has been held yearly since 1970, when it was founded by the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association, to form "the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation" that owns the Festival, and George Wein's "Festival Productions, Inc" was contracted to produce the Festival. To produce the Festival in New Orleans, George Wein put together a key group of artistic advisers, among them Ellis Marsalis, Richard B. "Dick" Allen and Harry Souchon. Dick Allen, the curator of Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archives, recommended Archive employee Allison Miner and intern Quint Davis to Wein to help produce the first festival. After Wein established the Festival, Miner and Davis ran the day-to-day operation of Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans under George Wein's and the Foundation Board supervision for many years. Quint Davis currently holds the position of CEO of Festival Productions, Inc.- New Orleans. Miner is largely credited with the founding the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive, which contains recordings from musicians interviewed at the festival as well as other documents, photographs and ephemera related to the Festival and the Foundation's holdings including early WWOZ 90.7-FM recordings. When Miner died on December 23, 1995, the interviewing stage was renamed in her memory, the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage. After Hurricane Katrina, the stage has merged with the Lagniappe Stage which is housed in the Grandstand. In 2009 it was re-instated as a full stage.

Prior to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, similar "New Orleans Jazz Festivals" were held by different organizers in the 1960s. The first two New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals in 1970 & 1971 were held in Louis Armstrong Park, then known as Beauregard Square, in the area of the park known to be the historic Congo Square and the adjoining New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. Starting in 1972 Jazz Fest has been held at the New Orleans Fair Grounds and Racetrack.

The official poster series which began in 1975 has been very successful with many collectors. Posters feature a performer or theme of the Festival. All posters are commissioned by the Festival. In 1998, the Festival added the Congo Square poster series. Artists such as James Michalopoulos, George Rodrigue, Douglas Bourgeois, John Scott and Bill Hemmerling have been featured for the official festival poster. Congo Square posters have been created by such African American artists, Aziz Diagne, Elizabeth Catlett, Bill Pajaud and Terrance Osborne.

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