Review: ‘Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story’ Celebrates a City, Its Culture, Its Food, and, Yes, Its Music

If you’ve lived in Dallas for any length of time, you’ve heard about Jazz Fest, whether from Louisiana natives who’ve moved here or from Dallas visitors who have enthused about their attendance.  

Held in New Orleans every year, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival “showcases unforgettable music on multiple stages, delicious Louisiana cuisine in two large food areas, and crafts artisans from the region and around the world demonstrating and selling their work.” If that doesn’t appeal to your personal taste — in which case I question your personal taste — or if it’s been beyond your financial or physical means to attend — a much more likely scenario — directors Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern have put together a documentary that enables a virtual visit to the festival that you can now enjoy in the comfort of your home. 

Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein first expressed interest in creating a New Orleans equivalent in 1962, but at the time, Blacks and whites were not permitted (by local ordinance) to mingle. Times changed by 1970, enabling Wein to establish the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. 

Young Quint Davis, whose youthful enthusiasms are captured in archival footage, came on board for the inaugural festival and eventually became the festival’s producer. Both Wein and Davis are interviewed, and help to provide historical background and personal insights into the music and culture that power the festival to this day.   

Throughout the documentary, the various types of music that are showcased at the festival are introduced, in some cases explained, and in all cases demonstrated vividly with live concert footage, most from the 2019 festival. As might be expected, a large number of participants speak enthusiastically about the festival itself and their experiences, including notable names, such as Ellis Marsalis Jr. (and his musician sons), members of Earth, Wind & Fire, Jimmy Buffet, Katy Perry (!) and Bruce Springsteen. 

Some of the names, like Katy Perry or Pitbull, are a surprise for those of us who are not necessarily tuned into modern music, but directors Marshall and Suffern supply the background information needed to understand why and how they all fit into the rich tapestry offered by the festival every year. And they don’t ignore the cultural aspects, helping to define why New Orleans has suffered as such a marvelous breeding ground for such a wide variety of musicians, and continues to be supportive of a marvelous buffet of musical — and culinary! — delights. (Yeah, I might be tempted to go for the food alone.) 

As a cinematic work of art, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story weaves together a comprehensive story of a city, its music, its food, its cultures, and its many changes over the past 50 years, including the great challenges posed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It’s heartening to know that the festival and its people survived Katrina and the pandemic; the most recent edition was held this spring, and next year’s edition is already in the planning stages. 

The film is now available on various Video On Platform platforms. For more information about the film, visit the official site.