Jazz Fest Oral History Project

Student Kat Donner interviewing musician Tanya Huang

Student Kat Donner interviewing Tanya Huang, photo by Charlotte Bauer, 2014

The Williams Center continues its four-year partnership with Dr. Helen Regis in the LSU Department of Geography & Anthropology and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation Archive to document the history and culture of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This episode is a follow-up to one we did in 2013 that introduced the project and featured an interview with Dr. Regis.  The partnership also includes Dr. Shana Walton of Nicholls State University who is working with Dr. Regis on additional oral history interviews. Beyond the oral history collection that is archived at both at the Williams Center and the Jazz Fest Foundation Archive, there is an exhibition opening this week at the Jazz and Heritage Gallery, “Creating Congo Square:  Jazz Fest and Black Power.

As an ongoing part of this project, Dr. Regis and Center director, Jennifer Cramer, co-teach a Service-Learning* class, “Doing Oral History,” where LSU students generate oral history interviews to help document the history and culture of the festival, focusing each year on an under-documented aspect. In 2014 and 2015, students interviewed vendors, construction crew members, and artists. Three students from the 2014 class – Kat Donner, Charlotte Willcox, and Elizabeth Gelvin – continued working on the interviews collected as student assistants for the Center. They all did a great deal of post production work, including transcriptions and correspondence. On several occasions, Charlotte and Elizabeth presented about their work as students on this project, so we asked each of them to choose a clip to share.


Dwayne Breashears 2014.  Photograph by Charlotte Willcox

Dwayne Breashears 2014. Photograph by Charlotte Willcox

Dwayne Breashears:  We’re a conduit for who can’t attend. People who are still at work on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. You can’t go to Jazz Fest, but hey, you can listen at home. You can listen in your office. You can listen in your car and get to be a part of something that you might not be able to attend otherwise. Sure, you’re not . . . you can have that Coca-Cola on the outside. You can have that Miller beer on the outside. You can’t get that Crawfish Monica on the outside, can you? That quail, pheasant, and andouille gumbo from Prejean’s and the crawfish tamales. Yum. You know? You can’t get it on the outside. They’ll tell you about it and at least let your imagination run wild and help you think about those things. But at least [WW]OZ is there for those that can’t be to share that.

Breashears, Dwayne, interview by Charlotte Willcox, audio recording, 2014, 4700.2375.  Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Kiki Huston, 2014.  Photograph courtesy of Helen Regis.

Kiki Huston, 2014. Photograph courtesy of Helen Regis.

Kiki Huston:  It’s where I want to showcase my best work. There are no other local markets where . . . I sit down to think of something specifically to make for Jazz Fest every year. It’s become a big inspiration for me. And frankly, when I first started getting into this, getting into Jazz Fest was my goal. So it really helped me hone my skill set . . . and I never really thought that I would achieve it. Looking at the other craftspeople out there, always seemed like a little bit of a pipe dream to me. But it really kicked my butt, and that was something that I really worked towards, was having a product that I felt fit that role. Plus, I’ve always loved all the jewelers and the painters and everybody I’ve seen out there. There’s an aesthetic to a lot of those craftspeople that I’ve always admired.

Huston, Kiki, interview by Sharen Herring, audio recording, 2014, 4700.2382.  Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Philip “Flip” Giroir:  One of the things I do love about Jazz Fest is you’ll get a lot of mutant sets where you’ll have The Meters playing, and Allen Toussaint will come sit in, or you’ll have Tower of Power horns with them. And it’s a once-only . . . either you’re there and you see it happen, or you’ll never see it again kind of thing. And back to the whole mutual appreciation thing of everybody just enjoying each others music. All the old-school . . . like Professor Longhair and Snooks Eaglin and those kind of guys would just let any kid sit in and tell them when the bridge was coming and what the chord changes were and just kind of nurture them along. I still see that in the generations and younger generations bringing up kids. Because in Tremé, I’ve seen Trombone Shorty go from a little short kid to a six-foot guy, really popular Grammy-winning musician. And now there’s still little eight, ten-year-old kids cruising through my neighborhood heading to the [French] Quarter to make change playing in brass bands. So yeah, it’s still . . . it’s a continuation of that, I think.

Giroir, Philip “Flip”, interview by Christine Pontiff , audio recording, 2014, 4700.2383.  Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Joseph “Jo Cool” Davis:  But during the [19]70s, we needed something to put integration together. And segregation was still alive. But Tipitina’s put black and white together. Jazz Fest did the same thing. Same thing. That’s what it is. It’s not just a festival. It’s not just a festival. You understand what I mean? Tipitina’s . . . I remember I get mad when people talk about Tipitina’s like it was just a music club that somebody played a guitar in. No. That’s not it. They needed a place that [where musicians could get respect]. . . . And then Jazz Fest did the same thing [so that] New Orleans musicians could make some money and get recognized. That’s what Jazz Fest did, the same thing. Made you feel like a star. They’ve got a lot of guys [who] feel like they’re stars.

Davis, Joseph “Jo Cool”, interview by Elizabeth Gelvin, audio recording, 2014, 4700.2377.  Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


Citations in captions.


*Service-Learning classes like “Doing Oral History” are supported through the Center for Community Engagement, Learning and Leadership, or CCELL. For more information about CCELL, visit www.lsu.edu/ccell

This podcast is copyrighted by LSU Libraries T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History.  For a full transcript of the podcast, please contact Jennifer Abraham at jabrah1@lsu.edu.

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