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Documentary Review


Director: Frank Marshall. Ryan Suffern.
Seen at the SXSW '22 
Runtime: 94 Minutes


"A film that not only captures the signature annual music and cultural event that has been called America's greatest festival in all of its beauty and glory, but also delves deep into the rich culture of The Big Easy."


The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival - known as Jazz Fest by the hip, the touristy, and the socially influencing – has honored music and arts and culture for more than 50 years. From its beginning in rightfully rebelling against Jim Crow laws, through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Jazz Fest has been a long-standing celebration of diversity. A time to dance, eat, and have fun. To take in massive amounts of food and music and culture and, no doubt, weather a ton of humidity.


Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story documents the Festival’s fiftieth anniversary show from 2019. Filmmakers Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern compile archival footage intertwined with interviews all the while spotlighting the music: Blues, Soul, Cajun, Zydeco, Folk, Gospel, Traditional, R&B, Rap, and good ole Rock & Roll. There is, however, one element almost completely ignored in Jazz Fest.




Aside from a singular - but extraordinary - set featuring Ellis Marsalis and his four sons, there is little authentic jazz featured. Be it a three piece piano, snare, and upright set, or a contemporary group putting the spin on standards from Miles, Duke, and Monk. There are no beats, no hi-hats, no sax.


In its stead? Performances by Pitbull doing his boom-chicha-chicha-boom-boom-boom, Katy Perry in her Barbarella-inspired one-piece, and oh yeah, a long set by jazzman-extraordinaire Jimmy Buffett. Yeah, Jimmy. Buffett. Because when thinking of cool, smooth jazz numbers, “Margaritaville” immediately comes to mind.


Jazz Fest might give a complete breakdown of the ins and the outs at Fairgrounds, all professionally hosted by organizer Quint Davis, who has been on hand since day one, but the documentary entirely ignores the music festival occurring citywide. Those little clubs and venues and bars where the true jazz musicians - you know, the one’s without Katy Perry’s huge Tik-Tok numbers - are playing real, wait for it, jazz music.


Missing elements aside, Jazz Fest rightly succeeds in showcasing some truly fantastic music. From Earth, Wind, and Fire’s righteous funk to bluesman Sonny Landreth, R&B rocker Samantha Fish to the hip fusion stylings of Trombone Shorty to the soulful return of Al Green, Jazz Fest has quite the rockin’ soundtrack.


One that includes, in case you forgot, Jimmy Buffett.


Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story is a steady-as-she-goes rock concert masquerading as an entertaining, if pedestrian, documentary. And aside from spotlighting the 50th anniversary celebration, 2019 ended up being a special year as for the next two years there was not a Jazz Fest. Nor a lot of anything else for that matter. Marshall and Suffern capitalize on this. They possess an obvious love for the Festival as do those interviewed. This all shows. The music. The performances. Everything is a party. And the end result is a fun, honorific celebration of an event that rightly deserves one.


Now if only I could find my lost shaker of salt…

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