I really love music of all types, and while I’m by no means an expert, I love studying music as well. Despite that, I have never had the chance to go to a major music festival such as Jazz Fest, so I really looked forward to watching this film. After absorbing this movie, one fact becomes crystal clear: Music is the soul of New Orleans, and nothing demonstrates that better than this documentary, full of history and heart, soulful and powerful.
This documentary, directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, the film weaves together performances and interviews from the 50th anniversary of the iconic festival, called America’s greatest festival. The documentary features some of the biggest names in the music industry, such as Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffet, Katy Perry, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and many others. It includes a wealth of archival footage that pulls you into the festival’s long history and how it has become an integral part of the city of New Orleans.
What makes a good documentary is a mix of elements. This one has many pieces that come together to tell the story of how the festival began and how it became a piece of New Orleans history. The film first introduces interviews with musicians who have played at the festival, both past and present. It also brings those interviews together with archival footage providing viewers with the history, from the very beginning when it got started all the way to the fiftieth anniversary. What becomes clear is how many great musicians and legends played at the festival over the years, everyone from Ellis Marsala Jr., Quint Davis, and Miles Davis to rock and roll legends like Bruce Springsteen and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Each voice tells an essential piece of the history of the festival while celebrating the founders, George Wein and Ellis Marsala Jr. It is a joyful exploration of the many aspects of Jazz, including Cajun, Blues, Funk, and Gospel.
Along with the archival footage and modern interviews is the organic experience of listening to the many bands that have played at the festival over the years. We get to celebrate with the musicians, but we also learn about the different types of music, types of Jazz from America and from around the world. We experience the culture of New Orleans through music and food, through performers. They bring their music as an exchange of soul and heart. All aspects of culture are woven together into the film.
The documentary encompasses all aspects of jazz, not just the known but also offshoots of it, such as Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, and Zydeco, and embraces all music and cultures. The film also touches on the impact New Orleans had on music in adding celebration to sorrow and how the music of New Orleans adds depth to grief. The music and history demonstrate the power of music and the healing that can come when individuals come together to celebrate both good times and bad.
Part of the reason this film is so good is that it provides the festival’s history along with its music. For example, some interviews discuss how much the festival has changed over time. Despite tragedies like Hurricane Katrina, or when COVID effectively shut the event down, the city has come together to bring back the festival that still gives light to those who gather for the music, even when still going after fifty years.
If you love music of any kind, even if jazz is not your type of music, it encompasses so much beyond jazz, bringing all forms of music together to celebrate the city of New Orleans and the heart and soul of what makes music impactful to society. Of course, watching the documentary is like being at the festival itself, except with decades of history added in for good measure. For those who love music, this is a must-see.
Rating: 5 out of 5 performers
Official Website: JAZZ FEST: A New Orleans Story | Sony Pictures Classics
Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, aka “Jazz Fest,” is the signature annual music and cultural event of the city and has been called America’s greatest festival. Celebrating the music, food, and arts and crafts of all of Louisiana since 1970, Jazz Fest is an essential showcase of the rich heritage of the region, and hundreds of thousands attend the event each year. Local music heroes are joined on 14 stages by some of the most important figures in entertainment, highlighting the connections between Louisiana culture and the world.
JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY weaves together live performances and interviews from the 50th anniversary of the iconic festival, featuring some of the biggest names in the music industry, along with a wealth of archival documentary footage from the past half century. This film not only captures the Festival in all of its beauty and glory, but also delves deep into the rich culture of The Big Easy. JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY opens in theaters on Friday, June 3, 2022.
ONE-LINER: 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.