New Orleans drummer Herlin Riley, along with his mother, Betty Lastie Williams, paid tribute to the late Mahalia Jackson during this year’s JazzAscona festival. Born on October 26, 1911, Mahalia would have been 100 this year. To commemorate her birthday, mother and son, accompanied by Davell Crawford on piano and George French on bass, were featured in a series of performances, culminating with a gospel mass at Chiesa Papio, the church at Ascona’s local college.
“Mama, take us home,” Herlin’s words as he handed the spotlight back to his mother after singing a gospel medley with the band, brought the tradition of New Orleans musical families full circle. Miss Betty, born into a famous musical family of New Orleans that includes Melvin, David, and Walter Lastie, has been singing gospel music since she was eleven. Herlin began drumming under the influence of his grandfather, Frank Lastie, when he was a little boy. Mother and son have been jamming together since he was a kid. And now, Herlin’s mama is onstage with her son, sharing their family tradition with an audience halfway around the world.
George French, from another great New Orleans musical family that includes his father, Albert “Papa” French, and his brother Bob, stepped into the spotlight on another night at the Stage Elvezia with his rendition of “Gloryland” (familiar to fans of WWOZ’s traditional jazz shows). During the last set, George’s son, drummer Gerald French (appearing at the festival with the Creole Syncopators), sat in with his dad and the band for “Down By The Riverside”. This is not an unusual occurrence in New Orleans, where they often work together, but seeing it happen on the shores of Lake Maggiore showed the audience the direct lineage of father to son musical heritage in the French family.
Grammy award winner Irvin Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Playhouse Revue traveled all the way from its home base at The Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street to Switzerland for nine straight nights of performances. At its first performance in Ascona’s Jazz Club Torre tent, Irvin called childhood friend Davell Crawford, grandson of James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, up from the audience to sing “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”. ReGeneration Brass Band second lined through the breaks, and Uncle Lionel Batiste, from yet another New Orleans’ musical family, made an appearance onstage in his Grand Marshal attire to sing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”.
Passing on the tradition, Irvin Mayfield with sons Richard on trombone, and Irvin, Jr. on tambourine, joined the band onstage for “I’ll Fly Away,” and finished the show with an encore of “Second Line”.
Looks like another musical family in the making.