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New Orleans in Switzerland: More from JazzAscona

Uncle Lionel brings Treme flavor to the Alps! That's Luca Martinelli to the left and Sally Young to the right (Photo courtesy of Sally Young)
Isio Saba and Ray Gelato with WWOZ's volunteer Sally Young. (Photo courtesy of Sally Young).

Story by Sally Young.

Walking into downtown Ascona Friday afternoon, the first thing I saw was Uncle Lionel Batiste leading a brass band down the street. The official Grand Marshall for the JazzAscona 2010 Festival, Uncle Lionel was stealing the show as usual. All cameras were on him as he made his way through the crowd.

Later on that evening, I saw him again during Thomas L'Etienne and Uli Wunner's set at the Biblioteca - Hop & Jazz Bar. After listening to Thomas' smoking jazz set, featuring Rio de Janeiro's Antonio da Silva and Sao Paulo's Francois Sever's mesmerizing double percussion section, we strolled down to the Stage Chiesa, where Shannon Powell's All Stars (Powell, David Torkanowsky, Leon "Kid Chocolate" Brown & Roland Guerin) were playing. It was after 11PM. Some of Regeneration Brass Band's horns joined in, adding to the sound of Kid Chocolate's sweet trumpet. Uncle Lionel took the stage again. He got the crowd on their feet, and led a second line off the stage.

I think his trademark impishness managed to take everyone's mind off of the scoreless World Cup game between Switzerland and Honduras, shown at Stage Seven’s big screen earlier at the festival.

New Orleans native Wendell Brunious, now living in Sweden, was also keeping busy during the festival. With five scheduled appearances as a special guest of Sammy Rimington’s International Band, Wendell started playing Thursday evening, and continued playing his trumpet all the way through Monday.

Wendell’s last appearance with Sammy at JazzAscona was in 2006, followed by the release of their collaborative CD New Orleans Reunion in 2009.

Included in his schedule was an interview with NPR’s Judy Carmichael for her series of Jazz Inspired shows, taped live at the festival. I caught up with him improvising with Herlin Riley and Shannon Powell during their interview on Saturday afternoon, and again during Shannon’s set that night.

Still in the centennial year of New Orleans native Louis Prima (born December 7, 1910), JazzAscona presented tribute artist extraordinaire Ray Gelato and his band, the Giants. In the last ten years, Ray’s vocal interpretations and Sam Butera influenced saxophone stylings on many well-known standards have become legendary on the worldwide festival circuit.

Ray’s early influences, not surprisingly, also included New Orleans’ saxophone legends Lee Allen and Herb Hardesty, also Fats Domino and Little Richard.

Ray feels that the sax puts the artistry behind what the singing communicates.

His statement, “Music’s only notes. We just play them in a different order”, makes me wonder how many more interpretations of the great standards the world will experience from these and the next talented artists that will follow them.

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