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Props to ‘Pops’

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The Satchmo SummerFest honors our native son and the founding father of jazz

Everyone knows the French Quarter Festival, with its 18 stages of music and great local food. What they might not know is that the nonprofit behind it, French Quarter Festivals Incorporated (FQFI), puts together two other free outdoor festivals celebrating the culture and spirit of our city. In December, Christmas New Orleans Style recreates both longstanding and forgotten holiday traditions and meals and showcases concerts by local favorites.

More imminently, FQFI will present the Eighth Annual Satchmo SummerFest from July 31 to August 3. Dedicated to the life and music of the seminal jazz musician and native New Orleanian Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, the festival includes lectures, music, activities for children, and the Satchmo Club Strut, which gives festivalgoers entry to local clubs. Unlike the French Quarter Festival, which relies exclusively on locals for music, food and other services, Satchmo SummerFest features performers and lecturers from around the world. The tie to New Orleans is Satchmo himself, and everyone involved shares a passion for Louis Armstrong.

Recently, I spoke with Marci Schramm, FQFI’s executive director since January. A Detroit native who also runs an events company with her husband, Schramm found a job and moved here in 1997 “because I loved the city.” Before joining FQFI, Schramm held several high-ranking positions in local arts organizations, most recently as executive director of New Orleans Opera.

NOL: So how did Satchmo SummerFest start out?

MS: It started in 2001 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Louis Armstrong. Board members of the organization got together and realized that the whole country was celebrating Louis Armstrong’s birth and we weren’t, and this is where he was born. We needed to do something about it.

What can festivalgoers expect to see and hear?

You can learn and enjoy people’s firsthand accounts of working with Louis Armstrong, and hear from people who were his friends. We’ll show some films, and there will be music. We have Leah Chase cooking Louis Armstrong’s favorite red beans and rice recipe and serving it to people.

The music and the seminars are equally important. The people who participate in the lectures and the colloquium are just fascinating: George Avakian, who was Armstrong’s record producer and friend, is a giant in the recording industry; Gary Giddins wrote Satchmo, which is the definitive work on his life; and Michael Cogswell runs the Louis Armstrong House in New York. There are other scholars, too.

There are also wonderful musicians like Chris Clifton and His All-Stars. Chris met Louis Armstrong when he was 12 years old and was mentored by him. Chris is now in his early 70’s and he’s just as bright and sparkly and energetic as ever. And we have Yoshio Toyama from Japan. He came to New Orleans in the ’60s. He knew Louis Armstrong; he loved Louis Armstrong; and if you close your eyes when you listen to him, you almost think you’re listening to Louis Armstrong!

I noticed that Yoshio Toyama is donating musical instruments to G.W. Senior High School, in the Ninth Ward.

He’s done that for years. He spends the year raising funds to buy instruments, which he donates to a school that needs help. He’s such a bright light, so talented and generous, and he loves New Orleans to the point where he does these great philanthropic things for the city.

Can you tell me about two fund-raising events, the Satchmo Club Strut and Red Beans and Ricely Yours?

The Satchmo Club Strut is fantastic. It’s a fundraiser for the New Orleans Jazz Centennial Celebration, organized by Snug Harbor and Jason Patterson [talent buyer for Snug Harbor and Centennial’s program director]. You buy a wristband for $25 or the VIP wristband for a little more, and you get to go club-hopping through the Marigny and listen to Ellis Marsalis, Charmaine Neville and lots of other wonderful musicians. Friday morning is the Red Beans and Ricely Yours luncheon. We call it that because that’s how Louis Armstrong always signed his letters, and it was his favorite dish.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Satchmo SummerFest is a uniquely New Orleans event, and it’s free. There’s live local music, family activities and entertainment, fabulous local cuisine, great local drinks and Plum Street Snoballs. Finally, we take pride in the fact that our events are family-friendly. It’s a pretty wholesome thing.