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'Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story' documentary is an eye-opening tribute to the iconic festival

A film poster reads "Music. Culture. Resilience. History. Rhythm." alongside a collage of musicians, performers and fried food.
"Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story"
Sony Pictures Classics
Released on May 13 after a delay due to the pandemic, "Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story" is now playing in select cities.

New Orleans' unique blend of cultures come together in the city's annual jazz and heritage festival. The new documentary "Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story" traces the iconic celebration's beginnings and resurrection after Hurricane Katrina.

Weaving together live performances and interviews from the 50th anniversary of the festival, "Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story" features some of the biggest names in the music industry, along with a wealth of archival documentary footage. This film also delves into the rich culture of New Orleans and Louisiana.

Describing his 2019 visit to New Orleans to prepare for the documentary, director and producer Frank Marshall described feeling a bit overwhelmed.

“It was a celebration that could only happen in New Orleans,” he said in a press release. “It’s an amazing mixture of music, food, art, culture and heritage that becomes a totally immersive experience.”

Initially a showcase for traditional jazz, the festival was founded in 1970 by the late pianist and producer George Wein, who died in 2021. He is also known for his involvement in launching the famous Newport Jazz Festival in 1954.

For New Orleans' jazz festival, Wein chose a student, Quint Davis, to be his assistant. Now the primary producer of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Davis is an executive producer of the film and a primary subject. He's joined by a number of musicians and artists who help explain the particular joys of Jazz Fest.

Over half a century, the festival grew to reflect New Orleans' musical melting pot, with gospel and zydeco bands, African and Indigenous musicians, Southern rhythm and blues, soul and modern jazz, all mixing with pop and rock headliners.

JAZZ FEST: A NEW ORLEANS STORY | Official Trailer (2022)

It also grew from a 3-day festival to encompass two consecutive weekends, with related events happening all over the city the week in between.

Even Hurricane Katrina and the devastating flood that followed could not stop Jazz Fest.

But COVID-19 did. The 2020 festival was cancelled due to the spread of the virus, and the 2021 festival was first rescheduled from April to November, and then cancelled entirely. It also delayed the release of this film.

"Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story" is a bright, funny, touching and eye-opening tribute to "the city that care forgot," and the people who treasure and help preserve its special blend of traditions.

The film opened in select cities in May, and comes to Seattle starting on June 2, and in Tacoma on June 17. Check local listings for other showtimes for your area.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.