Tony Green: My Story

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, often known as Jazz Fest, which started out as an annual celebration of the music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana, has been a part of my life in one way or another for the past 50 years. My involvement with Jazz Fest goes back to it's early inception when the event was staged in front of the old Municipal Auditorium in Congo Square on Rampart St. located right on the edge of the French Quarter.

Back in those days, it was a cinch for us hippies to hop over the improvised wooden fence and catch such cool acts as blues man Babes Stoval, Professor Longhair and the late, great Mahalia Jackson. Things got considerably more sophisticated when the festival moved from Congo Square to the spacious area of the Fair Grounds which is the popular race track for the city of New Orleans. This upped the challenge a bit to gain free entry into the festival but we always managed to find a weak spot in their security net.

As the years rolled by, I finally became a paying customer to Jazz Fest where I would load my art supplies into my back pack and create a series of plein air paintings executed in watercolors, gouache and oils. For example, I managed to accumulate a vast reservoir of watercolor portraits I did of various musicians during their performances on stage, not to mention the gouache landscapes I created of the festival in full swing.

Back in the day when Jazz Fest was more about the locals and less about huge corporations, I actually managed to drive a pick up truck onto the festival grounds, unload all the lumber that I was going to use to build a wall that would support my impromptu mural and started painting. When I took a break to go find some food, I returned to discover that to my horror, some 50+ people were adding their own colorful graffiti creations to my abstract expressionist composition!

In the end, I just put out more brushes and paint and let 'em have at it.

Then there was the time Jazz Fest invited New Orleans local artists to exhibit their art work during the festival. Well that sure sounded great until we saw what was provided for us low level locals: nasty pink, beat up peg boards borrowed from some elementary public school to hang our work on while next door a team of skilled carpenters and electricians were building a state of the art gallery to exhibit the drawings of Miles Davis. Miles Davis, great trumpet player that he is, possesses drawing skills that are right up there with my basketball and brain surgery skills.

I did finally get invited to perform with my group Tony Green & Gypsy Jazz for the 1997 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival. That was quite exciting until I broke a string on my guitar thirty seconds into our opening tune. We re-grouped and gave the audience a nice presentation of European music in the style of Django Reinhardt. We were invited back to perform at Jazz Fest three more times over the years.

Then there's the story of Buckwater Washington, a Jazz Fest legend, of which Tom McDermott can recount for you the whole story in detail.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has now become a major tourist destination with an economic importance for New Orleans rivaled only by Mardi Gras; the event brings to the city more than $300 million annually. As the festival's popularity grows, the event has expanded to include nationally known acts to the point where this year, in celebration of it's 50th anniversary, the Rolling Stones will appear at Jazz Fest!

Which brings me to my Jazz Fest photos in this catalog.

I attended USL (University of Southwest Louisiana in Lafayette, La.) from 1972 until 1975 where I was a fine arts major and took a course in photography. This class gave me access to all the school's photo equipment including their Hasselblad camera which is a boxy, double lens, flip top camera with two inch square negatives that results in high resolution photos.

One weekend, armed with the Hasselblad camera I borrowed from the university, I headed out to New Orleans to photograph the 1975 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. My intent was to document not only the musicians performing at the festival but also to capture the characters who roamed around the Fairgrounds and the spontaneous extracurricular activities that were happening during the festivities.

Twenty five years later, I re-discovered these negatives stored in a folder in my French Quarter studio and took a photography class at the New Orleans Academy of Arts so I could have access to their dark room. There were about twenty prints that were developed to a 8" x 10", black & white format which were exhibited in various coffee shops and restaurants around New Orleans. Fifteen years after this I became aware of the glories of digital processing, photo shop and digital scanning of photo negatives and came up with the idea to do an exhibition of these very same photos in a gallery in Venice, Italy.

Tony Green
April, 2019