First full review of
Up Front and Center

I am very pleased to share with TVD readers the first print review of my new book. It was written by Geraldine Wyckoff and appeared in last week’s issue of the Louisiana Weekly. You can purchase your copy here.

“Finding Jay Mazza in a crowd at a club, festival or any musical event is easy. As his latest book directs, just look for him Up Front and Center. From that vantage point, Mazza, who for 13 years wrote a column, “Jazz City,” for The Louisiana Weekly, maximized his listening and dancing pleasure, devouring an impressively wide variety of music offered in New Orleans during the last 20-plus years.

Mazza takes the readers with him uptown, downtown and back-of-town as he offers personal reminiscences of singular and then again not so singular shows complete with who was on the bandstand. The author writes of the rise of such artists as the ReBirth Brass Band while setting the economic stages and mindsets that saw Tipitina’s become the king of the clubs and institutions such as Dorothy’s Medallion close its doors.”

“The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival effectively acts as Mazza’s touchstone throughout the book. This works because it, along with Tipitina’s, community radio station WWOZ and record labels such as Rounder, Black Top and eventually Basin Street, brought New Orleans music and many of its musicians out of a dormancy that had set in following this city’s rhythm and blues heydays that were slammed by the British Invasion. Think the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

Mazza was in the house when the career of the legendary Professor Longhair found a new beginning at Tip’s and the Neville siblings finally came together to play their first gigs as the Neville Brothers at the club on Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas.

The author also boasted enough adventurous spirit to be led into what could be perceived as some rather dangerous neighborhoods in order to experience the mysteries of the Mardi Gras Indian practices. As a young, white man, he was, admittedly, somewhat a stranger in a strange land at the practices that, particularly back then, were barely known of by the general public. His story about one such night at a Gentilly joint for a Creole Osceolas Indian practice hilariously boasts of his naivete. He writes:

“I headed straight to the bar and ordered a Heineken. ‘Sorry no Heinekens.’ A quart of Bud or a Miller pony were my beer options. I didn’t want a quart of beer… As I turned with my Miller pony to check out the Indians, I looked around the room at the other patrons — all the men had quarts, and all the women had ponies.”

The wide range of Mazza’s musical tastes results in his giving generous attention to less recognized groups such as the Klezmer Allstars along with those who’ve made their international mark like Los Hombres Calientes. Known for his dedication to the roots rock group, the Radiators of which he wrote his first book, I Got the Fish in the Head: A Radiators Retrospective, he sought out African artists with equal enthusiasm.

Mazza succeeds in seamlessly telling the story of this musical era in New Orleans despite the cornucopia of subjects, genres and musicians he opts to include. One quirk is the author’s continuous use of the word “the” in describing musicians, ie, the trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, the drummer Russell Batiste instead of simply referring to trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and drummer Russell Batiste. This style seems to make the artists more distant in a book that stands as a very personal expression.

For those in the music community who, along with Mazza, lived this era, Up Front and Center holds many, “Yeah, I remember that show!” moments. It’s great to remember the Lundi Gras night when the many, many musicians in King Sunny Ade’s band piled out of a bus on Frenchmen Street for an amazing performance at the Dream Palace that lasted until dawn. For those who unfortunately missed those wonderful decades in New Orleans, the book offers a lot of pertinent information on the music scene that was. In doing so, it also reveals many insights into why and how the music in New Orleans rolls as it does today.

In Up Front and Center, Jay Mazza proves himself to be the right guide for the journey back to New Orleans’ recent musical past. He loves the music, understands its sense of community and the importance of the shared joy between musicians and the audience. Mazza, a fan and detailed documentarian, offers his tale as only those few who have stood and thoroughly enjoyed being Up Front and Center could do.”

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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