By ALAN SMASON
Call it expected. Call it overdue. Just don’t call it Cajun. The 2017 Jazz Fest Shabbat to be held next Friday night, April 29, at Touro Synagogue will star accordionist Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and the Louisiana Sunspots, marking the first time Zydeco performers be at the center of the annual music and religious celebration.
“First off the genre was exciting for us,” Cantor David Mintz explained the selection in an interview with the CCJN. After more than 25 years of celebrating the local music culture, it occurred to the Jazz Fest Shabbat committee members that “Zydeco was a genre of music that we hadn’t explored.”
Zydeco music is a form of music that incorporates elements of traditional Cajun along with rhythm and blues and rock and roll. The accordion is the instrument most closely associated with the musical form, but electric and bass guitars and drums also figure prominently.
When it came to finding an act that was representative, “Sunpie” Barnes’ name was at the top of the list of possible performers. “We are so grateful that Sunpie was available to help us break into that area,” Mintz continued. “We’ve done so much with traditional jazz in so many years. This will be a new sound for Jazz Fest Shabbat, while still maintaining what the community expects to hear each year.”
Describing the program as “a combination of new and beloved favorites,” Mintz said this year’s performance will be memorable for another reason. “One thing that’s different is that Sunpie is going to be more involved in the service than our guest artists have been typically in the past,” he promised. “This will bring depth and texture to the music of the service.”
As in the past two years, New York composer and arranger Toby Singer was commissioned to write a world premiere piece to be performed at Jazz Fest Shabbat. This year Singer composed a Zydeco-tinged Psalm 96 (Shir L’Adonai Shir Chadash). “We felt that was an appropriate text for our first ever Zydeco (service),” Mintz continued. “We will surely be singing a new song for Jazz Fest Shabbat services. This is an exciting one.”
Mintz promised other world premiere arrangements for already composed liturgical works by Singer will be prominently featured again.
“It’s quite a thing,” Mintz mused about these compositions. “One of the wonderful things about this is that they are compositions for Touro Synagogue and Jazz Fest Shabbat. Any choir that wants to perform this music they’ ll see at the top that this was commissioned for Jazz Fest Shabbat and Touro Synagogue.”
The Panorama Jazz Band led by Ben Schenk will be on hand along with music director Terry Maddox and the Touro Synagogue Choir.
Founded by Cantor Stephen Dubov of blessed memory, the Jazz Fest Shabbat makes its 26th consecutive presentation in the main sanctuary at the Reform temple. This will also be the third and final time Mintz will be at the center of the music. The cantor will be relocating to New York in the coming months.
While the 7:30 service and performance is free to the public, patron sponsorships for Jazz Fest Shabbat are still available. Each patron enjoys a private concert by Sunpie Barnes and the Louisiana Sunspots and a catered meal prior to the service along with reserved seats in the sanctuary. Individual patron levels begin at $150 (Blues) and cost $300 (R&B) and $500 (Zydeco) with CDs and posters available at the higher levels. The top level $1,000 patron includes signed Jazz Fest Shabbat posters and two single-day passes to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in addition to all the other perks. For more information, click here or call 504-895-4843.