“WE LIKE TO PLAY 2% JAZZ AND 98% funky stuff,” James Brown and P-Funk saxman Maceo Parker has been known to declare. That equation balanced out at the 2011 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where Parker’s crew of funkateers— with badass bassist Rodney “Skeet” Curtis—imported a downright nasty set of nightclub rhythms on a stellar sun-soaked afternoon. There was plenty of jazz from stalwarts Elis Marsalis and Irvin Mayfield in the WWOZ Jazz Tent, but funky music—most of it homegrown—dominated the three biggest outdoor stages on the fairgrounds. Dumpstaphunk, Papa Grows Funk, Galactic, the Neville Brothers, Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, George Porter Jr. & the Runnin’ Pardners, and myriad brass bands took turns funkifying eager audiences.
Bass highlights abounded in such a groove-oriented environment. The “King of the Funky Drums,” aka Zigaboo Modeliste, brought two bassists—Darryl Anders and the Neville Brothers’ Chris Severin—to team up on the low end for his fabulous Congo Square Stage throwdown that peaked on the Meters’ classic “People Say.” “Chris has crazy chops,” says Anders, “so I basically held down the main lines and let him go off.” Anders Osborne bassist Carl Dufrene clearly relished his chance to lay way into the heavy funk rock from Osborne’s most recent and most raucous CD, American Patchwork. Living Colour frontman Corey Clover’s guest appearance with Galactic allowed Robert Mercurio to dig deep into old-school funk tunes the band hasn’t played much since focusing on hip-hop in the wake of Theryl “Houseman” deClouet’s 2004 departure. Another Living Colour member—Doug Wimbish—demonstrated his versatility by laying down authentic Mardi Gras second lines for local piano legend Henry Butler, whose sanctified set in the Blues Tent proved why he will someday sit at the right hand of Fest legend Professor Longhair. Cheers to many Jazz Fests between now and then.