The 2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s most controversial moment involved a demand for more jazz at, appropriately, the WWOZ Jazz Tent.
On April 29, the festival’s first Friday, Cuban jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval made his Jazz Fest debut as the Jazz Tent’s closing act. How Sandoval’s show ended rubbed many fans the wrong way.
He’d been waiting a long time to play Jazz Fest. He was booked in 2015, only to have his set called off because of a lightning storm. He was booked again for both the spring and fall Jazz Fests in 2020 and 2021, all of which were canceled by the pandemic.
So he wanted to make the most of his Jazz Tent set, which was broadcast live on WWOZ 90.7 (and can still be heard through Friday on the station’s two-week online archive).
After an opening number that encompassed the Mardi Gras standard “Second Line, Pt. 1, ”Sandoval described riding his motorcycle from Miami to New Orleans on a previous visit and playing his trumpet on the streets in the French Quarter just because of his love and respect for the city, the birthplace of jazz.
Jazz Fest, he noted, “did not give me too much time. I have to hurry up. ”
His show was scheduled for 75 minutes, from 5:40 pm to 6:55 pm As the archived WWOZ broadcast makes clear, it was a spirited, diverse set. With a few minutes left, Sandoval spoke passionately about the need to support jazz.
“We have to protect it, we have to defend it and we have to respect the legacy of this wonderful music,” he said. “Please raise your voice and let everybody know that we must preserve the tradition and the legacy of jazz music!”
Turning away from the microphone, he apparently had a brief exchange with a Jazz Fest staffer about how much time he had left.
Back on the microphone, Sandoval announced, “You know what? They give me a sign that I have five (minutes). No way, no. I’m gonna play another 10 minutes. I’m gonna play 10 more! Because we started quarter of (6 pm) and they told me 75 minutes. ”
As the audience cheered his defiance, he and the band plunged into another song.
Exactly five minutes later, coming out of a piano solo, the music melted away as the musicians suddenly stopped playing. Sandoval addressed the audience again.
“According to my clock, I have five minutes left, but they say I have to stop. Sorry. I love you. Goodnight. Thank you.”
The musicians exited the stage as audience members hooted and yelled. A chant broke out – “Let them play! Let them play! ” – and grew increasingly louder.
But it was over. WWOZ’s broadcast cut back to that evening’s hosts, Missy Bowen and Gerald French. Bowen mentioned the “let them play” chant and said the moment gave her goosebumps.
Backstage, Sandoval reportedly seemed fine, if a bit perplexed, as he smoked a cigar and chatted with local musicians, according to several people who saw him.
But many fans were upset about how his show ended. Several complained to me at the Fair Grounds or via email.
“We would NEVER subject an artist to the disrespectful treatment which Arturo Sandoval received when, during the last tune of his set, he was unceremoniously and abruptly told to leave the stage, leaving the audience confused and dismayed,” wrote Marshall Barber, a Realtor from Topeka, Kansas, who has emceed music festivals. “I have been involved in music for over 50 years and have never seen an artist treated so inconsiderately.”
WWOZ deejay Dean Ellis watched Sandoval’s show a few rows from the stage in the Jazz Tent.
“What I found most irksome was that, after a killer set with a highly appreciative audience on the first day back at Jazz Fest after the three-year hiatus, the closing performer at, of all places, the Jazz Tent, was ostensibly yanked off the stage over a matter of five minutes, ”Ellis said via email.
“Not only was it a letdown from the point of view of the audience but it showed a serious lack of respect for one of our finest jazz artists, moments after he had just spoken of how we need to respect this music he so beautifully played for us in the city where it was born. “
Two Jazz Fest staffers familiar with the situation suggested no one would have actually pulled the plug on Sandoval if he had just kept playing instead of asking for permission and talking on the microphone about the time situation. That, they felt, may have been more about a performer milking the situation and playing to the crowd’s sympathies.
Sandoval’s camp saw it differently.
“In his position, I would have responded to the crowd in the same manner,” Keith Fiala, Sandoval’s road manager, said via email. “I think he handled himself and the situation professionally and courteously. However, the festival did NOT allow him to go 10 seconds past 6:55, as I was right there watching the stage manager give the order to kill the sound.
“I never got a clear answer as to why we had an absolute ‘stop’ at 6:55 pm, but he held us to it.”
Getting an act off stage on time is as important as getting an act on stage on time. If an artist runs late, that impacts the next acts on the stage, cutting into their set-up or performance time. That’s not fair to the other musicians, or to fans who expect an act to be onstage at its scheduled time, and plan their day around it.
Jazz Fest, to its credit, prides itself on running on time. But a little flexibility is possible with the day’s last act, especially when that act’s scheduled stop time is 6:55 – five minutes earlier than most other stages.
Some musicians play past 7 pm, the festival’s latest scheduled stopping time. On the closing Sunday, for instance, main stage headliner Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews did not say his goodbyes until 7:12 pm
Though I did not see Sandoval’s show, I’ve witnessed similar situations, especially in Jazz Fest tents, where the crowd energy can be especially concentrated. Following a brilliant performance, an excited audience cheers for the band to keep going, but the stage crew – or the musicians themselves – shut it down.
Ultimately, it’s a judgment call. In this instance, it sounds like Sandoval should have been granted his extra five minutes.
But he ended up with something he may have appreciated even more: fans demanding more jazz.