Satchmo SummerFest, New Orleans, LA – 8/3
Yoshio Toyama and his wife Keiko moved to New Orleans in 1968 and rented a small flat above a Bourbon Street bar, where they could here the music coming from Preservation Hall through a broken window pane, for the express purpose of learning to play traditional New Orleans jazz. The owner of the bar could hear the Toyamas practice through that same broken window and offered to trade them night time gigs in his courtyard for meals. They ate creole and Cajun food, practiced during the day, Yoshio his trumpet, Keiko the banjo, and stayed until 1973 and have been playing traditional jazz, in Japan and around the world ever since.
On a trip to New Orleans, in 1994, Yoshio was distressed to see how New Orleans had changed. Kids, it seemed, were playing in gangs instead of bands, carrying weapons instead of instruments. With this in mind, Yoshio and his wife created the Wonderful World of Jazz Foundation. They started raising money and collecting instruments and have donated nearly 800 instruments to New Orleans schoolchildren. After Hurricane Katrina, the Toyamas held fundraisers and collected professional quality instruments, from Japanese families, to help the New Orleans professional musicians get their lives back. Two of those instruments, a flute and a saxophone, belonged to his father who considered New Orleans to be the holy land. Through the Tipitina’s Foundation, New Orleans was able to return these grand gestures by providing money and instruments to Japan after the tsunami struck in 2011.
I heard of Yoshio and Keiko’s story while talking with Don Marquis, a native of Goshen, IN who came down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras 51 years ago and has never left. Don now volunteers for the French Quarter Festivals and is responsible for hiring traditional jazz ensembles for those festivals. Don, retired now, said, “I do what I can and enjoy the music.”
Yoshio Toyama and the Dixie Saints, all but one artist, Japanese nationals, took the stage with “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” then proceed to run through many of Satchmo’s greats. “Hello Dolly”, “Mac the Knife”, “Basin Street Blues”, and the great “What a Wonderful World”. We listened to Yoshio play the scores making breaks of a scat vocal patterned from Louis “Pops” Armstrong. The joy on his face told the story of a man dedicated to the gift of Satchmo’s music.
The Satchmo Festival is an annual event in the New Orleans French Quarter, dedicated to the music that is traditional jazz. Held on the grounds of the historic New Orleans mint, there are food booths, refreshment booths, three days of music. Oh yeah, admission: free.
While we were talking with Mr. Marquis, Allen Toussaint swooped in and picked up our granddaughter, Harper, for a dance. I thanked him for his music. The gracious southern gentleman then sauntered into the crowd to talk with neighbors and to listen to his friends, Yoshio and Keiko. There always seems to be a little magic attached to a day of New Orleans music.