George French - bass, vocals; Emile Vinette - piano; Joe Fox - drums
While the big names at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival were showcased indoors at the Municipal Auditorium, local artists were featured on the outdoor stages set up in Beauregard Square (renamed Congo Square the following year). Drummer Joe Fox led a popular trio on Bourbon Street at the time that included pianist Emile Vinette, a consummate accompanist and beloved figure on the New Orleans music scene, and bassist-singer George French. Together they run through a varied set ranging from jazz standards to pop tunes of the day and blues classics.
Opening with a straight ahead version of "Autumn Leaves," bassist French charms the crowd with his sly, sensuous vocals and daring intervallic leaps while Fox swings lightly and politely underneath his walking bass lines. Vinette's solo here is fluid and full of elegant harmonic nuance. Next up is a version of "You Made Me So Very Happy," which Fox attributes to Lou Rawls. Indeed, French's soulful interpretation of the Brenda Holloway tune is closer in spirit to Rawls' more intimate 1970 recording than David Clayton-Thomas' 1969 version with Blood, Sweat & Tears. Fox and company hit a quintessential N'awlins funk vibe with a rendition of Jessie Hill's 1960 hit, "Oop Poo Pah Doo," which has Vinette showcasing out his funkiest Les McCann-inspired piano work and has Fox dipping into his James Brown funk bag on the kit. French cleverly segues from that New Orleans R&B classic into the spiritual "Wade in the Water" and a touch of the 1969 gospel hit by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, "Oh Happy Day."
Their soulful take on "Tobacco Road" is inspired by Lou Rawls' gripping 1967 version while their rendition of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday" is buoyed by Fox's upbeat shuffle-swing feel and sparked by French's earthy Rawls-inspired vocals. Vinette's piano solo here expertly straddles the soul-jazz divide. And they close out their set with the gospel-tinged blues, "Your Good Thing Is About To End," yet another tune previously recorded by Lou Rawls, whom French clearly digs.
Vinnette, a modern jazz player in the vein of Ahmad Jamal, was able to crossover and play both R&B and traditional jazz throughout his career. He had been a member of trumpeter Kermit Ruffin's Barbecue Swingers when he passed away in Texas in December 2011. French continues to appear at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and entertain at various clubs around the Crescent City. (Bill Milkowski)