Festival of Music hosts gumbo, jazz fund-raiser on Thursday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 17, 2004

Hot gumbo. Cool jazz. Good mix.

The Natchez Festival of Music will host a gumbo supper at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Natchez Community Center, with music provided by some of Mississippi’s best jazz players.

A fundraiser for the festival &045; known until last year as the Natchez Opera Festival &045; the evening of good food and jazz will bring together renowned pianist David Miller of Alcorn State University, Natchez’s own Fred Parker on drums, London Branch of Jackson State University on upright base and Maurice Turner of Utica on trumpet.

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&uot;It’s going to be a lot of fun and a lot of good music,&uot; Miller said. &uot;This is a talented group that will be playing together.&uot;

Tickets, $35 each, are available by calling (601) 442-2617.

Music lovers have little problem identifying jazz when they hear it. However, sometimes people are confused about what it is, Miller said.

&uot;It’s always improvisation. It’s syncopated. And when it’s played well, the total is often so much greater than the parts,&uot; Miller said.

And when really good jazz players get together &045; well, that’s the best. &uot;The collective improvisations with really good musicians are great,&uot; he said.

Miller, a professor of music, has directed the Alcorn Jazz Festival for years. &uot;It actually is the oldest jazz festival in the area. We’ve had some of the greatest musicians in the world come to the festival.&uot;

And now Miller looks forward to a closer tie to Natchez and a possible hookup with the Festival of Music, which this year will spotlight jazz during one weekend of the festival, hosting Marcus Roberts and other nationally acclaimed jazz artists.

Gumbo has a history of improvisation, also, said Merkel Dupuy of Avoyelles Parish, who will provide the Cajun-style gumbo for the evening. &uot;For years, it was considered a poor man’s soup because you can make gumbo out of anything,&uot; Dupuy said.

The gumbo he is preparing for Thursday will be rich, however. He likes a thicker, more substantial gumbo than some cooks in the southern part of Louisiana.

Dupuy, who has been involved with the Natchez Festival of Music for many years as a volunteer and board member, looks on gumbo as one of the most important regional dishes &045; much the way jazz fans look upon that style of music as native to the area.

&uot;The story goes that in the early 1700s, a young woman might hear three questions from a young Frenchman who is considering marriage: who’s your mama, are you a Catholic and can you make a roux,&uot; he said.

He makes the roux with equal parts of flour and oil. There are various ways to make a successful roux. His sister, who is helping with Thursday’s treat, likes to make a roux in the oven.

Natchez is a perfect place for good food and good music, Dupuy said. &uot;I’ve been coming to Natchez since I was a little boy. I remember the old Eola Hotel and the hot, buttered biscuits.&uot;

Biscuits will be on the Thursday menu, provided by Biscuits and Blues. The Eola Hotel is preparing and donating salad. The music guild is providing desserts. There will be iced tea and coffee and a cash bar.

Natchez drummer Fred Parker is excited to join the other jazz musicians. &uot;It will be true improvisation. It’s been so long since I’ve played with these kinds of players.&uot;

Parker reminisced about his journey into the world of jazz, starting with piano lessons in childhood and ending with his graduating with a degree in jazz at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he studied with Alvin Batieste.

&uot;One of the beauties of jazz is that you aren’t confined. There’s a structure but a freedom, the same thing that the late J.P. Trosclair did with a recipe &045; such exquisite food,&uot; Parker said.

Miller, who received his doctorate of music at the University of Mississippi, began playing trumpet at age 15 but eventually turned to the piano. &uot;I’ve been at the jazz game for 30 years now,&uot; he said. &uot;When it’s played well, there are so many magical moments.&uot;

For those who do not get enough of the music during the gumbo supper, a second opportunity will begin at Bowie’s on Main Street, where the group will move for a 10 p.m. to midnight gig, Miller said.