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New Orleans Jazz Fest's co-founder looks back

  • Story Highlights
  • Quint Davis is the producer/director of the New Orleans Jazz Festival
  • Davis co-founded the festival 40 years ago in Louisiana
  • Festival expects 400,000 attendees despite the sour economy, Davis says
  • David: "This festival always has been this sort of battery to recharge yourself"
By Sean Callebs and Jason Morris
CNN
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Quint Davis drives around the fairgrounds in his golf cart. The producer/director checks every nook and cranny the way a field commander checks his troops.

Quint Davis is the producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Quint Davis is the producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Davis has been doing this 40 years; he was one of the co-founders of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

If you were there the first year of the festival, count yourself among the elite; there were just a few hundred people.

This year, organizers expect 400,000 over the two weekends. Despite the sour economy, Jazz Fest remains one of the areas economic mainstays, Davis said.

CNN talked with Davis about the festival's early years and its local artists. The following is an edited version of that interview:

CNN: Tell me about the whole evolution of this, 40 years now. What it started out as, how big it was to the community back then, because now it's synonymous with New Orleans.

Quint Davis: We really set out to be an indigenous self-celebration [of] the culture -- like the world's greatest backyard barbeque... to celebrate the tradition of New Orleans.

And now, after 40 of these festivals, we really have become one of those traditions. We have three generations of festival-goers and now three generations of musicians and cooks whose grandkids are coming out here and playing music.

CNN: In the early years, what was it like?

Davis: Well, we started the festival in a place called Congo Square, which is very ironically historical because that was the birth of African music in the North American continent and really the birth of the beat that became everything else we know in American music.

It was very small; it was the same sort of guts and bones. We had a Cajun-Zydeco stage; we had a little bitty tent with gospel singers in it. Right on the grass, there wasn't even a stage for that one.

The Same concept, marching brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians, a little culture fest that was stuck onto a concert hall. We had Mahalia Jackson; we had Duke Ellington; we had big names. We were there for two years, and then we moved out here to the fairgrounds.

CNN: And that was a great time in music, 40 years ago.

Davis: An interesting thing about the evolution of this festival, being that it's 88 percent New Orleans music. Back in those days, the great musical thing about this festival was discovery.

You know, you say, "Oh, I'll come down. I heard all these great bands. I've never heard of any of them. I'll walk from stage to stage." Now 40 years later, New Orleans music is at the forefront. Our blues musicians, jazz musicians, Cajun-Zydeco -- even they play at festivals all around the world.

CNN: Many artists and fans have described Jazz Fest as a spiritual experience. Is that how you view it when organizing every year?

Davis: This festival always has been this sort of battery to recharge yourself, your spirit and your heart and soul.

We saw the spirit that was out here after 9/11 [and] Katrina -- four years ago, our entire city was destroyed by a flood. And now more than ever, our festival did what it does, and it showed people the healing power of music.

And people came here in a way that was some sum that was greater than the parts, because people here really live on what music does to you. Music is not as much entertainment here as it a medium to make you feel good.

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