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A Mother-Daughter Duo Brought Chamber Music to Jazz Clubs

All photos courtesy of Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee

The warmth and intimacy of traditional jazz venues, along with the audience conversation and feedback those kind of spaces allow, is exactly where chamber music belongs, they believe.

Their initiative, the six-year-old Birdfoot festival, is named for the way the Mississippi River branches out, resembling a bird’s footprint. And like that meandering Mississippi, this festival follows its own unique course.

Co-founder and artistic director Jenna Sherry is a New Orleanian and a violinist working out of London. Her work keeps her on the cutting edge of both talent and musical evolution throughout the world. Her mother, co-founder and executive director Tracey Sherry, handles the nuts and bolts of the organization from New Orleans, forging partnerships and connections within the city. Together they bring world-renown musicians into the city for a festival experience that is both unique and, somehow, very familiar to anyone who loves music.

With a mix of free and ticketed events, shows are held at venues throughout New Orleans. Some are traditional spots for performances—places like the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center or the New Orleans Jazz Museum. And then there are non-traditional spots for chamber music—places like the Three Keys at Ace Hotel, Brennan’s Restaurant, or the Contemporary Arts Center. This makes the festival accessible and very audience-friendly.

Birdfoot Backstage, one of the free events at the CAC, aims to takes the mystery out of a particular piece of music. Musicians explain a score in front of a live audience—the historical context and how it was put together but also how the audience can interact and be part of it. Attendees can later hear the piece performed at the festival’s final music event (Saturday night’s Season Finale).

It’s about the audience, but it’s also about the artists, bringing them into all the city has to offer—food, music, and other musical styles. Annual artist residencies for both established and young musicians allow for much-needed creative and mentoring time. Young musicians get the opportunity to play with and be mentored by seasoned professionals with performances scattered throughout the festival. For established musicians, winning an artist residency means time to work on a new project or a collaboration. For locals, artist residencies mean opportunities to hear world-renowned musicians in the months leading up to their festival performances.

This year’s festival kicks off with a free lunchtime concert at the Pan American Life building which will preview the music drifting through the city’s airwaves over the rest of the week. See our festival guide for more details and prepare yourself for an enriching musical experience.

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