Jazz/R&B Festival celebrates 25 years

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First in a series of articles looking back at the history of the event
“Rock Bands and Blues Bands, Jazz, R&B
Orchestras and Choirs sound so sweet to me
This is our town, we’ve been right here for a while…”
From the song: “This is Our Town”
By: Rodney Harrington,
Jarrett Bailey
and Luke Brouillette

By Rodney Harrington
In 1995, I think it was, a group of intrepid jazz aficionados got together in Natchitoches and decided to have a jazz festival.
At the time, Melissa Cloutier owned a sandwich shop and bistro on Front Street called The Open Hearth and featured jazz music there every week. She had a loyal contingent of jazz lovers who would come every week.
One of the most loyal of those was Richard Westrop, a transplanted Brit who loved listening to jazz music. According to Melissa, Richard walked in one day, plopped a $1,000 check on her desk and told her to put together a jazz festival. That $1,000 was the seed that has grown into the Natchitoches Jazz/R&B Festival, which will be celebrating its 25th year May 21.
Melissa called a meeting of jazz and other music lovers one day at her sandwich shop and somehow I got invited. Also present were Lanie Maggio, Carol Landcaster (Lucky), Iris Harper and John Wyka, who at that time was an attorney in Natchitoches. They were all excited about the idea of having a jazz festival in Natchitoches and said there had been a small one a year or so before but it had been pretty sparsely attended. I questioned whether or not the group really wanted to limit itself to jazz music only and told them I felt if they wanted the festival to succeed, they should include other genres of music. I pointed out that the New Orleans Jazz Fest featured many different types of music.
I suggested to the group that in Natchitoches Parish, really Rhythm and Blues was king and that perhaps we should consider calling it the Jazz/R&B Festival.

This article published in the March 5, 2022, print edition.

I believe the way I put it to the group was that I felt that if we had a true “Jazz Festival” in Natchitoches with jazz music only, it would be fun and we would all attend along with maybe a hundred or so other people, but I felt like that would probably be it. I felt that if we wanted a true music festival that could incorporate all the talent we had in our area and be most appealing to the masses, we needed to broaden our horizon. The group agreed, we decided to call the festival The Natchitoches Jazz/R&B Festival and we were on our way!