New Orleans Jazz Fest After Dark Deep Dive

By Maya Gans Mar 15, 2019 10:48 am PDT

Maya Gans is a live music fan and is also an aspiring data scientist. The PHD student loves exploring networks through concerts and started sharing some of her work analyzing Phish and live music data on her Twitter feed. JamBase recruited Maya to create infographics about Phish that run on our Instagram page. Past examples include song retrospectives, an analysis of who does the bulk of the singing at each show and a look at the likelihood of songs occurring back to back. Today, Gans goes beyond Phish to analyze the late-night shows currently planned for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Here’s a deep dive to help you formulate a gameplan for Jazz Fest After Dark:

The duel weekend New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival may begin at the fairgrounds, but once the lineup is announced, what truly gets me excited is the overwhelming amount of late-night music options, both leading up to the festival, mid-week and after. The week of Jazz Fest presents the incredible issue of having too many musical options. Because the week attracts the highest caliber of musicianship, it lends itself to the unique collaborations you may not be able to see anywhere else.

It’s hard to convey the magic of Jazz Fest, so I’ll try in the only way I know, quantification. Over the course of a single week, 422 unique bands including 1202 artists will be playing around New Orleans. Local big bands such as The Soul Rebels, Bonerama and Kermit Ruffins & The BBQ Swingers play four times throughout the week, but 332 performances only happen once. I first wanted to see of these unique bands, who is playing in the most of them.

Seen in this way, Stanton Moore, Nigel Hall and Eric “Benny” Bloom take the lead for Jazz Fest collaborations. I explore this even deeper by seeing what bands the top seven artist are playing in, and when these highly collaborative artists are playing together.

Click here for the full, interactive chart.

The festival is split into weekends, and only 19% of artists stay over the entire week, so if coming for a single weekend choosing which one is an exercise in strategy. I created a network for each weekend and the days between to explore the ‘shape’ of Jazz Fest. Green circles are artists and maroon circles bands, and their size corresponds to how important they are in connecting more people to each other. For each of these networks you can see a large, interconnected cluster. Interestingly, the second weekend has two major clusters, where the smaller one is comprised of traditional New Orleans staples such as Tuba Skinny, The Original Tuxedo Band and Doro Wat. The satellite clusters to these main hubs are the bands playing with members who aren’t collaborating in any side projects.

Using the largest cluster from the entirety of Jazz Fest, you can see how the bands and artists are connected:

One of the many reasons why Jazz Fest is special is because it lends itself to unique collaborations you couldn’t see anywhere else. The myriad of late-night music options is like a mental exercise in creating the supergroup of your dreams.

Using the members from all the bands listed within the Jazz Fest Grids, there are 1201 artists playing over the course of the jam filled week. Of these artists, 227 are playing in more than one band.

Because Jazz Fest spans improvisational genres I wanted to look beyond who was playing in the most unique outfits (Stanton Moore wins Jazz Fest, playing in 12 different bands!) and see which artists are the most “similar.” I defined similarity by looking at how many bands a pair of artists are in together, the dividing by the total amount of bands they are both in, both separately and together.

In the above graph you see the percentage of how many pairs of artists play together after eliminating artists that only play in their own bands. Lots of artists play together a couple times, so the meat of the graph is on the left. However, I’d first like to point out the interesting trend on the right side. These are the pairs that are always seen together, across different bands.

Some of these pairings make a lot of sense – like how you’ll always see the Turkuaz Horns together. However, others are more interesting; Robert “Sput” Searight only plays with bassist MONONEON, Thievery Corporation’s Jeff Franca will only be at The Motet shows, and Karl Denson can always be seen with Chris Stillwell.

Because a graph with 1202 artists is computationally intensive, here we subset the graph to include the most “important” artists. Importance was measured by seeing how much of the network falls apart without those artists. In the graphic, the bigger their circle, the more important they are. The circles are also colored using the similarity metric above.

Focusing again on the left side of the graph, because lots of pairs only play together once, we advocate that these unique pairings are what makes Jazz Fest so special. Above you can see the connections of these artists, where the connection is the single band that they play in together.

For instance, Stanton Moore and George Porter Jr. have the lowest similarity metric because they can both be found all over the fest but will only be together at the 15th Annual Threadhead Party under the title Haus Band 119. In the end, no matter which weekend you end up choosing, you really can’t go wrong, and are guaranteed to hear something very special. I used a compilation of data from the incredible Jazz Fest Grids as well as artist’s websites, but inevitably this list was incomplete. Furthermore, these networks can’t even begin to take into account the guest sit-ins that will occur, ultimately changing them to be that much more interconnected. For a companion piece, click here.

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