Up Front and Center, Jay Mazza's love song to the New Orleans music scene at the end of the 20th century, takes its title from the author's favorite spot at a musical performance. He wants to be close to the band. He wants to be able to see the musician's faces. He wants to be at the center of the crowd. The audience, he says, energizes the band; the band energizes the audience. The best place to feel the power of that energy is not just "up front and center." It is "up front and center in New Orleans."
New Orleans and music have long been synonymous in many people's minds. Yet in his introduction, Mazza explains that in the 1970s when he got to town, the music scene was not quite the dominant force it had been. It was through the last few decades of the century that it was to flourish once again. New venues for all kind of music would appear. New generations of musicians would energize the community. Old traditions would be reinvigorated. Mazza's book is an attempt to describe what was going on. Given the subject—great music in one of the most exotic of settings—it could have been a great read. Unfortunately, it isn't. Indeed, getting through it is something of a chore.
It is not that Mazza doesn't know what he's talking about. When it comes to New Orleans music of the period, he speaks with as much expertise as anyone could want. He has been to gig after gig, all kinds of music, all over town and he has put it all down in his journal. He can tell you who was playing where and with whom, what they played, and whether they were playing well. He can tell you about artists you've heard of—the Marsalis brothers, Dr. John, Harry Connick, Jr., and the Neville Brothers. He can tell you about artists you should have heard of—George Porter, Jr., the Batiste brothers, Walter "Wolfman" Washington. He can reel off name after name of musicians you've never heard of and more than likely never will. Mazza knows what he's talking about.