New Orleans' Mardi Gras may be a world-famous day of celebration, but that morning, all was still and quiet — at first — when two musical forces met for the first time in the city's landmark park, Congo Square.
Filmmaker Dale Djerassi introduced Brazilian master percussionist Airto Moreira to members of New Orleans' own legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band that morning and captured the meeting, and their concert the following day, in his film "Resurrection! Airto Moreira and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band."
Djerassi directed and produced the short documentary, which is screening Aug. 27 and 28 in the South Bay as part of the Cinequest film festival.
The film, which was released in early 2021, also showed locally at last year's United Nations Association Film Festival. It debuted at the 2021 Woodstock Film Festival and also showed last year at the New Orleans Film Festival.
Djerassi is a native of the Peninsula, but it was connections forged elsewhere that helped lay the foundation for "Resurrection!"
Moreira grew up in Brazil, but in the 1960s came to the United States to follow his wife, bossa nova singer Flora Purim. Djerassi came to know Moreira and his family well as he documented Moreira and Purim's 1988 return to their native Brazil for his film "Nada Será Como Antes (Nothing Will Be As It Was)."
But in more recent times, Djerassi said that due to health and other issues, Moreira found himself in a creative lull, going so far as to cancel performances.
Djerassi got personally acquainted with the Preservation Jazz Hall Band and its current creative director Ben Jaffe during the several years that he lived in New Orleans, though the first time Djerassi heard their music, it was right here on the Peninsula, when as a child he accompanied his mother to one of the band's performances at Stanford. More recently, Preservation Hall's touring band, in town to perform at SFJAZZ late last year, did a brief residency at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, of which Djerassi is a founding trustee. The program operates out of the Djerassi family's ranch in Woodside.
Djerassi was inspired to encourage a meetup between the percussionist and the jazz band while he was attending several nights of performances by Preservation Hall musicians in San Francisco presented by SFJAZZ. Each night, the band performed with a different guest artist.
"I mentioned it to Ben Jaffe, after the third or fourth show at SFJAZZ. I went backstage and talked to him and I said, 'Hey, you've played with all these different people. Have you ever thought of playing with Airto?'" he said.
Djerassi was able to help arrange the meeting of the musicians, set for Mardi Gras morning, 2017.
Though Mardi Gras brings throngs to New Orleans each year to celebrate, the holiday, along with Christmas Day, is one of Preservation Hall Jazz Band's two days off each year, making it a good day for a meetup. And Djerassi noted that with Mardi Gras season already in full swing, Congo Square was particularly quiet that morning, as many people were sleeping in after enjoying festivities the night before. But it wasn't long before the morning meeting between Moreira and the Preservation Hall musicians turned into a jam session.
"There was basically nobody there, unless they were still up, because this was really in the morning, so it was nice because there was no crowd — it wasn't a show in that sense. It was just like an introduction to each other. And they just started playing, jamming right there," Djerassi said.
"Resurrection!" documents that first meeting as well as the musicians' collaborative concert on the following day at Preservation Hall, an intimate venue in New Orleans' French Quarter. Joining Moreira on stage with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was his daughter, vocalist Diana Booker, and her husband, percussionist Krishna Booker. The Bookers' young daughter accompanied them on the trip to New Orleans, making the trip a family affair.
The performance was not only a success, Djerassi said, but it restored Moreira's joy in performing.
"I call this 'music as medicine for the soul.' Because (Preservation Hall) really loved playing with Airto because he's a legend in jazz circles in percussion, and he loved it because it's such a fun, uplifting, musical ensemble — they're just amazing that way. And so that's why I called the film 'Resurrection' with an exclamation mark, because it really has that effect," Djerassi said.
"Resurrection! Airto Moreira and Preservation Hall Jazz Band" shows as part of Cinequest's "Who We Are, Who We Were" program of short films Aug. 27, 7:15 p.m. and Aug. 28, 6:45 p.m. at the Pruneyard Cinema, 1875 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell. For more information, visit cinequest.org.