My Dad’s Legacy: A strong affinity for music from New Orleans!

Just about every time I spin a Satchmo number, I think of my Dad.  I just can’t separate my thoughts of Pop from the sound of “Pops.”

dad-clarinet
My Dad played clarinet up until he entered the Navy in 1943. He played briefly with Tommy Dorsey until the bandleader told him to go back to school. (A story that still made him sad to retell 30 years later)

Jim Sweeney was born in 1923 about a year after Louis Armstrong moved to Chicago to join King Oliver and his band. So he would have been a young pup when Armstrong released his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. But that didn’t keep him from digging them.

While he held a lifelong passion for Armstrong,  it was most likely Glenn Miller and his way of using reed instruments to carry the melody and Benny Goodman who inspired him as he came of age playing the saxophone and clarinet in the 30’s.

My musical foundation was solidly laid by Dad’s love of music, his stereo and his collection of swing, jazz and big band records. His taste in music became the soundtrack of my childhood.

I wouldn’t have been born in New Orleans if my Dad hadn’t taken a teaching post at Tulane in the 50’s.  As someone who once played with the Tommy Dorsey band, albeit briefly, he must have thought he hit the jackpot when he got that assignment.

My Dad at his organ, next his record player. Later, he would create a wall niche for the organ and shelves for his records and player. He also added central air conditioning.
My Dad (and me) at his organ, next to his record player. Later, he would create a wall niche for the organ and shelves for his records and player. He also added central air conditioning but he still walked around the house in his briefs.

But by then his clarinet was packed away. He bought an organ instead and remodeled the downstairs of our house on Nashville Avenue, just a few blocks from Freret.  There he and my Mom would hold parties, digging deeply into his music collection and inevitably ending up playing the organ or having others play and people would sing and dance. He was a fan of local musicians like Pete Fountain and Al Hirt, and a frequent visitor to their Bourbon Street clubs as well as a new spot called Preservation Hall.

My Dad’s career blossomed in New Orleans allowing him to get to know a wide range of people, particularly those active in labor and justice issues. As a result, our downstairs parties became a safe haven for activists such as Loyola faculty Louis Twomey and Joseph Fichter, Jesuit priests and academics who played a key role in school integration. Other visitors included the poet, John Beecher (“To Live and Die in Dixie”), the journalist John Griffin (“Black Like Me”) and, so I’ve been told, the Singing Nun.

We live in Uptown New Orleans where my Dad remodeled the downstairs with a room designed for music and partying.
We lived in Uptown New Orleans where my Dad remodeled the downstairs with a big room designed for listening, playing and dancing to music.

I was too young to absorb most of this. But I did soak up the music. After we moved away from New Orleans, my Dad still loved to listen to hot jazz and swing. He almost always had music on whenever he was home. But it wasn’t quite the same.

This Monday, I’ll be spinning a lot of music my Dad played in his day and perhaps would have played (more current stuff) had he had the chance.  Please join me.

Happy Father’s Day!

Listen to the show –

New Orleans clears the air in its bars and nightclubs

New Orleans may be the place where you can “Do Whatcha Wanna” but thankfully that no longer includes sticking a lit end of a cigarette in my face while dancing to Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar.

Vincent Broussard of Rebirth Brass Band powers his saxophone at the Maple Leaf Bar.
Vincent Broussard of Rebirth Brass Band powers his saxophone at the Maple Leaf Bar.

New Orleans recently joined the more than 700 other U.S. cities in adopting a smoke free ordinance for its bars and nightclubs. Louisiana restaurants have been smoke-free since 2007.

For the record, I wasn’t too bothered by the cigarette in my face. We were all enjoying the music; safety goggles might have been nice to have.

That was a few years back. And even before then, a movement was building to protect service workers and musicians from sidestream smoke. Can you imagine what it must feel like to suck in a lungful of smoke to sing or blow your horn.  More and more establishments were going smoke free or, at the very least, creating a smoke-free performance space for musicians and their audience.

King James and the G-Men perform regularly at BJ's in the Bywater--a classic neighborhood bar that allowed smoking up until the citywide ban.
King James and the G-Men perform regularly at BJ’s in the Bywater–a classic neighborhood bar that allowed smoking up until the citywide ban.

In my last visit, just two weeks before the ban went into effect (April 22), the smoke had cleared from just about every venue. One notable exception was a Bywater neighborhood bar, BJs–a quintessential New Orleans neighborhood dive bar that would never have gone smoke free if the law hadn’t required it. Still, it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have to throw my clothes away after a night of listening to King James and the Special Men.

It may be too soon to tell the lasting impact of the ban. Early reports are that business hasn’t been hurt too badly by the ban. Drinkers will drink and smokers will smoke. So the biggest concern now is the noise factor.

Places with courtyards, patios and balconies can still allow smoker unless, like Bacchanal, the owners prohibit smoking. The Roamin's Jasmine playing in the courtyard.
Places with courtyards, patios and balconies can still allow smoking. Above, the Roamin’ Jasmine perform in the courtyard of Bacchanal which by its own choice prohibits smoking.

Bars and nightclubs can be fined by the city if they create a “nuisance.” Since New Orleans is a collection of neighborhoods with bars and businesses in close proximity, when patrons go outside for a puff (the ban includes vaping), noise levels rise. With some bars operating 24/7 or until the very wee hours of the night, a group of “pissed” smokers outside a bar run the risk of pissing off the neighbors.

Well, I’ve got music that will take you back to the smoke-filled dive bars of New Orleans yore on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  And you won’t need to wash your clothes and hair afterwards.