Audio slideshow of latest trip to New Orleans

I miss the days when my Dad would pull out the slide projector and set up the screen and we’d look at the slides of our last vacation.  Well, get my show started and you’ll hear an audio slideshow of my trip to New Orleans last week.

Since this show was part of the KAOS pledge drive, I have the honor of Anch Bergeson, host of Sundrenched, and Vertis Love, host of Old Ship of Zion (KAOS shows) as company.  I kept our discussion of New Orleans but edited out the pledge requests. However, if you want to support our community radio station, its easy to do.

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

For West Coast visitors, there’s a nice alignment for catching Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar on Tuesday nights.  Usually, flights are cheaper on Tuesday and the two-hour time change helps in terms of staying up late enough to see this venerable band that usually doesn’t start performing until after 10:30 p.m.  This show recognizes how I started last week’s trip with Rebirth’s “Who’s Rockin’, Who’s Rollin”

My next set portrays our ride on the Natchez boat down the Mississippi, an easy and fun tourist activity and I feature two bands we saw later in the day at clubs on Frenchmen Street (Bon Bon Vivant and Tin Men).

I do a set featuring coffee because my wife, Kim, still raves about the cup of coffee she had at Morning Call located at City Park. Most tourists get their cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter. Morning Call used to be there but now they have a wonderful place at City Park. I finish the set with a Corey Henry song because we ended the day at Vaughan’s in the Bywater for his weekly late Thursday night performance.

Lena Prima, Louis’ daughter, is a wonderful performer with an excellent band and  a crowd-pleasing songbook.  She holds court in the Carousel Room of the Monteleone Hotel every Friday night.  I play “Scuba Diver” off her live album which pretty accurately captures the music but to catch the antics, you’ll have to wait for my narrative after that set.

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Helen Gillet at the Courtyard Brewery

I caught up with Helen Gillet at the Courtyard Brewery’s fourth anniversary party and she gave me her latest release and I play “You Found Me.”  Charles Sheffield “It’s Your Voodoo Working” and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s “Swamp Ghost” symbolize the Krewe of Boo parade we caught.

 

It took some deciphering but we figured out how to catch up with the Men of Luck’s Second Line parade on Sunday.  Cyril Neville’s “Running with the Second Line.” capture that feeling.

 

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Men of Luck Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade hits St. Charles Street

 

Louis Armstrong Park is a walk through jazz history

New Orleans does not have a comprehensive museum that tells the city’s story as the birthplace of jazz. In a way, the whole city is a museum. However, Louis Armstrong Park offers a few opportunities to touch the history of New Orleans jazz. This week’s show took a bit of tour through the park.

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Louis Armstrong Park sits on Rampart Street across from the French Quarter and on the edge of the oldest African American neighborhood in the U.S.

The park emerged from a botched urban renewal project where sadly many families were displaced and historic buildings destroyed.  The park contains the currently unusable municipal auditorium, the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts and a few buildings owned by the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park.  The common space includes a water feature and several cool sculptures.

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As might be expected, a larger than life statute of Louis Armstrong holds a prominent spot in the park overlooking the unused auditorium.

Louis Armstrong grew up not too far from where his statue stands in the park. In fact, his statue stares in the direction of Storyville – a legal red light district that provided brothels, saloons and steady flow of clientele who enjoyed the music that evolved into jazz. it was this neighborhood that Armstrong grew up and began playing the horn. Once he left New Orleans for Chicago, he rarely returned but his impact on the city looms large like the statue over his park.

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The statute of Buddy Bolden in the Louis Armstrong Park captures his improvisational, open style of play.

If any one person could be considered the father of Jazz, Charles “Buddy” Bolden would likely have the strongest claim, and yet there is not a lot we know about his life except that for about seven years, he was the hottest musician in New Orleans. Bolden played his coronet by ear blending the many sounds he heard including rag time, gospel and blues to create an improvisational style of music that inspired other jazz pioneers. His career was cut short in 1907 when he was committed to an asylum possibly suffering from schizophrenia.

 

 

The grounds of the park are sacred because its where African Americans, slaves and free blacks, gathered on Sundays to trade, talk, play music and dance.  Congo Square is widely recognized as the cauldron from which the rhythms of jazz emerged.  Part of this area has been renovated and a sculpture depicting the Sunday jazz session quickly captures the visitor’s eye.

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Congo Square Memorial

 

TootieThe Black Indians of Mardi Gras do not perform jazz but rather perform their own unique percussion based music that includes call and response vocals. The park also includes a statue honoring the Chief of Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs, Allison “Tootie” Montana, Big Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas.  Tootie Montana is known for elevating the practice of masking as Native Americans to a high art form. Originally a tradition that involved revenge and violence, Mardi Gras Indians today are revered for their detailed use of beads and feathers in constructing elaborate costumes. The goal is not be the toughest, but the prettiest.

My radio show inspired by this park is available here.

 

 

New Orleans jazz funerals mediate the relationship between the living and the dead

The New Orleans jazz funeral embodies a rich heritage that serves as another reminder of the significance of brass band music and its ability to draw people together in a collective experience. (Podcast of the show that goes with post.)

As I prepare for my All Souls Day show this Monday, I’m naturally drawn to thinking about this tradition. While I’ve never had the occasion to witness a jazz funeral, my sense is my life is richer by its very existence.

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Danny Barker on guitar performing with his wife Lu.

I’ve told the story about Danny Barker and how he taught the brass band tradition to a new generation of musicians who would later found and inspire a renaissance in New Orleans music with brass bands like the Dirty Dozen, Rebirth, Soul Rebels and Hot 8.  A deeper story is how Danny Barker’s death created a resolve to preserve jazz traditions, ensuring a creative tension between the old and new that lives on today.

By the end of his life, Barker had become unhappy with the conduct of some of the younger brass bands. With a musical career that dated back to playing on the streets of New Orleans in the 1920s, Barker felt the jazz funeral in particular had strayed from its origins with improperly dressed musicians, inappropriately timed songs and undignified behavior. He had made it clear to his wife that he did not want a jazz funeral.

Gregg Stafford understood his former mentor’s concerns and as an experienced trumpeter and band leader, he believed he could ensure that Barker’s jazz funeral could be done right. With the help of Fred Johnson, who had been a spy boy with the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian tribe, and the blessing of Barker’s family, he set out to do it.

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Olympia Brass Band with Grand Marshall performing at Adolphe Alexander Jr. funeral – Photo from Hogan Jazz Archive.

On March 17, 1993,  the members of the band assembled three blocks from St. Raymond’s Catholic Church on Paris Avenue. Every band member was dressed in black shoes, an ironed white shirt, black tie, black coat and matching cap. As they approached the church playing “Just a Little While to Stay Here,” Stafford knew that the minister and congregation in the church could hear them approach.

The band lined up outside the church waiting for Barker to be taken out with a Grand Marshall in the lead, stepping proudly and precisely to the beat.  The band played “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.” As called for by tradition, the band played dirges all the way to St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. Fred Johnson and other members of the Tambourine and Fan marching club walked deliberately behind the hearse, creating the right tone and atmosphere.  No buck jumping was seen at this stage in the funeral

Once the body was interred, the band left the cemetery with the drummer switching from the somber tom tom to the snappier snare drum.  And then the livelier part of the parade began.

Matt Skakeeny, author of Roll with It – Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans describes the relevance of brass bands and funerals in this way:

The music organizes the collective suffering of those at the funeral and the collective pleasure that they anticipate in the shift to up-tempo music.  .  . The instruments of the brass band do not only communicate with the dead; they mediate the relationship between the living and the dead. (Page 167)

bmol_article2The response to this return to tradition was felt so strongly by Gregg Stafford and Fred Johnson that they formed the social and activist club Black Men of Labor to “pay tribute to the contributions of African American men in the work place while promoting and preserving Traditional Jazz Music.”

Please join me Monday (the recording is here) where I’ll feature traditional music from jazz funerals on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.

I pulled the description of the Barker funeral from an interview of Gregg Stafford and Fred Johnson contained in the book Talk that Music Talk- Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way.   Thank you Becky for the loan of this amazing book.

You needn’t be from New Orleans to say it right

I like to think that I come from the Gershwin school of pronunciations, as in “You like ‘to-may-toes’ and I like ‘to-mah-toes’.” But I have to admit I did ask my daughter-in-law to stop saying New Or-leens. For me, it’s the equivalent of fingernails on the chalkboard.

I couldn’t really blame her. “New Or-leens” is what most people say because its most often sung that way. Probably because it has better rhyming capability as in “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.”

Pronunciations in New Orleans can be tricky. Take street names, for instance.

It's easier to pronounce if you do the first syllable as
It’s easier to pronounce if you do the first syllable as “Chop”

Tchoupitoulas Street, home of the legendary Tipitina’s club, looks daunting until you know to start it by saying “chop.” Other streets are harder than they look. Carondelet is pronounced with an “et” at the end. Chartres is “Charters.” Even the seemingly easy Burgundy Street ain’t said right unless you accent the “gun.” Here’s a short video on street pronunciations, featuring Soul Rebel drummers Derrick Moss and Lumar Leblanc.

But back to saying “New Orleans”, even natives will say it differently because of the variety of accents that reside in the city. In the 60’s when I was an altar boy for an itinerant priest, we had a gig at St. Alphonsus Church on Constance Street in the Irish Channel. Having never been in the neighborhood before, I remember how shocked I was to hear the other altar boys sound like Bobby Kennedy. And I lived only three miles away.

The expression
The expression “Where Y’at” also is the title of New Orleans entertainment guide magazine.

Then there is “Yat” — considered a unique New Orleans dialect and accent, popularized in the novel, Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The accent “is hard to distinguish from the accent of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Astoria, Long Island” according to A.J. Liebling author of “The Earl of Louisiana” and quoted in Confederacy of Dunces.

Ray Blount, Jr. in his ode to New Orleans (Feet on the Street) notes that the typical New Orleans accent is particularly noticeable with the word “quarter” as in “French Quarter” (or two bits). “It comes closer to rhyming with ‘porter’ than with ‘garter,’ but it’s more ‘Quo-tah,’ with an ‘o’ sound that’s semi-extended, as if you’re saying ‘oar’ or ‘o’er’ more like it, but not finishing off the ‘r’ sound.”

What were we talking about, oh yea, how to pronounce New Orleans. Oh hell say it, or sing it, the way you want. For me, I prefer extending the “w” into the second syllable as in “Nu-Wah-Lens the way Lil Queenie does it when she sings “My Darlin’ New Orleans.”

Just don’t say “Nawlins” unless you and your companions have downed too many Abitas.

HEAR ME MISPRONOUNCE ALL SORTS OF NEW ORLEANS WORDS ON SWEENEY’S GUMBO YAYA, MONDAY, 10 A.M. TO NOON (PST) ON KAOS, 89.3 FM