Lafayette/Baton Rouge visit ground me a bit in the non-NOLA sounds of Gumbo YaYa

To mix it up on Gumbo YaYa, I often played music from acts from Baton Rouge and Lafayette. But until this week, I had barely passed through those towns. A musical evening in Lafayette and a quick blues festival stop in Baton Rouge began the process of remedying that experience gap.

Kim and I have been driving about a bit since the last show and we’ve caught music in Bend, Oregon (The Pinehearts), some stray live tunes in Moab, Utah and Santa Fe, and a hoedown at the Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin. But we hit the main music vein when we got to Lafayette.

Fingerpistols at The Little Longhorn Saloon, Austin, April 19, 2022

We caught a few bands downtown and at the Blue Moon Saloon but the big strike was the “Medicine Show” a showcase of student and faculty performances from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Traditional Music Program. The program was celebrating 25 years of providing guidance to young musicians in the history and practice of Cajun music, zydeco, bluegrass, blues and other root styles.

Accomplished students with famous last names such as “Benoit,” “Sonnier” and “Guidry” offered up songs such as “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” “Give Him Cornbread,” and “Zydeco Stomp.” In all, five distinct student groups took the stage led by some of the all-star cast of this amazing music program.

The faculty includes, among others, Nathan Williams Jr. of Lil Nathan and the Zydeco Big Timers, Chas Justus of the Revelers, Chad Huval with Beausoleil, Blake Miller of the Red Stick Ramblers and Pine Leaf Boys, Gina Forsyth solo fiddler/songwriter and Lee Allen Zeno who played with Buckwheat Zydeco. All of the faculty performed, including coming together for an “Instructor All-Stars” performance. That was followed by another long set by an ad hoc group that included Zachary Richard, Sonny Landreth, Henry Hample, Ward Lormand, Gary Newman and Danny Kimball.

From left: Sonny Landreth, Gary Newman, Ward Lormand and Zachary Richard, Angelle Hall Auditorium, Lafayette,

The next day, Kim and I drove into Baton Rouge, hooked up with Bill Boelens who co-hosts Dirty Rice on KRVS in Lafayette and Back Down the Bayou on WPVM in Baton Rouge. We got on downtown for the blues festival and caught Roddie Romero and Michael Juan Nunez as they were performing Romero’s “The Creole Nightingale Sings” from his excellent Gulfstream release from 2016 (Show featuring my interview with him.) This fan boy moment of meeting these two musicians after their set (and getting Nunez new record) was made even greater when Bill introduced me to Larry Garner who was sitting in the audience preparing to catch the next act. This Louisiana Blues Hall of Famer has three of his records on the KAOS blues shelf and I’ve drawn from them regularly over the years.

Wrote more than I really wanted to do, just needed an excuse to show off these pictures.

Me, Roddie Romero and Bill Boelens

Me and Larry Garner
Roddie Romero and Michael Juan Nunez at the Baton Rouge Blues Festival, May 23, 2o22

Last Gumbo YaYa Show But the Blog Will Carry On

I have hung up my headset and retired the show with this week’s farewell program. I’m healthy . . .just hewing to my philosophy of ending activities when they are still fun to do. I’ll explain this a bit more but first go ahead and demonstrate your multitask abilities by starting the show while still reading.

Since September 8 2014, I have produced a weekly radio show that features “Just a Little Bit of Everything ” which is the title of the Herb Hardesty’s 1961 single that kicks off the first full set of music. However, the common element has always been a strong connection with New Orleans and Lafayette.

The show broadcast live from the KAOS studio on the campus of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, first on Mondays and then later on Thursdays. A few years back, community station KMRE (Bellingham) began running edited versions of the show on Fridays. More recently, the show has aired on KOCF (Fern Ridge), WPHW (Hartwell) and occasionally other stations that participate in the Pacifica Network. In all, I produced about 380 episode with over 300 of them available to listen through this website.

Doing a post-Christmas show featuring my top 10 of 2019 with my sons — one of the highlights of my time doing the show.

When I first started as a volunteer deejay with KAOS , I considered a show featuring exclusively New Orleans music. But worried about the limited format. Over the course of my first year doing a morning drive-time show, I found myself digging into the KAOS music collection and was surprised by the depth of music coming out of the city –my birthplace and home for most of childhood.

So that’s what I’ve done, play songs by musicians such as Earl King who kicks off the show with “No City Like New Orleans,” Johnny Adams who swings through “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You,” and Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses jamming through “Minor Drag.”

I’m not a fan of long goodbyes but I also believe its important that radio stations provide closure when a show ends (as opposed to abruptly changing format with no warning). So I made it a finale show and asked listeners to call in and say hi. And over a dozen did! My favorite comment was from a listener who said she was going to JazzFest this April as a result of what she had heard on the show. (I couldn’t have received a better report card.)

Today’s show takes a sentimental walk through some previously covered material, including “St. James Infirmary” a personal lifelong favorite which has an interesting pedigree. Here’s more detail on that history. This week’s segment includes a clip from the Treme TV series featuring Wendell Pierce riffing off that song in the Touro Emergency Room.

The HBO series “Treme” had just wrapped its original run on TV when I started my show. Third from left is Wendell Pierce who played the fictional character Antoine Batiste. In this picture, he’s parading with actual members of Rebirth Brass Band.

Later, I play the original version of “Basis Street Blues” by Louis Armstrong and hint at its fascinating history detailed more in a previous show and post including how that song acquired lyrics which then resulted in the City of New Orleans returning the “Basin Street” name after eliminating it during a blush of civic post-Storyville shame (I guess tourism promotion beat out virtue and vanity). Satchmo scats on this early pre-lyric version of the song.

The Treme Brass Band does a great job on “Darktown Strutters Ball” a song with lyrics and a title that has caused me concern and in which I explore in a show and post.

I touch on the topic of Nine Lives a book by Dan Baum about people’s lives in New Orleans — originally sent to write about Hurricane Katrina, Baum ended up with a book detailing unique aspects of New Orleans culture such as Mardi Gras Indians, and marching bands. I play a song about Tootie Montana in today’s show.

This week’s show also includes a couple of clips from interviews including a funny description by Irvin Mayfield of his good friend Kermit Ruffins. You’ll also hear Kermit sing from his Happy Talk release. Here’s the interview of Kermit and Irvin in Kermit’s Mother-in-Law club about their album collaboration.

You’ll also hear Craig Klein saying why his New Orleans Nightcrawlers, which won a Grammy last year, sound so authentic. I pull that clip from an interview with four-ninths of the band last year.

Irma Thomas sings her big hit “Ruler of My Heart” on this show.

And you’ll hear an example of the messages I aired from New Orleans musicians during the COVID quarantine of 2020. For my final show, I chose Marla Dixon to repeat her delightful summary of her COVID life. Here’s the full show and full recording of Marla’s message from that time.

So this is it. I’m done creating new shows though you can listen to the 300 shows available through this website. I’m looking to travel a bit more and explore even more new music. And I’m going to keep this blog going. I suspect it will be quiet for a few weeks but don’t be surprised if I return with non-radio show type posts regarding music. Thanks for listening. But to keep in touch, you should subscribe .(right hand column)

Join Me On Audio Tour of My Latest New Orleans trip

My first trip back to New Orleans in over 22 months comes to life in this week’s show, featuring musicians I saw perform live during my short visit made shorter by an unplanned diversion to Bossier City, Louisiana. Start the show and then read on about the trip.

Our nonstop flight from Seattle to New Orleans was met with dense fog and a malfunction of the airport’s guidance system. With gas running low and no Rudolph to guide our sleigh in, we landed at Shreveport in the Northwest corner of Louisiana — about as far away from New Orleans as we could get and still stay in the state. Eventually, we ended up in a casino hotel on the other side of the river from the airport in Bossier City — a far cry from Frenchmen Street. “Gamblin’ Blues” by Champion Jack Dupree helps paint the picture on my show.

Eventually, we got to hang on Frenchmen Street on Thursday night. The famous music neighborhood seems a bit diminished after a worldwide pandemic and another hurricane. A couple of clubs are closed and others are operating on more limited hours. But the music is there to be heard and seen. In the show, you’ll hear music that follows our bar-hopping course.

Jason and Lyrette Neville with their funk and soul band.

We started at Three Muses with Tom McDermott playing his Jelly Roll Morton and rag time influenced piano behind a plastic glass. After dinner, we walked down to the bottom of the street to the Yard with Jason Neville Funky Soul Band. Jason is son of Aaron Neville and performs with his wife Lirette, daughter of New Orleans Jazz Legend “Sullivan Dabney,” and a solid band of funk professionals. The band does mostly covers with a signature style and unfortunately I have no recordings of their music. (The Neville’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” cover fills in) You’ll just to have to take my word for it that it was worth the stop. In fact, I think most of my group would have been happy staying there the whole evening. But, we pushed on.

Marty Peters (sax) and the Party Meters

We landed at Bamboulas where Marty Peters and Party Meters were holding court. Peters plays saxophone and clarinet and his hot jazz quintet explores a similar vein of music as the New Orleans Jazz Vipers. My favorite feature of this group is the singing by Peters and his trumpet player, Jeff Kreis. The two also offer up a bit of comic repartee to enliven the show — as they do in “Somebody Stole My Gal.”. But wait, there was more.

I’ve wanted to catch Shawn Williams live ever since hearing her Motel Livin’ record. And since she was just across the street at Favela Chic, I moved the group again. This was my first time in this relatively new music venue and I was a bit disappointed in the sound quality. I’m not sure if that was the venue’s fault or the fault of the brass band blazing on the corner just outside. You need to hear Shawn’s words and that just wasn’t possible. Still, it was good to see her perform live. On the show, I play her “Buried Alive.”

One of a dozen light installations on the Lafitte Greenway

New Orleans is more than the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street and its imperative to get out into one of the hoods. The Greenway Supernova in Mid City on Friday night was a solid choice. A combination art event, fundraiser and concert in support of the Friends of Lafitte Greenway – a 2.6 mile greenbelt trail that runs from Louis Armstrong Park to Bayou St. John. Twelve luminary artworks dotted the park, anchored by a crafts fair, silent auction and two music stages.

Bon Bon Vivant

My favorite light installation hung from a sprawling oak tree and involved some intentional spotlighting of “deconstructed disco balls” which cast spiral shadows and random sparklies. Later, singer and songwriter Abigal Cosio pointed out that people have been dancing to mirrored balls long before disco. In addition to being right on that one, she was also the reason we were there. She fronts the band Bon Bon Vivant who did an evening outdoor concert under the cheery lights.

As we got into the weekend, the clubs became more active. We caught John Saavedra’s G & the Swinging Gypsies digging deep into Django Reinhardt’s songbook at Bamboula’s on Saturday. I have a recording of this group when it featured Gisell Anguizola on vocals and tap. But it appears Gisell lives and performs in San Diego now.

Dragon Smoke at Tipitina’s

The highlight of Saturday was Dragon Smoke at Tipitinas (well there also was an awesome meal at Herbsaint, a walk through the lit holiday decorations at Roosevelt Hotel and a street car ride all the way up town and back along St Charles and Carrollton). Dragon Smoke is a group formed in 2003 as part of New Orleans JazzFest tradition called Superjam which puts together people from bands who don’t normally play together. In this case, the Galactic rhythm section of drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio pair up with keyboardist Ivan Neville (Aaron’s oldest son and leader of Dumpstaphunk) and guitarist, singer/songwriter Eric Lindell. The band alternated jamming on songs led by Neville and Lindell. The communication between musicians was strong, creating improvisational riffs that stayed tight and strong the whole night.

J (on Keyboards) & the Causeways

J and the Causeways opened for Dragon Smoke (exactly on time by the way). Bandleader Jordan Anderson handles the keyboards, singing and songwriting with the help the help of a horn and rhythm section and tasteful rhythm and lead guitar by Evan Hall.

Our last night, Sunday, found out us back out at Mid City for a Christmas show at the Broadside but first we shopped at the pop-up Art Market in City Park where the Secret Six Band entertained us.

Finale song at The Very Loose Cattle Christmas Show at the Broadside

During the pandemic, The Broadside Theater opened an outdoor venue in its parking lot–which is where we caught “The Very Loose Cattle Christmas Show.” Loose Cattle is fronted by part-time New Orleans resident Michael Cerveris (You might know him as music manager “Mervin Frey” from the HBO show “Treme.”). The show was two hours of Christmas songs – reverent (O Holy Night) and irreverent (“Drunk This Christmas”). The show a featured a steady flow of guests such as Meschiya Lake, Antoine Diel, Mia Borders, Paul Sanchez, Arsene Delay, Lilli Lewis, and John Boutte. Stage musicians included two members of the grammy winning New Orleans Nightcrawlers (Craig Klein and Jason Mingledorff), The Iguanas bassist Rene Coman and Josh Paxton on piano. Cerveris generously taped and posted the entire show on YouTube– Merry Christmas.

John Lisi & Delta Funk
Ted Hefko

We finished the night with a couple more shows on Frenchmen Street featuring John Lisi & Delta Funk performing to a packed Cafe Negril audience followed by Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires.

The show starts with Louis Armstrong singing “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.” On air, I promised I’d provide the link to the original recording of that song featuring Billie Holiday singing with Louis Armstrong.

Here’s posts of other trips I’ve taken to New Orleans:

How New Orleans shaped my view of Christmas

First memory of snow in New Orleans melds with this year’s Holiday music show.

My earliest memories of Christmas are from New Orleans. (Psst. You can start the show and still read the rest of this post.)

A popular New Orleans drugstore chain.

My Dad unsnarling lines of C-9 colored bulbs for draping on our second story porch railing on our Nashville Avenue home in uptown New Orleans. The scotch pine tree decorated in the downstairs den. Radio announcements of sightings of Santa Claus and his reindeer flying over the Falstaff Beer sign. Last minute shopping at the purple glowing Katz & Besthoff. Cruising St. Charles to see the mansions and their holiday displays and lights. And the ever present wish for snow in a climate where 50 degrees Fahrenheit seems cold.

Nostalgia is as much a part of my Christmas as mistletoe and Amazon boxes. I suppose its a longing for that period of innocence when I believed possible a boisterous, jovial superhero could disperse presents to all the good children in the world.

This year’s holiday show includes a wistful set on snow in New Orleans, starting with the Radiators, particularly their keyboardist and songwriter Ed Volker, singing about their first experience with this rare occurrence in the subtropics. “Who can forget that feeling. . . the snow gently falling.” If you have lived in New Orleans when it snowed, it is not something you tend to forget.

For me, my first snow meant a rare sighting of my Dad during the daytime. My father grew up in New York City and Newark, got his doctorate in Cambridge at M.I.T. But he had lived in the south most of his professional life. As a Tulane administrator in the 60’s, my Dad was doing the Don Draper thing, working long hours in an office setting where smoking and drinking were the norm. But that afternoon when the snow fell, he came screaming home in our Rambler station wagon, the thin accumulated snow muffling the crunch of the oyster shells on our backyard driveway.

Early 1958. I don’t remember this pitiful New Orleans snow. I’m in the stroller.

He brusquely told me to grab gloves and get in the car while he collected a few items including a shovel, carrot and old fishing hat. He drove us to Audubon Park — home of Monkey Hill referenced in Allen Toussaint’s song “The Day It Snows on Christmas.” There we attempted to create a snow man. It was a pitiful sculpture, melting pretty much as we were making it. He apologized for the quality of the snow. But you’ll have to excuse me if I get just a bit choked up thinking about my father standing with melted snow wicking up his nice trousers, full of good intentions, most likely carrying his own early snow memories and having just exerted himself more than he had since he hung those damn porch lights during the holidays. Writing this reminds me that part of why I do this show is because of him.

I wasn’t living in New Orleans when I started building Christmas memories like the one Aaron Neville sings about in “Such a Night.” Those involve my partner of over 40 years, who I share the life-changing adventure of moving, right after graduation, from the South to the Northwest and making our home cozy using cinder block shelves, reclaimed furniture and homemade tree ornaments. Yes, we reversed my Dad’s life direction moving to where the winter nights are long and cold, and snuggling feels so good.

John Boutte’s “Holding You This Christmas” and Marva Wright’s “Stocking Full of Love” drive that loving feeling home for me. That set finishes with the very special song by Kelcy Mae, written in the year that same sex marriages became the law of our country. However, her song is universal for any couple who has had to split their holiday time with extended family. Watching this song’s music video that includes crowd sourced marriage pictures from that year is a new holiday tradition for me.

Today’s show has a few traditional holiday songs done in classic New Orleans fashion and, as you might expect, some not-so traditional songs done in contemporary New Orleans fashion. I hope it holds your interest and perhaps triggers a memory or two. My best to you during this season of long winter nights. Hold someone you love close and keep the radio turned on. Cheers.

Slowed down but not stopped

Since I haven’t been posting lately, I thought I’d come out and actually acknowledge my gold bricking.  I have no excuse.

I continue to do my radio show every Thursday on KAOS. 89.3 FM (streaming at http://www.kaosradio.org)– some of the show’s are podcast on my Mixcloud accountsnail

And I plan to add more articles to the over 70 posts about New Orleans music.  Just no where near the pace I was doing during the first year of the blog’s existence. Feel free to subscribe so when the occasional post appears, you will get a notice.

Thank you for tuning it.

Chicago-New Orleans musical link — the great migration

I took the train to Chicago a couple of weeks ago, just in time to catch the city’s blues festival.

I started by going to Buddy Guy’s Legends club and saw the six-time grammy award winning blues man sing with Shemekia Copeland. George “Buddy” Guy is from Lettsworth Louisiana and began playing professionally in Baton Rouge before making the familiar trek north to Chicago.

buddy_guy_2008_photo_credit_christian_lantry_1
Buddy Guy moved up from Louisiana to seek his fame in Chicago.

I say “familiar” because he wasn’t the first Louisiana musician to seek fortune and fame by heading up the Mississippi River.

If you’re a New Orleans jazz fan, you already know this story.  After New Orleans was forced to close its red light district during the build up to World War 1, musicians who had been making a living playing the new music in the bars and brothels of Storyville, headed north. One of the best and earliest to do so was Joe “King” Oliver, who took his coronet to Chicago and hooked up with other New Orleans expatriates and recreated and polished the jazz of New Orleans.  Things really took off when he convinced his young protege’ Louis Armstrong to come up and join him.

It was good timing. King’s smart professional move came at the beginning of what has become known as the Great Migration where for roughly a half century over 6 million African Americans relocated from the south to northern cities. An estimated 500,000 ended up in Chicago mostly in and around South Chicago.

The first migratory wave moved the unique blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and European horns forged in New Orleans’ Backatown into popular awareness ensuring that Jazz would become a distinctly American sound.

henry
Henry Gray, from Kenner Louisiana, became Howlin’ Wolf’s piano player when he moved to Chicago.

And then came blues.  Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett is noted as the first black woman to record. This Georgia-born singer recorded many of her earliest songs in Chicago.But she was followed by others, such as Muddy Waters who moved from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Chicago during World War II and later Henry Gray who  was typical of the second wave of the Great Migration. As black soldiers exited service following World War II, they looked for communities with more opportunities and less discrimination. The Louisiana-born pianist landed in Chicago in 1946, playing regularly with the likes of Bo Diddley, Billy Boy Arnold and Jimmy Rogers before hooking up with the Howlin’ Wolf Band. He has since returned to Louisiana and continues to perform on occasion.

Buddy Guy, who had started his career playing in Baton Rouge, got to Chicago in 1957. He was joined later by Lonnie Brooks who had a regional hit in Louisiana, Family Rules, before moving north.I’ll continue to explore the connections between these two fine musical cities (New Orleans and Chicago) on my show. Please join me or catch one of my edited podcasts.

KAOS to start serving Gumbo YaYa on Thursdays

Ruby Ru and Anch will guest host the LAST Monday edition of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa on January 25. But starting February, KAOS is shaking up the world.

Olympia’s community radio station is scrambling its morning line up of world music starting February 1. On that Monday, the mellifluous voice of Anch will kick off the week with her Vitamin D-infused, southern hemisphere focused program, Sundrenched, during my old 10 a.m. to noon slot.

spinglobe
Scott Steven’s Spin the Globe program is the only world music show not moving anywhere. It’s going to stay on Fridays.

DJ Kalambre’s Sonidoz de la Tierra has been delivering the hottest music in the alternative Latin world and a helluva lot more on Tuesday evenings. But now, he’s going to get us dancing at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays in the world music slot previously handled by Anch.

Veteran KAOS hosts  David and Juli, who are also members of Olympia’s  brass band Artesian Rumble Arkestra, will take over the Wednesday slot with their long-standing program Xenophilia.

And sliding into the Thursday shift previously held by Xenophilia will be yours truly, host of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa .  Just as I’ve been doing on Mondays, I’ll be spinning the music of New Orleans. I’m not just talking Dixieland, here. I play the whole muffuletta — brass bands, blues, funk, R&B, Mardi Gras Indian, hip hop, swing, country, cajun, zydeco and everything in between.

The new Thursday edition of Gumbo YaYa will premiere February 4th with a special focus on Carnival and Mardi Gras. In fact,  I’m headed to NOLA right now to get some first hand experience.  (Such sacrifices I make for this show!)

Until then, you can catch many of the past shows edited for replay at Mixcloud.

KAOS will not be on the list of stations that break your heart

“You’re treating me wrong, you’re breaking my heart,” sang country singer Claude King.

The song was likely about his Louisiana love but it could also apply to various radio stations I’ve known.

Over the years, I have formed some serious attachments to stations and their programming. But I learned at an early age, that they can break your heart and not say goodbye.

Leilani McCoy was a DJ with KZAM in Seattle in the 70's and 80's. I loved her voice.
Leilani McCoy was a DJ with KZAM in Seattle in the 70’s and 80’s. I loved her voice.

It first happened with progressive rock station KZAM in Seattle. From 1975 to 1983, the FM station introduced me to new artists, diverse selections, and female DJs.  For a while KZAM had an AM sister station that was more cutting edge and which I could listen to in my car.

But then one day in 1981 without warning, the AM station abruptly switched to a smooth jazz format and, yes, I was heartbroken.  Two years later, the FM station suddenly folded as well. Again without notice. I felt used.

Fortunately, there was KJET, another AM station. KJET introduced to me The Clash, R.E.M, The Police, Soft Cell, Devo, The Go Gos and so much more. And apparently I wasn’t the only fan. Allegedly members of Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam were listeners.

But one day, I got in my car, turned on the radio and heard classic oldies.  Arggh! It happened again. Not even a farewell.

More recently, I listened to the “Mountain” (KMTT) decline from a KZAM-like progressive station to a shell of its past till it eventually folded. I remember thinking there must be something wrong with my radio until I realized that once again, I’d been dumped without even a “Dear Tim” letter.

What’s my point?  Your ears (and heart) matter. And while change is inevitable, how that change happens  matters. It should be done right.

kaosAt KAOS, your community radio station in the South Puget Sound for over 40 years, we let you know before programming changes. We have show hosts who have been offering a diverse range of music and information for years and they have built a relationship with listeners. When they eventually take their leave, they say “goodbye” on the air.  And if you really like the programming, you can let us know so we can find a replacement. Or YOU could be that replacement, because the show hosts are people who live in the community and volunteer on the air.

It’s pledge drive time.  This type of loyalty doesn’t happen without your support. Show your love to KAOS, I promise we won’t break your heart.

Hurricane Katrina 10-year anniversary is a time to reflect

The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina affords us the opportunity to remember and reflect on how devastating nature can be when compounded by human failure.

katrina3
Eighty percent of New Orleans was underwater after the levees failed during and after Hurricane Katrina struck.

As often happens, the poor, elderly and vulnerable populations suffered disproportionately because of their inability to get out of harms way and the paucity of their personal resources to recover afterwards.

Sadly, that seems to be a worldwide characteristic. But what Katrina revealed was that a country that could deliver troops anywhere in the world within two days could not come to the rescue of one of its most culturally rich cities and its residents. And the residents that suffered the most were poor.

I love my country and as a 30-year state employee, I believe in the positive power of government. But local, state and federal governments failed in Hurricane Katrina, from insufficient evacuation efforts, to the negligence in building and maintaining the levee system, to the limp rescue and recovery efforts and insufficient relief and restoration programs that followed.

Like most folks who witnessed from afar, I was alarmed and shamed by the failure to evacuate the city’s low-income, elderly and vulnerable population. Roughly 100,000 people were left behind, stranded in a flooded city, fleeing like rats to the Superdome, Convention Center, bridges and rooftops, stuck there for days in insufferable heat with little food and water.  Roughly 1,800 residents died.

A destroyed home New Orleans lower Ninth Ward. The writing on the outside was from rescue workers.
A destroyed home New Orleans lower Ninth Ward. The writing on the outside was from rescue workers.

I had planned to visit my sister that fall. She had moved back to New Orleans from the Northwest the year before. I already had my plane ticket when on that Sunday morning in late August I watched Mayor Ray Nagin on national television urge the city’s evacuation with the words: “We’re facing the storm most of us have feared.”

I was out of town, watching the TV at a hotel. When I got home later that day, a phone message from my sister said she was going to hunker down and stay in the city.  I wouldn’t hear her voice again for over a month.

Her message had been left on Saturday night.  Nagin’s announcement was made Sunday morning. The hurricane made landfall near New Orleans on Monday morning, August 29, and by Tuesday 80 percent of the city was underwater.

The power of the water when the levees broke pushed houses off foundations and cars down several blocks.
The power of the water when the levees broke pushed houses off foundations and cars down several blocks.

My sister did eventually evacuate. Unlike many of the residents who were left behind, Katie had a car and the financial means to buy gas and survive the many months of uncertainty that followed. She was lucky yet she suffered so much personal anguish and loss that I doubt she will ever live again near the hurricane zone.

I rebooked my flight for Jazz Fest that April which did occur and reignited my love for New Orleans culture. My sister gave me the devastation tour of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth ward, both areas completely submerged by what is now recognized as one of the worst civil engineering failures in U.S. history

There are a great many things the city and its residents can take pride in achieving over the decade. The city took a death blow and got up off the mat and survived–perhaps even thrived. New Orleans is a wonderful place to visit and live in. But it has changed.

Maybe some of the changes are good, maybe not. But Katrina, like the 1927 flood and Hurricane Betsy, has left its mark.

I’m dedicating my next two radio shows to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

In my next post, I’ll tell brief stories of how some of the New Orleans musicians I play on my show weathered the storm.

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 –