Live venues need our love if not our attendance

“How long can New Orleans survive without live music? ” That’s the headline of a recent Slate article and it makes me wonder how we’re going to work through this in the long run. Cause, we’re gonna have to figure something out! This week’s Gumbo YaYa is dedicated to the venues and their operators around the country who are wondering if they will ever open again.

But first we take a trip to one of the more venerable of the New Orleans 130 plus music venues, Preservation Hall. Listener Sam Cagle shares his story of stumbling onto the place just off Bourbon Street just as it was getting established in the summer of 1961. Sam had just gotten out of training camp, preparing to a be an Air Force officer with six weeks to kill before he started his senior year in college. Taking a tip from a cadet who lived there, he decided to spend his last few free weeks in the August heat of New Orleans. His story is right after the first song and for mood setting, I throw in some Preservation Hall classics with George Lewis, Punch Miller, Sweet Emma, Percy Humphrey and others. By the way, I wrote up a longer piece on Preservation Hall a few years back.

The Slate article makes the point that New Orleans has a unique ecosystem for developing music artists and its large number of small music venues is an essential part of that biology. But the stickiness of COVID-19 is making it likely that many of the venue proprietors, who mostly do not earn much of a profit even when open, may not survive.

The same concerns hold for venues in my neck of the woods and anywhere else where COVID is keeping us mostly at home. I don’t have a solution other than we all should be thinking about how we can keep live music alive. And for inspiration, I play sets of music that were recorded live including songs by Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Mem Shannon, Debbie Davis and Josh Paxton, Rebirth Brass Band, Marla Dixon and the Shotgun Jazz Band, Professor Longhair, Billy Iuso, Kermit Ruffins, Sonny Landreth, the Roamin’ Jasmine and others.

To help musicians in New Orleans, consider supporting the Feed the Second Line group. Thank you for listening and please consider subscribing. It’s Free!

2015 created great opportunities to explore NOLA music

I use this blog as way to prepare for my radio show on the Olympia community radio station, KAOS. Here’s some of the things I learned this year.

New Orleans "Professor" Allen Toussaint
Allen Toussaint was a featured “professor” in my ongoing series of New Orleans piano players.

Fascinated by the role of the piano in New Orleans, I started a series on New Orleans piano players that now includes James BookerAllen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Tuts Washington,  and Dr. John. (More to follow).

During the carnival season, I explored the traditions and music of Black Indians of Mardi Gras .  That story led me to write about the importance of African American musicans from New Orleans in creating rock n’ roll.  I followed that up with Fats Domino and the role his performances played in getting black and white audiences to dance to the same beat.

Speaking of Mardi Gras, I provided a personal reminiscence then added a new Mardi Gras experience of bar hopping with the local brass band, Artesian Rumble Arkestra.

All You Need Is Love
Artesian Rumble Arkestra brought a “Mardi Gras” vibe to downtown Olympia as part of bar tour on Fat Tuesday.

My entry on New Orleans women in music resulted in one of my favorite radio shows of the year and helped me grow my knowledge of New Orleans music and the many wonderful women who create it.

I chose my Valentines show to dive into the history of the often recorded “Careless Love.”  Later I looked into the history of another New Orleans standard,  L’il Liza Jane. I also tracked down  songs about “sugar” which, as you’ll find, really are not about sweet granules.  I  also explored the Afro-Cuban connection or what Jelly Roll Morton called the “Spanish Tinge.” (Last year, I wrote an entry on the classic and checkered history of St. James Infirmary.)

One of my more popular entries was about the Galactic tour of 2015 when it played Bellingham, Seattle and Portland. Interestingly, the funk band is playing Seattle and Portland about the same time in February of 2016.

IMG_1454As you might expect, I have several entries on New Orleans institutions, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Preservation Hall, the jazz funeral,  the Freret Street Festival, French Quarter Festival, and the end of smoking in New Orleans nightclubs.

Drawing on my April trip to New Orleans, I wrote about the magnetic pull of New Orleans to young musicians of all genres. I  also shared my experience of touring the currently closed Dew Drop Inn with the grandson of its founder.

The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina inspired a couple of entries, including this one that chronicled the activities of some of New Orleans better known musicians. This entry also has links to my two radio shows honoring that anniversary with music and excerpts from Spike Lee’s documentary.

And I finished off the year, as I did last year, with a short catalog of the 2015 New Orleans music releases featured on my show.  Part 1.  Part 2.

I hope you enjoyed the music and the little bit of information I learn and share. I know I do. Subscribe if you’d like to follow what I learn in 2016. Happy New Year.

 

Art dealer’s love of jazz inspires creation of Preservation Hall

Perhaps no single entity has helped keep New Orleans jazz alive into the 21st Century more than Preservation Hall and the band its spawned.

Just off Bourbon Street is a longstanding venue dedicated to keeping New Orleans jazz alive
Just off Bourbon Street is a longstanding venue dedicated to keeping New Orleans jazz vibrant

Like many great ideas, Preservation Hall started out as a simple solution to an understandable need. In 1952, Larry Borenstein opened an art gallery in an 18-century building that to this day seems to have not changed over the years. It’s location, just off Bourbon Street (726 St. Peter) and its nightclubs, meant staying open late preventing Borenstein from pursuing his other passion: listening to jazz. So he took matters into his own hands.

Borenstein hauled an old piano into his gallery, bought some beer and invited musicians to play for him and his guests and gallery customers. To avoid conflict with the musician union, the sessions were called rehearsals.

In an article, written by Borenstein in the 60’s, he related how the session grew organically.

“The concerts took place regularly.  Punch Miller, back from his long years on the road, brought a band to the Gallery Tuesday nights.  Kid Thomas had a “rehearsal” every Thursday night.  Sundays Noon Johnson often stopped by with his trio.

Preservation Hall became sanctuary for jazz musicians of all backgrounds to play together and keep the spirit alive.
Preservation Hall became sanctuary for jazz musicians of all backgrounds to play together and keep the spirit alive.

“Piano “professors” Stormy Weatherly (sic – Kid Stormy Weather), John Smith (I’m guessing this John Smith) and Isadore (sic – Isidore “Tuts”) Washington often dropped in as did busking guitarists, banjoists and harmonica virtuosos.  Often impromptu sessions got underway just because Lemon Nash dropped in to say “hello” and just happened to have his ukelele with him.”

The informal venue allowed whites and African Americans to mingle at a time when the South still practiced, and enforced, apartheid. Police occasionally raided the jam sessions and hauled the musicians to jail.

“The bands frequently included white and Negro musicians and it was simpler to charge them with ‘disturbing the peace’ than with breaking down segregation barriers.”

The music experience continued to grow though. Eventually, Borenstein moved his gallery next door and in 1961 the venue was officially christened Preservation Hall–an appropriate name for a jazz lover sanctuary.

A couple years later, the Hall’s managers,  Allen and Sandra Jaffe, organized a road tour for Preservation Hall regulars. The success of the the band’s concerts provided additional income for the musicians and helped maintain fan support outside of New Orleans. The band, in various iterations over the last 50 years, has continued to tour, perform and record, building a worldwide audience.

Not a lot of room inside means that every performance is an intimate one.
Not a lot of room inside means that every performance is an intimate one.

The Jaffe’s son, Ben took over leadership of the venue and band. A tuba player like his dad, Ben Jaffe has widened the band’s horizons through collaborations with other artists such as Blind Boys of Alabama, the Del McCoury Band, Keb’ Mo’, Dr. John and Tao Seeger. The band’s latest album, “That’s It,” features all original compositions.

Over 50 years after its forming, Preservation Hall entertains locals and tourists alike from it St. Peters Street location with three 45-minute shows every night. The band is drawn from a collective of musicians, many of whom are descendants of early New Orleans jazz musicians.

You can purchase tickets in advance that ensure a front or second row seat or you can pay $15 for general admission. The performances are acoustic and the venue is small. You might need to stand in line for a while but it will be worth the wait.

Tune in to my next show (listed to a recorded edited version) and you will hear what I’m talking about.