Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Louisianna Bound pt 1
I've spent this year obsessing over New Orleans - went in April and then "Treme" commenced at the same time so it was like not really leaving for a LONG time. The experience is hard enough to let go of normally, but being reimmersed on a weekly basis made it much much worse. Leading me to do some pointed investigating of NOLA music and culture starting with finally listening to the Jelly Roll Morton interviews recorded at the Library of Congress in the lat 30's. And with his powers as a raconteur, his utterly delectable voice and sultry piano playing underneath it all equalled FURTHER immersion - and this leading to some small appreciation of how a love of continuity and tradition flavors the local culture. If I might be so bold to venture -- one of the few places where the folks at the bottom of the capitalist economic strata have a genuine appreciation and love of their history and a will to propagate it. Once Republican administrations took music lessons out of public school (and the classical programs in public schools were THE breeding pools for just about all the greats of modern jazz; so what's the result of ELIMINATING those programs?...)
So I spent a lot of daydream time on the streets of New Orleans this year and finally, here we were.
Thursday, December 2
Arrived at Louis Armstrong Airport mid afternoon. It was largely deserted. I think ours was the only plane debarking at the time. So perhaps spooky, perhaps comforting as its a lot more tranquil than say Philly's airport.
Taxied to the Hilton on St. Charles which used to be The Monaco under the Kimpton aegis pre-Flood. And it's still much the same. Perhaps could be touched up here and there and it'd be nice to get HOT water, but overall, nice.
Then we walked over to the French Quarter and up Chartres Street to Napoleon House. This place was built in the 1700's, was intended as the hiding place for Napoleon if they coulda snuck him outta Europe but that never happened. As it noted in many places, not much has been done to update or upgrade the facilities in the centuries since. This is no re-creation of 18th century environs -- it's the real thang with things like electric lights and electric heaters basically added on as an afterthought as time's passed.
This is a ritual moment for us. Sit down, order a glass of wine and Pimm's Cup (for Amy) and a cheese board. Take a sip and just LET GO OF EVERYTHING ELSE in our lives. Here we are. The New Orleans charm and identity is as in your face as possible here. And all talk shifts to what we'll do in the days to come.
We walk out of here slightly buzzed (when I gave up regular boozing my tolerance plummetted - 2 glasses and I'm honestly good for the night!) and headed East to Decatur Street and Louisiana Music Factory. This is a great, beat up mom and pop record store that specializes in Louisana music (not that there's not other stuff as well). It's NOT the place to find Mystikal or any other No Limit releases but it's the only place I know of where you'll find SECTIONS devoted to Mardi Gras Indian chanting, New Orleans brass bands, and bin cards for the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and Kid Ory. After consultation with a friendly staffer we picked up
Jelly Roll Morton "Last Sessions"
Eureka Brass Band "In Rehearsal 1956"
Flaming Arrows "Here Come the Indians Now"
Storyville: The Naked Dance DVD
Now most of these you COULD find online, or via Amazon - the Morton is on UMG, the Storyville on Shanachie. Though at the same time, I've found stuff at this store's website that appeared no where else online - not even a mention at AllMusic. MORE IMPORTANTLY -- it's simply easier to DISCOVER music unknown to ye when you're digging through physical piles of records, especially when you've got knowledgeable record store staff there to advise you. There's certainly enough Jelly Roll Morton records available online but not easy to discern which one has the most vocal performances. Or brass bands...not only is the online selection spotty but not easy to figure out the BEST and EARLIEST recorded examples available via the Internet.
And frankly, I never would have thought to look for documentaries on the infamous NOLA red light district spontaneously but here we were looking for the music and there's the documentary on display. A neat way to make additional connections for the non scholars among us.
Swag in hand we sauntered over to Tom and Arion’s on Esplanade at the end of Quarter. These are folks we'd met online and had some mutual interests, or had known professionally for years, and only found out by accident that they'd moved to NOLA 6 weeks earlier. We got off Esplanade and into the nicely quiet streets of the Marigny and made our way to Frenchman Street, looking to chow at Adolfo's. Putting our name on de list we proceeded to have a jolly olde time just jawing away on the little bench outside the restaurant, sipping wine (no open container laws in New Orleans so easy enough to get a drink at a bar and take it outside). We were having such a good time that we didn't hear them call our names (if in fact they did!) so after about 1 1/2 hours we went next door to Yuki. Had more wine, some Japanese appetizers and then grabbed a taxi to Vaughan's which is deep in the Bywater (area North of the Marigny, which in turn in North of the French Quarter), almost in the 9th Ward. Thursdays are the night of trumpeter Kermit Ruffin's regular gig. Got there, settled in, more wine (generous portions to boot) and the band soon appeared and announced that Kermit was in NYC with Trombone Shorty (turns out this was a Red Hot AIDS benefit concert devoted to NOLA music), so we (ill advisedly in my case) quaffed our drinks and got another cab to a spot called Loveless. And here my memories fail me. No need to recount this -- y'all know what it's liked being trashed, kinda weaving while walking and speech slurred to the max. OY! But made it home all right and frankly the good fellowship and neighborhood cruising were well worth next day's hangover.