I was scheduled to visit New Orleans the week after Katrina hit the city. Of course the trip was postponed for a little over twelve months and so it was mid-November 2006 when with, considerable trepidation, I returned to the French Quarter.
Travel was straightforward with very little inconvenience caused by the extra precautions taken on leaving England and entering the U.S.A. I arrived just in time to make my rendezvous with Mr. Louis Lince at midnight, in Johnny White’s Bar, where
else? Most of the next day was spent pleasantly at the Biscuit Factory, listening to Brian Carrick’s band recording the material for a CD. The band comprised entirely of English-born musicians including a couple who had made New Orleans their home. Brian Carrick, Chas Hudson, John Simmons, Bernie Attridge, Andrew Hall and the aforementioned Louis
Lince.My cousin, Keith, joined me later in the week and together we were able to begin to come to terms with the devastation that
remains in much of the city. The French Quarter and the Central Business areas seemed to be least affected with activities approaching perhaps 60 per cent of what we had come to expect.
Move out towards the Lake and things were very different. John Simmons drove us out to West End and then over to the 9th Ward and the scene was heartbreaking. Mile after mile of empty houses, including what had been very much "desirable residences". Little sign of major works going on but much of the debris had been removed. One small area being redeveloped as a "Musicians Village" perhaps might offer encouragement to others. Along Canal Street there were blocks of "Projects" (Council housing in England) just boarded up, rows of shops and garages seemingly abandoned. Much of the Riverwalk mall was open but adjacent to the restored Astrodome the mall that had housed major department stores was completely closed down.
The general comment must be that many things have changed since we last visited some two years ago. The timing of the visit from mid November into December would always be a quiet period with not so many visitors. The most noticeable change was at Preservation Hall where the program is limited to weekends for the time being. There is some traditional jazz on Sunday afternoons with Lars Edegran and Friends but Friday night is "Tenor Summit", a rather 1940's idea but recently John Simmons has been on hand together with Daniel "Weenie" Farrow so all is not lost. The Preservation Hall Band continues to tour with a busy program through to June 2007. click on the link Preservation Hall for an update on the latest news. We were invited to carry our drinks in with us and more seating has been provided. Oh! the entrance fee is now $8 but you can get a pass-out. The best venue for the more traditional jazz is still The Palm Court on Decatur with music from Wednesday though to Sunday. At this fine dining establishment it was possible to get a stool at the bar on each of my visits, Saturday being my favourite as that is when the veteran trumpet player Lionel Ferbos leads the band aided and abetted by Les Muskett and company. In the adjacent photograph Louis Lince was helping out with Brian O’Connell on clarinet, Ronald Johnson on trombone, Chuck Bailey on vocals and bass and Mayumi on drums.
The Palm Court Band led by Lionel Ferbos.
Beware of Thanksgiving evening, everyone stays home and I missed my last evening at The Palm Court prior to my Friday departure. Not to miss out on my entertainment a trip down to Frenchman, just over Esplanade, led me to a session led by Kermit Ruffins. A good time was had by all! The music at Donna's has changed brothers; Bob French has moved to Ray's Boom Boom Room on Frenchman and brother George French was in the Monday night spot at Donna's featuring singer Germaine Bazzle. At Donna's on Friday, Saturday and Sunday there is a mixture of brass bands, blues and piano. Snug Harbor continues to present the best in modern jazz, members of the Marsalis family perform there regularly and we were lucky to catch a free midnight show with Nicholas Payton leading a quartet. The night after I left Mose Allison was featured, such is life. The center of the local music scene would seem to have gravitated out of the Quarter, just a block away though, to Frenchman. Here, in addition to The Boom Boom and Snug Harbor music is to be heard regularly at The Apple Barrel, The Spotted Cat, d.b.a., Cafe Brazil, and at a number of restaurants . Just out of town venues such as The Maple Leaf and Vaugan's Lounge were still offering their usual musical fare as was Fritzel's and The Funky Pirate. New was Snooks, a smart bar opposite Fritzel's where Mark Braud was leading a fine dixieland band.
The great uncertainty when visiting New Orleans is the likelihood of seeing any parades. Visiting conventions are often met by The Society Brass Band and we were lucky to catch one during our visit, it was the first post-Katrina event, being a gathering of relaters (estate agents to the English). It was a short parade but it was enjoyed by one and all. I was privileged to attend the funeral of Joe Glasper III, he had been the proprietor of a neighbourhood lounge and was clearly very popular judging by the several hundred people who attended. The service was at St Augustine's in Treme and the second line was led by a pick-up band with power that sends shivers up your kneck Two sousaphones, two bass drums, three snares, cow bell, four trombones and about five trumpets. The only people I recognised were Kermit Ruffins and Ben Jaffe. I followed the band for half an hour as they made their way around Treme. The sound was very modern but the tunes were familiar, Over in the Gloryland, Closer Walk and then into a "riff mode", what these musicians do best. I left to meet Barry Martyn at the Market, just missed his lecture but my reasons were valid. A second line was held in memory of actor Mark Krasnoff, from Royal Street led by The Soul Rebels, a small but excellent group of younger musicians who again stuck to a pretty traditional repertoire. Finishing up with the spreading of his ashes into the river, well he was a dedicated actor and apparently the ashes were not his but "some he had made earlier". The third parade was again a memorial parade from Johnny Whites on St Peter through to the Frenchman area. This time the small band was comprised of musicians, led by Jamie White who maintained standards of old. The final "parade" didn't leave The Spotted Cat as scheduled due to some members of the Treme Brass Band not making an appearance. Never the less, augmented by an unknown (to me) washboard player of considerable talent, they kept the small crowd entertained with some great music.
..........The Soul Rebels............................................The Spirit of New Orleans....................................Treme Brass Band..........
............................................Funeral at St Augustines..............................................