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The Ghost of Roosevelt December 7, 2013

Posted by The Typist in music, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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“I don’t think he takes requests,” my friend Eric said.

Jon Cleary had in fact spent the past two hours hunched over the piano at d.b.a with the intensity of a concert pianist at Carnegie Hall, announcimg songs to the microphone. From deep inside his trance the spirits of Professor Longhair and James Booker escaped into the room like the thermocline cloud of forbidden cigarettes, hovering at about ear level, microscopically turbulent at the pitch and roll of each arpeggio and left clef chord.

As I walked up with a bill in my hand he turned briefly toward the audience to announce last somg. I waved the ten and asked, “would consider a request? Some Roosevelt Sykes?”

“Some Roosevelt Sykes,” he echoed back in a flat, uncommitted voice.

I dropped the bill in the bucket and walked back to my friends. Before I could turn around to face the stage, he called the song. “Some boogie-woogie,” he said. “The Honeydripper.” Eric began to reminisce about the Maple Leaf back when, Roosevelt and Booker and the Professor, but only Patrice was really listening.

Yakumo Fee Nah Ney October 21, 2012

Posted by The Typist in City Park, cryptic envelopment, Mardi Gras Indians, music, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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We go in the Wisteria Gate because the crowd is so large and the Japanese Garden in New Orleans is so small. We end up at the back of the crowd as the tour guide makes his spiel, and as everyone finally moves into the garden my friend pulls me back toward the plaque in front so she can read it.

She thinks the name Yakumo Japanese Garden is funny. I’m trying to explain to a gentleman with foreign-accented English why the name Yakumo Nihon Teien (Yakumo Japanese Garden) is funny to a New Orleanian. There’s no quick way to explain Jocomo fee nah nay except to say it’s a Mardi Gras Indian chant rooted in Creole and leave it at that. While we are talking a Japanese gentleman comes up and begins to earnestly read the plaque at the entrance. “And Yakamein,” my friend reminds me, “don’t forget to tell him about yakamein.” The Japanese man bends neatly at the waist to read to the bottom with the practiced habit of bowing rather than hunching over as I did. He comes up from reading the bottom of the plaque and stands admiring it. A woman behind me says something in Japanese, and the man turns to pose beside the plaque. “That’s Yakumo’s great-grandson,” she says in English over her camera, and I frantically dig for the phone. He is Bon Koizumi, a professor at the University of Shimane, Junior College and Adviser to the Lafacadio Hearn Memorial Museum in Matsue, I learn when I exchange my embarrassingly cheap and a bit tattered business card for his elegant one, trying to bow just a bit deeper as much for the embarrassing card as the honor. without getting into a contest that leads me to tip over, feinting like a lineman trying to draw an offsides so that I bow just a bit lower and come up last without provoking a second bow. It is not just an exchange of cards. It is a special moment, Yakumo’s great-grandson in the garden named for him on the day of Japan Fest.

Bon Koizumi, great-grandson of Yokumo Koizumi (Lafcadio Hearn), in the Yakumo Japanese Garden in New Orleans.

This is an above average Japan Fest for me. After an early set by Kaminari Taiko I manage to watch the entire tea ceremony. In the past it was done in a small room and the doors were closed once it began, but this year it has been moved to the atrium. Once I’m done snapping pictures, I try to sit on my heels with my feet folded under and realize if I want to be invited to participate, I’m going to need a year of stretching and practice before I could sit in that position for 30 minutes. I catch most of the Kendo demonstration, and decide to take their offer to go up on stage and give one of them a few good whacks on the helmet. I take a card. (Another thing to do? Really?). I find the Haiku Society and enter the one I wrote the night before. I don’t know the man behind the table but he recognizes my name as last year’s winner, and we make arrangements to get my book prize. Always nice to make an impression. I once again stump the women who will write your name in calligraphy on a book mark with my annual request for Dancing Bear in traditional characters. The younger woman who draws mine resorts to voice searching some site on her iPhone but manages to make me another temple bell pendant for this year. I wander through the Go room and pick up a pen made from recycled paper at the City of Matasue table. Matasue is a sister city to New Orleans, based in part on Hearn’s residence in their city and our’s. I grabbed some lunch from Ninja sushi, and manage to chop-stick up the last few grains of rice from my plate one by one.

I’m having a fantastic time, and I haven’t met Bon Koizumi yet.

My particular friend and my son text me within minutes of each other. Both have decided to come. Awkward, the little sing-song voice in my head telsl me but it turns out fine. Later they sat and chatted naturally as I went to buy us waters, another fortuitous moment in the day. I buy them wristbands and my son is off to the anime room upstairs but I notice the ikebana table is already torn down. It is four o’clock and I forgot that the times had been shifted to work around the 5k race this morning. It is all over except for the final taiko set. She and I wander back into the hall full of vending tables and I go back to see if the porcelain plate, a fluted rectangle with a high-gloss tropical ocean blue finish in one triangular patch, and the other rough clay with fine striations like the rakings of a karesansui garden. Miraculously it is still there. I’m dead broke and trying not to buy anything but I desperately want one of the miniature net floats, the glass balls bound in a net of rope that I have seen before in Quarter shops long ago. I had a long conversation with the couple behind the table when I first stopped there earlier in the day about the full-sized float, telling them they used to wash up on Grand Isle and such places. They didn’t know they were found in the Gulf. We discuss the wide-ranging Japanese fishing fleet and ocean currents while I occasionally pick up and admire the plate, then wander off empty-handed.

When I come back, they remember me. We’re about to close up, he says, I’ll make you a deal on anything on the table. I pick up the plate. Ten dollars, he says. I smile and reach for the last miniature float and my wallet. As we turn to go I notice something I did not see before, or which was not on the table. It’s a clearly used walking stick inscribed with three Kanji characters. I love walking sticks and can’t resist picking it up, holding it in two open hands and staring after hefting it. The characters mean I have walked the three mountains, he tells me, explaining that pilgrims who visit the Three Mountains and climb to the Shinto temple at the summit of each have their walking sticks stamped with these characters. I think I manage a wow while nodding in appreciation and stand holding the stick out before me at forearms length in my open palms like a an altar boy holding the cloth for the priest at the consecration.

I will never know why, perhaps something about the way and length of time I hold the stick that way, my head moving slightly to take it in from handle to foot, stopping each time to rest on the three characters. Take it, he says.

What? I answer. Take it, he says. It’s yours.

I hardly know what to say. The couple are American enthusiasts. This is not the stereotypical story of admiring an Asian man’s watch too long or too enthusiastically.

Seriously? I ask again, impolitely I realize. I’m just dumbstruck by his offer.

Absolutely, he says with no further explanation,smiling, arms folded to end the discussion.

I don’t know what else to do but return the stick to is customary stance resting on the ground, and shake his hand and thank him.

Earlier I spoke with the architect who designed the Japanese garden, offering my admiration and hearing about his two summers studying in Japan. I offer to volunteer, to pick litter from the dry stream bed that wanders through the garden, the nod of karesansui in the small space, anxious to learn some of the secrets. I feel an invisible poke in the ribs through the corner of the eye from my friend. (Another thing to do? Really? When do you plan to sleep?). I tell him of the gardens I have seen in the U.S., and my dream of a pilgrimage to Japan to visit the gardens. We exchange cards; no bowing this time.

I have always spoken of my hope to visit the Prefecture of Kyoto in Japan and see the gardens as a pilgrimage. Now I stand in my house holding a pilgrim’s stick with its unearned, at least by me, inscription. Yamagata Prefecture is not near to Kyoto. Perhaps I will never climb the Three Mountains of Dewa if I go to Japan, but holding this object I think about the relationship between this gift and geis, the ancient Celtic curse of obligation. I know visiting the gardens of Kyoto is not just a bucket list dream of a man working paycheck to paycheck with no prospect of retirement beyond Social Security. It has always been more than just that but as I place the stick against the wall next to the front room bookshelves I know that I will go, that I must go. There was a reason for the gift neither I nor the gentleman who gave it to me understood at the time, an unspoken communication between the stones of the Shinto temples of Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono and those of the gardens of Kyoto and the American gardens I have seen, the stones I have seen today, a reminder of a dreamy, romanticized desire straight from the pages of Yakumo Koizumi become now an obligation of pilgrimage, no longer a possible indulgence of a man with time and money to spare but an ordained act of grace.


Postscript: Most readers will glance past the title and think it just a clever turn of phrase from a former headline writer, but there is something a bit deeper. The chants written down by Sugar Boy Crawford half a century ago and which became the song “Iko Iko” are phonetic appropriations from Creole, warped either by time or Sugar Boy’s phonetic transcription. Jocomo fi nou wa na né is one researchers assertion, meaning Jocomo caused our king to be born. Jocomo fi na né is approximately “Jocomo made it so”, and I think Yokamo did.

Uncle Lionel July 8, 2012

Posted by The Typist in Jazz, je me souviens, music, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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NEW ORLEANS — Legendary Treme Brass Band leader and drummer Uncle Lionel Batiste passed away Sunday morning. He was 81.

04 – Gather by the River

Shield of Beauty April 27, 2012

Posted by The Typist in Jazz, music, quotes, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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“. . . I am going to put a shield of beauty
over the face of the earth to protect us.”

– Sun Rha

Booker April 15, 2012

Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, music, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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The crowds pass on Bourbon as always, out of season beads and plastic cups. Over by the river thousands in front of the stages, brass band and accordion, Gibson and Zildjian, lawn chair and parasol. Inside the Royal Sonesta the crowd is older and better dressed, settled at tables, waitresses passing with trays of glasses, and on stage Joe Krown plays James Booker. I have wanted to do this for years but even if you go downtown alone you always fall in with a crowd, everyone is there, another tray of beer is on the way, another stage, another chance to dance. You are swept up in the ant hill madness. Carnival or festival you follow your crowd. This year I break away because some things should be remembered, not just in the cut out paintings at Jazz Fest but in the hands of memory on the piano.

Joe Krown is one of the exemplars of our generation, following a tradition that reaches back through Booker and Professor Longhair to the barrel house. It takes an accomplished pianist to do Booker credit. Behind the eye patch stood Bach and Chopin, Erroll Garner and Liberace, a turn as his preacher-father’s organ. Equally at home on the Sunny Side of the Street or hunched over Junco Partner, Booker had a range and virtuosity no one in the city could match. If Professor Longhair stands at the root of modern New Orleans music, Booker was the leafy canopy, branching out equally in every direction, toward and away from the sun, swinging in every direction.

In Irvin Mayfield’s packed club Krown plays a baby grand, joined by a saxophone and a drummer. The side men are good but after a while my mind drifts off during their solos, memory adjusting the mix on the soundboard of the old upright that once stood in the Maple Leaf bar, just behind the jukebox. It’s Friday, I’m off work early and my girlfriend’s job is just around the corner. I sit at the bar and order a beer and a man in an eye patch sits next to me, says nothing. The bartender pays him no mind. You want a drink, I ask? Sure he says. I don’t remember what he drank. Everyone remembers that he drank, that he died of kidney failure in a wheel chair at Charity, just another poor Black man waiting his turn. He takes his drink back to the piano and pays me back unasked. Somewhere behind that one-eyed jack eye patch is all of the joy and sorrow of New Orleans, the tribulations of musicians, piano lesson and barroom, something rare and delicate that could not grow outside of this city.

I slip in front of the crowd to take a picture and Krown mugs for the camera. For a moment I’m just another tourist in a room that looks a lot like the midday crowd at the Jazz Historical Park concerts, back from their free lunch break for a requisite allotment of the music before they climb back into their buses for a drive down St. Charles Avenue. I slip out into the patio for a cigarette, stealing a candle off the carefully set tables of someone’s upcoming wedding party to jam open the door behind the soundboard so I can hear. The sound man smiles. There is something just right about finding a place outside the crowded room, drink and cigarette in hand, close to the piano, unwilling to miss a single bar. Some hotel functionary shoes me away, reclaims the candle and I go back into the breezeway to find a place to snub out my smoke and get back inside. Someone along the back wall with a clear view of the piano gets up from their stuffed chair and I make for their spot like it’s the fire exit, plop down where I can watch Krown’s hands on the keyboard or just close my eyes and listen, alone with the music, drifting from the upholstered barrel chair to the barrel house barstool of nineteen seventy something and Friday afternoon.

Somewhere up in Woldenburg Park a band is setting up, getting ready for the last set of the day. Behind the stage, visible only if you squint your eyes just right, something hovers, choir-robed arms outstretched, a crown of thorns and a bared heart, an eye patch with a gold star. The band is there because we are here, because deep down in the bone everyone who has heard or played a note in New Orleans does so in the shadow of James Booker.

Songs of Freedom March 17, 2012

Posted by The Typist in 504ever, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Now at the annual collision of our African, Celtic and Sicilian culture, in this town where the African’s ripped from their villages and put into bondage were too valuable a property to waste risk so the hungry Irish were set to work and die digging the New Basin Canal, the spoil banks littered with their bones, the Mardi Gras Indians will come out even as the Irish and Italians stage their parades and the green beer and red wine will flow, and the streets will be line with pork chop sandwiches and loose feathers, a celebration in the way only our entirely Creolized culture knows how to do best. Free from slavery, free from hunger and poverty, and in this one place God set aside like Nod for the rejects of Anglo culture and in which we have established (with a wink and a blind eye from God) all that the propaganda of the north promised in their lies, the true melting pot. It is time to to sing Redemption Songs.

Word. January 2, 2012

Posted by The Typist in 504ever, Bloggers, music, New Orleans, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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Of the Lord (Lord David, that is) from The Truth and Other Lies. If you don’t read his blog, consider yourself woefully under-informed and your opinions beneath notice.

I find myself closer to a Stepford/Mayberry in Hell reality than I ever thought possible for the City of New Orleans…

Join me in the following year, if you dare, in going out to see music that MATTERS; from the Soul Rebels to Ratty Scurvics & the Black Market Butchers, or Dr John sitting in with JD Hill at the St Roch Tavern.

Patronize amazing local theater at out-of-the-way places like Allways Lounge & Marigny Theater, the Shadow Box theater or Otter’s Backyard Ballroom, rather than more commercial endeavors, like Professional Douche Bag, Pres Kabacoff’s, ugly little orange mall..

Gird your loins appropriately, folks, and head on out.
Life in this city is dangerous.
Its complicated.
It’s amazing & it’s beautiful.
In the final measure, for me, it’s the only way to go.

A sad farewell December 5, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Memory, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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The crowd was small at first, a few dozen in the bar , half watching the LSU game and seemingly unaware of the memorial to come, less than that milling about outside Marie’s Bar on Burgundy, another favorite haunt of Coco Robicheaux. The promised second line never quite materialized as the crowd built to fill the streets around the bar. One peck horn player, a guy with a set of bongo’s strung over his shoulder and a fellow (familiar, but I don’t know his name) with a hubcap hung from a stick. Someone later told me he was the owner of the old Dream Palace.

A woman stood in the middle of Burgundy and made a shouted announcement that there would be a parade around the block, a few more odd musicians having arrived by this time, but no one made a move to start. There was no snare in site to call us all to attention, no trumpet to issue a call to post. Since we seemed to be going no where fast I slipped back inside to try and get us another couple of beers. I understand they managed a parade around the block while I was inside, the sort of impromptu collection of amateur musicians you are liable to encounter wandering the Quarter on Mardi Gras. From the size of the crowd when I came outside, it seemed most people had stayed put, drinking and talking about Coco or LSU.

The crowd outside had started small, with knots of people talking in quiet voices, but had grown by this time into the sort of crowd you will find outside any crowded club on a Saturday night with the band on break, out to escape the steerage conditions inside, laughing and drinking and having a cigarette. There were a handful of familiar faces I couldn’t quite place with names, my friend Dave and over across the street novelist and photographer Louis Maistros, poet and playwright Moose Jackson. Dave introduced me to a few people he knew and I went over to talk to Louis and his son Booker, who was roaming with a camera.

Inside Don “Blue Max” Ryan set up and played a weak species of blues on Coco’s own guitar, reminding the crowd to toss some money in a bin in front of the state for Coco’s widow Danielle. Ryan announced himself as “Coco’s brother” but I have to assume he meant that metaphorically as he is not listed in the obituary. I understand he was Coco and his wife Danielle’s landlord, and one of the notice’s “host of cousins,” a few of whom dropped by the Apple Barrel after the family’s private memorial service last week and regaled us with stories of young Curtis. Ryan wore a feather bedecked gambler hat that might well have come out of Coco’s own wardrobe but even with Coco’s guitar in hand and his best attempt at Coco’s look he was a poor substitute

I tossed a five in the bucket and took my beers back outside, and so thankfully missed this, Ryan dropping one of Coco’s guitars in front of Coco’s wife Danielle while she “watch[ed] in horror.” according to Dylan James Stansbury, an amateur videographer who can be found at just about any music event worth catching, posting up performance on YouTube. The video is dark (almost thankfully), and the ending truly sad as he balances the guitar on one hand and it crashes to the ground. It’s hard to make out the cacophony of voices after he drops it. There is a clear “oh, God” right after it falls, another voice saying “Coco didn’t want it played any more” and toward the very end, very clearly: “asshole.”

I missed the moment on video, Dylan told me later. because it happened later in the night, probably after I had already left for another obligation, a Krewe du Vieux event up on Architect street. The memory I took away was a happier one, of a street full of people drinking and laughing, just another bar overflow street party, as if Coco himself had just finished a set inside. The failure of the promised second line was of no consequence on this Saturday night in New Orleans. Coco was sent off by the neighborhood with drinking, conversation and laughter, which in his case is probably better than a second line.

Friends at the Apple Barrel remember Coco Robicheaux November 30, 2011

Posted by The Typist in music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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My first paying journalism gig in more years than I care to think about.

Friends at the Apple Barrel remember Coco Robicheaux

This photo is the exclusive property of Gambit for the next seven days, so if you crib it please be sure to credit both Gambit and the photographer and link the photo back to the article. This is also my 99th post. Do we have Pick 3 in Louisiana?

Coco in the Spiritland November 25, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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New Orleans musical and spiritual icon Coco Robicheaux is walking with the ancestors. One candle goes out and a thousand new are lighted in mourning and memory. Go with sage and sweet grass, go with a song and a bottle, go with a guitar in hand and bring New Orleans to the spirit land.

“I had to use my voice and hands/To make the music of the spirit land.”
— Coco Robicheaux

Play Spiritland

They’re all wasted November 3, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“There once was a note. Listen.”
–Peter Townsend, “Pure and Easy”

Below is the version of Teenage Wasteland originally written for Peter Townsend’s concept performance/rock opera Lifehouse, which in most of its versions is about a dystopic future in which everyone is living connected to The Grid, inside suits that isolate them one from the other. All of their experiences take place alone in tubes to which the suits can connect. Some of the lyrics are familiar, some you have probably not heard before. You can find them here. The antidote to this dystopia is the emergency of an old guru who remembers ancient rock-and-roll, and its cathartic, Dionysian power.

In some ways the prescient concept of Matrix (if not the rest of the story line) captures this moment perfectly.

I think of my own children, slaves of the Grid realized, the careful constructs of cable television and Internet. Controlled by media conglomerates, the Grid stands ready to package and sell them commoditized lifestyles of conformist rebellion suited to their particular taste, from the decadently preppy world of leering models at American Apparel to the depths of industrial goth. Come on in, kid, we have just what you need to rebel and conform all at the same time.

We of their parents generation still live in a personal era in which rock-and-roll is not the forgotten art of the Lifehouse or a carefully scripted commercial soundtrack, but in which the healing power of a song called on in a moment of distress is like that of prayer, with the promise of being born again not in the spirit of the Xianists but as cleansed and refreshed human beings, eyes and hearts open. That was Townsend’s concept for Lifehouse. At its best and before the media conglomerates absorbed the genre rock-and-roll was about not about unbridled freedom (an inverted nihilistic illusion) but about a genuine rebellion, a rejection of the past in favor of a future of possibility, a future still malleable to the hands of people (not just the children) seeking and ready to make the world their own place. It is an idea that must not be allowed to die.

Manoir de Mes Reves July 29, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Jazz, music, New Orelans, The Narrative.
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Do you have any Gerry Mulligan? my son asked. His school band leader asked him to pick it up last year because he wanted one in his orchestra, and it took. He’s going to have to give Franklin’s back (which he was allowed to keep all summer) and you don’t want to know what a barri costs. I said I only had one song, and it’s one I’ve had for a very long time. (I now own a couple of records through the magic of the Internet and he has copies of both).

Through all my years in Fargo Leigh Kamman’s The Jazz Image on Saturday nights was a lifeline to a larger world, a window into the past of jazz, an education it would be hard to duplicate anywhere else. He always opened his show with this song, and all of Saturday’s chores and the long week’s labors would melt away in Gerry Mulligan’s soaring baritone. The closest you can come to approximating the tone color and cadance of the voice of the now retired Kamman, the small hours of morning club cool, is to listen to K. Balewa’s Morning Set Wednesdays on WWOZ, but while Balewa’s is raspy brushed snare and the low register of the trumpet Kamman’s was all horns, the baritone in the lead, the sound of the opening choruses of this song.

Manoir de Mes Reves (Django’s Castle)

Broadsided by that Ford Econoline June 29, 2011

Posted by The Typist in literature, music, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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First I found Broadsided Press on Facebook, and their wonderful broadsides combining poetry and art. If you go to their site, be sure to pull up the PDFs so you can view them legibly. I really like this one. And this one.

Then over at The Rumpus I am introduced to a regular feature on the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com called All Over Coffee. I like this last one because it speaks not only to the obviously female character (and if you’re a guy and you’ve never cranked Ford Econoline for the shear joy of the song well you need to reconsider your taste in music) because this last broadside speaks to anyone who had taken a step over a line: across the threshold of a door, into that dark alley, off Don Juan’s cliff.

A thousand silos aimed at what? May 29, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Jazz, literature, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Gil Scott-Heron died the other day.

I had been thinking of him lately, partly born out of a conversation I had during Jazz Fest. I spent most those two weekends sitting on my stoop on one of the plastic chairs I set out front, watching the crowds pass in and out the Sauvage Street gate, seeing who would pick up a sheet or three from the Free Jazz Poetry box I had placed atop of five gallon bucket on Fortin Street. Any number of people stopped by and asked if they could sit for a minute, and I always said yes.

One afternoon a young black man who had been handing out Where Y’at asked to sit.He had come by earlier and picked up a sheaf of the poems I had printed up and laid out, not true jazz poems in the technical sense but poems written about musicians I admire. He still had the poems in his hands when he sat down. I asked him about handing out newspapers, if he was getting a free ticket to Jazz Fest like the hawkers of free copies of Off Beat. No, he was just getting paid to do it.

I’m also a poet, he said after we sat silently for a bit, smoking. I asked him where he read or performed. He wasn’t doing much of that here in New Orleans, he said. He wasn’t a New York style slam performer. He preferred the words, and apparently NOLA is all about the performance. And everywhere is a clique in spoken word circles, he said. I told him the mostly white mainstream poetry scene was pretty much the same. Uptown at the Leaf, downtown at the Goldmine, the universities: everywhere people were huddled in their little groups and only a few people regularly crossed those lines. Even outside of poetry, there are groups of writers clustered together who rarely talk to each other. We’re all in our little silos.

I told him I had been looking into checking out some of the spoken word events, even though I can’t hold anything in memory long enough to ever get up to the mike, and I’m certainly no performer. A handful of Black poets come to traditional poetry readings, but almost no one from my world ventures into the spoken word circle. I told him about visiting a spoken word event when I was in D.C. on business, at the historic Cavern night club on U Street, the only white person there, sitting alone against the wall sipping whiskey. They asked me when I came in if I was going to read, but I never did. I sat there soaking up the beautiful words and thinking about the people who occasionally visit the Goldmine or the Maple Leaf, wondering if they felt as alien as I did that night.

Artists like Gil Scott-Heron and Sun Ra (also much on my mind of late) spoke from a Black experience but did not intend their art to be only for people just like them. Sun Ra is often pigeon holed in the Afro-futurist movement he is credited with creating, is often thought to be Afrocentic in the exclusionary sense of the the men selling The Final Call who will not meet your eye. But Sun Ran himself spoke in his poetry of “niggers of all colors” and in the opening of his flim Space is the Place he first speaks of bringing the Black people of Earth to a new planet of their own, but quickly suggests that they bring the whole planet to a new world to start over.

Gil Scott-Heron certainly spoke from his Black experience but not all of his work is Afrocentric. Pieces like We Beg Your Pardon (about the Nixon pardon) and Winter in America spoke for all Americans, to all Americans who were ready to listen. He collaborated with rap and hip hop artists but declined the title of father of rap, saying he preferred Jazz. In spite of works like Whitey on the Moon there is not feeling he fell into the seperatist trap. Heron and Ra understood the universal power of music, to speak to all people, to get people to listen, to make a transformation in the world.

Here in 21st Century New Orleans writers divide themselves up by race, by ward, by style, by where’d-you-go-to-school, just like everyone else. I sat around with a dozen people who would seem to understand the power of words during the visit of New York writer Eileen Miles and who told jokes about why there are no Republican poets: they’re all speech writers. The laughter was uneasy. We understand the power of words but don’t do enough to use them as a weapon or a spell to change the world, leaving that to others. We sit in our comfortable groups and read to or perform for each other each in our chosen denomination of the church of the word, never thinking to step over the threshold into another experience. We think ourselves wiser, more hip but are we that much better off than everyone else living in the speed-dial, cable-package, friends list silos the masters have wrought to keep us penned like factory farm animals?

The young poet was trained as a journalist and had worked in that field out west, but everywhere in New Orleans he found door closed against him. One publisher went so far as to tell him they already had their black writer. I went into the house and pulled out my copy of Atlantis Now, a new magazine of culture and arts in the city founding young Black men at UNO. Given them a try, I suggested, and he said he would.

We already have our Black writer? Really? I wish I had asked him who that was. Even as our corporate fathers realign my job to another state and I was thinking of trying to make a go of free-lancing and to out that person would seriously fuck up my own prospects I would gladly call them out. One thing we learn from the great artists is the need to be fearless. For a long time on my blog and emails I had a signature taken from a poem by Audre Lorde: “and when we speak we are afraid/our words will not be heard/nor welcomed/but when we are silent/we are still afraid/So it/is better to speak/remembering/we were never meant to survive.” I watched the PBS special on the Freedom Riders two weeks ago and can’t shake the idea of twenty-year olds making their last will and testament then boarding the buses. Where are those people now?

So much that troubled Henry Blount in his youth in the 40s and 50s and gave birth to the persona Sun Ra, all the issues that fueled Scott-Heron’s work in the 60s and 70s are still with us, issues of class and race compounded in New Orleans by our rigid system of caste and ward, where the universal question of a stranger “where’d you go to school” is a password challenge: are you one of us? This is particularly sad in New Orleans, the place where the uniquely African-American forms of jazz and R&B that are the basis of America’s mainstream culture we all embrace were born. And a city given the same clean slate as Noah, a city where for one bright shining moment we were not Black or white, Uptown or Downtown, Catholic or Baptist but all children of the flood, a chance at transformation that we promptly squandered.

I know Scott-Heron’s music but haven’t read much about his thoughts of the world he just left, a world still under the seventh-generation curse of slavery. I wonder if art can really transform the world. If we don’t open our hearts and really listen it it can just be emotional heroin, a withdrawal into the soothing numbness of familiarity and our fractional identities, a habit hard to break. Yes the world has changed. We have a Black president presiding over the antiquated atomic silos that dot the Dakotas but our worries today are not The Bomb. Our worry is the silos we have built for ourselves that make the new Vietnams of the east possible, that leave us paralyzed to act as the right froths over Obama with the same vitriol as Alabamians meeting the Freedom Riders, in cities rings\ed with a wall of big box malls while the center withers in apathy, a world where Whitey’s On The Moon still resonates as the last space shuttles fly over a planet full of hunger and pain.

And now it’s winter
It’s winter in America
And all of the healers have been killed
Or been betrayed
Yeah, but the people know, people know
It’s winter, Lord knows
It’s winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting
Cause nobody knows what to save
Save your souls
From Winter in America

– Gil Scott-Heron

N.B. — Read the comment just below the video.

Sun Ra on Fortin Street May 7, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, Dancing Bear, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Sun Ra, Toulouse Street.
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“Its After the End of the World. Don’t You Know That Yet?”

Too busy watching the world go by and trying to hawk books to get together a Jazz Fest post today but stop by the Shrine of Sun Ra at the Fortin Street Stage on your way in or out and light a josh stick. I just had to respond to the very nice woman I met the other morning who put up the Jon Bon Jovi shrine, and the Cyndi Lauper shrine that went up in answer a few days later. I think a jazz artist and a man of such spiritual truth deserves a shrine.

For years, the tagline on my Wet Bank Guide blog was the signature chant from the Space is the Place film, “It’s After the End of the World. Don’t You Know That Yet?”, a perfect statement for the Alice in Underland situation of New Orleans. The flood was a baptism that washed away the original sin of conventional Anglo-Saxon America and left me a pure son of New Orleans. When I got my tattoo I went for Moose Jackson’s equally apt line “I’m not alright but I am upright” but it was a hard choice. I may yet have Sun’s words permanently inked on my body, marked forever with the sacred chant of the postdiluvian elect.

So stop by and get you some Cosmic Vibrations at the Shrine (and a beer, a bathroom and some beans). You know you want some.

Odd Words: Fish Head Emergency Edition May 4, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, books, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, literature, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Ah crap, I’m supposed to go see Marcia Ball tonight and I’m going to miss this. I was there at the public beginning in Luigi’s and I desperately need a copy of this book autographed by the entire band.

GOT THE FISH IN THE HEAD: A RADIATORS RETROSPECTIVE

May 4th, 2011

On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, Jay Mazza, fan and friend of The Radiators and author of I Got the Fish in the Head: A Radiators Retrospective, will be at Maple Street Book Shop at 6:00 P.M. He will read from, discuss, and sign his book. Mr. Mazza has announced there will be musical entertainment: Chris Mule, the guitarist for Honey Island Swamp Band, Phil deGruy, and Stephen Smith also on guitar.

“Intended for fans of New Orleans music and culture, the book is as much a cultural commentary on the city and its music scene as it is a musical tribute. Filled with distinctive characters that passed through the bars and clubs where the Radiators played, the book is a retrospective of the New Orleans scene as told by someone who was there at almost every important juncture of the last 30 years.

This post requires emergency audio overdrive.

If this had been an actual fish head emergency, you would have been instructed to burn your t-shirt.

Sanctifying Place May 1, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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It was Odd to sit on my stoop on Fortin Street, a literal stone’s throw from the Gospel Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and hear the WWOZ announcer inside the festival talking about a gospel group riffing on James Brown. Isn’t it really more a matter of James Brown having riffed on the music of his childhood church? As I sit directly across the street from that stage and spent most of the last two days listening to the mighty choirs and soaring organs over the pounding drums and bass of Black southern gospel, it is an easy insight to understand.

Recall the controversy when Ray Charles took the sound of gospel and turned it into I Got A Woman in 1956, or think whether the entire R&B sound those of us in the Baby Boom grew up with would be the same without Sam Cooke. It was not only Black artists who mined this vein but many of the idols of our own youth. One of my favorite artists, Leon Russell, was a one man revival show in his own rock-and-roll piano recordings of the early 1970s (when he wasn’t producing/arranging Bonnie and Delaney or Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishman tour). Anyone who has walked past the gospel tent will recognize the influence in his signature song Delta Lady or the dark gospel cover by the Rolling Stones of I Just Want to See His Face.

As Jazz Fest approached and the tents went up, I thought about how wonderful it would be to sit right across from the Jazz Tent where I’ve spent many an afternoon, or even right behind the Blues Tent, both of which back right up to the fence on Fortin, but after the last two days I’m glad I landed where I did. Friday’s how ended with a long and rousing reverse cover of the Isley Brother’s Shout, spoiled in part by the arrival of the water vendors hawking in front of my house but I didn’t care. I just cake walked my irresistibly wiggling hips across the street the better to hear. If you’ve missed the Gospel Tent in the past as I have, don’t make the mistake a habit. Or stop by the VIP Seating Area of the Fortin Street Stage on your way out if you leave early and take in the closing set. In the ending as in the beginning was the choir, and the choir was good.

The Fortin Street Stage April 30, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, 504ever, fuckmook, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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They came early and the line stretched down Fortin Street even though it was only Friday, all in their straw hats spreading lotion, men in their ball caps and concert shirts, women in short-shorts and in cool summer whites, with parasols and backpacks and collapsible chairs, the barkers of sunglasses and hats and coozies that hang from your neck working the line until I was ready to kill the one who set up in front of my door incessantly shouting. I saw with my coffee and a cigarette watching them file past into the first day of Jazz Fest 2011.

I couldn’t tell you the line up. I’m working from home today and my joke post about being a stone’s throw from the gospel tent was “Jesus on the conference call, Tell him what you want” but first it was time for a mid-morning break, coffee and a cigarette in a dirty white resin chair next to my stoop to watch the crowd assemble then pass, perhaps to catch a bit of the excitement I’m wasn’t feeling looking at the line up. Today’s big act is Bon Jovi, and there’s a sign advertising the Shrine of Bon Jovi at 2992 Maurepas. The first fans are already at the gate two hours before it opens to stake their place.

This is why I was not that excited about what is still called the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the weeks leading up to this.

Yesterday I opened the door to sit on the stoop and smoke a cigarette and watch the crowd a man stood with camera gear slung around his neck, trying to make a cell call away from the chatter of the barkers and the anxious crowd. He didn’t get an answer and stood there a moment staring at his cell phone before he looked over my way and said nice seat.

It’s the Fortin Street Stage, I told him. Turns out the guy, who will remain nameless, with credits and credentials for a half-dozen jazz magazines, can’t get a press pass. He has hustled comps and even a press pass one year. Apparently someone at the festival hands them out to friends with tenuous credentials by the handful, and he managed to get one from a local lawyer one year. I didn’t go through the list with him, but let’s just say if you’re here from the Off Beat of L.A. you should get a press pass. Then again, this is not your grandfather’s jazz fest. I told him that back in the 1970s I could get a fistful of tickets for the University of New Orleans newspaper and went every day. I think you have to be from a rock magazine now, he said.

I see you have Rahsaan up on your wall he said, noticing a painting I have. He spoke of the other jazz fests he has attended elsewhere, ones where jazz in the name still means something. I told him about my visit to The Cavern in D.C. and looking at the marquee of coming acts, all the current touring big names and in jazz, none of whom every visit New Orleans. We spoke of Kenny G in the Jazz Tent, and talked about catching Ahmad Jamal and Sonny Rollins. He is debating staying for Rollins and having to buy another ticket out of his own pocket hoping to get some saleable shots. I said I planned to just walk up the street and plant as close as I can get to the Jazz Tent Saturday afternoon for Jamal, and was going in for Rollins because my son’s music program (sponsored by the Heritage Foundation) plays that morning.

I had never been a tremendous fan of the Gospel Tent, although I have friends who swear by it, always thinking I had too much else to see and do when inside. Today its a pleasant relief from work, to step outside with my coffee cup and listen to the choirs riffing on James Brown themes, to hear the sisters moan in a blessed tone as the John Boutte song goes, picking apart the music to find the roots of so much else I love in the pounding rhythm sections and soaring organ. I wonder how many Bon Jovi fans will pause outside the gospel tent today and recognize that much of modern popular music would not be possible without Southern gospel.

After Friday’s shows were over, a crowd who had rented the lot next door and erected tents cranks up their music right outside my window: the Charlie Daniels Band. As The Souths Gonna Do It Again replaced the sounds of gospel. What the hell are these people doing at Jazz Fest, I wonder? I step outside for a moment at glower around the corner them. I step back inside, and they crank it up a bit louder. Time to go all McAlary on them. I browse through my I-Tunes and decide on Miles Davis Bitches’ Brew. I turn my new Bose speakers outward, and turn it up, then wander into the back to stick my soaking red beans in the fridge for the night.

Forget the Acura Stage and Bon Jovi. Saturday’s lineup on the Fortin Street Stage includes Robert Cray in the Blues Tent and Ahmad Jamal in the Jazz tent (at the same time alas), just a short stroll up the street for me to listen over the fence. I’m going to cook up some red beans against any unexpected guests at the end of the day. I’ve got beer and water in the fridge and the bathroom’s clean. I’m ready to spend the day at my own private Jazz Fest. I just hope the stories aren’t true about the Bon Jovi fans booing Dr. John one year, anxious to hear their band, because if I hear the fuckmooks boo Irma Thomas who plays just before their band the Shrine of Bon Jovi is going to be in serious danger.

It’s A Living Tradition April 25, 2011

Posted by The Typist in music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Treme.
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Back of Town, you one stop shop for everything you need to know about Treme, is back in business with Episode 11. Cross-posting my first Season Two pieces here.

As I asked a year ago when the Chief appeared out of the darkness I wonder how many people outside the city caught the signature feature of this episode: the young boy with a horn who bookends the episode, the one the Chief observes with signature arched eyebrow walking past St. Louis No. 2 struggling to learn to play. That and Delmond’s jazz version of Second Line, so significant after his conversation with Donald Harrison, Jr. at the fundraiser in Season One, were for me the defining moments of Episode 11.

In the weeks just before All Saints Day 2006 I asked the same question the Chief asks all through Season One: what will it take to bring people home, and what might be lost if they do not return:

Until we solve the problems of bringing people home, it remains a critical question: if the overwhelmingly African-American working class of New Orleans cannot come home, will the culture be transmitted? Or will it merely be preserved by well-meaning fans as a thing under glass, taken out and paraded once a year around the Fairgrounds at Jazz Fest like the relics of a saint. What will happen to the children of New Orleans in Houston and Atlanta when there is no role model up the street to make them want to learn trombone, or the intricate rhythms of New Orleans funk? Will all the future Nevilles and Trombone Shorties be left to aspire to be, instead, 50 Cent?

The boy with the trumpet and Delmond’s impassioned answer are Treme’s response to that question. The unintentional irony of the Katrina morgue at St. Gabriel comes back to me, the archangel with the trumpet hosting our ghosts. When the crowd was cheering and aw-ing over Davis and Annie and the show was busying arranging the characters for the second act, I was thinking: blow that horn, son. Blow it for the memory of the ancestors at St. Gabriel. Blow it for the now. Blow it for the future, boy, blow it for that mother-fuckin’ future.

The N.O. Jazz and Some Other Stuff Festival April 11, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans.
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I was talking to a friend the other day about how we had both fallen into like bluegrass music (Jerry Garcia recording Old and in the Way and the New Riders of the Purple Haze had a lot to do with it), and it put me in mind of the times I saw Doc and Merle Watson as a featured name artist at Jazz Fest.

Once upon a time the big Spring festival was the Jazz and Heritage Festival in earnest. I found a website, Swag’s Jazzfest Cube Rescue, which tries to capture old “cubes” showing the artists performing in years passed, and looking at cubes from say 2000 and a handful of earlier vintage reminded me how much the festival has transformed, and not necessarily for the better. Anyone remember the last time a blue grass band played the Gentilly Stage on a weekend? Me either. Neither does the Festival, as searching for Doc or Merle Watson on their official list of past performers turns up nada.

Looking at the old cubes was like a trip back in time to a schedule heavy with R&B, Blues and Jazz greats, along with a heaping helping of major local artists. As recently as the last Sunday in 2000, the closing acts were The Radiators, John Mooney, The Neville Brothers, Sonny Landreth, Joe Sample and King Sunny Ade and his African Beats. The closest the Festival got to pop acts that year were Lenny Kravitz and Lyle Lovette. Now the Festival seem to be in competition for the Voodoo Festival crowd, and I think anyone with a long history of attending the Festival will admit it is not just the same. I don’t know if the apocryphal story of a certain pop band’s fans booing Dr. John is true or not, but it feels about right.

If you don’t remember those days at the Fairgrounds, consider this. The lineup at this years French Quarter Festival is about what the lineup used to look like at Jazz Fest, minus the few big touring names. And it doesn’t cost $50 to go. Now if you’re a fan of Wheezer (whatever that is) or whoever else, $50 isn’t a bad price for access to the band whose stage you will camp in front of all day, with an entire afternoon of opening acts that might open your eyes to some new and different music and a all you can afford buffet of some of the best food and crafts you’ll see anywhere. Go for it. Have a blast. Stop by my stoop on Fortin Street and buy a water bottle. We’re glad you came to see your band and are here spending lots of money. Come back real soon. Or come for French Quarter Fest next year and see what you missed when your parents were coming to the Fairgrounds: a true festival of our heritage.

The Edge of Friday Night January 29, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, art, blues, French Quarter, music, Toulouse Street.
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The Kerry Irish Pub is the first bar with music pouring out the door the tourists reach as they enter the quarter from the Casino and the downtown hotels nearest the river. The regulars are crowded up toward the door but the tourists gravitate toward the band for a few songs, as obvious and routine in their appearance as the homeless. A couple wearing feather boas; the three men in odd hats, one in a ten gallon wool hat with a Burger King child’s crown over the crown of the hat, another perhaps in a Carnival-colored jester hat or one of those tall Cat In The Hat numbers: it doesn’t matter. I really don’t remember, just their motleynes, announcing to the world that they are in New Orleans and not at home in Alabama or Arkansas or east Texas in a corporate office park or a construction site, not tonight. They are playing dress up with drinks, a combination of the innocence of childishness and the fervor of youth, the way my daughters guy friends might act when they smuggle beer into the backyard and got into my hats.

You sit in front, listening to the band but you ask the transients between songs where they are from, what they plan to do in New Orleans. They never stay long; all our bound for Bourbon Street: Disneyland Sodom where the only thing real is life of the barkers, the bartenders, the musicians playing endless covers of Lynard Skynard when they pack up for the night and and leave it behind. I live next door to a Bourbon Street guitar player in this dismal shack of a shotgun, so pathetic looking from the outside that when the landlord was doing some work and took off back to Mississippi leaving my door ajar for hours no one came in and cleaned me out. No one was looking for a place to light a crack pipe I guess, or perhaps there is still some honor among the poor. I live on the edge of a gentrified neighborhood and the pickings are better a few blocks over. Taking my bargain basement TV and laptop might strike a little too close to home–who might be robbing their own house of their few ill-gotten things–and the shopping is better up the block. That’s reality, where my neighbor the musician and I live, not the roaring noise of Bourbon.

But the tourists coming in, drawn by the first live band they hear, don’t care. The New Orleans of their dreams is calling, the exotic drinks, the beads and boobs and Big Ass Beers, the daily festival of public drunkenness reserved in their hometowns for a season of Saturdays tailgating before The Big Game, reliving the memory of drunken college parties acted out every night on Bourbon for their entertainment and themselves the star of the production.

I remember a quiet night when a couple and their children stopped outside a bar while the band played a song the parents remembered from their youth, the father explaining to the ‘tweens how they loved that song when they were young and all of them–parents and children alike–staring into the bar over the banister railing that closed off the french doors, the parents lost in a reverie of youth and the children imagining their parents as people young and wild, living out what seems to a twelve-year-old the dream of what life might be if they were only free. I stopped and lit a cigarette that night and watched them until they passed on, imagining the thoughts running through their heads.

You sit at the Kerry with just a few companions in front, the regulars of the bar sitting in the back and the band is just juke box to them, the soundtrack recorded music has taught us to expect of life. The band is a pick up gig. One of your companions is the sister of the drummer and band leader and you know that the regular players were unavailable and the two guitarists are just sitting in for the night. One is an older black blues musician you have hoped to see since a friend gave you an old CD to copy, Mem Shannon, the reason why you came. As the band is unfamiliar it takes them a song or two to fall into the practicality of the blues, a form as stylized as the baroque and and well known to them all so the players quickly pull it together. Shannon plays a red lacquered guitar covered with the dials and switches of the days before every player had a row of effect boxes at this feet, plays with the easy facility of long experience, and you think of B.B. King. The other guitarist is a guy named Danny Dugan, and on his jet black guitar with the whammy bar handing loose and broken he plays in the familiar rock-flavored tenor with occasional metal slide of a llife long fan of Dickie Betts.

They are two men of the same age but different in race, experience, the musicians they emulated. And yet as they play in an unfamiliar combo they follow each other from the corner of their eyes. With an occasional eyebrow arched like inverted slurs they support each other’s solos with perfect rhythm work, two practiced disciples of the blues each in their own style. The band leader gives directions between songs, sings with a voice pure and inspired as gospel for the love of the music. The tourists come and go and none leave anything in the tip jar. The regulars chatter in the back but fill the jar with cash when it is passed, understanding the price of their chosen ambiance. No one except the few of us in front is really paying attention. I sit rapt and follow the the way these two musicians settle into an unfamiliar gig and find a way to make incredible music with the grace of toreadors practicing without a crowd.

I mostly watch Mem Shanon, the fast and delicate finger work, the wrist flicking vibrato, as concert house perfect as any violinist but learned over decades playing to disinterested bars for the pure joy of the music, eyes sometimes closed with a slight smile of delight and other times looking up to the sky as if to search for approval from the God his elders told him hated the devil’s blues, the gospel tempos of the church stolen by scoundrels. I watch him eye the other guitarist as they trade licks just for the pure pleasure of it and the hope of enough in the tip jar and the bar cut to buy them dinner after and a cab home, playing not for the disinterested tourists who drift off to Bourbon or even for the regulars who make offerings to the tip jar the way the jaded fill the collection plate but for the pure love of the music, playing for themselves, for each other as the sort of men who play an edge of the quarter club on a Friday night for tips and drinks because they only want to play, would bring their own beer and find a room and play because they can’t imagine another way to live.

This is how art is born and tradition lives, not because of but in spite of the crowd, because these unfamiliar players share just enough of the vocabulary and are long practiced to make a pick up gig into something wonderful, because they can’t imagine a better way to spend the evening. An audience of two or three is almost irrelevant, but I like to think we add something to the moment, the smoke of our cigarettes rising up to heaven like josh stick offerings to the real heart of why New Orleans is, people who play and live and make an art of life because they can’t imagine another way to be.

Village Ghetto Land December 8, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Shield of Beauty, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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It has probably been 20 years since I last heard this song. I think I still have my vinyl but it’s somewhere I’m not, as is the turntable, or I might have played that record to death last night instead of climbing into bed at six to sleep off a burgeoning cold. It puts me in mind of Sun Ra’s words about lifting the Shield of Beauty against all the ugly of the world. I think of Stevie Wonder and Rahsaan Roland Kirk but the image of the blind seer has been with us since humanity first learned to tell stories. Just ask Tiresias should you be (un)lucky enough to find yourself in a position to ask.

I have very eclectic taste in music, but when I offered my son a copy of spoken word artist Katalyst’s CD he told me he’d been listening to gansta rap, something I have no use for. I was a professional propagandist too long to not take seriously the impact of glorifying violence, misogyny and death, and the evidence can be found all to often on the streets of New Orleans,sometimes lying cold in a pool of blood. This song is taken from the same mean streets, changed only since the 1970s by the drugs of choice and the efficiency of the weapons and the demolition of everyone’s momma’s house in favor of Urban Renewal (remember how well that worked in the Sixties and Seventies).

So somewhere here at the midpoint between Thanksgiving and Xmas, when most people are too busy at the orgy of shopping and parties to consider what these holidays are about, too deeply enmeshed in their traditional Xian faith to see the turning of the solar year as a time to stop and think about what those holidays tell them about the world, about the cyclical rebirth of the world and what opportunities that presents (think New Year’s resolutions), to sated by celebration to think back on all the parables of the Carpenter they’ve snoozed through the rest of the year, along comes this song and perhaps if they hear it, it will hopefully stop them in their tracks for a minute and give them pause.

I think I may buy a stack of those mini-CDs and give everyone I know this Christmas a single (with an A and B side of course) of this song and The Rebel Jesus (which I’m bound to post up here before too long).

Morning 40 Federation June 11, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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“You’re gonna walk down the street in glory…”

Every day, in every way, this looks better and better. Wake me up when the band starts.

We Shall Not Be Moved April 30, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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As the BP well spills an endless river of oil and we all relive 2005 through Treme, I think we all need to hear this. I went looking for something by reed and flute player Hart McNee and found We Shall Not Be Moved, a recording including 100 New Orleans musicians, made in 2008. Not sure how I missed this when it came out. All I can say is:

Yeah. You. Right.

Act II:

Is It Supersonic? November 21, 2009

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music.
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I’m a big fan of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but I wasn’t aware of this odd film featuring Kirk and John Cage, with Cage providing the libretto and some of the mix and overdubs to Kirk’s music. Some people think Kirk is just a freak show, the man who can blow three horns and play a 23 minute saxophone concerto without stopping to take a breath. He is all that, and a whole lot more. Playing multiple horns produced a rich chordal texture, a one man horn section not precisely that of a big band but slightly discordant because the horns were often blowing in different keys while the idle horns served as do drones do in a bagpipe. His talking flute technique, humming or singing or whistling into the instrument takes it to an entirely new dimension of sound. And that’s what Kirk was about, the sound and taking it (and the listeners) to new places.

Just count me among the Freaks for the Festival.

The full film is on Ubu or you can just skip to Part 2 and Part 3 on YouTube.

Figured It All Out (Sort Of) May 7, 2009

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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As I sit around desperately Trying To Figure It Out (and realizing I am neither Einstein nor Buddha so I am never going to figure IT out and this is a form of procrastination bordering on mental masturbation and well…). Damn. Time to put on a record. And get another beer.

If I’m going to figure anything out I think I need a bit of space to work in, and what better space than the one figured in Paul Kanter’s pompously perfect space opera Blows Against the Empire, possibly the most star-studded studio record of the whole San Francisco era.

And if in fact I am not going to figure IT out (that much we have arrived at by long and careful consideration), at least not tonight (and by counting the empties on the porch), then I might as well Dream…

Have you seen the stars tonight? Would you like go to up on A Deck and look at them with me?

earth1

Mystery Street May 2, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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The Jazz Tent can be a lonely place (however crowded) when most of your friends are off shaking it at Dr. John or Zachary Richard. If Mrs. Toulouse were coming she would come sit with me most of the afternoon, but I’m solo today. That will not, in the end, keep my away from the last tent by the Mystery Street exit.

I will try to catch Zachary Richard and Bonerama early so if you see an old geek in a Tilley hat doing the solo stoner shuffle that will probably be me. And at some point this afternoon I will find myself bidding farewell to all that and will head across the baking concrete of Heritage Square (thanking the Boggess for the good beer booths there) toward the Tent, getting ready to hear Jimmy Cobb’s tribute to the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

If you want to hear people who know their stuff talk about the record, you can jump right down to the short documentary at the bottom of this. This is the one jazz record you can buy at Target, has become iconic of jazz in so many minds of Jazz (capital J intended) because its just so damned perfect. The line up is an all star roster of the time (1959): John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderely, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly on keys, Jimmy Cobb on drums and Paul Chambers on bass. The sound is perfect late 50s-early 60s Cool, so its easy on the ears as a Jazz 101 record to give friends, but sufficiently complex and damned near perfect that it bears up to listening to over and over again however deep into jazz you are.

Part of my musical experience is the transcendental sound of much of later 20th century jazz. As Americans drifted out of the old churches and into the secular world in that period we fashioned as we went our own pantheon and replacement religions. Out there somewhere behind the Cult of Kennedy, the Temple of the Most Noble Quarterback and the Shrine of the Four Liverpudlians is a path that takes you away from the noisy temple square and down toward a quiet and secret place. Before the arrival of the Merry Pranksters and the jam bands, jazz was our first mystery cult.

I am at best a minor acolyte, lacking the musical training to take apart recordings like diagramming a sentence or the inclination to memorize song and sidemen lists that jazz aficionados share with baseball fans. This record has much that captures my own call to jazz: that mystical something that draws the listener in, a captured vibration as old as Bog’s Big Bang; a swing that makes your feet move and your head nod, not danceable but a rhythm that spreads though the body like the a reverb heavy remix of your own heartbeat; the sparse notes building enormous colors that are wall of sound turned inside out, and solos like the high point of low church, a call home of tremendous voice and power to persuade.

Kind of Blue is just the record for initiates of the lowest order, and still speaks to the most high (many quoted in the brief film). If you don’t have a copy you can buy it at Target for chrissakes. Today the last surviving member of the session, drummer Jimmy Cobb, and his band will present a tribute to the record and I know I will be at the Jazz Test early to make sure I can claim a seat. If you don’t know the music but I’ve stirred the tiniest bit of curiosity come on by. Yes John Mayall will be next door and the O’Jays right over at Congo Square, but if you’re going to come to the Jazz and Heritage Festival (remember the name, right?) you should make at least one stop in The Tent, and this will be a good one.

So if you think you’re ready for your initiation, come on down toward the Mystery Street Gate (natch), last tent on the left. Initiation begins at 5:40.

Heritage Forever April 26, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans, NOLA.
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Today I sat in the patio-like paddock of the Fairgrounds and watched my son and a dozen fellow students mount the New Orleans Jazz Fest and Heritage Festival Lagniappe Stage and play Kidd Jordan’s Second Line, directed by Kidd himself.

Played. At Jazz Fest. Kidd Jourdan. I’m having a hard time getting past that simple set of facts, keep rearranging it in my head to find new ways to combine those words just as an excuse to keep repeating it over and over again. For a New Orleans father, this is even more powerful than seeing your son pull his helmet on and run out onto the field for the first time.

He is part of an after school program called the Heritage School of Music, funded by the Jazz and Heritage Foundation which sponsors the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. His teachers at the Lusher Charter School Heritage School site include Kidd and Kent Jordan, both icons of New Orleans music.

It was a hard slog to get there in time. My wife could not come and I had her drop me at Esplanade Avenue and Mystery Street so she would not get caught up in Fest traffic, and so she (who is not from here) would not have to navigate the bizarre intersection of Gentilly, Paris, St. Bernard and DeSaix without a native guide. I had a comp ticket for my book signing but had to march myself all the way around to the Belfort Avenue entrance, which is way the hell down that street about halfway back down the far side of the track.

I was, however, so pumped at the idea of seeing him up on a Jazz Fest stage that I managed to arrive early (almost 30 minutes after getting dropped), with a crawfish bread in hand and camera ready. As I sat there mopping my brow to try and save my hat from the huge sweat I had worked up getting there, I stared at the stage with the familiar bulbous lettering across the banner at the top, the sign in the familiar hand writing (all of the Jazz Fest artist signs are done by the same person) announcing that the Heritage School of music would be up next. I considered that my son would be in that number, and was in that moment absolutely floored.

For the handful of parents and others who managed to find their way into the paddock so early on a Jazz Fest Sunday, it was a vision of the Heritage I often chide the Festival for downplaying, preserved and handed with care to the next generation.

My son is a beginner at sax but some of the kids in this program are incredibly talented, tackling Chick Corea, John Contrane and Miles Davis compositions with some fantastic solos. He is a bit intimidated by some of the more experienced kids, but I think he could easily have handled the piano part of All Blues they had charted for the junior horn students playing behind the soloists in the Dillard program.

I don’t think he knows just how fortunate he is to have this opportunity (kids rarely are), but I will keep reminded him until it sinks in. Two of the most accomplished musicians in New Orleans are teaching him, and taking him to play as Jazz Fest.

I just want to type those last words over and over again like a scratched record: to play at Jazz Fest, to play at Jazz fest…

If this wasn’t enough to cause my head to just burst with pride and an overwhelming sense of good fortune to live in this city, I also must remember my son will miss his next midweek private saxophone lesson because his teacher, Grace Bennett, will be in rehearsals with Allen Toussaint all this coming week for next weekend’s Jazz Fest performance.

I’m not usually reduced to a monosyllabic response to anything but: wow. Just f—ing wow. I have to remind myself that for every struggle we have faced to come and live here, at every turn in this broken road we have met such good fortune. In the case of his music teacher, it was one of the people I first came to know online after Katrina and before I moved here who has since become a friend, one with connections in the music biz who hooked us up with Grace. Getting Matt into Lusher where he had this chance (and Killian into Ben Franklin and NOCCA) were a stroke of luck almost beyond belief.

My wife frets that the kids don’t appreciate all the culture swirling around them, but I remind her of the Bay City Rollers poster she once confessed to having hung in her own teenage bedroom, remind her that I still have some Uriah Heep LPs from when I was the boy’s age. And I reminder her now much our daughter’s taste in music has moved, that the girl who once listened to bland pop radio and treasured a Now 17 compilation CD has stolen my Hot 8 disk.

There are guys in my son’s program he worries about keeping up with, the ones who grew up among musicians, who took up their horns when they were much younger. Not everyone gets that kind of start but to live here is to offer my children a richness of culture of every kind people in towns and cites in the rest of this country can only get with an upgraded cable TV package. Here it is everywhere, all around us, calling to them as is called to me once, as it calls still.

Why would we live anywhere else? Why would anyone?

Forty years on down the road April 24, 2009

Posted by The Typist in blues, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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This is the 40th anniversary of Jazz Fest, which started as a small festival in what is now Congo Sqaure at Armstrong Park. If you look closely at your cubes, you will notice stars next to the artists who were present at the first event. Many will be there, but many more will not.

I started to make a list of people I have seen over the years who will not be there, but it got too depressing. Time to pull out my Roosevelt Sykes LPs and try to get the turntable hooked up to the PC when I should be working. Better yet, I think I need to drag out the cassette I still have somewhere from the days I used to smuggle a deck into Jazz Fest and digitize one of those shows.

While I get busy with that here is is a bit of the Honeydripper himself playing “Gulfport Boogie”.

This year I will pull out the straw hat he autographed for me long ago one night at the Maple Leaf and wear it to the book signing. If you don’t make a point of stopping by the memorial spot in the center of the Fairgrounds every year, make the effort this year and just stop for a while and whistle a few bars to let them all know they are remembered.

Je me souviens. Remember.

Memo to Quint Davis April 19, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, African Music, blues, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Yesterday we pretty much planted ourselves at the Abita Stage at French Quarter Festival, with the idea that Mrs. Toulouse (nee’ Mrs. Wet) would really like to see Little Freddie King. (She was not disappointed).

All I could think of as I watched a parade of fine acts was that this is what Jazz and Heritage looks like. Casa Samba drew an estatic response from the crowd, who discovered a kindred set of booty shakers. And once the girls in the g-strings took the stage Boy suddenly lost interest in his phone’s video game and started paying attention.

We watched the Fatien Ensemble, organized by Dr. Micheal White and Jason Marsalis with superb African drummer Seguenone Kone merging jazz and African rhythms. (I caught Kone doing a show with Sunpie Barns a while back at the Maple Leaf, a magically ecstatic pairing), And of course we caught Little Freddie King. After wards Reynard Poche, New Orleans sideman extraordinaire took the stage with his own funk group. We left before 101 Runners, sadly, as they are a fantastic mix of funk and Indian.

And as I contemplated Jazz Fest next week (while I’ll be signing my book I’ll be missing out of Bon Jovi. Oh dear), I thought: this stage on the batture of the river where this city began, these acts on this stage; this is what the intersection of European and African music a century ago has done for the world.

This is our heritage.

Thank you French Quarter Fest and the artist sponsors for not forgetting why we live here, and why the visitors come. It is not for Bon Jovi.

P.S.–The sponsor for Fatien was Threadheads. Check out their site, activity and fund raising raffle.

The Birds April 8, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptic envelopment, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Here on Toulouse Street we’ve had crows on our mind this past week. It began a week ago after making a remark online about maybe seeing a raven last Wednesday (from Wodin or Odin’s Day), and as I snapped pictures of the Green Man mural in the Marigny from out of the birdless sky came two crows to circle overhead and watch me. Of course Odin was served by two Corvus, Huginn and Muninn, which were his agents in the world of mortals.

Okay then, not that we’re particularly superstitious but heh (knock wood) we thought that a bit Odd. Odin in his earliest (and less bloodthirsty) aspect was associated with poetry (a plus here on Toulouse Street) and madness (including the form of madness the Celts called awen, the possession of the muse), so I have to admit to a certain, well, fondness is not quite the right word, let’s say affinity to old One Eyed Jack as Lord of Poets.

As to Odin’s warrior aspect, I’ve been intermittently re-reading Carlos Castaneda not so much for the wild mushrooming tips as for what struck me the last time I did a post 70s spin through his work: the sage advice from the later books. The concept of a brujo as a fearless warrior, and one who’s conduct is impeccable, has also been on our mind so that’s another chalk mark up on the plus side for Odin.

As to the mad side of “poetry and madness” here on Toulouse we tend toward the simply Odd, but will confess to a certain attraction that draws us occasionally to the brink of madness, to peer over the precipice and admire the twisted vista, tossing the Odd pebble over the edge to listen to it skitter into the abyss.

So for One Eye’d Jack and raven-friends everywhere here is something from the Black Crowes (natch), a song that is itself a postcard from the needle-sharp heroin edge of madness. We like it for the elegant lyric and swinging southern blues-rock sound of the Crowes, and for the birds they represent and other sundry reasonS. And so may it please you and Old One Eye’d Jack: She Talks to Angels.

earthsymbol

Hyacinth House March 26, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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When Jim Morrison can best some up your emotional state (as Oddly he often can here on Toulouse Street), it’s time to make a drink. This is one of the most interesting songs off of the last album before Morrison departed for Paris and dark immortality. Was Morrison’s departure from Los Angeles for Paris an escape from or an entering into? We will never know. In the end he broke on through not into the world of poetry and theater and film he sought but into myth.

As you sit in your cubicle at work or at the table going over your taxes and bills, ask yourself: What are they doing in the Hyacinth House?

Note: this is sadly a cover by somebody called Supergrass. (See note below)

Enjoy this while the DRM Nazis hunt me down. There was no version of this song up so I made one from my CD and You Tube quickly told me by email I have posted content owned by WMG (which I think means Wildly Mutated Genitals) and blocked the audio. I ran it through a couple of converters and lopped off a few seconds at the end and tried again, but there is some embedded signature in the song, so no go. The pulsating purple penis police may come crashing through the wall any moment now.

Salt of the Earth March 12, 2009

Posted by The Typist in music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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On days like this when I forget I work for the Counting House and sit contemplating what we could get for restitution if we carved up Bernard Madoff and the rest of “the grey suited grafters” and sold their organs on E-Bay, I need to step back and remember that once rock-and-roll had the power to change the world, that even as Mick leered into the camera and a million girls quivered in their seats the insurrectionary words were still pouring out of the speaker and into our heads and spilling out into the streets.

Sometimes I suggest I’m lazy to post up things from You Tube and there are times when that’s true. Other times this is my own pirate radio station. If you think there is no agenda here then you haven’t been listening close enough. So turn off that “strange beauty show” American Idol (or Hell’s Kitchen or whatever your poison is) and listen up.

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads
Let’s think of the wavering millions
Who need leading but get gamblers instead
Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
Empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio

Good night and good luck.

Loving Cup March 6, 2009

Posted by The Typist in music, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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Cosmic American Music as only post imperial Britain’s greatest conquistadors could do it. If this song doesn’t get you up and out of the damn computer chair dancing, let me know where to send the flowers.

Be He Ploughman or Painter February 27, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Facebook, meme, music, Toulouse Street.
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So I stumbled into one of those blogger “memes”, this one on Facebook, where you use random Wikipedia and Flikr searches to create a virtual band. It goes like this:

1 – Go to “wikipedia.” Hit “random”
or click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
The first random wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 – Go to “Random quotations”
or click http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3
The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.

3 – Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”
or click http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days
Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 – Use Photoshop (or similar) to put it all together.

And so I ended up with a band called Fairborne Ohio, with their debut record Be He Ploughman or Painter. I seem to have transposed the quote by George Bernard Shaw, but I think the sense of it survives..

my-album

Looking at the picture, I couldn’t help but think that this would be some sort of dark, folkie music. So I took the meme one step further and went to YouTube and the first likely looking track to come up under “dark folk” turned out to be by New Orleans’ own author, musician (and fellow Humid City blogger) Louis Maistros. It seems to me it could have come from this mythical album, so here it is.

The fact that you are out here reading this gives me some comfort that I haven’t squandered an entire hour of my life in pointless frittery.

R.I.P Snooks February 18, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, blues, music, New Orelans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Another cutout figure at the Fairgrounds come April. Too many already, too many, and every year takes a few more. My wife loves the blues and that I hadn’t taken her to see Fird “Snooks” Eaglin yet and well, I don’t have many regrets but the list just got one longer.

Whirling and Skirling February 11, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, NOLA.
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Thanks to Loki of Humid City for sending me off to find Corvus Corax (something he said on Twitter about bagpipes, which I love the sound of).

These guys take piping to a place so Odd that they are now among our favorite groups here on Toulouse Street.

I now know what I want to do when I grow up.

Hooked yet? I am. Here’s more.

Someone has got to invite these guys to Carnival to march.

When there is no sun February 4, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Jazz, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Shield of Beauty, Toulouse Street.
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As we crawl over the finish line of what I lately think of as “slump day” rather than “hump day”, here’s a soothing sea of darkness for travelers to the outer planets and other Odd folks, courtesy of the one and only man from Saturn.

Its A Beautiful Day January 31, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, NOLA.
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The trident spears, with gilded shaft ends gleam.
The feather-figured shield, of beauty rare,
He holds before him, all his foes to dare.
The Hsiao Jung

So much gloom. So many bills to file, including my car insurance (was AIG, now 21st Century Insurance). A billion dollar bailout, and they jack my rates $1,100, semi-annually. Fucking lovely.

So as I organize sudden catastrophe and simple cares into their neat little piles and file them I pop on blip.fm, and before I write the last painful zero in the checkbook I find myself wearing my Carnival hat, whirling like a dervish to the music, mindlessly happy for a moment. I step out on to the porch. Its A Beautiful Day.

The shield of beauty: this quote from Sun Ra keeps popping into my mind lately. I will never know if he took it from an old Asian poem above or if it spontaneously came to his lips out of necessity, a phrase the world needed to know. It doesn’t matter. The message is as old as Arjuna: life sucks, but its what you are called to do. Best get on with it and make what you can of it, knowing we were never meant to survive.

Time flies. We had best do the same, while it is yet a beautiful day.

Love In Us All January 28, 2009

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Jazz, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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loveinusall1

It was so many years ago now my vinyl copy of this was lost. It simply was not among my records when I unpacked in Washington, DC. Any number of books and records vanished while I was living in Baton Rouge in ’86, working on the Breaux campaign for Senate, before they were put into storage and I left town. I was crushed to find this (and other dear records and books) gone, but at least I still had a cassette dub: until the DC pipeheads came and snatched my tape player with the cassette copy in it.

I first purchased this Impulse recording on a whim, having heard one or two Pharaoh Sanders songs on the WTUL-FM jazz show back in the early 1970s. (This was long before WWOZ, children).

I was new to jazz and just exploring blindly with no real guidance other than what was spun on the radio, and what I could pick up reading at the library. Nobody at my neighborhood record store knew much about jazz. So along my copies of Weather Report and Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock (all the dangerous 1970s gateway drugs of jazz rock that were sure to lead into a serious jazz jones; it couldn’t be helped), along with the obvious Big Names of post-war jazz (Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan; you know this list), this record came home out of the cut out rack. I loved the title, and I knew the second cut was a tribute to John Coltrane by one of his former sidemen.

The first time the needle slid me into this groove I was hooked.

I’ve been entranced by the glamor of Sanders and by free jazz ever since. This is the recording that came to mind when I first read Sun Ra’s term “shield of beauty”. This is the side I play when its all too much and I need to pull back in and recharge, or when I’m just overwhelmed by the beauty of the world like Hopkins flashing on the grandeur of god. I play it every Easter in lieu of a Christian observance, in honor of Spring. It is my shield of beauty.

My LP lost and the tape dub after it, I discovered the record was not easily replaced. Long out of print by the 1980s, the copies I could find were almost too scratched to listen to. Clean copies were hard to find and far out of my price range. I remember having the library in Fargo run a national search and exactly seven libraries in the entire continental United States held vinyl copies. These were not available for interlibrary loan.

Sometime in the early Oughts I finally resorted to the internet, and found a decent digital dub of an original vinyl release (you can almost feel the needle digging in, hear the bits of dust and entry groove scratch noise as it starts up). That served me for years, and I never felt guilty. I had bought my original copy, and two scratched up ones since. I figure I was entitled to a fair copy for my own use.

The last time I found this Japanese CD pressing online, I was shipped the wrong disk and by the time I got my box and contacted eJazzLines, the rest of the pressing was sold out. My bad luck. Back to my bootleg while holding the chewed up LP I had picked up somewhere.

I don’t know why I got an urge to search eJazzlines the other day, but I found it waiting there for me. This time, the right disk came. I can’t puzzle out the Japanese liner notes, but the film strip photos are the same as the original LP interior And I don’t need the liner notes. I just need to hear that first side again, clean and clear and all mine.

I don’t care what else you do over the boxed up left overs of a life when I’m gone. Just promise to play Side One over me before you put me away.

The divisions here are mine to fool You Tube into letting me post something of this length, an LP side of 21+ minutes. It is a single piece of music.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

P.S.–I bequeath this copy to WTUL-FM when I’m gone.

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