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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?

Comments»

1. New Orleans Ladder - April 27, 2009

My God, Mark. That is just about the coolest thing I have ever read… even after so many readings.
Jeez Louie! You got it, Noble Mon.

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