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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.

A Tale of God’s Will May 3, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Today Terence Blanchard led his quintet, with faces as solemn as morticians’, in a joyful noise together with a backing orchestral group selections of his A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina). It was an Odd moment for Jazz Fest (and so perhaps our favorite here on Toulouse Street). I saw two tributes so far, one for Willie “Tee” and Earl Turbington and a show featuring young students of Alvin Batiste. Both were joyful celebrations of the musicians honored, music interspersed with stories and spoken word tributes. They were perfectly in the tradition of a city where, once we have buried the deceased, the parade begins.

Blanchard’s recital this afternoon was of another character altogether. It was more like the full funeral package, with all of the the sadness and solemnity of the service and the recession from the church and march to the cemetery. The Reverend-esque Blanchard spoke of the deceased and offered an excellent homily.There was his tale of boat rescuers, of people being taken out told to be quiet so the people left behind that trip might not hear them, told to cover their children’s eyes as they passed through an area full of dead bodies, introduced the piece “Funeral Dirge”.

His homily was on the importance of Lee’s film, When The Levees Broke. He told the tale of his mother asked by Spike Lee to let him film her first return to her ruined home, of how he warned her what having a full film crew following her might mean at such a difficult and delicate moment, of how proud he was that she insisted. People, his mother told him, need to know what happened down here. This led into the piece “Dear Mom”.

When they were not playing, Blanchard and his group were as serious as their subject, and as the music they composed. It seemed fitting for the piece of music a friend of mine told me before the show was the one he would put on when he felt compelled to escape his home on the sliver by the river to drive around Gentilly, sometimes checking on homes he had gutted to see if any have made progress. When he does this, he said, he will sometimes bawl like a baby.

At the first orchestral passage, Blanchard reached up to his face and wiped with his fingers just beneath his glasses as if to wipe away tears, a motion I last saw on a jazz stage at a Red Cross benefit in Fargo, N.D., after New Orleans trumpeter Marc Braud spoke of recovering his instrument as the rest of that band played “Do You Know What It Means”.

The audience I could see (and I was rapt and could not turn my head away from the stage) were just as transported. The WWOZ DJ who sat in front of me was not the outgoing, crowd-working celebrity I had seen in the tent and up on stage announcing the rest of the day, but sat solemn as a sphinx. The other stage announcer, a man in a red t-shirt and dreadlocks, sat at the foot of the stage looking not at the musicians but stared straight ahead into some private place. A woman came and sat beside him and put her arm around him.

As Blanchard spoke and the musicians played, the rain that had held off all day finally broke in torrents, as if the music had moved not just a few thousands in this tent on this day but had seized the hearts of the heavenly host and moved them to tears as well as they considered the Odd mix of pain and beauty that is God’s Will.

It was also, as I promised Friday, a time of joy. As the band wailed through the beautiful Ashe and the straight ahead jazz numbers that ended the concert, the orchestra musicians who had sat at attention in their best, serious concert poses, began to be transported by the music as well. The first violin began to show a shy smile, and to bob her head in time as members of the audience around me did. An incredulous cello in a John Brown beard divided his attention between an incredible bass solo and watching the drummer. When Blanchard called on the audience to help him by taking of the chant “This is a tale of God’s will” from the album’s opening cut, we were all transported without moving to the Gospel Tent and the moment of redemption many of us had come for arrived at last.

As I had hoped, Blanchard’s quintet had drowned the bitch in beauty and flooded the streets with tears of joy.


Also, don’t miss the podcast interview which Blanchard’s team (he mentioned bringing in his personal sound man and tour manager to run the boards) had put up the very same evening.

N.B. Fixed numerous typos. Must not try to post when dead tired and trying to rush out the door to the Fairgrounds. Thanks G.P.

Last update: here’s another camera video of an excerpt of Ashe’.

Update 5-12-09 Based on a notice from You Tube that the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra objected to these small, low-fidelity excerpts I shot with my $100 Cannon from 100 feet away, I’m removing the video. In fact, I’m going to go back and edit out references crediting the LPO with participation in this performance and will simply refer to them as “the orchestra”.