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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

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Alone on Union Street July 12, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Union Street is one of those forgotten thoroughfares hidden in every downtown, four narrow blocks of windblown trash and fetid puddles and a handful of cars parked in front of headless meters. It feels like an alley, at once constricted and yet yawning with emptiness, abandoned. You see few people in the normally busy downtown of rush hour morning. Most of the surrounding buildings do not open onto Union Street and many of those that do are boarded or chained shut, windows so grimy with abandonment it is impossible to tell if there are lights on inside, but I suspect not.

The street begins in a checkerboard of unattended parking lots facing a row of forgotten pawn shops and abandoned restaurants faced in plywood. Across from my lot stands the old Eagle Saloon building. If not for the 10-story tall mural of a Selmer clarinet on the side of the Holiday Inn you would not know you stood where Jazz was born in the bars and bordellos that once lined Basin and Perdido Streets in the old “back of town”. Today it is just another bit of urban wasteland, mute testament to the evacuation of businesses out of downtown and into the dull suburbs.

Only a handful of other solitary commuters walk up Union Street from these cheap lots at the back of downtown toward the business district. For some reason the few people I see are mostly women. I pass the slow ones, carefully placing heels on the stable slabs of the broken sidewalks, as intent as Eskimos crossing the ice. I follow along behind the others, plodding just a bit quicker in their commuter shoes and burdened like mules—a purse, a work bag, another for the gym or lunch—haunches working pleasantly as they march to work. In these dreary blocks the women stand out like flowers forced up through the cracked concrete.

When I am alone I study the interesting bits of garbage, which vary by season like the flowers or birds of greener places. By June the last of the beads and parade cups are gone. The sports seasons are behind us and the go cups of the stadium and arena, the lost foam fingers and crumpled programs have vanished as well. Today I mostly I see white plastic bags, the sort every store uses today; the fluttering white flags of civilization that seem to be everywhere: bunched up on the beach like stranded jellyfish or flagging themselves into ribbons on a lonesome fence line in Empty, North Dakota.

Once I leave behind the open asphalt and concrete of the parking lots I notice the old Dryades Savings building, a tall work structure of brick and barred windows. I don’t know the history but from its appearance I imagine it was once a processing center, back in the days when all of the checks written in town passed in and out of the Federal Reserve Bank up on Poydras. The tall windows hint at a high ceiling and I picture sweaty men hefting trays and humping carts full of checks in the glutinous atmosphere of New Orleans summer pre-A/C. I can almost hear the big sorters working, the thawping and thrumping of tensioned belts and the hissing of compressed air flapping the gates, paper racing down the line, sorting and pocketing into bundles and Ican see the names of all the old local banks where those bales of paper would have gone, the names faded and forgotten like the sign on this building.

Because I work in just such a back of the bank world I am often prompted by the sight to pull out the Blackberry and check my work calendar, but I usually stop myself. My saunter down Union servers a purpose: to avoid the co-worker chatter about nothing sports or the weather or whatever I might fall into walking along Gravier. Union Street is a hiding place for me, an escape from unwanted company as it must be for the homeless men huddled there at night over a bottle. The cheap wine empties and puddles of vomit they leave behind tell me their story, and I sometimes find them huddled in corners still asleep.

Union Street in the morning is also an escape from the now, a little window into a past when buildings were another character on the street, before the measure of prominence was to climb into the sky. The old Dryades building is simple brick but I admire its tall ring arch windows of the same dark brick and the sooty concrete stringcourse that runs above. The end of the Dryades building runs into the back of the old New Orleans Public Service office its narrow basement windows protected by iron balustrades while the main floor openings are hidden behind corrugated metal storm screens, their age and neglect measured like geologic strata by the way the lines sag and warp. At the top of the first floor runs a stringline more baroque than the Dryades’, covered with curlicue figures suggestive of waves, running in from the left and right piers toward an indistinct central figure vaguely suggesting a fleur de lis.

Across the street stand the typical brick row buildings of the older corners of downtown. One backing into a hotel parking lot still bears the shadow marks of the neighboring building long removed where the darker or lighter brick of the demolished adjoining wall still cling. These row houses do not look neglected but there is not so much as a brass plate to tell me who or what is housed there. Many of the old offices and warehouses downtown are being converted to residences, but I never see a telltale garbage can or other sign of life here. Union is a bit too far from the its fashionable cousin Lafayette Street across Poydras, where condos frame the office of architects and the Humanities Council. Lafayette has been artificially narrowed to give it the feel of a street in an old European city while Union is a standard width street where the old buildings and their history press in and narrow it into an alley.

At Baronne Street the traffic picks up, and the buildings on my left across from the old NOPSI headquarters have the polished stone and broad windows facades of newer construction. There is a walk in clinic where early arrivals loiter outside and behind that a barge company. This is the only business on Union where, in the hour before the start of the work day, I routinely see people come and go. Across the street the old row houses continue dark and silent. A little closer to the city center, I can make out the glow of row of doorbells in one recessed doorway, the first hint that the buildings are not abandoned.

I come up on the old Hibernia Building with ornamental white wedding cake peristyle high above but to my eyes fixed at street level it is just another parking lot. Across the street stands the New Orleans Reproduction Company, missing many of the letters in the old blue name above the door. I know this place, would go there sometimes with my father to pick up fresh blue prints with their sweet solvent smell. I rarely seen any activity inside but it has the comfortably cluttered look of old printing shops, work piled precariously on tables and shelves, the apparent disorder of a business run by people long at the same trade with a set of regular customers, workers who recognize you and can find your order in those piles before you reach the counter.

As I come up on Carondelet street I hear the rumble and whine of an approaching street car, a minor chord played on an odd set of stops on an organ. There is the loud clack as the motorman stops the throttle, the hiss of the air brakes and the thrump thrump thrump of the compressor as the air tanks recharge. He comes to a stop in the traffic that piles up at Carondelet and Common, here in the center of the busy downtown where my dull office building stands. I crush out my cigarette and merge into the busier pedestrian traffic here, march toward another day of dull work buoyed by the sound of lost coronets and the aroma memory of blueprints.

I Can’t Get It Started August 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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I can’t find any supporting evidence for this bit of web noise from something called Toxic-Web’s today in history page, but it intrigued me enough to pull up this excellent video of our own Al Hirt with Maynard Ferguson:

“1937, Bunny Berigan and his orchestra record the jazz standard “I Can’t Get Started”… the chord changes from this oft-covered tune become a staple for bebop musicians a decade later … “

A bit of searching on Bunny Berigan also credits his solos with Benny Goodman’s Orchestra as helping to launch the Swing era. If any serious musicologists out there can educate me on the merit of those two claims (which taken together are mightly impressive) I’d appreciate it.

Just looking at You Tube, a hell of a lot of players have covered this tune (which is a great one). And New Orleans’ own Al Hirt is someone I completely dismissed in my youth, back when my musical tastes ran closer to my son’s. (A little Uriah Heap or Bloodrock, anyone?). I’m not sure I’ve closely listend to him since my appreciation for jazz swung 180 decades ago in my late teens. This might be the first time I’ve heard him really play. Wow.

And here is Berigan’s original.

Ruby My Dear July 6, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Searching for an old musical reference here, it occurred to me that I had never posted on Thelonious Monk.

What the hell have I been doing?

I am not Nat Hentoff and won’t pretend to be. I can’t take apart charts or knowledgeably discuss the session musicians of this or that recording. There are two approaches to music, one strongly Apollonian and as concerned with discographies and session notes as a baseball fan is with statistics and records.

My approach is definitely more Dionysian What I take away from jazz is more mysterious and ethereal, a transport out of this world and deeper in, rather like Don Juan’s magic mushrooms: a study aid for the satorially challenged. There are people who will take your further out than Monk (Sun Ra and Pharaoh Sanders come to mind, among those I have written about or posted recordings of here). Monk at his best takes you in further than anyone else.

The man could certain write a tune. (And somewhere poor Mr. Hentoff, who is still with us, is having mild chest pains as I write the world “tune” in proximity to Monk’s name). Still, he can claim a fare share of of modern standards as his own. If I say ‘Round Midnight” you say (I’m just guessing here, but I bet I’m write): Miles Davis.

That was a Monk tune.

Ruby My Dear is one of my favorites, a slow ballad that showcases his ability to swing with the group and still take the melody line and work his magic on it. That magic is a bit hard to explain. His playing style both on solos and ensemble rhythm have an angular intensity to them, like walking into a fun house where the floor is tilted and the furniture nailed down. He uses ornamental notes and chords and silences in ways not thought of or described by the people who gave grand Italian names to the forms of “grace note”. It is as if he took up the melody like a tightly wrapped present and occasionally gave it a good shake, then put his ear up to it to listen to the result. It’s a bit disconcerting at first but just listen. There is an internal logic there and something like the sound of one hand clapping.

This is Johnny Griffin on tenor. There are outstanding recordings of “Ruby, My Dear” with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane. My favorite is the Solo Monk version which is just that: Monk alone with his piano and his music.

I will spare you the odd performance on theramin I found out there. God, but the Internet is an Odd place (and that is why we like it, but really). Here instead is an odd video of no seeming purpose but which thankfully contains Monk’s solo performance of this number. Just close your eyes, and let him carry you away.

I should also point out that through the efforts of Terence Blanchard the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz program relocated from from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and is now based on Loyola University.

Recommended beverage pairing for this music is Brother Thelonius Belgian style dark ale. It’s not just the cool graphic (I have the poster and t-shirt, and Im considering the tattoo). As a hop snob I’ll point out that it is first rate, and you may disregard the further postings of anyone on Beer Advocate who does not give it a solid A if not an A+. But this is not about the ale. (And as I post this up Martin’s Wine Cellar is closed so you can’t get any until tomorrow). It’s about the music, so stop listening to me ramble on and go press that play button. Again. I’ll see you on the other side.

Whoppin’ Blues May 28, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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As a happier follow-up to the last piece, here’s Dr. Micheal White with Marc Braud on trumpet (you may remember I wrote about him on Wet Bank Guide one or twice), Fred Lonzo on trombone, Bob Wilbur on sax, and I don’t know who all else (the video IDs both the guitarist and drummer as Steve Blaylock) Sounds like he’s got a bad reed (you can see him flinch at the start of the solo and look at it cross-eyed) but otherwise the band is really swinging.

Kenny G whizzes on the grave of Pops March 8, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Fargo, Jazz, music, New Orleans, NOLA, quotes.
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…when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great Louis [Armstrong’s] tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician.
Pat Metheny on Kenny G

Tell us what you really think, Pat. I’m not a musician and as much as I love the music I certainly lack the depth of musical knowledge of a true jazz aficionado, but it’s pretty easy to recognize that Kenny G sucks. That he would have the audacity to mix himself over even something as syrupy as Its A Wonderful World, well, I think Pat Metheny said it all.

For me, the gold standard of a jazz aficionado is Leigh Kamman of The Jazz Image, who warmed up many a cold Fargo Saturday night with some of the coolest jazz around. When I die I want to come back as a night jazz DJ with his voice. The world is not the same place since his show ended. He would be on right now if he were still on the air and I were in the cold North. I can hear his theme (Gerry Mulligan: Manoir De Mes Reves (Django’s Castle) and his voice in my head right now as clearly as my other mother’s.

Kenny G, there’s a special place in hell for the likes of you. When Leigh Kamman departs this world, there will be a place for him at a first rate table in the jazz joint at the end of the universe, and the entire Cortege of the Cool will be on the bill.

HT to Dr. Morris for this one. Oh, and Ashley, all of us who read Anima Mundi want to know when we can stop by for Limoncello. I’ll bring the Brocato’s.

Hot Club: Then and Now February 18, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, Jazz, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Regretting I didn’t go see the Hot Club of New Orleans Friday night at d.b.a on Frenchman Street in New Orleans, here’s the Hot Club of France: Django Reihardt and Stephane Grappelli and friends.