When I do get out of town, I want to make it count. It has been over a week since I returned from my first trip to New Orleans, and I wanted my emotions from the trip to die down a little bit before I finished my review of it, maybe to just be able to write with a clearer head.
The experiences, be it jazz related or not from this trip, are still extremely vivid. So ahead of time, forgive me if this entry seems personal, and shares a variety of personal thoughts in addition to just “jazzy” ones.
One thing I wanted to make sure I saw while I was there was the Musicians’ Village. This is a community conceived by Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., to provide adequate housing for artists and musicians of the city who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Once the cab driver stopped telling me that it would be much “safer” for him to take me on a tour to see all of Brad Pitt’s houses rather than drop me off in the middle of what he called a “rough” neighborhood, he started pointing out remnants of Katrina devastation as we headed through town. It has been 4 1/2 years since Katrina hit, and while his voice began to crack when talking about what people went through, this was just a preview of how the people of this city are not over what happened here.
It ended up being too early in the morning for me to catch any musicians out and about in the Village (as it should be…what decent working New Orleans musician is up and about at 9:30 in the morning?). However the opportunity to see this community built for and by the people who have helped make New Orleans what it is was incredibly inspiring.
While not something that people always think of when New Orleans is mentioned, I also paid a visit to the National World War II Museum on Magazine Street. I am certainly a museum fan, but the museum offered a truly emotional experience. I don’t doubt that my traveling partner, nor myself will ever be able to get the images of the brave soldiers who stormed the beaches from our memory. Definitely a moment that choked us both up.
The Louis Armstrong Park was closed for repairs. Still, the park seemed inviting enough for the two of us. There are certain things you have to see, so you see them.
The park hosts the Mahalia Jackson Performance Center, Congo Square, and the old studios of the legendary radio station WWOZ.
I came to realize, as I was literally stuck in a gate leaving the park, that I had eaten way to well on this trip. My traveling partner may very well have wet herself while dying of laughter while I squeezed myself out, and it was at that moment that I dedicated myself to the gym upon my return for 2 1/2 hours, every single day.
The last couple nights I was there I had the opportunity to see Charmaine Neville one night and trumpeter Terence Blanchard the next, both at Snug Harbor. These are two musicians deeply rooted in the New Orleans community. Again, with Charmaine Neville, evidence of the lingering effects of Katrina are still vivid in her mind, as she spent a great deal of time thanking those who recently visited for their help in still ongoing repair efforts.
If you watched the Spike Lee film When the Levees Broke, you may recall seeing Terence Blanchard walking his mother through her house following the hurricane. Since then, Blanchard has completely dedicated himself to the rebuilding of New Orleans, and on that night I got to see him continue to be one of the most prolific storytellers via his trumpet.
New Orleans was a lot of things for me. It was great jazz and haunted hotel rooms. It was Beignets and Cafe Au Lait. It was a muffaletta sandwich on the Mississippi River, and late night karaoke. It was Snug Harbor, the Spotted Cat Music Club, Pat O’ Brien’s, Preservation Hall, Blues Alley, and DBA. It was the Frenchmen Street All-Stars, Terence Blanchard, The Hot Club of New Orleans, Charmaine Neville, and the everyday brass band that just went playing down the street like it was an everyday walk. It was a overtime field goal followed by a city-wide celebration. It was head-butting over which street is the right street to go down, and of course, me being wrong about it. It was jambalaya and Po-Boy sandwiches.
It was Sidney Bechet, Pete Fountain, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, the Marsalis Family, Irma Thomas, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, and Mahalia Jackson. It was the ghosts of Congo Square.
But mostly for me, it was seeing a city that has rebuilt after major fires, and continues to rebuild after a massive hurricane. It was seeing people who 4 1/2 years ago lost their home celebrating in the streets. It was seeing that the people of this city will never allow it to be destroyed.
Go Saints! Who Dat!