[Dixielandjazz] Jazz Musicians Ask if Their Scene Will Survive

David Richoux tubaman at tubatoast.com
Thu Sep 8 08:26:06 PDT 2005

Someone on the StreetBrass list spotted this article - (not just OKOM,  
but MKOM)

Dave Richoux


September 8, 2005
Jazz Musicians Ask if Their Scene Will Survive
New Orleans is a jazz town, but also a funk town, a brass-band town, a  
town and a jam-band town. It has international jazz musicians and  
superstars, but also a true, subsistence-level street culture. Much of  
music is tied to geography and neighborhoods, and crowds.

All that was incontrovertibly true until a week ago Monday. Now the  
future for
brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians, to cite two examples, looks  
bleak if their neighborhoods are destroyed by flooding, and bleaker  
still with
the prospect of no new tourists coming to town soon to infuse their  
with new money. Although the full extent of damage is still unknown,  
there is
little doubt that it has been severe - to families, to instruments, to
historical records, to clubs, to costumes. "Who knows if there exists a  
Gras Indian costume anymore in New Orleans?" wondered Don Marshall,  
director of
the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Foundation.

"A lot of the great musicians came right out of the Treme neighborhood  
and the
Lower Ninth Ward," said the trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, temporarily  
speaking in
the past tense, by phone from Houston yesterday. Mr. Ruffins, one of  
the most
popular jazz musicians in New Orleans, made his name there partly  
through his
regular Thursday-night gig over the last 12 years at Vaughan's, a bar  
in the
Bywater neighborhood, where red beans and rice were served at midnight.  
Vaughn's may be destroyed, and so may his new house, which is not too  
far from
the bar.

On Saturday evening Mr. Ruffins flew back to New Orleans from a gig in  
Diego, having heard the first of the dire storm warnings. He stopped at  
lumberyard to buy wood planks, boarded up 25 windows on his house, then  
bar-hopping and joked with his friends that where they were standing  
might be
under water the next day.

The next morning he fled to Baton Rouge with his family, and now he is  
Houston, about to settle into apartments, along with more than 30  
relatives. He
is being offered plenty of work in Houston, and is already thinking  
ahead to
what he calls "the new New Orleans."

"I think the city is going to wind up being a smaller area," he said.  
have to build some super levees.

"I think this will never happen again once they get finished," Mr.  
added. "We're going to get those musicians back, the brass bands, the  
funerals, everything."

Brass bands function through the year - not only through the annual  
where many outsiders see them, and jazz funerals, but at the  
approximately 55
social aid and pleasure clubs, each of which holds a parade once a  
year. It is
an intensely local culture, and has been thriving in recent years.  
music, funky and hard-hitting, can easily be transformed from the  
social to a club gig; brass bands like Rebirth, Dirty Dozen and the  
Soul Rebels
have done well by touring as commercial entities. Members of Stooges  
Brass Band
have ended up in Atlanta, and of Li'l Rascals in Houston; there could  
be a
significant brass-band diaspora before musicians find a way to get home  
to New
Orleans. (Rebirth's Web site, www.rebirthbrassband.com, has been  
keeping a
count of brass-band musicians who have been heard from.)

The Mardi Gras Indian tradition is more fragile. Monk Boudreaux is  
chief of the
Golden Eagles, one of the 40 or so secretive Mardi Gras tribes, who are  
not just for their flamboyant feathered costumes but for their  
parades through neighborhoods at Mardi Gras time. (Mardi Gras Indians  
are not
American Indians but New Orleanians from the city's working-class black
neighborhoods.) Mr. Boudreaux, now safe with his daughter in Mesquite,  
stayed put through the storm at his house in the Uptown neighborhood;  
when he
left last week, he said, the water was waist-high. He chuckled when  
asked if
the Mardi Gras Indian tradition could survive in exile. "I don't know  
of any
other Mardi Gras outside of New Orleans," he said.

These days a city is often considered a jazz town to the extent that its
resident musicians have international careers. The bulk of New Orleans  
musicians have shown a knack for staying local. (Twenty or so in the  
last two
decades, including several Marsalises, are obvious exceptions.)

But as everyone knows, jazz is crucial to New Orleans, and New Orleans  
crucial in combining jazz's constituent parts, its Spanish, French,  
and West African influences. The fact that so many musicians are  
related to one
or another of the city's great music families - Lastie, Brunious,  
Jordan, Marsalis - still gives much of the music scene a built-in sense  
nobility. "Whereas New York has a jazz industry," said Quint Davis,  
director of
Jazzfest, "New Orleans has a jazz culture." (Speaking of Jazzfest, Mr.  
Davis was
not ready to discuss whether there will be a festival next April.  
"First I'm
dealing with the lives and subsistence of the people who produce it,"  
he said.)

And most jazz in New Orleans has a directness about it. "Everyone isn't
searching for the hottest, newest lick," said Maurice Brown, a young  
from Chicago who had been rising through the ranks of the New Orleans  
scene for the last four years before the storm took his house and car.  
are trying to stay true to the melody."

Gregory Davis, the trumpeter and vocalist for the Dirty Dozen Brass  
Band, one of
the city's most successful groups, said the typical New Orleans  
musician was
vulnerable because of how he lives and works. (Mr. Davis's house is in  
Gentilly neighborhood; he spoke last week from his brother's home in  

"A lot of these guys who are playing out there in the clubs are not home
owners," he said. "They're going to be at the mercy of the owners of  
properties. For some of them, playing in the clubs was the only means of
earning any money. If those musicians come back and don't have an  
home, that's a big blow."

Louis Edwards, a New Orleans novelist and an associate producer of the  
Jazz and
Heritage Festival, said, "No other city is so equipped to deal with  
this." A
French Quarter resident, Mr. Edwards was taking refuge last week at his
mother's house in Lake Charles, La.

"Think of the jazz funeral," he said. "In New Orleans we respond to the  
of following tragedy with joy. That's a powerful philosophy to have as  
underpinning of your culture."

In the meantime, Mr. Boudreaux, chief of the Golden Eagles, has a  
feeling his
own Mardi Gras Indian costume is intact. He was careful to put it in a  
place before he left home. "I just need to get home and get that Indian  
from on top of that closet," he said.

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