[Dixielandjazz] Music Mantra For New Orleans

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Sep 26 08:48:40 PDT 2005


"We will swing again in that place."
- KERMIT RUFFINS, a trumpeter, on New Orleans.

Here is the complete article from the "ARTS" section. Note that the "forum"
was "Popular Music".


Mantra for New Orleans: 'We Will Swing Again'

By DAVID CARR - September 26, 2005 NY Times

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 25 - In many American cities, indigenous culture is a
bonus amenity, an add-on to the business and civic functions of the
metropolis. Here, though, the first and last conversation you have will be
about where you went, what you ate, who you heard play. The people who make
music, who perform cabaret - and those who pour the whiskey that accompany
the shows - are precisely the point here, and they play big for their size.
If there is no show, there is no New Orleans.

"We will swing again in that place," Kermit Ruffins said by phone from
Houston, where he went when Hurricane Katrina came. Mr. Ruffins is a
trumpeter beyond compare, the crowned emperor of the New Orleans sound, who
cooks red beans and rice and plays with his band, the Barbecue Swingers,
every Thursday down at Vaughn's, in the Bywater section of the upper Ninth
Ward. A flashlight aimed at Vaughn's last Thursday night revealed an intact
building - and a big mess to go with it. "Could be six months, could be
eight, could be a year," Mr. Ruffins said, "but I can't wait to get there
and throw the grand reopening party on the new New Orleans. Count on that."

Workers interviewed this week up and down the high-low culture scale echoed
Mr. Ruffins's optimism to a person. The message they sent from near and far
was the same: This wounded city will heal itself show by show, and gig by
gig, because culture - ribald, prissy and everything in between - is the nub
around which the whole ball of yarn is wound. New Orleans without zydeco,
without jazz, without theater, without nude dancers and orchestra players,
is just a swamp town with hot summers, bad schools and a lot of mosquitoes.
If this city is to return, it will do so on the backs of the artists who
make it a place like nowhere else.

Mark Samuels, the owner of Basin Street Records, said as much. His small New
Orleans label is the home to Mr. Ruffins, Los Hombres Calientes and Dr.
Michael White. Mr. Samuels spent last week sneaking into the city from his
temporary headquarters in Austin, Tex., to grab CD's so his artists would
have something to peddle at their shows. Sitting at his brother's house in
Metairie outside New Orleans last week, he showed pictures of his house in
Lakewood South - a total loss by the looks of it - and shared his hopes and
worries about the future.

"You can redo Bourbon Street anywhere in the world," Mr. Samuels said. "All
you have to do is let people drink on the street, expose themselves on
balconies and open a bunch of T-shirt shops. But New Orleans is a lot more
than that. There is nowhere else in the world where you can head out to the
Maple Leaf and hear the Rebirth Brass Band. That can't be recreated
somewhere else."

Still, many New Orleans artists are now at large, playing for big audiences
elsewhere. The Rebirth Brass Band tore the roof off in New York the other
night as part of a benefit, and the Olympia Brass Band is setting out on
tour from Phoenix. But while the money may be good, the tours will not be
successful unless they end in New Orleans, where the rents were cheap and
the clubs ample. 

Many of those clubs made it through. Tipitina's is fine, for example, and
Preservation Hall endures. As for the Rock n' Bowl, where the crash of pins
mixed with the twang of a plucked guitar, John Blancher, who owns and runs
the place, would like to reopen, but is also looking into some properties in
nearby Lafayette. The club on the second floor is fine. But beneath it is
mayhem, the result of eight feet of water rolling strikes for a week.

"I expect to reoccupy it," Mr. Blancher said. "From the outside, you would
never want to even walk in there, but the inside is fine."

The insides of New Orleans seem great. The soul of the place, now dispersed,
continues to thrive. The body is a hurting unit, though.

Dr. Ike - Ira Padnos to those who don't know him - is a medical doctor and a
local scenester, the kind of man who embodies New Orleans's glorious, weird
vibe. An anesthesiologist who worked through the storm at the Louisiana
State University's hospital, he is now performing cultural triage in his
role as executive director of the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau. He won't
say this - modesty is a persistent feature of the local milieu - but both
his jobs will play a role in putting the paddles on the stilled heart of New
Orleans. The Mystic Knights run the Ponderosa Stomp, a roots music festival
that runs concurrently with the city's giant Jazzfest - "all killer, no
filler" is its advertising cry - and serves as a reminder that much American
music started and persists here. Reluctantly, the Knights have decided to
move the Stomp to Memphis this year, for a benefit show, which is fine, but
it is not New Orleans.

Many of the cities cultural treasures were not flooded, Mr. Padnos said. But
for New Orleans to return, he added, "depends on people - the waiters, the
musicians, the Indians - who live in the Ninth Ward, the Seventh Ward and
Tremé, all of which were hit hard by the flooding. You need those people to
come back to drive the city's culture."

It is still unclear what exactly they will be returning to, if they return.
For instance, somewhere in the basement of the Orpheum Theater here there
are 10 timpani drums floating in the muck and mire. At some point, Jim
Atwood, the owner of the drums and a member of the Louisiana Philharmonic
Orchestra, will retrieve his equipment - likely ruined - and assess his
future. But he is not expecting anything approaching normal anytime soon.

"Normal, when you are talking about New Orleans, is always a relative term,"
Mr. Atwood said. He and his wife, a flutist in the orchestra, said they have
not really come to terms with what happened to the city and what it means
for them.

"We have yet to have that conversation out loud," he said. "But when we do,
I think it is likely we will conclude that New Orleans is where our home is,
and hopefully our jobs as well."

The jobs may be there, but what many culture workers in New Orleans would
like is an audience.

"Art here comes up from the streets," said Barbara Motley, who owns Le Chat
Noir, a cabaret on St. Charles Avenue left relatively undamaged by the
storms. "The city failed a lot of the people who live here and I think they
will be slow in coming back, with good reason."

"On the other hand, this is New Orleans," she added, "so I would not be
surprised if people decide they need a laugh and a show. We'll see, won't

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