I never really understood the title of this tune until last weekend. I made my first trip to the city where this music all began, and got to experience the city as a performer. To say that it changed the way I look at things would be an understatement. Not just the way I view the city, but also the way I see the black/white line in jazz, the aftermath of Katrina, the importance of this city and the people who live in it.
New Orleans is really something special, and until you get a chance to experience the atmosphere and music the city has to offer, you haven’t really lived. The vibe is unreal. It’s like another world down there where people understand and appreciate the music. I went down as a member of the Jack Brass Band. Our first night there, we played at Preservation Hall, the magnitude of which I am only now beginning to understand. We did some busking for some very enthusiastic New Orleans natives and tourists, and played a show at DBA from 2a-4a to a house of dancing music lovers and even some of the members of the Stooges Brass Band, with whom we have a great relationship as a band. I left for this trip not really understanding my role in this music, and particularly in the Jack Brass Band, and left feeling, perhaps for the first time (I’ve been in the band for a year and a half), like I belong as a member of the band. Gus Sandberg and the other dudes in the band kept telling me how my whole perspective would change after being in New Orleans and boy were they right.
There isn’t much I can say specifically on how if felt to be there and experience playing and listening to music in New Orleans, just that I felt something. It was something I hadn’t felt before, but that I just knew was out there. All the music we listen to today is just an extension of what started as a Black American art in New Orleans. We all play this music now, and there are people of all races who excel at this music, but it is really something to be where it all began and to begin to see the lineage from which we came as musicians.
Now that I am home, back up north, it’s hard for me to go back to the way things were. I’ve been on the road to many different cities playing music, but I’ve never felt this disconnected from what is real after coming back home. It’s a weird feeling, and I imagine it’s one only New Orleans can give. So, I think I know what it means to miss New Orleans, though I am sure it’s only a fraction of what Louis Armstrong felt when he finally agreed to leave New Orleans and head to Chicago where Joe Oliver was playing. Louis always said he never wanted to leave NOLA and that Joe Oliver is the only guy who could get him to leave. For our sake, I’m glad he did.
I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote on the flight home from NO. I dabble in writing poetry here and there, though I don’t usually post. I stole the rhythm and rhyme scheme from a Robert Frost poem (admittedly, I flip the feel around here and there, I’m no Robert Frost) I’ve been reading lately called “To The Thawing Wind.” Mine is untitled:
To the cold, and dreary Winter,
From warm places, flow’rs and splinter;
Dancing streets where ribbons flow,
Zulu Queen is all the show;
Hot 8 wills its sound to whale,
Music heals this trav’ler’s tale;
Song goes forth between the lines
Of those proud their City finds
The way to build a City new,
Is New Birth, Hot 8, Rebirth, few;
Their music heals me certain,
But heals a City’s burden;
Laid down by Nature’s anger,
Whose mercy was a stranger,
And brought its winds of wrath
While rains brought Bourbon’s bath;
Only music can repair
The families hurt, in despair;
So useless I, in this fight,
To make a change from this flight;
The colder weather favors
indiff’rence towards the flavors
New Orleans brings our culture,
The government its vulture;
So sad my destination
knows not that this great Nation
Hides its own identity
In plain sight for all to see.