New Orleans Miscellany for a New Year Friday, Jan 3 2014 

We are three days into the New Year. I’m sitting in my home in New Orleans looking over a foot of fresh snow. The temperatures are expected to be double digits below zero tonight. Little wonder that my thoughts are on New Orleans, where I’ll be with my class in 66 days; not that anyone is counting.

I have been an exceedingly negligent blogger. Last year was a banner year for this blog, but I have fallen down on the job since the spring. I even returned to New Orleans in August, yet wrote very little about it. However, the eighth installment of the New Orleans class will be starting in a few weeks and I have to get my head in the game. Therefore, I hereby resolve to blog at a rate commensurate with the interest shown past entries. Well, this is a start anyway.

There have been a number of big New Orleans stories in the past few months, but in honor of the New Year I’ve decided to graze among a few topics that fit a new beginning. Some are significant; some are silly; and hopefully all are interesting.

armstrong arrestNo Falling Bullets — Traditionally, folks in New Orleans fired guns into the air to celebrate the New Year. In fact, a young Louis Armstrong landed in the Colored Waifs Home when he was arrested for firing his father’s gun into the air on New Year’s Eve. However, what goes up, must come down. So, after numerous injuries and even deaths from falling bullets, the New Orleans Police Department has slowly brought a halt to the practice. I looked everywhere and could not find an incidence of an injury or arrest for the practice this year.

number-of-new-orleans-murders-1990-2013-b43bc1ecb825188aDrop in New Orleans Murders in 2013 — For the second year in a row, New Orleans experienced a drop in the number of murders and overall gun violence. This is in spite of some high profile incidences, such as the Mother’s Day second line shootings, or several horrific murders involving the accidental shooting of children. In a trend that mirrors that of other cities, New Orleans had 155 murders in 2013, which represents a 20% drop from 2012. And while its murder rate is still high relative to the population, the total is a far cry from the 424 recorded back in 1994. The city likewise experienced a 15% drop in the number of people shot and wounded, which went from 378 in 2012 to 321  last year.


Dr. Frank Minyard honoring the victims of Katrina, 2008.

Coroner Frank Minyard Will Not Serve 11th Term — After qualifying as a candidate for the upcoming election, the 84 year-old New Orleans Parish coroner has decided to call it quits after 40 years. The colorful coroner’s selflessness during Hurricane Katrina was profiled in Dan Baum’s Nine Lives, but in recent years, he has been criticized for not listing the cause of death on a number of high profile murder cases. Moreover, in a city with such a high murder rate, he has been faulted for running an antiquated facility on a meager budget. Three candidates remain on the ballot for the forthcoming election.

Who Dat “Rocky Run” Cancelled — A band of New Orleans Saints fans have dropped their plan to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art while in town to attend the NFL playoff game. They were looking to relive a scene from the movie “Rocky,” in which actor Sylvester Stallone runs up the steps as part of his training routine. The Saints fans cancelled the run after a large number of Eagles fans threatened them via social media. It seemed like such a cool idea for visiting fans; however, they did not take into account the fact that Eagles fans would actually hurt them. Eagles fans have already been warned that Philadelphia police officers may attend the game dressed as Saints fans as an attempt to curb violence.

Penguin Plunge & Super Bowl 2010 001

King Cake, Super Bowl 2010.

58 Days of King Cake — The Times-Picayune reminds us that Carnival season is quite long this year. In fact, there are 58 days between Epiphany (January 6th) and Mardi Gras (March 4th). There seems to be little need to encourage New Orleans folks to celebrate during Carnival; however, the T-P entertainment staff has valiantly agreed to take one for the team. Among other things, Carnival is marked by the consumption of King Cake, a multi-colored confection that first appeared in 1871. These brave souls have decided to try a different King Cake every day during Carnival. They will then report on each one, every day throughout the season. It is not clear rather they will rate them, but I figure that is not the point. Come to think of it, what is the point?

Well, that should be enough to get all of our thoughts turned to New Orleans and the New Year. If not, I promise more in upcoming weeks. And, Happy New Year!


10 Things I Like About New Orleans Tuesday, Feb 26 2013 

St. Louis Cathedral from the Algiers Ferry.

St. Louis Cathedral from the Algiers Ferry.

OK, nearly in the “10 days to New Orleans” window. So much to do; so little time. Yet the anticipation is building.

So, let’s do a random, stream of consciousness exercise: name 10 things I like about New Orleans that are probably not on the radar of the average tourist. In no rational order:

1) The ferry to Algiers. You can hop on a free ferry from the end of Canal Street to Algiers, part of New Orleans, but more like a quaint village on the turn of the Mississippi.

2) Friday night fish fries during Lent. They are everywhere throughout southern Louisiana. The food is often great and the opportunity to meet and talk to locals is outstanding. Best combination ever: Friday night fish fry with my friends Bruno and Ani in Algiers.

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine's Church

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine’s Church

3) Jazz mass at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Treme. Words can’t do it justice because you have to experience the sights and sounds for yourself. The sign of peace goes on the 15 minutes — and it ends too soon.

4) Grilled meat sandwiches at a second line parade. Never tried the grilled pork chop sandwich because the smell and taste of the grilled sausage sandwich is like heroin. Last year I found myself getting upset because the vendor did not make my sandwich fast enough.

5) Sunday afternoon at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street. Traditional tunes by the Rites of Swing, with vocals by the lovely Yvette Voelker. The vibe is almost as good as the afternoon sunlight coming through the windows.

Jackson Square.

Jackson Square.

6) Sitting on benches people watching. Favorite spots: Jackson Square, the Moon Walk along the River, and Washington Square Park in the Marigny.

7) Abita Amber in “go cups” from Fritzel’s Jazz Pub on Bourbon Street. It is pretty much the only thing that brings me to the touristy part of Bourbon Street when I’m in the French Quarter.

8) Hole in the wall po’boy shops. Jimmy’s, a gas station near I-610, where you can get an enormous, wonderful po’boy for well under $10 bucks. This year, I’ll be staying across the street from a combination tire dealer/po’boy shop in the Lower Ninth. I expect it to be fabulous.

Louis Armstrong statue, Louis Armstrong Park..

Louis Armstrong statue, Louis Armstrong Park..

9) Walking the Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery. I don’t think my students get it, but I love walking the battlefield where a rag-tag army under Andrew Jackson defeated the British Army in January 1815. The adjacent cemetery, which mainly hosts the remains of African-American soldiers from the Civil War, is equally peaceful and moving.

10) Louis Armstrong Park. Recently reopened, it contains monuments to New Orleans cultural icons, from Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong to “Tootie” Montana. And then there are the ghosts of Congo Square.

I could come up with more, but it is time to go to bed. And I’m sure that in a few weeks, I’ll be able to come up with 10 more.

Bullets over New Orleans Tuesday, Jan 1 2013 

Bullets are a problem in New Orleans. Even though the murder rate dropped slightly in 2012 from 2011, New Orleans streets are among the deadliest in the United States. And in the wake of the tragic school killings in Newtown, CT, it should be pointed out that many of the victims continue to be the minors.

armstrong arrestWhen it comes to New Years Eve, however, police look to curb celebratory gunfire, as well as handgun violence. Firing handguns into the air is a longstanding New Orleans tradition. A 12- year old Louis Armstrong was arrested in 1913 for firing his stepfather’s gun into the air on New Year’s Eve. He was sent to the Colored Waif’s Home where he learned to play the trumpet and the rest, as they say, is history.

NoNewYearsGunsBut, firing guns into the air is not all fun and games. Bullets fired into air must come down and often with dangerous consequences. Many have been wounded by such celebrations and as recently as 1994 a tourist from Boston was killed by a falling bullet. Since then, the NOPD has cracked down on the practice. Arrests for celebratory gunfire have fallen in recent years; presumably, so has the practice.

This year, the NOPD announced that it was on the look-out for drunk drivers, illegal fireworks, and bullets fired into the air. As of this evening, New Year’s night, I can find no reports of any injuries resulting from guns fired into the air in New Orleans. Needless to say, I hope it stays that way, but will continue to wait and see if there are any arrests for such behavior.

When the Arrest of a Young Boy on New Year’s Eve Changed Music History Wednesday, Dec 28 2011 

Nearly one hundred years ago, a seemingly minor event took place on the streets of New Orleans. A twelve year-old African-American boy was arrested by police for firing his stepfather’s revolver to celebrate New Years. This is still a common practice in New Orleans, despite the fact that falling bullets can injure or even kill people on the street.

However, in 1913, being black in Jim Crow New Orleans did not leave the young boy much leeway; the authorities removed him from his family and sent him to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs. There, it was expected, he would receive the right kind of discipline and training to enable him to reenter society.

The young boy spent several years at the home. As part of his rehabilitation, he received lessons in playing the cornet from Professor Peter Davis who frequently worked at the home at the request of the headmaster. The youngster had been taught to play the horn by ear, but he was in need of more formal training. Davis saw a spark in the the young miscreant, helped refine his playing, and eventually made him the band leader at the home. The young man began to attract attention for his horn playing; the notice would give spark to a noteworthy career.

The boy was released from the Waif’s Home when he was fourteen. Although he was technically returned to his family, he was guided by the musicians who played the local dance halls and brothels. He played in brass band parades and learned from the likes of Bunk Johnson, Buddy Petit, Kid Ory, and Joe “King” Oliver. Eventually, he signed on with Fate Marable’s band, which performed on riverboats up and down the Mississippi River. He referred to this period as his university, as he learned to play from written arrangements.

In 1919, Joe Oliver decided to move to Chicago and resigned from Kid Ory’s band; the young man replaced him and also became second trumpet for the Tuxedo Brass Band. In a couple of years, Joe Oliver, the mentor, summoned the young cornet player to Chicago.

Beginning in Chicago, Louis Armstrong, the young waif, the cornet player, would become the most recognized face of jazz music. In due time, his forceful playing and vocal stylings would change popular American music forever.

And quite possibly, it all stemmed from a young boy firing his stepfather’s gun on New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s 2010 Saturday, Jan 2 2010 

According to the Times-Picayune, it was a relatively quiet New Year’s in New Orleans: two non-fatal shootings and no reported injuries from falling bullets.

Falling bullets, you say! Well, yes. It is a New Orleans tradition to fire guns into the air to welcome in the New Year. And gravity, being what it is, those bullets have to fall somewhere. And invariably, some poor unsuspecting persons get between a bullet and the Earth. The police have increased patrols and produce billboards and public service announcements  asking citizens to refrain from the practice. Apparently, it is working.

The tradition does have some historical importance. On New Year’s 1913, an eleven year-old Louis Armstrong was arrested for firing his father’s pistol in the air as part of the celebration. He was sent to the Colored Waif’s Home where he learned to play the cornet. And the rest, as they say, is history.