New Music from New Orleans Class Friends Sunday, Jan 4 2015 

I’ve been reading reviews of new music by New Orleans musicians, most of whom I’m familiar with, but there are others I need to explore. As I was reading through reviews, I realized that students in the New Orleans class have met quite a few musicians over our eight visits beginning in 2007. And three of these artists have new recordings.

Left to right: Alex McMurray, Paul Sanchez, and Arsene DeLay, Gentilly Baptist Church, March 2012.

Left to right: Alex McMurray, Paul Sanchez, and Arsene DeLay, Gentilly Baptist Church, March 2012.

In 2012 and 2013, the class had the opportunity to spend an evening with an ensemble led by Paul Sanchez at the Gentilly Baptist Church. These concerts were especially meaningful because of Sanchez’s work as composer of songs drawn from Dan Baum’s book, Nine Lives, a class favorite. In addition to Sanchez, it introduced them to such talents as singer/guitarist Alex McMurray and singers Arsene DeLay and Antoine Diel. Sanchez’s latest, from independent label Threadhead Records is The World is Round Everything that Ends begins Again. In it, he explores his song-writing and acoustic skills, but also draws from his years in the rock group Cowboy Mouth. He has surrounded himself with a bevy of great voices and instrumentalists, but it is Sanchez, his guitar, and his song writing that stand out. Or as John Swenson, the grand old man of New Orleans music criticism puts it: “These very personal songs…are what makes this the finest moment in Paul Sanchez’s career.”

Big CHief Alfred Doucette at UNH, 2014.

Big CHief Alfred Doucette at UNH, 2014.

Just last year, the class had the chance to meet Big Chief Alfred Doucette on his visit to New Hampshire. In addition to being chief of the Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indian gang, Doucette is a singer who frequents clubs on Frenchmen Street and elsewhere. This five-song cd, called Originals, is paradoxically a reworking of a number of classic New Orleans tunes; Doucette has added his own lyrics and occasional chord changes. According to Swenson, they work fairly well with a few bumps along the way. It includes his most famous song, “Marie Laveau,” which it to the tune of the New Orleans chestnut, “Little Liza Jane.” All in all, it sounds like a good, albeit short, party recording.

Glen David Andrews at the Rock and Bowl, 2008

Glen David Andrews at the Rock and Bowl, 2008

The musician with the most contact with the New Orleans class is clarinetist Dr. Michael White, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have a new recording. After our first meeting with him at Xavier University in 2008, the class went down the street to the old Rock and Bowl to hear Glen David Andrews. In addition to a fun-filled set, Andrews pulled student Teresa Ware on stage and sang happy birthday to her. It was the talk of the class that evening as we rode back to Waveland, MS. Andrews has had some personal travails in recent years, but he has literally redeemed himself with a new recording, Redemption, which the staff of Offbeat Magazine and John Swenson consider the top Louisiana recording of 2014. In his May 1, 2014 review, Swenson wrote: “Nothing Andrews has done prepares you for the complete breakthrough, the creative transformation he achieves on Redemption….The result is a career-best triumph for both artist and producer, an album that joins recent work by Trombone Shorty and Rebirth Brass Band in a new era of New Orleans jazz and R&B excellence.”

Needless to say, I’ll be scouting in the weeks before I head down in mid March. In the meantime, I’ll employ cds, downloads, and Spotify to “get out” and listen to some fine New Orleans music.

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Rainy Monday Morning Monday, Mar 11 2013 

All Souls Episcopal Church, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

All Souls Episcopal Church, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

We’ve been in New Orleans about 36 hours and the weather has caught up with us. There are showers around this morning and there’s a good chance of thunderstorms in the area. It looks like our first day working at lowernine.org will be affected in some way or the other.

I’m sitting in a McDonald’s in Chalmette. The sun is not quite up. The service is friendly, but the term “fast food” is relative here. Fox is on TV; country is on the radio. One is reminded of being in Southern Louisiana when a patron crosses himself before eating his sausage biscuit.

Where to start: it has been an interesting and challenging weekend. Van number 2 got here first and settled into their accommodations at lowernine.org. I picked up my friend Kyle on the way in from the airport and got into the Lower Ninth about 6:00 pm in the evening. We went through the walk through at the All Souls Episcopal Church and Community Center just as Van number 1 arrived. The third van came in a couple of hours later.

IMG_0167The accommodations should be a challenge. Cots and air mattresses in the common areas. The problem is, we have to stow all bedding and belongings during the day because it is a community center. And more challenging: 33 volunteers (including 12 from the University of South Carolina) and two showers with spotty hot water, to say it nicely. We worked out a schedule for showers and kitchen use with the USC folks and the work week will tell how well it works.

I appropriated the privacy of the small library, which seems right. Group 1 stayed back a while to orient the incoming group, while Kyle and I headed into the City. The first agenda item was something to eat; the food court at the airport was but a distant memory. He wanted a poboy I wanted the briny taste of a muffaletta. Kyle told me he had read of a “new age” poboy place on Conti off of Bourbon. That sounded kind of like “military intelligence” of “jumbo shrimp,” so I had to bite, so to speak.

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Queen of the second line, March 2013.

It was in the back of the Erin Rose bar; the dining room as about 10 X 10 feet and the menu was intriguing to say the least. I had a “Hot Muff”, a cross between a Cuban sandwich and a muffaletta and Kyle had something that involved sucking pig, I think, but it looked as delicious as mine tasted. While we were waiting with a group Asian twenty-somethings with Texas accents, when in walked this apparition; what I can only describe as a tricked-out, professional second line dancer named Jennifer Jones. As weird as that was, I had just seen her on a repeat of Anthony Bourdain’s “Layover” a couple of nights before. Kyle ate as I tried to talk to her and eat my sandwich at the same time. I took her picture and ventured forth to find the St. Joseph”s Parade — and lost. By the time we were ready to stop and watch it, it seemed to have melted away into the quarter and the after parade dinner/dance.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tipitina's, Uptown, March 2013.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tipitina’s, Uptown, March 2013.

While most of my students explored the French Quarter for the first time (with the few blocks on Bourbon to find eats I had pretty much reached my quota for the trip), Kyle and I headed uptown to catch the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at Tipitina’s. And it did not disappoint. While the personnel had shifted slightly from the last time, the heart and soul remained the same. They started at 11 pm; right on time for a 10 pm show and played through to 1 am. Because of the time, I crashed on Kyle’s sofa in Broadmoor.

By the time got to the Lower Ninth, the students were slowly emerging from their sleeping bags. We went to the local Walmart to buy groceries and provisions. And things continued to move slowly. We finally headed out late morning, with two of the groups exploring Armstrong Park and Congo Square on the edge of Treme. Afterwards, we all met at the Parkway Bakery on bayou St. John. Yes, poboys again. This time we went old school. I studied the menu over and over to find something new to order. The choices were myriad, but when you’ve tasted near perfection it’s hard to waiver; I went with the shrimp, fully dressed and a Barq’s. The wait was long, but it was worth it.

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With New Orleans class veterans, Kyle Murphy (2009 & 2011) and Kendra Hanlon (2010 & 2012), second line, March 2013.

Afterwards, most of us caught the beginning of the Keep ‘n It Real second line. It was overcast, but warm. The music was hot and the growing crowd was fully engaged. The students, Kyle and I were joined by another former student, Kendra. We all went well beyond the turn onto Broad Street. The students eventually peeled off while the three veterans soldiered on to the first stop before turning back.

We took in some music on Frenchmen Street: the ceremonial first Sunday afternoon at the Spotted Cat. We sat in Washington Square Park for a while, taking in the playing children, passersby, and chatty homeless. We met the entire group at the Praline Connection where students were introduced to the Afro-Creole menu and warm service. Among the etouffee, the ribs, the fried chicken, the red beans, and jambalaya were many smiles and full bellies.

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Dinner, Praline Connection, March 2013

I dropped Kyle off and headed up to Gentilly where we had been invited to a concert by Paul Sanchez at the Gentilly Baptist Church. Sanchez, along with singer Arsene DeLay and a couple of others gave us an hour and a half of mostly his songs, including a number of tunes from his musical “Nine Lives.” The students were rocking with the message of love and renewal and I got here some of favorites like “Fine in the Lower Nine,” Rebuild, Renew” and “Foot of Canal Street.”

The students, of course, headed back downtown. I followed them only so long to take a short walk on Frenchmen. I was tired form the second line and the clapping and the people watching. But I was not hungry. I had wisely taken the key so I headed back to All Souls, took a shower that might have been a degree or two warmer than body temperature and took it easy until they returned. I have to pace myself.

Besides, today we start to work.

Warning: my posts during spring break are usually the product of short blocks of down time, combined with reduced access to the internet. Because of time limitations (and poor eyesight) I most assuredly do not catch all typos and misspellings the first time around.  I apologize and please bear with me. I do hope to get around to correcting them during a more leisurely period.

New Orleans Music — It’s hard to know where to begin Friday, May 4 2012 

In the weeks since returning from New Orleans, the thing that has been sticking with me the most is the music. During the week I experienced brass bands, traditional jazz ensembles, reggae, trumpet players on park benches and more. Everywhere we went, the music seemed to find its way out of doors and into my ears. Not only did I love hearing all the music, but I loved how everyone else seemed to love it too. From kids not even out of high school to 70 year old men, everyone enjoys and soaks up local music.

Left to right, Alex McMurray, Paul Sanchez, and Arsene DeLay at the Gentilly Baptist Church, New Orleans, March 2012.

I’m kind of jealous of the way music is such an ingrained part of New Orleans life. I love listening to music, playing music, and just experiencing music. Unfortunately, I think that for a lot of Americans, music is a very passive listening only experience. New Orleans certainly doesn’t follow this idea. People are expected to get up and move and be a part of the music. I fell in love with the music culture in New Orleans.

In the months leading up to the trip, we listened to our regular song of the day in class. I enjoyed these songs, but they felt somewhat disjointed. From Big Freedia to the Wild Magnolias, to Louis Armstrong, to Louis Moreau Gottschalk — it was all interesting and I enjoyed the somewhat new sounds, but it was very abstract.

Once in New Orleans, I began to see, hear and understand how it all fit together in one place. We heard Paul Sanchez sing about the city, about its struggles and its love for life. His voice, paired with fantastic guitar reminded me a little of folk singers up north. The themes he sang and spoke about reminded me that we were far from there. He’s been a part of a musical adaptation of the book Nine Lives, and a song telling the story of Orleans parish coroner Frank Minyard repeats the line “Where are the bodies?” – a bit shocking, startling and very effective in its message. He was accompanied by Arsene DeLay, whose voice was incredible beyond words. It was sweet and smooth, yet at the same time striking and powerful. The concert made for a fantastic evening for the first full day in the city.

Brass band performing on Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, March 2012, Madelyn Ball.

We found that the clubs on Bourbon Street played popular dance music that spread far beyond the walls of the buildings and saturated the humid air. It was loud and it was crazy, but that seems to be the New Orleans way. The clubs nearby on Frenchmen Street host more authentic New Orleans music. It was there that I experienced my first live brass band. New Orleans musicians put a cool in brass that I didn’t know existed. The sound was less like playing an instrument and more like singing through the instrument. There was nothing refined, and everything exciting and soulful. I loved it. The part that I’m the most amazed by though is the ability of these musicians to memorize and improvise — there was even a student from Indiana University who seamlessly jumped in and played with the band for the night. The sound shot out of their instruments and filled the room. The energy was amazing and I couldn’t sit still. It was a really wonderful night — I felt like I was really experiencing New Orleans.

Dr. Michael White Quartet,Xavier University, New Orleans, March 2012

Later in the week, we went to see Dr. Michael White and his quartet play traditional New Orleans jazz at Xavier University of Louisiana. The band consisted of jazz clarinet, trumpet, banjo, and bass and all four players were incredibly talented musicians. They played a number of songs, and spoke about the development of jazz before each one. The history and evolution was so interesting and made each tune all the more interesting to me. The band was tighter and the sound more refined but without sounding flat or repetitive. They improvised together, and I was in awe with their skill. My favorite was when the trumpet player Gregg Stafford  sang “Basin Street Blues” in his raspy yet smooth voice, adding things about our group and that very night. I loved it.

Crowd listeing to brass band, Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, March 2012

We experienced each ‘sub-genre’ of New Orleans music in its place in New Orleans and it all began to make sense. The people in New Orleans are of such diverse backgrounds and cultures and the music is likewise. I know that during my week in New Orleans, I only experienced a small portion of all the music there is. It pulled me in and, now that I’m hooked, I’ll be able to explore more New Orleans music and better appreciate it. Dr. John next to Galactic won’t seem quite so strange anymore, but rather pieces of the whole New Orleans picture.

-Maddie Ball-

Strength and Rebirth: New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Wednesday, Apr 4 2012 

Bumper stickers at the House of Dance and Feathers, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2012, Taylor Frarie

It was our last night in the city; the air was warm and the city was alive. Despite the fact that it was around one in the morning the city was showing no signs of stopping anytime soon. It was then, as we were heading back to the van, that Shanti asked me what my favorite part of New Orleans had been. I thought about it, and gave her my honest answer: “I don’t know.”  I asked her the same question and she told me it was the spirit of rebirth that the city embodied.

I digested this and realized how perfect of an answer it was. I was even a little embarrassed that it did not come to my mind. When she had asked me I thought of obvious things like the food, the craziness, and the music. I know these are all a major part of the city, but when it comes down to it, none of that would be there if it weren’t for the strong inner spirit that the people of New Orleans have.

Levee along the Industrial Canal, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2012, Taylor Frarie

Thinking about it brought me back to the Lower Ninth Ward where we had visited on Sunday, our first day there. I just remember standing there when we learned about the destruction and how all the houses we were seeing would have been completely submerged in water. I tried to take it in, to fathom the magnitude of the damage and horror, but I just could not. It was surreal, like none of it had happened. But I know it did.  Even when we saw where the levee broke, it still didn’t quite hit me, and I don’t think it ever will. No one can imagine such an event unless it happens to them, the rest of us just have to try to do what we can to help. And people did try to help, just as residents tried to help each other.

Today the Lower Ninth Ward, even though it has a long way to go, is looking infinitely better. I remember long-time resident Ronald Lewis telling us that one of the things that made him happiest was the sight of children playing in the street in front of his house.  This hit me and I thought it was a beautiful way to describe it. It meant that life was truly coming back to his home and neighborhood. At first, I was surprised to learn that not all of the efforts into helping the Lower Ninth were fully appreciated. For instance, the modern and energy-efficient homes built by Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” Foundation. But now I understand that many residents just wanted help getting back to their old lives, they didn’t want everything to change. They just needed some support to get back on their feet.

Cover of Dan Baum's "Nine Lives"

Although foundation support is mostly a good thing; I can see where the mixed feelings are coming from.  I think these feelings are embodied through a song written by Paul Sanchez for a musical based on the Dan Baum’s book “Nine Lives.” Ronald Lewis’s story is one of the nine. The chorus of that song states: “We were fine in the Lower Nine.” These words are drawn straight from Baum’s interview with Lewis. The song reflects Lewis’s exuberant pride in his neighborhood and helped me to further understand the feelings held by him and his neighbors.

As I walked down the streets of New Orleans for the last time, these were my thoughts. As music played and people laughed and danced and stumbled all around me, I knew that the city was once again a place of high spirits despite the tragedy and devastation that it had faced.  It took me some time, but I finally saw and realized that the spirit of rebirth was alive and well in New Orleans and I watched as it pulsed through the city. And maybe, I thought, this is my favorite thing too.

–Taylor Frarie–

Fine in the Lower Nine Monday, Mar 12 2012 

Ronald Lewis and the House of Dance and Fathers, March 2012

For the first time, the entire group went into New Orleans. And heading from Slidell, we logically, and by planning, went from east to west. First stop was the Lower Ninth Ward, arguably the part of the City hardest hit by the flooding after Hurricane Katrina.

We began our visit at 1317 Tupelo Street, home of Ronald Lewis and his backyard museum, the House of Dance and Feathers. I first met him last summer, but I got to know him several years ago in Dan Baum’s wonderful book, Nine Lives. Ronald’s voice, as relayed by Baum, captured me, and before they read the book, I wanted my students to meet Ronald and hear him and his wisdom in person.

Students with Ronald Lewis, March 2012.

Ronald was heading off to speak at a onference at Tulane, but he took the time to talk about his lifetime in the Lower Ninth, the Mardi Gras Indian and second line traditions, and his collection which represents both. The students were mesmerized, both by his experience and his knowledge. And his warmth. It was a great introduction to the Lower Ninth before heading over to the levee along the Industrial Canal, where the worst damage occurred. It is always sobering, but it was heartening to see slow, steady, and sustainable progress in a place where an entire neighborhood was swept from the face of the Earth.

Students with parade loot, March 2012. Photo by Cora Lehet.

After our informal tour, we parted ways, the students to get a bead fix at the Metairie St. Patrick’s Day Parade and me, to go to the Keep N It Real Social Aid and Pleasure Club second line in Mid City. The students had a ball tastefully collecting beads and throws from marchers at the parade in Metairie. And they caught cabbages, carrots, potatoes and onions thrown from the two level parade trucks — it is not a parade for the inattentive. It would be interesting to get a total weight of the beads they brought back and I heard a couple complaining of sore necks resulting from wearing so many beads. Needless to say: a good time was had by all.

I joined Kyle and his friends for the second line, which started at Bayou St. John and Orleans Avenue. In keeping with the Nine Lives theme of the day, the To Be Continued Brass Band played behind the dancers. Their formation, under the direction of band director Wilbert Rawlins, Jr., was also chronicled in the book; a story, which to me, created some of the most moving parts of the book. So, here they were, the driving for for the throng which pointed itself towards Treme. And one which would not stop dancing, drinking, and eating until several miles and hours later. We followed for a couple of miles before taking

Second Line parade with TBC Brass Band, Mid City, March 2012

the car to catch up with them as they entered Treme. Highlight: the band and marchers version of  “A Closer Walk with Thee” that segued into “I’ll Fly Away.” Priceless.

We went into the City to listen to some great music and great musicians on Frenchmen Street, before polishing off three pounds of boiled crawfish. But the day was not over.

We reunited with the sunburnt and bead weary students at the Gentilly Baptist Church for a concert by singer, songwriter, guitarist Paul Sanchez. We were there as guests of Tom Brink and UNH Intervarsity, who are staying working in Gentilly. And it was fun for us to see and visit with friends and former students in a place far distant from Durham, NH.

Left to right: Alex McMurray, Paul Sanchez, and Arsene DeLay, Gentilly Baptist Church, March 2012.

And in keeping with the theme for the day, Sanchez has spent the last three years collaborating on writing a musical based on the book, Nine Lives. Alongside guitarist Alex McMurray and singer Arsene DeLay, niece of singer John Boutte, they would highlight and draw together our collective experiences.

For an hour and half, they brought tired students to their feet. Had them dancing. Singing. Sanchez opened with Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans” and later played one of my favorites, “At the Foot of Canal Street,” written in collaboration with John Boutte. My favorite part, however, were selections from the musical, including “Fine in the Lower Nine,” written in the voice of native son Ronald Lewis, and “It Could Have Been Worse,” which DeLay used to bring down the house. And it would not be the first time.

At about 9:30 p.m., the concert and singing and dancing and socializing wound down. What a day. The students still needed a beignet fix. I opted for a shower and some quiet time and instead headed back to Slidell. And when it was time to get up this morning, I was very happy I did.

Reader beware: these daily posts during spring break are often done on the run, usually in a McDonald’s. I generally don’t have the time to review or edit them as I might usually, and the chances that I’ll go back and catch things is limited. In advance, let me apologize for typos (especially this year since I am using a netbook) and missing words. It goes with the territory, but if I can, I ‘d rather post as often as time allows, albeit imperfectly.