[JPL] New Orleans Homecoming (for the Lucky Ones)

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Wed May 2 18:56:04 EDT 2007

May 1, 2007
New Orleans Homecoming (for the Lucky Ones) 
NEW ORLEANS, April 30 — Every so often at this year’s
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival over the
weekend, musicians would announce that they were
finally back in their old homes after being displaced
for a more than a year by Hurricane Katrina.

The queen of New Orleans soul, Irma Thomas, returned
to her house two weeks ago; Jean Knight, who had the
hit “Mr. Big Stuff,” said she was back; and Brice
Miller, the trumpeter for the Mahogany Brass Band,
announced on Saturday that he had just spent his first
night in his old bedroom. 

They’re the luckier ones. They didn’t live in
destroyed neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward that
are still virtually empty. And they can return to a
livelihood: jobs at clubs in the more-touristed parts
of New Orleans, which are back in business and ready
to party. 

The culture of New Orleans — the thoroughly local
music, food and rituals that are connected to African
processions, European carnivals, Caribbean rhythms and
America’s history of slavery and intermingling — is a
draw not just for tourists, but for New Orleanians.
Through sheer perseverance, it is being rebuilt. 

The 38th annual Jazzfest was its old celebratory self,
with an undercurrent of determination. Jazzfest, which
continues this coming weekend, has stoked the city’s
culture by gathering it for the outside world to see
since 1970. More than 80 percent of this year’s
performers are Louisiana musicians who cover a century
of music, from brass bands to bayou zydeco to hip-hop.

To hear the pianist Henry Butler splashing free-jazz
dissonances and wild whoops and hollers into New
Orleans standards like “Tipitina,” or to hear the Hot
8 Brass Band mixing old-fashioned oompah with Latin
and hip-hop beats was to hear the continuity of a
culture that faces its troubles with rhythm and
flamboyance. Only in New Orleans would a band — Bob
French and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, to be exact
— put a traditional jazz beat under P-Funk’s chant,
“Tear the roof off the sucker.” 

The locals shared the first weekend’s lineup with
headliners like Norah Jones, Bonnie Raitt, T Bone
Burnett, Jill Scott, Ludacris, Brad Paisley, Pharoah
Sanders and the Mexican brass band Banda el Recodo.
There were also performers who were born in Louisiana,
including Lucinda Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny
Rivers, whose “Secret Agent Man” had a touch of
bayou-country swamp-pop. 

The visitors didn’t forget where they were. They
performed with New Orleans musicians: Ms. Jones with
Trombone Shorty, Mr. Sanders with the trumpeter
Terence Blanchard, Ms. Raitt with half a dozen guests
for a weekend-closing medley of New Orleans R &B.

Songs were addressed to the city for both its losses
and its survival. When Ms. Raitt sang her “God Was in
the Water,” an eerie song written before Katrina, she
dedicated it to the Ninth Ward, the rest of the city
and “all the people still waiting for the help they

Ms. Williams choked up as she sang her mournful
“Everything Has Changed,” and Mr. Burnett sang
apocalyptic imagery to swampy blues-rock riffs. The
zydeco and Cajun musicians from the bayou country to
the west, which was harder hit by Hurricane Rita, also
sang about the storms; the Cajun rocker Zachary
Richard had a song that vowed, “Seven generations
we’ve been stuck here in the mud/But the only way that
I’m leaving Louisiana is if I’m swept away in a

As often happens at Jazzfest, the locals — not all of
them able to return yet — stole the show. On Sunday
afternoon a set by the New Orleans Social Club defined
the heart of the festival. With George Porter Jr. and
Leo Nocentelli from the definitive New Orleans funk
band, the Meters, along with Dr. John and Irma Thomas,
the group was an all-star contingent of New Orleans
musicians who had gathered in Austin six weeks after
Katrina to record a benefit album. 

Their set reached back into New Orleans tradition,
including the Mardi Gras Indian song “Indian Red,”
which insists, “We won’t bow down,” and it mingled
anger and optimism. It also dug deep into the
parade-beat rhythms that are at the roots of jazz and
New Orleans R&B and funk. And it had a huge crowd

Jazzfest has long since become a local ritual itself,
one that became more important after the hurricane
made clear that New Orleans could not be taken for
granted. The festival is a nonprofit event, and its
Jazz and Heritage Foundation owns the license to the
gloriously New Orleans-centric radio station WWOZ-FM. 

It also supports, quietly and pragmatically, the
street processions that maintain New Orleans rhythms
and communities. In recent years the foundation has
paid for police permits for second-line parades, which
send brass bands and fancy-suited Social Aid and
Pleasure Clubs strutting through the streets. The
foundation has also started to buy plumes — pricey
ostrich feathers — for the Mardi Gras Indians who
spend a year sewing the outsize suits that they flaunt
from Mardi Gras season in February through Jazzfest in

Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and Mardi Gras Indian
gangs arose in the city’s poorer neighborhoods —
including some that are still depopulated — but they
are tenacious. Last year the foundation bought plumes
for 80 Indians; this year for 188. Among the Mardi
Gras Indians parading at Jazzfest were the Ninth Ward

One of Jazzfest’s staples is its gospel tent, where
local church choirs and touring gospel groups perform
all day. The hurricane gave them another reason to
praise the Lord: making it through. 

“You hurt me, Katrina, but I’m still standing!”
preached Bishop Paul S. Morton, a dynamic singer and
New Orleans gospel luminary who has worked with Aretha

Then he added another message. “If you are not from
New Orleans,” he said, “please don’t forget about us.”


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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