Jazz Fest with the LA Times
The following letter is in response to Sam D’Arcangelo’s news post, “You Probably Shouldn’t Spend $3,995 To Go To Jazz Fest With An LA Times Writer.”
Hey guys, at least let the ink dry on the press release before releasing the hounds! I get where you’re coming from; in fact, I love where you’re coming from, and avail myself of every opportunity to spend time where you’re coming from. That’s a huge part of why I’ll be returning once more next year with a group of music lovers in tow. I’ve been attending Jazz Fest on and off since 1987, made numerous other trips to New Orleans and traveled more broadly throughout Southwest Louisiana precisely because I’m so in awe of the music, the culture, the history, the food, the people… everything that makes it such a wondrous and unique place. I’ve interviewed D.L. Menard at his chair-making shop in Erath, visited with Canray Fontenot at his home in Welsh, two-stepped and waltzed at Mulate’s in Breaux Bridge while Dewey Balfa fiddled and daughter Christine played triangle (when she wasn’t busy serving drinks), and jammed with Marc and Ann Savoy on more than one Saturday morning at the Savoy Music Center in Eunice. And I’ve enthusiastically written about those experiences during my 30-plus years covering pop music for The Times, something I plan to share with travelers, by way of exposing them to several of the remarkable musicians I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with during my time in your wonderful city. I’ll even let members of our groups in on my experience getting married in Preservation Hall some years back, performing Sidney Bechet’s “Petite Fleur” on my trusty clarinet on that vaunted stage during the ceremony and topping it off with a joyous second line parade through the Quarter with a raft of family, friends and no small contingent of warm-hearted, empathetic strangers. So when Jazz Fest 2018 does roll around, I hope you’ll be as welcoming to me and this group of visitors as so many New Orleans residents have been every other time I’ve come to the Crescent City. Oh, and Sam—you are more than welcome here in the other L.A. any time. Cheers!
—Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times, California
I lead the High Society Jazz Band here in England and have done now for 45 years. We play every week and all the top jazz musicians join us. Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, Chris Barber have all played with my band and on many occasions—Acker and Ken when they were alive. I once played “Stranger on the Shore” during a talent show on board the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship—you can see it on YouTube—and afterwards a guy came up to me and said, “If I’d closed my eyes I would have thought that was my Dad playing. My name is Peter. I am Acker Bilk’s son.” Whew!
When I was in New Orleans—sadly, only for a few hours as it was one of the stops during a West Coast tour, we managed to find Preservation Hall at 4 o’clock in the afternoon—all shut up, with steel bars over the doorway. I looked in, simply shaking with excitement, being that close to “mecca” and there, in the dim passageway was an old guy just switching off the lights. I called to him. “Any news on ‘Sing’?” Sing Miller had recently been admitted to hospital with diabetes (I believe). From that moment we were old friends. He came up to the bars and said, “Sing is okay. He should be out soon.” I explained we were only in the city for a brief time and we’d love to come in and have a look at this wonderful jazz hall. He let us in, claiming he should not really and we walked in to where jazz has been played for many years. I stood where all the greats had stood before. Mind blowing! The smoke-stained ceiling, the loose plaster on the walls—incredible! I was hoping to get a couple of publicity pictures for my own band so I had my clarinet with me. “What is your name? I asked. “Speedy Gonzales,” he replied. “Do you play?” I asked. “No man, I’m just the sweeper up,” but he went to the piano and incredibly, started to play. Within seconds I assembled my clarinet and we played together. “Basin Street Blues.” A magic moment and one I will never forget. It’s on YouTube too so there for posterity. My claim to fame, I played Preservation Hall.
Speedy Gonzales gave me a memory for life. We would have played some more but he was parked on a meter and had to go.
Beat that for the most amazing experience.
—Graeme Hewitt, England, United Kingdom
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