PLAY ON THE STREETS
I once was a street musician before and when you could buy a permit. I remember meeting John Phillips of the Mama and Papas, and he told me that he played on the streets of New Orleans in the early ’50s with Chuck Berry.
Everyone should have a t-shirt that says “Remember Tuba Fats” with his photo on it saying, “Play on the Streets.” He would tell the cops to put him in jail or shut up, simple.
—Gary Kent Keyes, New Orleans, LA
OUR ONLY CHOICE
I want to weigh in on the street music controversy. Since I am a native and started playing jazz in the city in the late ’40s, I have opinions based on experience. Street music, the second line, the Indians, etc. are all wonderful and important contributions to the culture of New Orleans. But where the musicians really hone their art, learn to listen to each other, and use dynamics and nuance, is in the clubs.
When Bourbon Street clubs began opening their doors to the street, jazz died. After that, it was simply cover bands belting out garbage for beer swilling yahoos. The loudest wins. This gradually developed into “the level playing field” where anybody can come to the city get a spot on the street and play. Most of these people were not from New Orleans and could care less about the city or its music. They just picked up some licks and went at it. What they did was as good as the other guy down on the next corner, right? Hell, those tourists don’t know the difference anyway. It’s just part of their wonderful banana republic experience?
One afternoon, I think it was in the late ’80s or early ’90s, I had a gig at the ill-fated Basin Street Jazz Club, (I believe it was the site of the old D.H. Holmes restaurant). It was a great band: Nick Payton, Steve Masakowski, Adonis Rose, and Christina Machada on vocals. Across the street, on the corner in front of Felix’s Restaurant, was a guy with an alto sax. He couldn’t play it, but it made no difference to him. He was bleating away from the time we started to the time we quit. He must have had bionic lungs. He might still be out there! Of course, ballads were out of the question—a shame, because Christina’s were lovely. People would walk in, try to listen, and leave in disgust. The guy was so loud and insistent that he drove them away. Well, he had a right to be there.
That is just one story. No wonder so many great musicians who are serious about playing and the business of music leave.
I know there are some good players out in the street. I don’t begrudge their making a living. The problem is allowing street music all over. It should be confined to a certain area, like Jackson Square. Not doing it encourages every-man-for-himself and mediocrity. One also has to consider that one of the charms of the Quarter is that it is a residential neighborhood. Having a sax bleating under your window day and night does not add to the ambiance.
I now live in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, on top of a mountain and in a forest. We left Metairie after Katrina. We were disgusted with the stupidity of the government—local, state and federal—and the denial of our neighbors. Instead of worrying about hair styles and Mardi Gras, they needed to have town meetings about the future of the area, why the tragedy happened, and possibly planning some lynching of those responsible.
We not only sustained damage to our house (FEMA refused to repair), but to both cars, our computers, many important books and teaching materials. I had been on tour with a New Orleans traditional jazz band; my wife was with me. By the time we got back, the sight that greeted us was just too much. My $20,000 upright bass was reduced to a soggy mess. I remember carrying pieces of it outside to the bright sunlight, as if that would help. I know many went through far more than we did, but when you reach old age, it doesn’t take much to push you over the edge.
I miss my home town, my friends, colleagues, teaching, especially the great musical experiences, but this was our only choice, as we saw it.
—Edward “Bill” Huntington, Hot Springs Village, AR
FRAT BOY CROWD
I hope that you published Ian Goldenberg’s slanderous missive because you know it would shock more tolerant folks. (“Hillbillies from Deliverance,” Letters, August 2010) If Mr. Goldenberg doesn’t want dudes pissing on his doorknob, maybe he ought to move from Bourbon Street!
I would imagine that the people of Appalachia as well as the sharecroppers and “dirt farmers” of the rural South cannot afford to come to NOLA unless it is to work. Poor people can’t afford to drink or eat on Bourbon Street. They would shake their heads at $13 a plate of frog legs. You seem to know nothing of country folks, Mr. Goldenberg, and yes, you are a bad person for judging and misjudging visitors to your neighborhood.
—Mari Brandon, New Orleans, LA
SHOULD BE PAID
[Re: the article “A New Suit”]
I think Mardi Gras Indians should get paid for pictures being taken of them because they work just as hard as the photographer. They have to make the suits and pay for all the materials. The Indians don’t have the pictures taken for money, but if the photographer is getting paid so should the Indians. That’s why I think the Mardi Gras Indians should get paid.
—Tyrinnic (via email), Lafayette Academy, 6th Grade, New Orleans, LA
KEEP THEM COMING
I attended my first Jazz Fest this year and I am hooked on the music!
In July, my wife and I were fortunate to see Trombone Shorty at a local club and just a few weeks ago Chubby Carrier performed at our local blues festival—both were excellent. Keep them coming to Pittsburgh! See you next year for Jazz Fest.
—Les Shar, Pittsburgh, PA
Just a note to let you know that Charlie and I have decided to close Donna’s permanently. We have had a good run on Rampart Street but it is time to move on.
We will never forget all the good times and the people who passed through our doors to listen to the best musicians in New Orleans and to eat Charlie’s good food.
Charlie is doing great. He is busy writing a cookbook and re-inventing himself as an author! I, of course, still “Miss Dr. P” to my science students and I enjoy every minute of it.
I will most certainly keep the website active for a while until we know that our customers “across the pond” and elsewhere in the world know that Charlie will not be “holding court” any longer in Donna’s kitchen!
—Donna Poniatowski and Charlie Sims, New Orleans, LA
CD MAKES HER SMILE
Just received my first issue and the CD. What an awesome surprise!
I’m listening to it as I type this. I love it; it makes me homesick, but it makes me smile, too.
—Christin Logarakis, Saint Francis, WI
The last CD that OffBeat issued was the 2008 compilation issued in 2009. We are currently working on publishing both the 2009 and 2010 CDs. We apologize for the delay.—Ed.