Author Archives: Jan V. Ramsey

Survey says trad jazz

For the past couple of months, OffBeat has posted a survey on our website, just to get an idea of what our readers like, their opinions on political matters related to music, how they use information and more.

Last week, we polled our readers and asked them “If you had one night to experience music in New Orleans, what kind of music would you go listen to?”

I thought that we’d get a lot of funk, brass band, and rock and maybe blues, but to my surprise, trad jazz topped the list.

I’ve thought about this for the past couple of days and wonder if perhaps the clubs in the city are missing the boat when it comes to offering more “jazz” on their menus.

Tuba Skinny on Royal Street (Photo: playing-traditional-jazz.blogspot.com)

When I think trad jazz, I don’t think Preservation Hall, or a Dixieland band (well, okay, maybe I do think P-Hall a little..), I think about some of the younger bands, like Panorama, or Tuba Skinny. I think there’s a lot more room for those kinds of bands on club “menus” these days. It certainly couldn’t hurt if the Bourbon Street bars added a bit more music of this variety to their menus (cover bands unfortunately didn’t fare too well on this list, and goodness knows there are a ton of cover bands on Bourbon).

New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and it appears that there are more lovers of the music than I perceived. Bring it on!

Take this week’s OffBeat survey here.

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Ephemera, or the wonderful world of disposable information

The internet is wonderful, and opens up almost infinite possibilities for acquiring and seeking out new information; it’s had a profound impact on how we relate to the universe.

It used to be we had encyclopedias, books, libraries, research information, photos and books in hard copies, but that’s changed so drastically.

Take photography, for example.

We all used to have photos we could see and hold onto. Photos were precious. First of all, you had to buy a certain level camera to take a good photo, and you had to not only buy film, but then you had to develop the photos, or pay someone to develop them for you. This means the photos themselves had an instrinsic value, not only for the moment in time they captured, but also because they literally were worth the dollars you invested in them (not even considering the time it took for you to take the photos).

Fading away?

No more. Photos can be taken by a mobile phone, a tablet computer. You can take a thousand crappy photos and pick one that just happened to capture the exact moment that looks good. In some ways, the transformation of analog to digital photography  allowed almost anyone to call themselves a “photographer.”

I can guarantee you that if you have the most expensive photographic equipment and the fastest lens around, and the merest eye, and you’re willing to sort through all the images, you’ll find something that will convince the uninitiated that you are a “photographer.”

Now we have Instagram and SnapChat. Certainly not a lot of photographic expertise needed to participate in those. And SnapChat photos and videos are made to be deleted.

Moments in time used to be a lot more precious when we had to take the time to record them. Now they’ve become almost expendable.

My mother lost all of our family photos to Katrina, which means that she’ll never again be able to see photos of her children, parents and other family members—and neither will the rest of our family. That was really an incalculable loss. Those memories can only reside somewhere deep inside our brains; it was a tragedy, really.

Yes, they could have all been scanned and reside on the cloud somewhere. But they weren’t. How many of the memories you’ve recorded with photos and videos on your digital devices are really precious to you? Will you have access to them when your computer crashes or you forget to pay your storage bill?

We had a discussion in the office recently about how much information we need to put on our website, OffBeat.com. We tend to want to use the website as a repository of historical information; maybe it will be valuable someday. For example, when writers for HBO’s Treme were doing research on what was happening musically in New Orleans post-Katrina, they used copies of OffBeat to do their homework.

We now put a lot more information onto our website than into our print edition of the magazine. But the web posts are pretty short and sweet; snippets, really (human attention spans have definitely been reduced a result of technology). Our more long-form, in-depth pieces go into the magazine.

If we should lose our electronic version of history, what will we have left? I think we have to look at what we do in a more permanent light: OffBeat’s approach to music coverage is more than digital trash, or selfies;  moments of recorded time, place and people shouldn’t be disposable via the crash of a storage device.

I guess I’m making a decent case for print.

Going through some boxes at the office today, I found a lot of old OffBeat archival materials—old rate cards, envelopes, invoices, promotional pieces, stories, photos. Sometimes it’s not only good to look at the elements of your history; it’s also the measure of progress and improvement and the documentation of change. Personally, I’m glad we still have hard copies and a historical record of the way things used to be—that stuff wasn’t digitally recorded, and a lot of valuable information may never be.

After all, what is a business—or what is humankind–without a demonstrable historical record?

 

 

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The Faux and The Reel

For the past couple of days, I’ve been visually bombarded with a huge faux Mardi Gras parade outside my Frenchmen Street perch. A film crew, hundreds of costumed extras, a couple of confetti cannons, several fake Mardi Gras floats, a Toyota Camry outfitted with a camera, and at least as many film crew people closed down Frenchmen Street and Decatur Street to create the illusion of Mardi Gras. As I write this, today’s shoot has been closed down (I think even Mr, Okra got into the picture) and there are clean-up crews with sweep brooms and leaf blowers cleaning up the confetti and beads from the street. All that’s missing is the smell of garbage, urine and vomit and a the passed-out drunks that you see on Bourbon post-Mardi Gras. Frenchmen Street’s (fake) Mardi Gras is a helluva lot more sanitary. More to come, tomorrow, I suspect.

All the beads, confetti. None of the bodily fluids.

I mentioned to Steve Maloney, OffBeat’s web editor, that maybe we should have put something up showing what a Mardi Gras parade looks like outside the OffBeat offices, and he strongly disagreed. “Who wants to see a lame, fake Mardi Gras parade?” he scoffed.

Well, I guess he’s right. It’s going tp be a very, very sanitized “reel.”

It was interesting watching the film crew, director and extras put together the shots (over and over and over and over and over again), but fake it was. To a seasoned New Orleanian, this was a laughable Mardi Gras. Whatever. We s hould be thankful to Toyota for choosing to make New Orleans the backdrop of their commercial for Camrys. But consumer, beware! It’s not the real thing—we don’t have those kinds of parades on Frenchmen!

Now speaking of the “real”…The Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame celebrates its 16th anniversary this year. Geraldine Wyckoff, OffBeat writer for many years, is receiving their “Scribe” Awards. Yours truly was the recipient of the Scribe Award a few years ago, and that award is one of my prize possessions: it’s an Indian patch, with a feather pan and inkwell, with the words “Mojo Mouth” embroidered on it. Now that’s an award I will always cherish.

Congratulations to Geraldine and all the recipients of this year’s awards.

 

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Louis Armstrong Will Always be Important to Jazz

We’re happy to present our annual August “Satchmo SummerFest” issue. It focuses, in large part, on New Orleans’ traditional jazz community and legacy—which, of course, is influenced by the spirit and musicality of the inimitable Louis Armstrong

I was one of those neophytes who didn’t realize how important Armstrong was and is in the annals of jazz.

The sounds of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and signature voice will ring throughout the French Quarter this weekend at the Satchmo SummerFest

When Ken Burns released his “Jazz” series on PBS in 2000 and the subject of Louis Armstrong came up, it was like an epiphany for me. I think it’s a foregone conclusion to jazz musicians and scholars how important Armstrong was to jazz and to American music in general. But I’m not an historian; I’m a music lover and relate to it more emotionally than academically, so Burns’ series was an eye-and ear-opener for me. Since viewing that series, I’ve read a number of books about Armstrong’s life, times and music, and I would encourage anyone who isn’t a Louis-phile to delve into his genius, complexities and musicality.

The year 2000 was also important to New Orleans because it’s the year when Satchmo SummerFest was funded by the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism (CRT) as means to create a summer music festival that would be able to attract visitors to the city in the heat of summer. Specifically, the CRT folks wanted to attract international visitors with a festival themed on jazz. It just so happened that a local historian, the late Tad Jones, discovered baptismal records that strongly indicated that Armstrong was born on August 4—not July 4, as his birthdate was originally recorded. This fit perfectly with the concept of a summer festival and also coincided with the release of Burns’ series on jazz.

French Quarter Festivals, Inc. was selected to manage the original festival, and they’ve continued to produce it successfully for 14 years.

Another huge event just happened to be taking place the first weekend in August 2000: a fundraiser for the University of New Orleans’ Jazz Studies Program. UNO created a massive, historical concert featuring the entire Marsalis musical family. At that time, Ellis Marsalis ran the program. All of his musical sons (Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason) as well as Harry Connick, Jr. and others came together—for the first time—to celebrate jazz and their accomplishments. It was an outstanding success for the university, and it certainly added to the draw of the first Satchmo SummerFest. Seeing a legendary musical family play together was pretty inspiring.

In New Orleans, music runs in families. That’s one thing I love about this month’s issue. New Orleans music—especially jazz—is, more often than not, a family affair. Read through the many articles in this issue to see how our musicians are not only schooled in music by their elders, but they are also inclined to pass on the traditions. We’re very proud of this issue, and hope it will be able to kindle some understanding of what makes New Orleans musicians and jazz so unique.

Our musical ancestors are passing away at an alarming rate. This past month, Lionel Ferbos made it to his 103rd birthday and died a couple of days later. He was the oldest musician in New Orleans and a real link to the past; he was beloved, and he will be missed sorely.

As I write this, I have just heard of the passing of Jim Russell, who not only created an iconic store on Magazine Street; he mentored a lot of so-called “music freaks” (artist/writer Bunny Matthews being one of them) on local music and on the music biz.

Our challenge is to keep the music heritage alive and to make sure that future generations are immersed in our culture; that they understand its importance; and that they can take our traditions to other levels to keep the music growing, changing and vibrant.

Finally, another music club is being threatened by neighbors who don’t like the “noise.” Buffa’s Bar on Esplanade Avenue is facing a challenge that may silence the bar’s music. Sidney Torres IV, Buffa’s neighbor for several years, is suing to stop the music at the bar. Regular readers of OffBeat will know that we find this claim utterly without merit: Buffa’s has presented music on an ongoing basis for years before Torres bought the house next door.

Why do people buy houses next to bars and then complain about the bar doing the business it set out to do? Torres’ house is one the market; he’s apparently having a difficult time selling it, and he’s blamed it on the music from Buffa’s Back Room. Buffa’s owners are having to defend themselves against this suit on July 31. We’ll keep you posted.

 

The Louis Armstrong Effect

Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans, but he didn’t stay in the city. This weekend is our annual Satchmo SummerFest, the festival that pays tribute to one of the musicians New Orleans claims as a “native son”: Louis Armstrong.

Armstrong was born in a very poor section of New Orleans into relatively dire circumstances on August 4, 1901; his father abandoned the family not long after he was born. His mother worked as a prostitute and left him largely in the care of his grandmother. He worked for the Karnofsky family as a kid; they encouraged his musical talent and even invited him to their home to share meals.

When Louis was only 12, he celebrated New Year’s Eve by firing a gun into the air (many still do this in New Orleans) and was arrested by police and placed in the “Colored Waif’s Home For Boys” where he was taught how to play cornet, and began to dream of being a musician. He was mentored by Joe “King” Oliver, a cornetist of local renown, and began to develop a reputation as a good player. But Armstrong still worked menial jobs to make ends meet, then married a girl when he was only 17—a marriage that was unhappy from the beginning. He also adopted his second cousin, a mentally disabled three-year-old, whom he cared for his entire life.

That same year, Armstrong ‘s chops were such that he replaced King Oliver in Kid Ory’s popular New Orleans band and made enough money to become a full-time musician. Eventually, Armstrong started playing summers on riverboats, playing with different bands, and in the process met other established jazz musicians. Ultimately, Armstrong left New Orleans for Chicago when he received an offer from King Oliver to join his band. From there he moved to New York, then back to Chicago, and never returned to New Orleans to live, although he loved the city and cited it as a musical influence for the rest of his life.

This is a story that could have been written about many black musicians, to this day.

I thought about Armstrong when I saw Jon Batiste and his Stay Human Band perform on Stephen Colbert’s show last night. I heard the New Orleans in his music and saw it in his interactions with Colbert (priceless!), and saw him mesmerize a New York audience and lead them into the street to party and second line.

When I started OffBeat almost 30 years ago, I did so because I didn’t quite understand why there were so many fantastic, world-class musicians, and so little appreciation for their artistry at home. OffBeat was going to market and promote local music to both locals and reinforce the idea of New Orleans as a “music town” to visitors. I was brought up in the suburbs, had two parents present in the household, and frankly, wasn’t physically immersed in the culture that created New Orleans music (although I definitely was musically).

When you look at Louis Armstrong’s story, it seems almost like it could have happened today. Armstrong was a talented black kid who grew up dirt-poor, had a gift that was recognized by mentors, and who went on to become one of—if not the most—influential jazz musician of all time.

This is an age-old story.

It’s rather easy for white people to have cavalier attitudes about life for black people in the South and in America as a whole. We cannot possibly comprehend what our brothers and sisters have gone through: what they have experienced—and sadly continue to experience–every day. The prejudice is real; it still exists; it’s propagated by stereotypes that still permeate our culture. What impact does this have on our musicians? Will they continue to stick it out and stay in a place where they’re disrespected and not treasured, just because of the color of their skin? Or will they ultimately leave this place and go somewhere where they are respected, similar to what happened to Louis Armstrong?

These thoughts were resurrected by the recent experience of trumpet player/educator Shamarr Allen, who was stopped by police last week, handcuffed and manhandled, for no reason at all, except for the fact that he is a young black man.

I’ve known Shamarr for several years and have nothing but admiration for him. He’s not only a great musician; he’s a responsible citizen and father. He takes his own time to educate kids from his neighborhood—the Ninth Ward, where he grew up—in music. “In my neighborhood, the only role models the kids see are drug dealers and criminals,” he said. “I want to a positive role model for these kids, to give them the chance to break out of the mold and do something positive.”

Allen puts himself out there, with no bones about it. His experience with a posse of State Police—who ostensibly say they were searching for an “escaped inmate” last week was horrific and totally uncalled for.

Think about how many times you may have had an interaction with the police. Were they polite? Respectful? Did they drag you out of your car and threaten you after handcuffing you? Did they throw you onto the ground while pointing a gun at you and putting a boot to hold your head down? Search your cell phones? Is this something that regularly happens to white people?

Even if these policemen suspected Allen of harboring or assisting the supposed escapee (which they told him was the reason for their actions), why was it necessary to abuse him? He had no weapon and cooperated with police.

The worst thing about this is that Allen has had several run-ins with police. He’s been followed, stopped; his gig money has been taken and not returned; he was stopped by police on his way to drive his son to school.

The guy doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. He’s a musician who makes a good living, takes care of his home, car and children (as well as others’ kids), teaches youngsters to give them a different and better outlook on life, and wants to serve as a role model in the community.

But he is a young black man, with long hair, who drives a nice car, and happens to frequent the Ninth Ward—because that’s where he grew up, and where his family still lives (the police who stopped him let him go—he had done nothing—but warned him not to go into the Ninth Ward again).

What’s wrong with this picture?

If you will take the time, I want to introduce you to Shamarr, and you decide after hearing his side of the story in this exclusive in-depth interview with OffBeat. Listen to what a young black person has to endure—not in the time of Louis Armstrong—but last week.

Take our poll on police actions here.

 

 

 

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An Outsider’s Perspective

Sometimes it’s so useful to see your universe from an outsider’s perspective.

An old friend sent me some pages from the New York Review of Books that reviewed Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street: A History and Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital.

I’ve started reading the latter, but stopped about 50 pages in because I think my Katrina PTSD kicked in and the whole horror seemed to be resurrected in flashbacks. It’s a hard read, at least for me, but it’s still on my list.

Nathaniel Rich, the author of the two reviews, casts an outsider’s eye on the phenomenon of Bourbon Street, colored by Campanella’s historical and cultural perspective. I don’t intend to do a recap of Rich’s review, but I would urge you to read both his piece, and Campanella’s book as well.

Buffa’s is in battle gear these days, defending itself against the Sidney Torres law suit. Their court date is coming up on July 31, a week from today. Ethan Ellestad, a coordinator for the Music and Culture Coalition wrote a good summary of why the city needs to step up and support local music, using the Buffa’s law suit as the context of his argument. It too, is worth a read, as it sums up the real issue we have in New Orleans when it comes to entertaining lawsuits related to noise issues.

This week’s poll: When is the last time you were on Bourbon Street?

 

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Everything Old Can Be New Again

One of the better things about getting to be, shall we say, “advanced in years,” is that when things go around they tend to come around again, usually in a different format: everything old can be new again.

It’s crazy that the pop stuff I was listening to in the late ‘70s and ‘80s whose sound was called rock back then is now called country: folks like Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles are now country acts. Weird.

I like the fact that new generations are discovering jazz and trad brass band music, old pop music, tweaking it, and making it into something new.

I do enjoy listening to the old stuff, but I also like discovering new music and it’s interesting how you discover it. YouTube is probably my favorite way of find new and interesting music. I found Scott Bradlee and the Postmodern Jukebox like that. He takes pop songs and imagines and arranges them in a totally unique way. Check out Lorde’s (overplayed and overhyped) song “Royals” performed by Puddles Pity Party, or Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” featuring Miche Braden, or George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” with Dave Koz. Cool stuff.

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Have you seen Live From Daryl’s House? Have you seen or heard Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers (heading to Tipitina’s in October) cover Hall & Oates or Boz Scaggs or even Kenny Rogers in their “Van Sessions”?

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So many great songs…not that I have anything against original music, for sure. But it’s pretty interesting to see what a younger generation can do with an old tune and lyrics. I always wondered why no one was doing this more.

I’m lucky to be in a business that’s always getting to be exposed to new music, new bands, new ways of doing things.

Look around and listen. When you stop anticipating the excitement of the new…then you are genuinely getting to be old.

Go out and listen to some live local music, and see what you can discover.

 

Speaking of “new”…how do you feel about the new wave of “e-cigarettes”? Do you partake?

Take our poll here.

 

 

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Buffa’s Sued Because of Music

Here we go again: Buffa’s Bar on Esplanade has been sued by Sidney Torres IV about the intolerable music that emanates from Buffa’s back room.

Buffa’s has presented music at the bar for at least 30 years, testified the owners of the building.

Here’s the situation, as simply as I can put it (see this article and this one for more details).

Buffa’s has had music for a very long time. When the city decided to crack down on unpermitted music venues a couple of years ago (remember the issues at Mimi’s in the Marigny, which also had to defend itself against a lawsuit from neighbors?), the bar owner, Chuck Rogers, wanted to do everything right, and so applied for a license for live music, and he received it.

Torres owns the house next door at 1011 Esplanade (purchased in 1999) and is trying to sell it. Apparently, it’s been on the market for several months, and Torres has claimed that two potential buyers refused to buy after hearing loud music emanating from Buffa’s.

So basically, Mr. Torres is annoyed that he cannot sell a house that he purchased 15 years ago that was then and still is a bar that has music.

Huh?

I just do not understand the mind-set of people who knowingly buy or rent a property in close proximity to a bar or music club, and then complain when the bar does the business it’s set out to do. It’s always interesting to read that the people who end up suing always say that they “love music.” I wonder where they think the music comes from?  Yes, they love the music, but they just don’t want it played next door. Then why in the hell do you buy a property that’s immediately next to a bar? I don’t get it.

Okay, then: New Orleans is known for its music, its street music, its music clubs and bars. Where, pray tell, should our musicians play? They get arrested if they play on the street. They lose their gig if some neighbor decides the music is not to their liking. How is this spate of lawsuits against music conducive to keeping New Orleans’ reputation as a music city?

I could understand if there was never music at that location, but Buffa’s has had music for a long time (so had Mimi’s).

Remember, that the people who can afford to hire bigwig attorneys to quiet the music have money, which most small businesses—the majority of bars and music clubs—do not.

So who’s going to win here?

The big guys with the dough—who should have known better than to buy a house next to a freakin’ bar? Or the music clubs who foster, nurture and give our musicians the opportunity to play and entertain the real music “lovers”?

 

Do you think it would be a good idea to put an end to these lawsuits? Take our poll

 

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What is Independence Anyway?

Independence Day is this Friday, and we’ll all be off celebrating with family and friends with barbecues, maybe some fireworks (please be careful), and some road trips for the long weekend.

Most of my family and friends don’t call it “Independence Day” any more: we know it as the Fourth of July, just as people in other countries recognize a certain date for their independence or liberation from some oppressive force or nation.

After last week’s Mojo Mouth described a fatal shooting on Frenchmen—within view of my window, had I been in the office at 1 a.m.—another horrific shooting took place on Sunday. The incident has been all over the local and nation news. There were nine people on Bourbon Street who were injured and one person has died during a random shooting between two knuckleheads who figured they would settle up whatever issues they had with each other by pulling their guns, shooting at each other, and then randomly shooting into the Bourbon crowd. The perps haven’t yet been identified, but the NOPD say the search is “going well” (whatever that means) and they’ve identified a 20-year-old white man named Justin Odom as a “person of interest.”

Ten people. At least nine of them were innocent bystanders. Most of them were tourists. The most current victim was a 21-year-old girl from Hammond. What a tragedy.

Of course, the New Orleans tourism spokespeople and the city are downplaying the incident—especially after the news went viral, national and international (a quick perusal when googling “Bourbon Street shooting” brings up Alabama.com, USAToday.com, LATimes.com, CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post and on and on). As well they should, all the while saying they are bound and determined to catch the two shooters who did this. As well they should.

The NOPD Chief of Police, Ronal Serpas, says that the city is going to pump in $300,000 of overtime to pay extra police to “be visible” during the upcoming holiday weekend. This weekend is going to have a crowd of what’s estimated to be about a half million attendees at the city’s annual Essence Fest. Mayor Landrieu has asked for support from the state police to bump up the numbers of law enforcement professionals in the city this weekend, and has also asked the state for additional staffing during the summer (reportedly, Governor Jindal, who apparently cares little about the saftey in New Orleans, is relatively cool about helping the city that is Louisiana’s biggest economic engine on an ongoing basis).

Any time there’s shooting in the Quarter, it makes international news. We’ve created a destination that’s famous for its wanton alcohol consumption and anything-goes attitude, and yet we’re surprised when idiots bearing firearms in that destination decide pop someone when they are pissed off,  get some alcohol in them, and then they actually hurt, maim and even kill people. All because it’s their second amendment right to carry a gun when and wherever they want to, blah blah blah.)

I mentioned “Independence” at the beginning of this blog. Independent means free,  right? How free are we mentally when we have to fear being shot, walking down a street when we’re relaxing and trying to party—not to mention when we’re walking down the street minding our own business? My stepdaughter, who grew up in Europe, had the opportunity to live in New Orleans, but chose not to because she felt that a lot of the liberty she felt in Europe–freedom of worry from crime and guns, not having to constantly be on the lookout for situations that could be dangerous–was not available here. Says a lot about the freedoms that we prize in this country.

Of course we need more police; but frankly, police are not going to have a major impact on morons carrying a deadly weapon who don’t have a clue (or don’t care) about the impact of firing a gun. If someone has a gun–even someone who doesn’t intend to use it, or who has it for “protection”–there’s more of an opportunity for a criminal to take his gun to use for his own purposes than there is for the guy who owns the gun to use it.

There’s something not right and not sensible about the false sense of security that carrying a gun purports to provide—even a law-abiding citizen. The public good is certainly not served by allowing guns in the French Quarter, or on Frenchmen Street either. The public good should trump the “right” to carry a gun in these locations.

Personally, I  think we’d all be a lot better off prohibiting guns in either location. I’ve almost arrived at the conclusion that it would be better to erect checkpoints at both areas and run people through metal detectors. We have to do it at airports to protect the public to make sure we’re not attacked by terrorists. The people carrying guns in an entertainment district are potential terrorists. We need to stop them, too. Yes, it’s annoying. But in a gun cuture such as what’s developed in this country, we need to be prepared to do this. Soon we’ll need metal detectors in malls. We already use them in school. This is what the attitude regarding the ownership and use of guns in this country has come to. Combine this attitude with glorification of violence, lack of parental oversight, and you have a pot that’s going to boil over.

If we won’t take a stand on stopping the proliferation of guns and gun-nuts in this country, then we should not make a big deal out of a shooting on Bourbon or on Frenchmen Street. You can’t have it both ways. It’s gonna continue to happen and it’s going to get a lot worse, not just here, but everywhere.

I know I’m whistling in the wind here, but it seems to me that if the city ever really took a stand on keeping firearms out of entertainment districts (it’s way too much to ask to ban guns in the city), our tourism prospects would be much improved in the long run. I’ll choose sex over violence any old time: Show Your Tits: YEAH…but leave your guns at home—or you just can’t get in to join the party.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio Needs a Documentary

Last night I watched a wonderful documentary, Muscle Shoals, highly recommended for anyone who was/is a fan of Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, the Allman Brothers, the Stones and on and on. That studio created a lot of hits.

It’s the story of Rick Hall and his famous FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and the fantastic music and the unique sound that emanated from that studio. It’s a first-class, high-quality music documentary and features people like Pickett, Keith Richards, members of the Swampers (FAME’s famous back-up band, which was immortalized in the Lynyrd Skynyrd tune “Sweet Home Alabama”), Stevie Winwood, Aretha and many more.

Viewing it made me wish for someone to do a documentary on Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio—especially in Cos’s lifetime.

One thing that struck me is that the music that came out of Muscle Shoals is stuff that’s really dear to me; it’s the music I grew up with. It was mentioned several times throughout the documentary that these hits came out of the South, at a time when black and white musicians didn’t play together. It was interesting to hear some of the black musicians comment on the fact that they thought the FAME band were black cats, and they were surprised to find that they were white guys—they all call themselves “country boys.”

Hall and the band talked about how there were absolutely no racial issues. They were musicians, and their music made them totally equal and free (major problems did come about when Jerry Wexler recorded there, but they had more to do with alcohol, drugs and male egos—go figure).

Making music together isn’t about race. It’s about communication on a level that goes way beyond words. How great is that?

At the same time Alabama governor George Wallace was proclaiming “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever,” some of the greatest musical collaborations in history were taking place in Muscle Shoals with both black and white musicians, whose only language was that of the music they were making together.

It made me think about what a great equalizer music is: it makes no difference what color your skin is—if you’re in the groove, you’re in the groove. How many times have you been to a festival, parade or music club and seen people of all ages, sexes, races and “musical orientations” united in their love for a tune?

There are white rappers and soul singers, black opera singers and country artists, Asian funksters, Filipino pop singers. Music is one of the things that make us most human. And music certainly is the language of New Orleans.