Leroy Jones blows good horn at the Pizza Express Soho.

Missing My Red Beans and Rice

Today I had red beans and rice for lunch. They tasted so, so good. I know that’s not a typical Wednesday lunch, but I needed dem beans, and here’s why.

Joseph and I just returned from visiting family in England: London and the Kent countryside. We also took a side trip to visit an OffBeat subscriber/friend in Parma, Italy. The food in London was fine—there’s such a huge choice. The food in Kent was okay. The meals in Italy were fantastic. But I missed my red beans and rice.

I missed my home town. I really did. But I did have a taste of home while I was abroad–in both countries, in the form of New Orleans music.

London is huge, so interesting, full of history and museums and fun. We managed to see Leroy Jones and his band at—of all places—Pizza Express. The restaurant, ubiquitous all over London, Britain and the world, really—has a jazz club in the basement of its Soho location, as well as other locations. Leroy, his wife Katja (who is the band’s trombonist) and a trio of local musicians on drums, bass and guitar, played to a packed house for five nights in the Soho club. It’s really gratifying to see a New Orleans musician play in Europe, because when you do, you understand the reverence that the outside world holds for New Orleans music and musicians. The audience was literally rapt in its attention to the band. Worshipful even. While the band played mostly trad jazz standards, the audience wasn’t a bunch of old codgers. Far from it. All kinds of people—I’d say mostly between 30 and 45—were in the audience. It’s very inspiring to see, and always makes me crazy, wondering why we are not marketing New Orleans specifically as a “music city” to Europeans and travelers from Asia. I just don’t understand it.

Why is the Jazz Fest successful worldwide? Clearly: New Orleans and Louisiana musicians and bands. Trust me, it’s not John Legend, Elton John or The Who. Those are for the local and regional draw to bump up ticket sales. But why is the Jazz Fest the only time of the year when New Orleans can draw so many music lovers from outside the US? This can and should happen more, and international visitors would skyrocket if we would just promote New Orleans to foreigners as a music city. Simple.

Leeds Village in Kent, where our family lives, is so small that a grocery store or pharmacy is almost a 20-minute drive away. The countryside is gorgeous and very quiet (a little too quiet). But Italy was another story entirely. We flew to Bologna, where the first restaurant where we dined was Sergei’s. Our hosts, subscribers Robert Ingram and Ludo Carrara-Verdi, took us to the place because the food there was so good and representative of Emilia-Romagna. And yes, it definitely lived up to its reputation. But what was most interesting about the restaurant is that the owner (unbeknownst to Robert and Ludo) is that the owner is a guitarist who used to play regularly with our own Andy J. Forest in Italy. Small world. But it always is, once we let people know we publish a New Orleans music magazine. And ironically, the band playing in the town square finished off every set with a rendition of…”When The Saints Go Marching In.”

New Orleans music…it’s everywhere. People are crazy for our music. I’m listening to a band playing at Vaso right now from my office overlooking Frenchmen Street. But it’s not just in the clubs and streets of New Orleans. People outside the US are starved for our music. Starved. We can export our music, and we do. But why can’t we use our music to bring more people to New Orleans, and the state itself? Not just during Jazz Fest, but all year long? I’m not talking about the people from Podunk who want to party themselves sick. I’m talking about visitors with money, knowledge and time to not only support local music, but the hotels, restaurants and other New Orleans attractions…hell, swamp tours, haunted history tours. Whatever. Music is the key to getting people to the city who will appreciate its cultural depth and community spirit. What can we do to make this happen all the time? Market New Orleans and Louisiana as a music state (what other state does this? No one, that’s who…). We need to make music more available in the city, and get rid of some of the crazy regressive moratoriums on live music clubs in the French Quarter. We need a world-class music museum. Music is the heartbeat of New Orleans. But we need to nurture it from the inside first.

Maybe we need a Pizza Express in New Orleans…at least they definitely appreciate the music.

  • dcr

    Great points, well written. Ironically, in 3 weeks I’m doing exactly what you describe in your closing question. I’ve been to three Jazz Fest’s, absolute great times…and I’m returning in a few weeks just to soak in the music and culture during a relaxed time with no fests or big events. Perfect! Can’t wait, thanks for the warm welcome all year round…