When’s the last time you visited St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square?
When I was a kid, we’d visit when we came to New Orleans, and I especially liked going to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. St. Louis Cathedral is really gorgeous, beautifully maintained, old-world. I realized how much I’ve missed going there.
Last night was the final Cathedral Concert performed as part of the month-long “Christmas New Orleans Style” celebration. Joseph dropped me off at the corner of Chartres and St. Louis so I could announce the concert—part of my duties as a board member of French Quarter Festivals, Inc., who is the producer of the event. When I stepped out of the car, I saw a young man carrying a baby look at me intensely as he walked towards the Cathedral. I thought to myself, “Oops, here’s a musician I should know (but don’t)…”. Just then the man stopped in front of me and said,“You’re ‘Miss OffBeat,’ right?” I said yes. He introduced himself, his wife and his two children, who were hurrying to make the Cathedral Concert that started at 6 p.m. “I read your column and the Weekly Beat every week,” he said. He and his wife were from out of town. “We come to New Orleans as often as we can,” he said, “and we love Christmas and Jazz Fest. But we really enjoy coming to New Orleans when there’s really nothing going on. It’s even more enjoyable and not so crowded. We love it.”
We hurried into the Cathedral, about 5:45 p.m. I was really amazed that the entire Cathedral was totally full and waiting for the concert to begin. I sat next to a lady from Sacramento, California, who also told me she loved New Orleans and that she and her family always came for Christmas, as well as a young man from Arlington, TX who introduced himself and his family. “My wife gave me a subscription to OffBeat as a gift, and I can’t tell you how much I love the magazine,” he said.
As the final few minutes passed before I announced the musicians—Irvin Mayfield, accompanied by his friend and president of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Ronald Markham—the Cathedral was literally standing-room-only. There were people standing all around the periphery of the pews, and even sitting on the floors.
When I asked the audience who was local and who was from out of town, the proportion was about 50-50, which sort of surprised me, since I thought most attendees would be from outside the city.
Mayfield, well-known as a jazz trumpeter, showed his considerably chops with interesting arrangements renditions of Christmas songs: “The Christmas Song,” “O Holy Night,” ” Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Silent Night” and many more. But the big surprise was Markham (who has told me many times that he doesn’t consider himself a pianist). I’d have to disagree. This guy was really a perfect foil and accompanist for Mayfield’s trumpet pyrotechnics. These two guys have known each other since childhood, and not only they are in business together, but obviously have a musical connection that complement each other like coffee and cream. The concert was, in a word, excellent. What made it even more emotional and compelling is to see these two perform in a venue like the Cathedral, that was full of appreciative fans. The last time I’ve seen something similar was in Norway, when we heard the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play to a cathedral full of adoring traditional jazz lovers.
My point is that sometimes locals need to put themselves in the place of people who literally pay money to come to their cultural mecca: New Orleans. Local folk are notorious for taking the music, culture, food and the beauty of our city for granted. We forget that we have something special that can’t be experienced anywhere else in the world. Now is the time to think how lucky you are to live in a place like New Orleans, and to experience the sensual beauty and pleasures of the city, and the peace of the season. Merry Christmas to you and yours.