March 2007 Archives
Anyone in New Orleans will offer stern correction should you refer to Katrina as a "natural disaster."
And anyone involved in the city's culture will point out the many unnatural barriers that have popped up in Katrina's wake.
You'd think that New Orleans would welcome back the communities and establishments that anchor its culture. But the message implicit in the post-Katrina skirmishes club owners, Mardi Gras Indians, and parade organizers have experienced with city officials is: "We don't want you back" -- or at the very least: "We're not going to make it easy."
Darryl Montana, son and successor of Big Chief Allison Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas "Hunters" Mardi Gras Indian Tribe, told me that he was pleased with the restraint shown by police at the recent St. Joseph's night gathering. He'd sent a letter to his councilman and to the police chief hoping to ease the tensions that have flared for the past few years. (And just in case, ACLU-sponsored "observers" were on hand, taking notes). But that positive note is drowned out by these sour ones:
If you were bold enough to brave the pelting ice and hail in Manhattan last weekend, Greenwich Village was alive with Latin jazz. You needed only face the elements for a few blocks. Over at Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Avenue South was conga master and flugelhorn player Jerry Gonzalez and his Fort Apache band. The 1989 Gonzalez album, "Rumba Para Monk" (Sunnyside) reinforced two truths: Iconic jazz tunes (in this case, Thelonious Monk's) blend well with Afro Cuban rhythms; and New York musicians of Puerto Rican descent helped shape Latin jazz's sound. Mr. Gonzalez, who alternately plays congas and trumpet, projects equal parts rhythmic fire and somber lyricism. His Fort Apache band includes his brother Andy, the best Latin bassist since octogenarian Israel "Cachao" López.
Gonzalez, who moved to Madrid a few years ago, sounds energetic and inventive as ever, still conjuring up the most earthy mystery on his drums, still channeling the mute-into microphone horn sound of late-Miles without mimicry, still honinig in on the Afro-Caribbean heart beating beneath tunes such as Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing."
At Sweet Rhythm, Gonzalez didn't have his "A" band -- pianist Larry Willis was replaced by Zaccai Curtis, Andy Gonzalez by bassist Junior Terry, and drummer Steve Berrios by Victor Jones; all were more than able substitutions, so it hardly mattered that the lineup had changed, the room was mostly empty, or the weather abysmal, so hot was Gonzalez's fury and so deep his focus.
In writing some program notes for a March 19th Merkin Hall performance by pianist-composer Vijay Iyer (duets with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, tabla player Suphala, and pianist Amina Claudine Myers), I clicked onto Iyer's website, which led me to an essay he'd written for www.allaboutjazz.com.
The allaboutjazz site is notoriously uneven, regularly blending real criticism and news with posts by paid publicists (they really ought to distinguish one from the other, don't you think?) but, as for Iyer, his writing is as consistently honest, rhythmic, and deep as his music. And though this piece gets a bit misty-eyed toward the end, it's full of thoughtful and personal considerations of some stuff that's been on my mind for a long time (some excerpts follow, but try reading it in full):
...most of us on the jazz 'scene' actually inhabit multiple scenes, with varying relationships to what is called jazz....
I just got the following email from Terri Castillo-Chapin, widow of the musician and composer Thomas Chapin, marking what would have been his 50th birthday today. In the near-decade since leukemia claimed Chapin, many great musicians have passed on. But Terri's email informs of a new website and a charitable fund, and it reminded me of how especially hard Chapin's passing hit me (some of which I related in the following 1998 piece for Jazziz magazine):
Remembering Thomas Chapin
Musician Marty Ehrlich recalls a note that Jackie McLean once sent to Thomas Chapin. "You're the best student I've ever learned from," it said. In his life and career, Chapin had a way of turning things around -- in every context, and for the better. He seemed less interested in assumed roles, more in pure and open communication.
That just barely touches on the many and varied ways in which the jazz world will miss Chapin, who died on February 12th after a long bout with leukemia at age 40.
That's how locals answer their cellphones in New Orleans.
And it's sort of what one of my dear readers was asking when she caught me doing everything but posting:
did you: -slip on leftover mardi gras beads and are now in traction -get kidnapped by rogue voodoo ghosts -oversleep ?
Well, Mardi Gras beads and ghosts of some sort did sort of grab me and, yes, I spent too much time sleeping.
But I've had some lucid waking moments, including:
• time spent at the recent Congressional Field Hearing in New Orleans on the housing crisis, chaired by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.), at Dillard University. It was marvelous theater, a good example of democracy in action, and will matter only if the draft legislation now working its way through both houses of Congress amounts to something. (For a good account, and audioclips of the hearings, look here.)
• a chance to sit in on a meeting on the ten-member committee setting goals for a nascent "New Orleans Jazz Advocacy Task Force." Bethany Bultman (of the New Orleans Musicians Clinic), who hosted the meeting, was half-joking when she called the assemblage a "Traditional Jazz Anti-Defamation League." You'll here more on this group soon. And should you arrive at Louis Armstrong Airport soon and find a brass band playing when you land, along with flyers promoting the real-deal gigs, you'll have these folks to thank.