neworleans: July 2008 Archives
Well, the eighth annual Deer Isle Jazz Festival, on a tiny island in Down East Maine, was an unqualified success -- a presentation of the beauty and intensity of New Orleans music within a larger context of its social and political implications. The festival itself has been a labor of love for me, as volunteer producer since its start. This year, it blended with my commitment to and passion for New Orleans -- a city I adore, am concerned about, and miss right now, as I sit and write in Brooklyn.
Upon arriving on the island, I headed to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, where saxophonist and Congo Nation Big Chief Donald Harrison is serving through this week as musician-in-residence. Haystack is a gorgeous waterfront compound of cabins and artist studios, where painters, potters, glassblowers, metalsmiths, and all sorts of craftspeople gather for intense workshops. Harrison's Mardi Gras day suit from this year's Mardi Gras, resplendent with ostrich and turkey feathers dyed golden yellow, leopard-print fur and an intricate beaded portrait of his father Donald Sr., a late Big Chief, was on display in Haystack's exhibition space. At 4pm each after of his residency, Harrison gives hourlong sessions that take a variety of forms. The first day, I was told, he ran through somewhat of a history of American jazz as distilled through his saxophone. On the day I attended, he sat a dozen of us in a circle, each armed with a homemade percussion instrument (tin cans, ersatz wooden frame drums, PVC tubing...) and ran through a variety of rhythms -- African, Brazilian, Cuban, and others. At one point, he broke down the components of the trap-drum rhythm of James Brown tune, assigning snare and bass-drum and hi-hat parts to groups of two or three each. (I thought I nailed the snare beat.) Meanwhile, Harrison was lured into a ceramics workshop during his off time, throwing clay to create what he calls "my wobbly bowl series."
On Thursday night at the Stonington Opera House -- the circa-1912 former vaudeville theater that sits atop a hill overlooking a working waterfront and is the festival's main venue -- we screened Royce Osborn's wonderful documentary, "All on Mardi Gras Day." This was the first chapter in a weekend-long immersion in New Orleans' black culture.