Saturday, April 14, 2018

Weathering the Weather

                  Whether the weather be cold or whether the weather be hot.
                  We’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.

It’s raining in New Orleans. And I mean raining!  Not Katrina levels, for sure, but a serious drenching complete with thunder and lightning. The weather-savvy folks here cancelled the French Quarter Fest concerts today knowing that with these outdoor stages, it just wasn’t going to happen. And they were right. But sad to think that all those artists preparing for this simply aren’t going to play. And disappointing for me as three of the groups were ones I had a special interest in seeing. But hey, we’re still not in charge of Mother Nature and the best we can hope for is the ability to “weather the weather, whether we like it or not.”

Luckily, got to see two fine groups yesterday, the Ellis Marsalis Quintet and John Boutté. The former still playing some solid jazz piano at 84 years old, but with nothing approaching the level and sophistication of his two young horn players. Really quite extraordinary players who I had never heard of—Ashlin Parker on trumpet and Derek Douget on tenor sax.  After the three chords of the various Cajun/ Zydeco/ Blues groups and the simple riffs of the brass bands, this level of sophistication, technique, complexity, imagination and artistry was a breath of fresh air.
That’s precisely what I love about jazz. On the spectrum from raw soul to complex intellect, jazz has it all. Mostly never left the earthy soil and soul of drums and dance and rhythm while soaring into the upper stratospheres of complex harmonies and soaring melodies. It’s the meeting point of the simple forms and close-to-the-earth feel of folk music (blues), the urbane, witty and sweet sounds of the popular song (jazz standards) and the high-level technique, theory and complexity of classical music (the jazz composition). And it was native son Louis Armstrong who first wove those folk/pop/ classical qualities together in his artistic trumpet solos, joyful singing and New Orleans brass band feel.

John Boutté was another treat, a handsome, energetic man in his 50’s singing a New Orleans medley with great joy and spirit. And then his niece coming out and singing a jazz ballad that hushed the outdoor crowd and brought all the threads together on a warm, sunny day in the shade reflecting on the song’s title If I Had My Life to Live Over. Beautiful.

From there, I went to visit NOCCA, the high school of the performing arts and sat in (as an observer) on three different levels of jazz bands performing for each other with critiques (and affirmations) from their teachers. I was somewhat glad to realize that much of the critiques where similar to what I always need to remind my 8th graders about just before the Spring Concert. “Look happier! More joyful! More committed! Use your body and your face and your gesture to draw us in! Take bold risks in your solos!” I then had the good fortune to work with one of the groups and instead of just telling them those things, we improvised conversations with partners using the first sounds of our names and imagining different dramatic settings: Shouting after a car accident. A gossip session. A parent telling the child to clean the room. A boring teacher telling the history of jazz and a student trying to stay awake. A press conference with the President. And so on.

Now the kids came alive! Shouting and whispering and using the full expressive range of their body and voice. Then I had them get their instruments and have the same conversations with notes—any notes—not words. The results were impressive! What a treat for me. And hopefully useful to them.

Earlier in the day, my wife and I took the 5-minute ferry to Algiers and found the house her grandfather grew up in. Amazing! Met the current owner and had a good conversation about the house’s history. Built in 1850 (!) and was only one of six houses that survived a devastating fire in the 1890’s. Photos were taken and a short stroll through this quiet neighborhood in plain view of downtown New Orleans and in earshot of the music festival.

The evening was topped off by a perfect dinner with our most gracious hosts, Kaya and Khari, at a lovely quiet restaurant with excellent food (ticked off crawfish and even ate a fried oyster). Great conversation, an amiable waitress, a perfect end to a most perfect day.

And now it’s raining. Hard. No let up in sight.

But I’m weathering the weather with this writing, some reading, catch up on e-mails and even started to write the introduction to one of the books I want to write this Fall and it felt good.
Almost time for lunch.

Have I mentioned that it’s raining?

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