Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Welcome to the Gumbo Shop

Each day in this New Orleans Jazz Course feels like a lifetime. Yesterday was playing some New Orleans-style music (formerly called Dixieland), followed by half the group Lindy Hopping to the other half playing Jumpin’ at the Woodside. In-between, a discussion about the term “Dixieland,” taken from Stephen Foster’s nostalgic song about wishing he was back in the land of cotton, where old times were not forgotten. This was yet more propaganda for White Supremacy, yearning for the “good old days” when the blacks were happily picking cotton in the fields while the whites sipped mint juleps on the porch of their lovely plantation house. After the Civil War, the South was infuriated that their genteel way of life was broken and still are angry about it to this day. It goes without saying that black folks were never happy and that that "gentility" was based on brutality. So when white mainstream named the New Orleans-style music (now called Trad Jazz) “Dixieland,” it was another case of one group feeling the power and privilege to define another in their own terms. Now the move to correct that. 

After the morning class, we all headed down to the French Quarter to hear a Preservation Hall concert just for us and wasn’t that fine? Yes, it was. The rains had stopped, the heat and humidity was kicking it, now we were getting the real New Orleans summer (though still overcast and a slight breeze). Post-concert, we walked to Louis Armstrong Park, stood for a reverent moment in Congo Square, stopped at the statue of Tootie Montana and learned a bit about Mardi Gras Indians and then sat under the stature of Louis Armstrong while I told the story of his life. Well, wasn’t that special? Yes, it was. 

Then the 45 of us were free to go off on our own and I ended up playing pool in a bar with about 20 others (one of the better games I’ve ever played!). On to The Gumbo Shop for dinner and one of the best waiters I’ve ever experienced, who gave us a fast, rhythmic patter going over the menu, always ending with the phrase “Welcome to the Gumbo Shop!” We had the traditional red beans and rice, gumbo, crawfish, blackened red fish and more and every time he came in to check on us, he ended with “Welcome to the Gumbo Shop.”

Gumbo has long been a perfect metaphor for the mix of cultures that created jazz, all the way down to the burnt roux that is its base with its musical counterpart of the blues. 

Tomorrow we resume the first of the last four days (starting to feel some sadness at the impending farewell) and I think I’ll start with: 

“Welcome back to the Gumbo Shop.”

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