[jja-announce] New Orleans JazzFest
Lblu at aol.com
Lblu at aol.com
Wed Apr 25 15:20:14 EDT 2007
Dear friends and colleagues:
I wonder which of you folks are heading down to NOLA...
I've been here since Feb., working on this Katrina Media Fellowship for the
Open Society Institute. Anyway, I just wanted to offer a welcome to those who
are, and to invite you to get in touch if you'd like to connect or if I can
direct you to the nearest red beans-n-rice. I'm living on Dauphine, a stone's
throw from Snug Harbor club. My cell is 646 469 0935.
Below is my piece in this week's Village Voice, which may be of interest.
THE VILLAGE VOICE
Not Wash Away
The fight for New Orleans' culture continues, one parade at a time
by Larry Blumenfeld
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival kicks off this weekend—good news
from a city wracked by too much bad. Last year, the mounting of the event at its
customary Mid-City Fair Grounds site was an inspiring triumph against odds.
"Now, in a way, it's even harder," says festival producer Quint Davis, who has
upped the ante for this year's event, packing its six days denser than last
year, with stars ranging from Rod Stewart and Van Morrison to Gregg Stafford's
Young Tuxedo Brass Band. "The euphoria of destruction has passed," he continues.
"We're in the reality of the long-term recovery. None of this is going to get
someone their check from the 'Road Home' program. None will rebuild their
house or get their insurance straight. But it will do something important beyond
Anyone in New Orleans will offer stern correction should you refer to Katrina
as a natural disaster: Plenty of unnatural barriers and failures, a great
many bureaucratic, are to blame beyond Mother Nature. And anyone involved in the
city's culture will point out that new barriers, similarly unnatural, impede
the city's ability to rebuild artistically as well as physically. You'd think
that New Orleans would welcome back the communities and establishments that
anchor its storied 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."
Just three days before members of the Nine Times Social Aid & Pleasure Club
dance their way through the Jazz & Heritage Festival Fair Grounds—
second-lining with the Mahogany Brass Band—they'll be represented in federal court,
fighting to protect the century-old tradition from threats to its future.
On April 25, a federal judge will hear arguments on behalf of a consortium of
Social Aid & Pleasure clubs, aided by the ACLU, in a lawsuit protesting the
city's hiking of police security fees—in some cases, triple or more from
pre-Katrina rates—for second-line parades, the regular Sunday events, held September
through May, at which members snake through neighborhoods, dancing to brass
bands. The suit invokes the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and
expression, claiming that parade permit schemes "effectively tax" such expression.
"Should the law not be enjoined," reads the complaint filed in Social Aid &
Pleasure Club Task Force v. City of New Orleans, "there is very little doubt
that plaintiff's cultural tradition will cease to exist."
"It's a solid, core ACLU issue," says staff attorney Katie Schwartzmann. "We
handle freedom of speech cases all the time. But this one is different in that
the speech at issue signifies this city and an entire cultural tradition. At
some point, I mean, the power to tax is the power to eliminate, right? At some
point, if the government can put enough fees and enough obstacles in the way
of somebody exercising their First Amendment right, then they're ultimately
going to eliminate it."
Second-line parades derive from funeral rituals, transforming mourners into
celebrants; the term "second-line" refers not just to up-tempo rhythms
signifying spiritual rebirth, but also to the tight-knit communities who follow the
musicians, dancing and clapping along. Yet now the very tradition itself appears
endangered. For all the ink spilled about post-Katrina New Orleans,
surprisingly little has been written about the cultural costs of this ongoing tragedy—
what it means for centuries-old rituals and for jazz tradition in general, and
what it says about how Americans value our homegrown arts, if we value them at
Erosion of our coastal wetlands may have paved the way for the natural
disaster that hammered this city. But the least- mentioned aspect of the resulting
devastation—the erosion of what ethnographer Michael P. Smith once called
"America's cultural wetlands"—is of tantamount concern. The resilient
African-American cultural traditions of New Orleans, famously seminal to everything from
jazz to rock to funk to Southern rap, also contain seeds of protest and
solidarity that guard against storm surges of a man-made variety. Erasure of these
wetlands exposes many to the types of ill winds that shatter souls.
The brass band–led second-line tradition is particularly and somewhat
curiously caught in the crosshairs of violence and controversy now fixed on New
Orleans. The wave of homicides that swept through New Orleans in late December and
early January claimed among its victims Dinerral Shavers, the 25-year-old
snare drummer of the Hot 8 Brass Band and a teacher who had established Rabouin
High School's first-ever marching band. Hundreds gathered at the gate to Louis
Armstrong Park earlier this year for an all-star second-line, yet not a note
was played nor a step danced for two miles. The silence— unthinkable throughout
the hundred-plus- year history of this raucous tradition—was a carefully
thought-through statement. It addressed the violence afflicting the city, the
desperately slow process of post-Katrina recovery, and the enabling power of jazz
culture for disenfranchised (in many cases, still displaced) communi ties. Two
miles into that procession, not far from where M.L. King Boulevard meets South
Liberty Street—the statement having been made—the men of the Nine Times club
(in lime-green suits and royal-blue fedoras) and the Prince of Wales club (in
red suits and mustard-colored hats and gloves) started jumping and sliding to
the irrepressible sounds of the Hot 8 and Rebirth Brass Bands. Such scenes
underscore what's now at stake, both in and out of court.
But violence has also erupted more than once in the wake of second-line
gatherings, albeit in contexts unconnected to the parades. As a result, the city
raised permit fees for such gatherings, which, in turn, prompted the ACLU to
file suit on behalf of 17 sponsoring clubs. As Times-Picayune reporter Katy
Reckdahl noted in a recent piece, this policy "in essence amounts to a tax for
crimes the Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs don't commit and can't control." Similarly,
Mardi Gras Indian tribes have found increased resistance to their assemblies,
and heightened tensions with police and city administration since Hurricane
Katrina. Meanwhile, several club owners have found themselves fighting the city
and various neighborhood organizations, as rarely cited ordinances to limit
live music have been employed to effectively shut down venues in areas now
coveted for residential development. A recent report on the website
neworleanscitybusiness.com detailed the uphill battle North Rampart Street jazz club King
Bolden's is fighting to renew its licenses, due to staunch opposition from
neighborhood organizations. Consider this passage: "Carol Greve, president of the
French Quarter Citizens for the Preservation of Residential Quality, said her
group wants art galleries along Rampart as opposed to jazz clubs. She also said
she is not convinced that Rampart Street ever played a historic role in the
rise of New Orleans music and so there is no reason to restore it as a musical
Perhaps Greve has never walked across the street to Louis Armstrong Park,
which commemorates Congo Square, the point of origin for the rhythms underscoring
all the city's jazz. There are forces at work in New Orleans that wish to
stop the forward flow of culture—whether by taxing its future or erasing its
It's no accident that when Marigny District residents met to plan what turned
into a 5,000-strong January 11 march protesting violent crime and a lack of
police protection, they gathered at the Sound Café, a coffeehouse that hosts
weekly performances by brass-band musicians; participants took turns voicing
their ideas by passing around a feather-laden Bayou Steppers Social Aid &
Pleasure Club fan, which they used as their "talking stick." When the march reached
City Hall, trombonist Glen David Andrews addressed the crowd: "We are young
black men of New Orleans preaching culture." A spontaneous chant sprang up:
"Music in the schools."
Silence Is Violence, an anti-violence campaign, sprang up from those earlier
meetings. And throughout New Orleans, a constellation of grassroots nonprofit
groups are the ones doing the hard work of maintaining culture, which these
days means dealing with issues of housing, bureaucracy, economics, and crime:
These include Sweet Home New Orleans, the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, the New
Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund, the Tipitina's Foundation, and the
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, among others.
A few weeks ago, Tamara Jackson, president of the Social Aid & Pleasure Club
Task Force, stood in front of a statue of Henry Clay, the statesman known as
the "Great Compromiser," to announce the brand-new compromise: "The Original
Pigeontown Steppers will be parading this Easter. We're here to proclaim that we
are reclaiming the city streets. We're going forth."
The club's annual Easter Sunday parade had been in doubt, owing to the city's
prohibitive permit fee of $7,560 (a price inflated yet further due to the
holiday). A crowd gathered at the federal courthouse for an evidentiary hearing,
but the city had backed down late the night before, and offered to cut the fee
by two-thirds. When deputy city attorney Joe DiRosa left the courthouse, I
asked him how the fee could be so easily recalculated, and whether it had been
unfairly hiked in the first place.
"Why would we do that?" he shot back. Three days later, after a brief rain
subsided and clouds parted for a spot of sun, the Original Pigeontown Steppers
proudly made their way out of Stanley U's Lounge in suits, fedoras, and sashes
of powder blue offset by pale yellow. As he rolled his wheelchair, Joe Henry,
the club's president, offered an answer to DiRosa's rhetoric: "They're trying
to keep us down, no doubt. But we had to come out and parade, just had to.
People count on it. They need it now more than ever."
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