About that Jazz…

Ordinary sounds can be music. I noticed that in the beginning of this trip. Traveling, and open for new experience, I was struck by the peculiar squeal of a hinge at a rest stop, a cracked church bell, a train whistle, highway rumble strips, high heels on a sidewalk, gulls above waves, all sounds in the now of things.

John Cage once did a piano piece in three movements, consisting of opening the keyboard lid, waiting for a spell, closing it, repeating this twice again, as the audience waited, expected, fidgeted, some getting up to shuffle past other’s toes, the sounds of their car doors, engines starting up and fading away. I thought of him a lot, as my sense of out-of-the-ordinary music grew. A long, blue sax note on a boulevard meridian in Washington DC utterly carried me away, to the point where I retraced my steps with the light changing to put a buck in the player’s bucket. At that point, we didn’t even know we’d be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but my ears were getting ready.

So here we are, where a short walk will carry the ears from one sound taste to another; foot-stirring percussion overlapping a plaintive violin in a doorway, steel drums mixing with bicycle bells, creating no discord, but a feeling of seamless life, lived in a seamless now.

Didgeridoo player in the French Market

As we strolled through the open-air French Market, past fresh Southern produce, Cajun spice stalls and vendors of every sort of Fleur de Lys, a didgeridoo rumbled and buzzed it primal sound, bouncing off the rafters and reverberating against our ribs: it player clicking a stick against another strapped to his knee, some pod-rattles strapped to his dancing ankle. One of the best didge players we’d ever heard.

The Time Machine, there's a percussionist in there, See him?

Later, he’d found two fantastic buskers at the other end of the market, one in a ‘time machine’: their combined sound and visuals a gift to the street.

It’s very hard to hang on to dollar bills here, as there are so many deserving instrument cases, buckets, or hats. Rather than paying for one large concert, we happily pay small installments on an ongoing musical feast.

Strolling after dark in NOLA, we were lured down a side street by a soaring, magnificent clarinet.  I told the man he reminded me of Al Gallodoro, who’d played the intro of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in the Gershwin biography movie. He nodded, said that he’d played in NY too, but it wasn’t friendly like N’Awlins. After I’d put some money in his case, it started to rain and we said we had to catch a shuttle.

He said, “I’ll play you something as you go.”

From behind us we heard a lilting, ‘Raindrops are Falling on My Head’. Nice. Friendly. We skipped and danced on our way.

Kermit Ruffins

The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra at Jazz National Park, Kermit Ruffins at the Blue Nile, and Kermit, John Boutté, and Little Freddy King at the Music Factory for its 20th Anniversary all there for the listening.

John Boutté

Little Freddy King

As a linear creation in time, a melody is a path: maybe overgrown (inviting historical exploration/restoration), or a wide, well-worn highway one hardly notices in its daily use. Whatever the line and direction, that special music called jazz moves more by inspiration than destination, stopping to linger, perhaps to obsess, on one feature, one tree, or stone, or pain expressed / transformed / transcended, sometimes straggling off the path entirely in remembrance of other paths, then resuming with a laugh as if to say ‘You thought we were lost, didn’t you?’

Jazz is NOW, and if you listen in that now, without expectations of the path or any map, you will hear the very brain cells blooming like fireworks in the musician’s mind, sparkling through his fingers, his breath, into his instrument, and you will transcend all the separateness of our humanity. This is the deep, transcendent gift of New Orleans.


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One Comment on “About that Jazz…”

  1. Fritz Says:

    Hey Bruce and Lena! This is Fritz from Cafe Des Ami. I was hoping to see some shots of early morning dance off.

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