Day 1 / Thursday, April 25

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Photo Apr 25, 8 37 25 PM

Here we go again! I can't tell you how much, from the day we arrived home in 2012 until this day, we had been looking forward to returning to New Orleans. From the continual research on airfare and hotels with the best rates compared to location, to reviewing restaurant menus and club schedules for evening activities, to the announcement of the artists that would be at Jazz Fest and impatiently awaiting the release of the cubes, to the research involved in selecting who and when (not to mention who would be appearing locally to make the choices easier), one could say we were obsessed with this year's trip. And it all worked out fantastically, except for one thing, which will become abundantly clear as these entries continue.   

I must admit that I have a countdown clock app for 2014. I got a late start on this, and I hope I finish the 2013 story before it hits 0:0:00:00 and the 2014 story begins! 

You can check out the complete photo record of this trip on the New Orleans 2013 page of the website, including separate pages with embedded videos from Vimeo, some good and some not so, but all from my cameras. This blog is for impressions and information that will add some depth to those pictures and videos. 

So on Day 1, Thursday, April 25, our wonderful neighbor Nina took us to Dulles Airport for our early afternoon nonstop flight to Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans on United Airlines. Our departure was delayed by an hour or so because the plane was late in arriving. Nonetheless the nonstop was much better than last year's Delta ordeals in Atlanta. The flight was perfect. We approached New Orleans along the Gulf Coast and over Lake Ponchartrain before turning south to do a big U-turn, then across the Mississippi River on our final approach to the airport. We could even recognize the Fair Grounds Race Course, site of Jazz Fest, as we flew along the lakefront.

In the airport we grabbed a snack at a convenient Smoothie King and then headed to the Airport Shuttle. The ride was not as entertaining or enlightening as last year, but, as returning veterans, we didn't need the commentary. Instead, we chatted with the other passengers on the bus. 

The shuttle delivered us to the Staybridge Suites at the corner of Poydras Street and Tchopitoulas Street. (I am not kidding. It is pronounced CHOP-a-TOO-lus; you learn to pronounce it pretty quickly.)  

The Staybridge hotel has an almost perfect location. It is in the city's Central Business District but in a spot where it is a short walk to Canal Street and the French Quarter in one direction and the Warehouse Arts District in the other. It's more than a couple of blocks away from the rowdiness of Bourbon Street so it is quiet. But because it is at the corner of two main streets, cabs are readily available. Its location has one other feature which we would discover tomorrow.

Our suite was very nice, with a separate bedroom and a full kitchen. They also offer a studio suite which we would probably use should we stay at this hotel again, because this was almost too much space considering the amount of time we spent there. They even have a laundry (free) on several floors, which is nice when you are on an extended stay (or get really muddy). The one thing we could never figure out, though, was the cleaning schedule. They do something called "light touch" on weekdays, which we think means make the bed, change the towels and take out the trash. Not sure about vacuuming. They do a "full service" cleaning after seven days, and we never did figure out what that meant. Then on Saturday and Sunday it's "light touch" by request only, and you have to ask by Friday afternoon, which we never remembered to do. So basically it was just like home!

We were festooned with beads by the friendly concierge and quickly settled in so we could head out into a perfect late afternoon, with a clear blue sky and warm temperatures.

Our first stop this afternoon was Armstrong Park in the Tremé section of town. To get there, we walked over to Canal Street, then meandered through the French Quarter, eventually walking up St. Peter Street, all the time admiring the architecture and soaking up the warmth and sunshine. After crossing Rampart Street, which serves as the dividing line between the French Quarter and Tremé, we were walking in historic Congo Square in Armstrong Park.

Congo Square is important in the African American history of New Orleans, and for that matter the entire nation, and the roots of New Orleans music are firmly planted there as well. If you have any kind of feeling for music, just being in this place causes it to stir.

The first two Jazz Fests were held here in 1970 and 1971, before the move to the Fair Grounds Race Course, where one of the three main stages is named Congo Square in its honor. Back then there were four outdoor stages (Blues, Cajun, Gospel, and Street), and performances were held in the Municipal Auditorium as well. Admission was $3.

So you might be wondering, who was in the cubes for the first Jazz Fest? Well, as you will see, there weren't really any cubes, but among the performers were Clifton Chenier, Snooks Eaglin, Roosevelt Sykes, the Meters, Mahalia Jackson (pictured above), Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, and Duke EllingtonAnd of course they had 20 food vendors!

The attraction for us at Armstrong Park on this day was the weekly Jazz in the Park concert and street fair sponsored by People United for Armstrong Park, a nonprofit organization that wants to make sure the newly revitalized park flourishes and reflects the culture and people of the surrounding Tremé neighborhood. The admission-free shows are presented in April and May and September and October. "We are trying to boost the Park as the hub of the surrounding neighborhood and nurturing it as an environment for the arts," says the organization’s co-founder, Benjamin Harwood.  

Among the organization’s goals is to see the Municipal Auditorium refurbished and used once again. Performers like Jackie Wilson, James Brown, and all the great jazz bands once played there, but it took a pretty big hit in the Federal flood after hurricane Katrina in 2005 and still needs a lot of work.

Today's show, on the stage set up in front of the Municipal Auditorium, featured the Shannon Powell All-Star Band and the irrepressible Glen David Andrews. 

Shannon Powell is one of the best drummers around, and he is such a fixture in the neighborhood that he is known as the King of Tremé. The All-Star Band consists of David Torkanowsky on keyboards, Roland Guerin on bass, and Roger Porter on sax. These guys play a straight-ahead brand of traditional New Orleans jazz-funk. Powell also leads a mainstream jazz quartet that includes Jason Marsalis, and he has a regular gig at Preservation Hall as a member of the Preservation Hall Stars.

Among the tunes we heard were Hugh Masakela's Grazing in the Grass, Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely, Professor Longhair's Mardi Gras, and New Orleans staples Li'l Liza Jane (Powell is on drums here) and Do Watcha Wanna. It was a wonderful way to settle back into the New Orleans groove. On a beautiful evening like this it did not take long. Here is Shannon Powell doing Bourbon Street Parade and Sweet Georgia Brown at a festival in Switzerland.

It didn't take long to get back into the food and beverage, either! During the intermission we found some Abita beer on draft and a crabcake with crawfish sauce and fettucini with crawfish and shrimp from the vendors in the park.  

Then Glen David Andrews took the stage. Glen David (pictured at the top of this page)is a member of the New Orleans Andrews family, a cousin of Troy (a.k.a. Trobone Shorty) and James Andrews in the current generation. He has not had an easy life, struggling with addiction and the law for years before going into rehab last year. Now, however, he is dedicated to his music, and he is as an important link between his generation and generations past. His enthusiasm and energy make the old tunes exciting for the all who listen. Where most of the contemporary New Orleans bands have embraced funk and contemporary R&B almost exclusively, GDA always includes a lot of the traditional tunes in his shows and has even recorded an album of gospel music.  

Tonight he shared the stage with two of Tremé's Big Chiefs ... Mardi Gras Indians, that is. One of them was Bo Dollis Jr. of the Wild Magnolias, the other Juan Pardo of the Golden Comanche. Their chants just went on and on and on, again a great way to reacclimate into the vibe. Other members of GDA's band are James Martin on sax, Craig Adams on keyboards, Barry Stephenson on bass, and Jermal Watson on drums. Here they are doing a medley of Rockstar, Lean on MeExpress YourselfProud Mary, and (of course) The Saints. And here he is doing the Professor's classic Mardi Gras.

We just kept looking at each other and smiling, very happy to be back.

But this evening was just beginning. After the Concert in the Park ended, we walked down St. Ann Street, stopping occasionally to look back at the beautiful lights of Armstrong Park in the twilight. We eventually passed Saint Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square and then continued on Decatur Street, passing Café du Monde and the French Market area. Did I mention that the weather was perfect?

By this time we were ready for an official dinner, and almost by luck we found the the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen at exactly the right time. This cozy restaurant near the French Market on Barracks Street has among other things an interesting selection of crispy thin-crust pizzas, of which we had the wild mushroom with red and yellow bell peppers and fresh basil. And Abita on tap. 

From the LPK we continued on to Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny (FO-berg mar-a-nay), a block or two out of the French Quarter but far from the tourist area. For several blocks Frenchmen is lined with funky music establishments, funky dive bars, funky ethnic restaurants, and other funky stuff. It's crowded, but mostly with people who want to be there as opposed to being directed there by a guidebook.  

Since we were a bit early, we walked around and took in some of the scene. There was a brass band playing at the intersection with Chartres Street, and we discovered the outdoor Frenchmen Art Market in an alley leading to a large courtyard, filled with art and contemporary crafts. Very cool. We saw the Spotted Cat, Snug Harbor, d.b.a., Three Muses, and on and on. This is a place where we could spend a lot of time!

We were on Frenchmen for a 9:30 show at the Blue Nile. The voucher said the doors opened at 8 p.m. Now remember that the only club we went to last year in our four-day stay was the House of Blues, which really doesn't compare to the hole-in-the-wall local establishments on Frenchmen Street in any way, and I don't mean that as a put-down to either. It just means that on this trip we had to learn about how the clock operates in New Orleans clubs, and that is however it happens to be feeling at the moment. That more than likely means later (much later) than any announced time. You learn to wait for things, but the payoff is that they are always worth the wait. We got in line at the Blue Nile around 8:15 and finally got into the club around 9, and the 9:30 show started around 10:15. We found this to be fairly typical.

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The Blue Nile is in an old (what else?) building, built in 1832, purportedly making it Frenchmen Street's oldest. It is a fairly large room, but if you are up front at the stage (as we made sure that we were) it feels very intimate, probably because the stage is only about a foot high. The interior is done in New Orleans-style celestial and spiritual, all blue, gold, and black, painted by hand. There is a huge mural of a drummer on one entire wall, and the solar system in a night sky is on the ceiling over the bar, with a border showing various types of marine life. The bar itself also is painted beautifully. The whole place makes you feel like you have stepped either back in time or into a different realm of being. That happens a lot down here.

First up was turntablist DJ Logic, who shared the stage with drummer Terence Higgins. Also known as Jason Kibler, DJ Logic grew up in the Bronx and learned to use the turntable at parties. After a short stint in a rock band, he began to collaborate with jazz musicians, including Medeski, Martin and Wood, and also got to know rock guitarist Vernon Reid of Living Colour (whose singer Corey Glover is a fixture in Galactic). His thoroughly original music can best be described as contemporary soul jazz or maybe acid jazz with a hip-hop feel.

Terence Higgins was born in New Orleans in 1970 and raised just across the river in Old Algiers. He was introduced to the drums at a very young age by his great grandfather, and he has been playing ever since. Specializing in New Orleans grooves and keeping in touch with the Crescent City's second line tradition and early New Orleans funk and R&B, he draws his influences from the legends of New Orleans drumming, including ... Shannon Powell. He is best known as the drummer for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

The combination of Logic's turntables and the drumming was really cool, certainly nothing like we had ever heard live before. At one point, Ike Stubblefield, who plays in the Mashup, a modern jazz combo, with Higgins, came out and played the B-3 organ that is a fixture on the Blue Nile stage for a song or two. I love the B-3, and combining it with the turntable and drums was something unique and really good.   

(I can tell right now that in reporting on 11 days of this trip the superlatives are going to be difficult to avoid repeating ... there just aren't going to be enough of them!) Here is a whole page of audio from Archive.org so you can hear plenty of his artistry. Video of a DJ is not easy to come by for obvious reasonsit’s not all that visual. But here is a video of a Higgins drum solo as he played with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

The main event tonight was the Stanton Moore TrioStanton Moore is the drummer in and a founding member of Galactic, and as our 11 days progressed, we dubbed him the hardest working man in New Orleans because he seemed to be everywhere. And wherever he was he was working hard, one of the most dynamic and imaginative drummers I've ever seen (and for those who do not know, I'm a would be drummer who pays a lot of attention to the backbeat in everything I listen to — just ask Laurie). The trio included Will Bernard on guitar and Robert Walter on the B-3.  

Moore was born and raised Metairie, Louisiana, the part of greater New Orleans along Lake Pontchartrain. He cites Professor Longhair and the Meters' Zigaboo Modeliste as influences and was mentored by funk legend Johnny Vidicovich. Once Galactic was established, the band's constant touring enabled him to meet, play, and record with a great number and wide variety of jazz and funk artists, including John Medeski, Charlie Hunter, Ivan Neville, Donald Harrison Jr., Marco Benevento, George Porter Jr., Karl Denson, and on and on. He is a founding member of the all-star brass band the Midnite Disturbers, and has even done some alternative rock with Tom Morello and rapper Boots Riley (as the Street Sweeper Social Clubhere's a video of them). He's introduced a signature model snare drum and a line of cymbals. He also teaches drumming in person and in a series of books and videos, writes a column for a drumming magazine, and is a mainstay of the Tipitina's Foundation, which gives students in New Orleans the opportunity to play and collaborate with professional musicians. Wow. We speculate that he just doesn't sleep.

Originally from San Francisco, Will Bernard is firmly rooted in avant-garde jazz. He first came to prominence as a member of Peter Apfelbaum's world music and jazz-oriented Hieroglyphics Ensemble in the late '80s. While keeping up with that band he has worked with many other artists from a variety of genres, including hip-hop, New Orleans funk, and world/new age. On his own, he has released four albums.

Robert Walter is one of the heaviest jazz-funk keyboardists around, and I don’t mean weight. He was a founding member of the Greyboy Allstars and more recently Robert Walter's 20th Congress. He has performed and recorded with such jazz and funk heavyweights as Fred Wesley, Gary Bartz, Karl Denson, Reuben Wilson, and Johnny Vidacovich. He moved to New Orleans from his native San Diego in 2003, and his connection with Moore began shortly after that. He has since returned to California but returns to New Orleans often. 

These guys laid down some driving jazz funk, and like most New Orleans bands, didn't waste a lot of time (if any) with banter from the stage. The three propelled each other throughout each song, with the lead swirling around and around. Anything you would listen to by any one of these three would be high quality stuff, but together they are superb. This page, from KEXP in Seattle, has four videos of the trio performing in-studio at the station. Walter isn’t playing a real B-3, but the portable sounds pretty good. The complete performance from the Blue Nile can be heard here, at Archive.org. Yeah, get comfortable, because there’s going to be a lot of music to be heard here over the next 11 days!

The set ended around 1:45, and we got the impression that there would be more to come. It was tempting, but common sense got the better of us. It had been a long day of travel and already a lot of walking, and we had quite a walk all the way across the French Quarter back to the hotel still to come. So we reluctantly departed the Blue Nile and took the uneventful early morning walk along Decatur Street, past the French Market, Café du Monde, and Jackson Square, veering onto North Peters Street which turns into Tchopitoulas at Canal. The city was still alive with pre-Jazz Fest people and music, so the walk was really quite pleasant. We hit the Staybridge and so ended an almost perfect first day of our 2013 experience.

It sounds so trite, but we do know what it means to miss New Orleans, and we were thrilled to be back!

Photo Apr 25, 11 42 30 PM
© Jeff Mangold 2012