Day 6 / The Daze Between ... Tuesday, April 29

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After another leisurely start to the day, which means missing the Staybridge buffet, we thought we might take the streetcar up Canal Street to City Park to visit the New Orleans Museum of Art and otherwise stroll around that huge park, so we decided to have a big breakfast. There was a long line at Mother’s (what else is new?) so we headed over to Daisy Dukes on Chartres Street. 

We’d been to Daisy Dukes before (see Day 11 last year). It’s always open and always serving good old home-style New Orleans food. We both had omelettes. Laurie had seafood (crawfish, shrimp, tomato, mushrooms and cheese) and I went for the alligator sausage (cheese, alligator sausage, onion, parsley, tomato, paprika and cracked pepper). Trust me on this, alligator is very good. Some people say it tastes like chicken, but I guess for some people, everything tastes like chicken. I think alligator has a unique, mild seafood-type flavor, and the sausage Daisy Dukes uses add a whole lot of spicy to that. It’s better than the crawfish sausage at Jazz Fest in my opinion, and that’s saying something because that crawfish sausage is gooood!

Daisy’s omelettes are huge, served with a good-sized portion of hash browns and dry wheat toast that you can do with what you will from a big basket of butters, jams, jellies, etc, that's on the table. You also get some pieces of fruit in a little cup. Very filling, and very tasty.

On the way over to the restaurant, we got rained on just a bit, but that was enough to scare us away from the park. There had been some tremendous thunderstorms and lots of rain to the north for the last couple of days and we were feeling like our luck might be running out. As it turned out, while it was very humid and mostly cloudy, there was no more rain. The temperature was in the low 80’s, so it was still a pretty sticky Gulf-coast day.

So, to be on the safe side given the weather, we decided to stay downtown, close to the hotel in case we needed to escape. We debated going to the Louisiana State Museum, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, or the Audubon Insectarium, finally deciding upon the latter. It turned out to be a great choice, as this place was fascinating. 

Part of the Audubon Nature Institute complex, the Insectarium is located on the first floor of the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street. The building itself is a real beauty, named a National Historic Landmark in 1974. Construction of this monumental building began in 1848 but didn't finish until 1881. In between it served as headquarters of the occupying Union Army during the Civil War. The U.S. Customs offices have been located in the building since it was finished, save for some remodeling periods. It also housed the Post Office and the Federal courts until 1916. The main hallway of the museum is housed in the Custom House’s former carriageway. It was a treat to be inside this ornate beauty. 

Here are some pictures of the interior of the building, including a before-and-after look at the carriageway.

At 23,000 square feet, the Insectarium is the largest free-standing American museum dedicated to insects. It opened in 2008 and has been awarded the Themed Entertainment Association's Award for Outstanding Achievement in a Science Center. It’s cool from the moment you walk in and see the lobby’s gorgeous Venus Flytrap chandeliers and giant bugs. We (or I should say Laurie) let a giant African millipede walk on her hand. We sat in on a theater show complete with special effects like air blasts and shaking as we were lowered to the bug’s level. And yes, the Café Bug Appetit shows how insects can be cooked and enjoyed, which I did. Laurie played the vegetarian card.

            

Other highlights were cases holding about 10,000 precisely pinned insects, many of which have iridescent exoskeletons that glisten in the light. There is an "underground" segment, made to resemble a hugely enlarged trowelful of garden soil, that offers an earthworm's view of life. The floor is squishy; oversized models of bugs cling to the earthenlike walls; and you can peer up through a hole and see a bird, at ground level, looking into the hole and trolling for snacks. There is a huge, unbelievably fascinating display of leafcutter ants, busy taking pieces of leaf into their colony to be eaten and decomposed, all incredibly efficiently. And you get to learn about cockroaches and termites and see what it’s like in a Louisiana swamp. All in all, the place has 900,000 bugs, dead and alive.

            

Throughout the museum, there is one overarching lesson: If we didn't have bugs, the world would be much worse off. Insects comprise nearly 90 percent of the animals on the planet. They outnumber people by 1.5 million to one, and there are 350,000 to 375,000 species of beetles alone, accounting for one-fourth of all animal species.

On the way out, you pass through the section devoted to caterpillars and the butterflies they become. As many as 1,000 chrysalises, suspended from shelves, are on view in various stages of development. When the butterflies emerge, they are rounded up and released in an area patterned after a Japanese garden, where they fly about during lives that are generally measured in weeks. To ensure that the delicate insects do not escape, the garden is separated from the rest of the museum by sealed double doors. You are almost guaranteed to have one or more butterflies land on your clothing, head, or arm while you are in this fascinating room.

We spent far more time in the Insectarium than we expected. When we left, we went right across the street to the Pinkberry to have a late lunch of frozen yogurt and healthy (really) toppings, followed by coffee on the riverfront. The steamboat Natchez passed in front of us as we watched the river go by. It really has a kind of hyhpnotic effect on you. I wonder if there really is something to all the mysticism of this place ... 

Snapping out of it, we went back to the Staybridge because we had to do some laundry. Must be the halfway point of the trip! Tonight’s dinner was nothing fancy. Laurie had leftovers from various previous meals, while I went across the street to Mother’s and got jambalaya (cajun style).

Later we went back to Snug Harbor to hear the great Donald Harrison Jr. on alto saxophone, with drummer Joe Dyson, bassist Max Moran, pianist Zaccai Curtis, and guitarist Detroit Brooks. These guys laid down some incredible jazz. After an hour or so the post-bop turned into a New Orleans party as Harrison assumed his role as Big Chief of the Congo Square tribe of Mardi Gras Indians and two members of the tribe joined the group in full regalia.

We got to see Donald Harrison perform at the Blue Nile with Dr. Lonnie Smith last year on Day 6, and I spent some time talking about him then. This show, with him as leader, just reinforced my opinion of him as one of his generation's greats. Plus, he believes in the importance of passing the music on to the next generation, which his group is made up of (with the exception of Brooks). Not only that, Harrison has also become a keeper of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian culture, combining Mardis Gras Indian tunes and chants with his funky New Orleans R&B and modern jazz. He epitomizes all that is good about this city at this time in its history.

We saw Joe Dyson Jr. with Tysson on Sunday and will see him this coming Thursday, when he plays with Dr. Lonnie Smith. And, on the last day of Jazz Fest, this coming Sunday, he was playing with another group because I saw him walking through the crowd after leaving the stage in the Jazz Tent as I was coming in for another performance. Needless to say he is an in-demand young drummer.

Dyson began playing drums in his father’s church. His formal education began at the McDonogh Creative Arts Magnet Elementary School in New Orleans and continued at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the Project Prodigy Summer Music Camp, the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp, Berklee’s Summer Performance and Jazz Workshop, the Port Townsend Jazz Workshop, a Tipitina’s Internship, and Harrison's New Jazz School Jazz Camp. He received numerous scholarships, including a full-tuition presidential scholarship to Berklee College of Music, from which he graduated with honors. In addition to Harrison, he has studied with Alvin Batiste, Clyde Kerr, Herlin Riley, Chico Hamilton, Adonis Rose, and Jerry McGowan, among others. 

Dyson's professional performing credits include gigs with Harrison, Ellis Marsalis, Ernestine Anderson, Dr. John, Branford Marsalis, Stefon Harris, Christian Scott, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Helen Sung, Nicholas Payton, Allen Toussaint, Bryan Lynch, Irvin Mayfield, Terrance Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr., and Esperanza Spalding. (If they aren't linked, they've been talked about previously ... I think)

From all that, and this, I shouldn't need to tell you that he's very, very good. But I will. He's very, very good.

Max Moran began his studies in music with violin lessons at the age of five. He later became interested in the guitar and soon found that the bass was his calling. He spent a summer at the Jazz Aspen Academy, where he met and had the opportunity to share the stage with bass master Christian McBride and piano virtuoso Benny Green, both of whom were impressed with Max’s playing and who encouraged him to continue to pursue his musical ambitions. While studying at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, he earned a gig as the bassist in Alvin Batiste’s group, the Jazztronauts. 

At 17, Moran got his first opportunity to play with Donald Harrison. He continued to study and perform with Harrison throughout high school as a student in the Tipitina’s Intership program and for the past several years has been the only electric and acoustic bassist in Harrison's quintet and Congo Nation band. His experience with and mentorship with Harrison has afforded him the opportunity to play around the world with artists such as Victor Goines, Herlin Riley, Sean Jones, and Delfeayo Marsalis. And now Max is himself an instructor at the Tipitinas Internship Program. Here's a video of him with Harrison, Brooks, and Dyson (Victor Gould on piano) in 2011 and another from 2014 in Japan (Conun Pappus on piano).

Dyson and Moran are in a group called the Bridge Trio, along with pianist Conun Pappus Jr. Here's an hour of these three very talented young jazz musicians. They are joined by guitarist Josh Connelly and reedman Khris Royal (who also plays with George Porter Jr. in the Runnin' Pardners) in a group called Neospectric

Originally from Hartford, Connecticut, pianist Zaccai Curtis has been performing since the age of five. As a high school student, he was recognized by Downbeat magazine as a top young performer and chosen to attend the National Grammy Jazz Camp. Then he attended the New England Conservatory. He now leads his own quartet and a seven-piece Latin-jazz band known as Insight, which includes his brother Luques on bass. Insight has traveled to Cuba on two separate occasions to perform in the Havana Jazz Festival and was named to the U.S. State Department's Jazz Ambassadors program, performing in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. In 2001, Zaccai arranged Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol to be played by Insight with the Hartford Symphony Chamber Orchestra, and he won the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer's Competition four straight years (2003 through 2006). 

In addition to Harrison, Zaccai performs with Ralph Peterson, Bill Saxton, Christian Scott, Sean Jones, Jimmy Greene, Papo Vasquez, Kendrick Oliver’s New Life Orchestra, and many others. Here he is with his trio (Luques on bass and Tony Escapa on drums) performing Afro Blue in 2012.

Detroit Brooks is a well-known guitarist in New Orleans. With a smooth style and laid-back demeanor, he is one of the most sought-after musicians in town. Detroit's roots reach deep into the Bible Belt. He began his career at an early age, touring with his family, including his famous sister, Juanita Brooks of Juanita’s Gospel Express, as well as his acclaimed father, George A. Brooks Sr. of the famous Masonic Kings. He mastered his craft on the road where, he says, the performances were "long, free, and continuous." His skill, technique, and experience brought him quick recognition and the opportunity to play with gospel greats like Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys, Dorothy Norwood, Reverend Ernest Franklin, Albertina WalkerRaymond Myles and The Rams, and the famed Zion Harmonizers.

He moved on to R&B, plucking bass with Arthur Johnson, even though he was still underage when he first played clubs. While in high school, he continued to be involved in both gospel and R&B. But after he graduated, music took a back seat to his full-time job with a railroad. A disability forced him to retire from that in 1994, and he was able to pursue music again, with jazz his new direction. He took up the banjo and began playing with trumpeter Gregg Stafford and clarinetist Dr. Michael White (see check this out). After the Federal Flood in 2005, he moved to Baton Rouge and used that as an opportunity to venture into new fields, playing with modern jazzmen and fellow Baton Rouge residents bassist Roland Guerin (hey, it's Joe Dyson on drums) and saxophonist Wess Anderson as well as leading his own group.

Detroit has continued his development as a musician through ongoing studies in improvisation and theory with Hank Mackie and composition and piano with Roger Dickerson. He can play musical styles ranging from traditional banjo to improvisational jazz through R&B and funk. These days, however, he has limited his appearances to concentrate on his music writing career. "My main interests are writing and composing. I still love performing live -– it is my life and passion -– but my heart is fulfilled in the expressions of writing and creating music."

Here'a a performance by Harrison's wonderful jazz quintet, recorded at the Berklee College of Music by NPR in January of this year. It contains the Harrison originals Free To BeNouveau SwingQuantum Leap, and after Erroll Garners jazz standard MistyThe Sand Castle Head Hunter. It ends with the traditional Mardi Gas Indian tunes Hu Tah Nay and Hey Pocky Way. Great stuff. Here's a video to close out. 

This was a very cool New Orleans evening ending a really fun and relaxing day. We walked back to the Staybridge by the usual Decatur-Peters Street route. I grabbed a coffee at Café du Monde (believe it or not, our first stop there of any kind in three years). And that's it. We're looking forward to another relaxing day tomorrow.

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© Jeff Mangold 2012