Day 6 / The Daze Between ... Tuesday, April 28

thumb IMG 2338 1024


Another leisurely start to the day, although there was no excitement on the weather reports today. It was overcast this morning, but much more sunny in the afternoon, with a high temperature of 75, humidity down in the low 60's, and a nice 10 mph breeze. The forecast for the rest of the trip is fantastic. Of course we missed the Staybridge buffet, so we scrounged around what little was left. Laurie worked for a couple of hours until we could hold out no longer and around noon we headed off for a late proper breaskfast at Daisy Duke's on Chartres Street. 

Daisy's place is becoming one of our go-to spots for good home-style NOLA food served quickly and relatively inexpensively. It's very strange, but we had the same things to eat that we had there last year on Day 6. We were also there late-night on Day 11 in 2013. Laurie had a seafood (crawfish, shrimp, tomato, mushrooms and cheese) omelette while I had the alligator sausage (cheese, alligator sausage, onion, parsley, tomato, paprika and cracked pepper) omelette. 

To repeat from last year, the Daisy Duke’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. Laurie had coffee while I kick-started my day with one of Daisy's signature Bloody Mary's. What make this Bloody Mary unique should be obvious from the photo.

After breakfast, we took a leisurely walk on Royal Street. We did have a goal in mind, but we were in absolutely no hurry to get there. And that is what vacationing in New Orleans is all about. We really enjoy looking at the stuff in the windows of the shops; the moles at the top of the page are from one of them. 

We walked through a couple of antique stores, including Vintage 329, which has tons of interesting jewelry, bar and drinking ware, and autographed music, sports, and political memorabilia (we spent way too long in there).  


We also spent a bit of time in Fischer-Gambino, a shop that has a whole lot of designer lighting on display and lots of other really interesting things that would be easy to miss if all you were looking at was the lighting.

          

Royal Street is turned into a pedestrian mall for a few hours during the daytime, which makes it perfect for performers. As usual, we found several musicians playing, a percussionist whose instrument thoroughly stumped us and a quartet playing New Orleans standards.

     

About a block beyond the cathedral we reached our destination, the gallery of body painter Craig Tracy. A friend of Laurie's had suggested that we go there, and the art on display was phenomenal. Body painting? That's right, for example, a fascinating image of a tiger actually painted on the contorted bodies of several models. The gallery is filled with an entire collection of such mind-blowing images, all painted on human bodies. 

Born and raised in New Orleans, Tracy always knew he was going to be an artist. "There was never any question regarding my being or becoming a professional artist. It was always just obvious and understood," he says. His parents, whom he describes as "working class hippies," nurtured his creative development and gave him the freedom to mature as an individual. At 15, they gave him an airbrush, and within a year he had learned to draw almost anything on a vast array of surfaces. 

After graduating from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, he worked for advertising agencies and publishing houses, and hated it. That career ended after 6 years. He then began to paint "murals, t-shirt designs, and just about anything and everything possible." It was this variety of surfaces that led him to discover painting on faces and then full bodies. 

"It really clicked, from the very first time that I painted a face, it was strangely powerful. I later realized that I had quite literally fallen in love with body painting. It did however take me years to properly process and respect such an uncharted and ancient art form. It was similar to how people don’t take things seriously because they have no example to follow. Rock and roll or rap for example. It was hard to take these two seriously at first, but we see how that all turned out. I personally didn’t take body painting seriously for five or six years.

When I finally asked myself why I liked painting on people so much, that led me to explore what would happen if I took this passionate interest seriously. A quick Google search changed the course of my life." 

Tracy started doing online research and collecting body-painting works from artists he admired, and before long he started making his first serious collection of body-painting images. 

Now, he is credited with revolutionizing this ancient-yet-contemporary art form. The gallery is the first ever dedicated to body painting.


We certainly couldn't afford any of the art in here, and I can't really say it's something I would want to have, but it is fun to view. Some of the work is easily discernible, while others require careful investigation before the human form pops out at you. 

 

We next walked over to Jackson Square to catch what's turning out to be the usual musicians playing there. The guy with the kora was on one side of St. Louis Cathedral, and the traditional brass band, right down to the gentleman with the umbrella doing the cool dance moves, was on the other. 

After a nice time in the square, we had to head back to the Staybridge, where Laurie had to be on a call. I grabbed an iced coffee from Café du Monde to sip as we walked along the river on our way over to our home in the Central Business District.

After the call, it was snack time, so back to the French Quarter we went. We headed up St. Peter Street to the actual La Divina Cafe and Gelateria (as opposed to the food stand at Jazz Fest, which we frequent) for some refreshing gelato. Laurie had one scoop of Chocolate flavored with Abita Turbodog and one scoop of Amarena (made with the sour Italian cherry of the same name). I had two scoops of Sweet Cream. 

Hitting this place on a sunny and warm spring afternoon just hits the spot. 

By this time the younger brass band had taken over in front of the cathedral, so we went over there and spent awhile listening to them. A drone was flying over Jackson Square. We assumed it had something to do with that RIMS Conference that was still going on at the convention center. But you never know!

We walked back to the hotel by way of a very quiet Royal Street, where the NOLA Opera Guy (of course he's on Facebook), who we heard singing last Thursday, was playing a mandolin. New Orleans presents you with countless moods. This one was quiet, almost subdued, compared to the brass band scene in Jackson Square. As you walk over to Royal Street in the late afternoon sun, the high trumpet notes from that band stay with you, echoing through the buildings, until the mandolin takes over. It's sublime, really.


A little later this evening we walked across the French Quarter to another go-to eating establishment of ours, that being the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen in the French Market area. We split a wild mushroom pizza there, another dish that we've had before. This is turning into quite the day of repeats, with one more to go.


We continued our walk on into the Marigny and up Frenchmen Street for the evening's entertainment, a return to the Snug Harbor jazz bistro. We went to this intimate venue twice last year. It's always a bit difficult to wait for the show in the crowded bar area there, but the show is always worth the effort.

Tonight we saw a quartet led by Dr. Lonnie Smith, with Donald Harrison Jr. on alto saxophone, Detroit Brooks on guitar, and Joe Dyson Jr. on drums. Keeping the repetition theme of the day, we had seen Harrison as a leader with Brooks and Dyson, among others, at the Snug on this very day last year, and we also saw Smith with Harrison and others at the Blue Nile on this very day in 2013. Plus I saw Smith and Dyson perform in the Jazz Tent at Jazz Fest last year on Day 8And, I have also seen Harrison perform with Dyson and Brooks and a host of others on the Congo Square stage at Jazz Fest, also on Day 8 last year (and again in a couple of days at Jazz Fest). So the background of all of these guys has pretty well been covered elsewhere in this blog. 

I will say, however, that the combination of the four of these individuals together, on this night, provided one of the best jazz performances we've ever heard. 

Dr. Lonnie Smith is a native of Buffalo, and now lives in Florida, but says of New Orleans, "There's something about it that makes you feel like you're home." Not only does he enjoy the city, he also has an affinity especially with its musicians. Smith and Harrison are a perfect combo. Both stand as inventive modern jazz artists who enjoy a groove. 

"We're like family," the organist says of his relationship with Harrison. "Some people are great musicians but can't play together. Donald fits right in there with you. Whatever he plays it's like he owns it. A lot of musicians play and they play well but they miss playing what's in their hearts. Donald plays that. He's playing honestly."

Smith also appreciates New Orleans drummers, having performed with some of the best, including the great Idris Muhammad and Herlin Riley. "Joe Dyson is keeping that surge right up," says Smith, who has taken the young drummer on tour. "He's on the mark. He's not going to drop the baton. In New Orleans they're not afraid to keep that feeling of fire. There is a certain kind of feeling that is there at all times -- they're always thinking about the heartbeat, the feeling that you want to dance. They never forget that."

Dyson, who first played drums with Smith when he was 18, says, "To be honest, Dr. Lonnie could walk on that stage by himself -– it would be enough," 

Harrison was the first connection between Dyson and Smith through the Tipitina's Internship Program (TIP). Harrison not only invited Dyson to join Smith on stage at the TIP's student session, but gave him the call when famed drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts was unable to perform at Smith's 2008 gig at San Francisco's noted jazz club Yoshi's.

"I was nervous," Dyson admits. "He played Chero­kee really, really fast and said, 'Are you ready? Let's go!' Later, he said, 'I think you’ve got the gig.'" Not long after that initial engagement, Dyson began touring regularly with Smith. The privilege of working with such an extraordinary jazz musician is not lost on Dyson. He's well aware that Smith is a very special musician and human being.

"With him it's just very dynamic," Dyson explains. "There's never a dull moment. I'm at the edge of my seat every time and I'm constantly honed in on him. He's always throwing things at you and he's listening to you, too. It's a thrilling ride and he knows how to take the audience with him."

With a smile on his face and his eyes gleaming, Smith always appears to be enjoying himself and that translates directly to his bandmates and audiences. "Dr. Lonnie is a very loving person," says Dyson. "He's always trying to bring a smile on someone's face whether it's through a joke or through his words or acts of kindness. He's always exuding love. It's something I learn every day when I'm around him and something to think about when I'm not around him. He's always pulling energy out of you and you're constantly getting energy from him as well.

"It’s a very open place when we walk on stage. The only thing that is required of us is to come with open minds and open hearts making sure that we are there for a greater purpose using our energy to elevate the hearts and minds of the people."

Dyson got a taste of Smith's personality the first time he heard him play at a TIP's session: "This mysterious character walked in with Donald, all in black wearing a turban. He kept playing with the drawbars (devices on the Hammond B-3 organ that manipulate volume) going back and forth. This went on for some time. We finally realized that this was a joke and that he was messing with us. Then he played Giant Steps. It was a jaw dropper for me because I come from a church background -– my father played organ -– and I had never seen anyone as masterful on everything on the organ."

Almost 50 years separate the youthful Dyson and the veteran Smith, but they move in they same soulful and rhythmic realm. Smith is the wise, inventive, and ever-exuberant guru, his music warm and exciting at the same time. Dyson appears to be wide open to all he can absorb from Smith. He is enormously talented. With Harrison's bebop roots and exploratory blowing in the mix and the always tasteful guitar of Detroit Brooks in the background, the gig at Snug Harbor was unbelievably good.

Toward the end of the performance, the group played back-to-back Smith classics, the bluesy Play It Back and the soaring Pilgrimmage. These were both full-band jams with Smith in the driver's seat. Smith is great in the way he nods approval of how his band reacts to what he is doing, sometimes unexpectedly. They do the same to him, and there is a look of delight on his face as he figures it out and how to react to it. 

To close the set, Smith got out his SlapStick Electric Cane (more like a walking stick), a device that plays and sounds somewhat like a bass guitar with some electronic tones (check out Smith using it here). He had some difficulty getting it to work, and as Smith worked with the technicians, Harrison led us in an a capella sing-along of the Parliament song We Got the Funk. I wish I had thought to break the Snug's no videos policy because this was just too cool.

We want the funk
Give up the funk
We need the funk
We gotta have that funk

Eventually Dyson and Brooks laid some quiet background. Smith was busy with the SlapStick but definitely heard it and was smiling. We finally did get the funk. A long intro on the SlapStick followed by a wild and, yes, very funky improv. When it was over, Smith thanked his three "grandsons" and the show was over, although they hung around for a bit to pose for pictures. I wasn't quick enough to get everyone together, but I did catch a moment (below). Somebody up in the balcony recorded one song from this set, so you can get a feel for the performance. I think we were directly below. Only problem with it is that you can barely see Detroit Brooks.

For sure, we got some lagniappe with this show because it didn't end until after midnight, and the Snug usually keeps it to about an hour or so. We left the Frenchmen Street area and walked back across the French Quarter on the Decatur-Peters rote into the business district to the Staybridge, and that ended another very enjoyable and relaxing day. The daze between are (is?) down to one. 

thumb IMG 2347 1024
© Jeff Mangold 2012