Day 6 / The Daze Between ... Tuesday, April 26

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Another leisurely start to the day. By the time I got going, Laurie was already airborne, having left Dulles Airport right on time at 8:45 a.m. (7:45 my time). Today I grabbed some food and coffee at the Staybridge and then headed down to the river to await her arrival. 

It was foggy on the river this morning, something I hadn't seen when we've been in New Orleans. Come to think of it, that's about the only thing we haven't seen. It burned off very quickly, although the day remained rather humid. When I went out the temperature was already well over 80, heading up to a high of 86, so once again it was ... hot. Fortunately there was a nice breeze most of the day, and the sun was behind scattered clouds a lot of the time. 

The Airport Shuttle dropped Laurie off around 11:30, ending the alone portion of the trip not a minute too soon. We got her settled into the suite and immediately headed out into the city. To say that she was anxious to get her delayed trip started would be an understatement! 

We crossed Canal Street into the French Quarter by way of Royal Street. Our immediate goal was to grab some lunch, as it was going on 1:30 on her East Coast schedule. We have been making it a habit to have a first-day lunch at the Royal House Oyster Bar, at the corner of Royal Street and Saint Louis Street, for the last couple of years, so even though it was a few days late we decided to keep that tradition alive.

We started out with Bloody Mary's, another tradition, then had an absolutely fresh half dozen oysters, yet another tradition, today on the half shell. 

The main dish for Laurie was a caprese tower of sliced tomato, mozzarella and red onion served with a sprig of rosemary, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, and accompanied by grilled shrimp. I had an old standby for me at this restaurant, Cajun jambalaya accompanied by blackened shrimp. 

           

We spent the afternoon the same way I spent yesterday afternoon, roaming around the French Quarter listening to street music, sitting on a bench at Jackson Square, and soaking up this wonderful city and the people who live here and visit. 


Our roaming took us as far as Frenchmen Street in the Marigny, where we lingered outside some of the clubs to listen as opposed to going inside and getting stuck with minimum drink orders. It was definitely way too early for that!

On the way back into the Quarter we stopped at Café Envie for some iced coffee beverages and then walked to and lingered for awhile back at Jackson Square listening to the more modern brass band in front of the Presbytère building, one of the two structures flanking St. Louis Cathedral that house the Louisiana State Museum.

       

We decided that we would go to an evening show that would necessitate an early-ish dinner, so we headed back toward the Staybridge, stopping at Mother's for something for Laurie. (I had plenty left over from that baked ham dinner I got last night to cover me for another meal). 

She got a shrimp creole omelette that came with literally a ton of grits and wheat toast. Yes, Mother's serves breakfast all day, and it is really good, too, so why wouldn't you have that?

Our destination tonight was the newly restored Orpheum Theater. It's block off of Canal Street on the Central Business District side, directly across the street from the classic Roosevelt Hotel

The Orpheum (known in the day as the RKO Orpheum) is a 1,500-seat Beaux Arts theater designed by G. Albert Lansburgh and built in 1918. It is one of the few remaining vertical hall designs in the country, meaning it was built to provide perfect sight lines and acoustics for vaudeville shows, which didn't have the benefit of amplifiers or modern lighting. After vaudeville faded away, the theater was a movie house and was also used for speeches, dance and vocal performances, and countless performances by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

In 2005, the failed Federal levees ushered Hurricane Katrina flood waters into the building's lower reaches, which housed its electrical systems, up through the stage and orchestra seating section. Restoration began in 2011, and the new, state-of-the-art facility reopened in August 2015, joining three other restored theaters in the immediate area: the Civic, the Joy, and the Saenger.

Roland Von Kurnatowski, owner of Tipitina's and founder of the Tipitina's Foundation, and Dr. Eric George purchased the theater and completed the restoration (this link has many photos of the work as it was being done). "It's a thrilling project," Von Kurnitowski said. "It's a spectacular facility. We couldn't be more excited to be the ones bringing it back to productive use." He and George spent more than $10 million to purchase and renovate the Orpheum, using available historic-site and music infrastructure tax credits to ease the financial burden.

Here's how it came about. One afternoon, Von Kurnatowski found himself mired in the traffic that had come to accompany the post-Katrina downtown road renewal program. As luck would have it he was stuck on Roosevelt Way, and he noticed that not only was the Orpheum for sale, but it was listed by an old friend Don Randon. Von Kurnatowski didn't have a current number for Randon, but it was there on the sign, so he figured that he would make the best of his time in traffic and give him a ring. Randon was immediately able to convince him to take a tour of the space. Von Kurnatowski and George signed a purchase contract a couple of days later. 

It so happened that the president of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra's board of trustees was attending an event at the Von Kurnatowskis' house a couple of days after the contract was executed, so Von Kurnatowski was able to deliver the news in person and invite the Orchestra back to their pre-Katrina home. 

"I struggled with whether to say anything because it wasn't a done deal, it was the beginning of a contract," Von Kurnatowski said. "There were a lot of hurdles to overcome before the contract would be realized. In a lot of ways it was premature to say anything, but I couldn't contain myself. His reaction was extremely interested. The reality is we sat in a room at my house and talked for an hour and a half. We knew this could work. We wanted it. We felt that having the Orchestra come back to the Orpheum just made sense on every level."

The first call that Von Kurnatowski made after touring the Orpheum was to George, his friend and now co-owner of the theatre. Among his many pursuits, George leads the investment company ERG Enterprises, which was was founded on the idea of delivering high-quality experiences in comfortable environments, a natural match for a restoration project facing the Orpheum. 

"We must be careful when forming the balance between historic and modern. Our architect on the project has been instrumental in maintaining this balance. However, regardless of that balance, the level of quality and service must always be high," George said. "The stories we have heard from friends of the Orpheum really make you understand the importance this venue had in the everyday lives of the citizens of our great city. Our goal is to have the Orpheum continue to serve the community in the same fashion it had been doing. At the end of the day, the Orpheum is an iconic venue that will live on after we're gone. So it's very important that we do it justice by giving it the care and attention that it deserves so that 100 years from now, it will continue to be a focal point of New Orleans life."

Among the Orpheum's architectural features was a room-sized concrete tub below the stage. This tub was filled with dry ice during summer performances so that cool air could be drawn up through the seats to chill the audience efficiently without the noise of a mechanical contrivance bothering the audience.

Von Kurnatowski explained that duplicating the effect of the original cooling system was one of the major challenges that had to be addressed in the restoration. An impressive new series of vents (seen in the picture on the right) was cut every couple of feet into the risers below shelves where the seats were affixed. In the new scheme cold air comes down through the walls into a large pocket and is gently pushed through the vents via the accumulated pressure. With this attention to detail, it is clear that preservation of the sanctity of performance is built into every aspect of the renovation scheme.

Another challenge was replacing the terracotta accents that previously had been chipped away in order to allow drywall to sit flush against the original walls. As you can see from the pictures, these are everywhere in the theater.

It only takes a few minutes in the space to grasp the success of the restoration. The space is unbelievably spectacular.

      


We were at the Orpheum to see one of our favorites, alto saxophonist and New Orleans cultural icon Donald Harrison Jr., headlining one of the highest profile hometown shows of his career. This is the seventh time I've seen Harrison in New Orleans and the second time we have seen him leading a group in an evening show (the first was at Snug Harbor on Day 6 in 2014. The others are three times at Jazz Fest (Day 8 in 2014, Day 9 last year, and Day 2 this year); and twice as a member of groups led by Dr. Lonnie Smith (at the Blue Nile on Day 6 in 2013 and at Snug Harbor on Day 6 last year).

Harrison said about the music in this show, "We play it in a way that is logical and feels good for the audience. We take them on a journey. My perspective is that all music should be about the mind, body, and soul. If you're an intellectual, you can intellectualize it if you want to, because it has those elements of stretching for the highest level. But, it should feel good. I like toe-tapping music. No matter how far we stretch it, you still can feel a groove to it. In a way, I may be teaching jazz people to have some fun. It should hit you in your heart."

I've been a huge fan of Harrison ever since we began these trips to New Orleans and actually before, although before I was not aware of the New Orleans connection. He and his band showcased everything from his contemporary, sometimes challenging, "nouveau swing" (a style that merges jazz with modern dance music) to Mardi Gras Indian funk. In between he showed a progression through 10 different styles of music that confirmed that he plays incredibly sophisticated music at the highest level. What are the 10 styles, you ask? Laurie and I put our heads together and arrived at this list: classical, traditional New Orleans jazz, blues, salsa, smooth jazz, post-bop jazz, avant-garde jazz, R&B, soul, and funk. We heard it all tonight. 

Given that number, no two songs that he and his qroup performed drew from precisely the same musical language. But New Orleans coursed through enough of it to make the point, and the unmistakable good time the group was having reinforced the fact that the man represents his city whenever he plays.

The band tonight was pretty much the same as we've seen with Harrison before: Detroit Brooks on guitar, Conun Pappas on keyboards, Max Moran on bass, Joe Dyson Jr. on drums, and Bill Summers on percussion. Special guests Dr. Michael White on clarinet, Eric Krasno on guitar, and Mario Abney on trumpet added to the great music. Harrison, who was awarded a spot on Tipitina's Wall of Fame for his work with the interns program for Tipitina's Foundation just the day before, also gave the current class of interns time to shine. Then, to close the show, a whole bunch of Congo Nation Mardi Gras Indians filled the stage to sing some traditional tunes with Big Chief Harrison.

           

Here is the video that I took during the show, and here are complete videos of Cissy Strut featuring Krasno, the Tipitina's Interns (some of these kids were in the Jazz Tent with the NOCCA groups last Sunday), and the Mardi Gras Indian segment. More? OK, here's Harrison fiddling with his iPhone for some R&B backbeat to sing to; and here's Mr. Cool Breeze, Ain't No Party Like a New Orleans Party with Mario Abney in retro black and white, and here's part two of that jam, featuring Detroit Brooks' take on Feel Like Makin' Love. 

Just a couple of words on the guest musicians tonight because they are outstanding and deserving of them and I haven't encountered any of them enough to write anything.

We have seen clarinet master Dr. Michael White for at least a few minutes, on the stage with Keb' Mo' and with the Treme Brass Band, both on Day 3 in 2014. You'll find his name mentioned a lot more, here and there, as he is a respected collaborator and mentor in New Orleans. He is also an accomplished bandleader, composer, musicologist, jazz historian, and educator, widely regarded as one of the leading authorities and culture-bearers of traditional New Orleans jazz. 

White was raised in the Carrollton neighborhood, and despite the fact that some of the earliest jazz musicians were in his family tree, he did not get his start playing jazz. An aunt who played clarinet inspired him to take up the instrument in elementary school, where he primarily studied symphonic music and marched with the famed St. Augustine Marching 100. It wasn't until his late teens that he first heard live New Orleans jazz played at Jazz Fest, and he became inspired by the music of the city.

He played his first professional gig with Ernest "Doc" Paulin's Brass Band in 1975 at a church parade. His jazz career grew as he played primarily in social club parades and jazz funerals with Paulin's group and other bands and musicians, including the Danny Barker-founded Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band and George "Kid Sheik Cola" Colar.

In the late 1970s, White discovered a recording of George Lewis that would serve as his primary inspiration to pursue a life as a New Orleans jazz clarinetist. In addition to Lewis, White cites a number of other clarinet influences including Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, Barney Bigard, Paul Barnes, and Willie Humphrey.

He formed his first group, the Original Liberty Jazz Band, in 1981. This band regularly performs in New Orleans and held a weeklong annual residency around New Year's Eve at the Village Vanguard in New York City for many years. He continues to lead that band as well as the Michael White Quartet. Since 1979, he has also played in the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, founded by clarinetist John Casimir sometime in the 1940's. During this early part of his career, he had the opportunity to play alongside more than three dozen traditional jazz musicians born between 1890 and 1910.

White has served as an artist-in-residence for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He has collaborated with Wynton Marsalis and can be heard on recordings by Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, and Marianne Faithfull, among many others.

In 2005 White had the spiritual high of taking his band on a tour of Europe, but later the emotional low of facing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. His Gentilly home was flooded with seven feet of water, and his entire collection of priceless music memorabilia and his music collection were destroyed. Among the losses were the original sheet music of Dead Man Blues by Jelly Roll Morton, a clarinet mouthpiece used by Sidney Bechet, and around 5,000 recordings. He dealt with the loss by writing material for an album ("Blue Crescent") that has been called one of the greatest examples of New Orleans traditional jazz ever recorded.

In 1980 White began teaching Spanish at Xavier University, while still maintaining his music career (his Ph. D. is in Spanish from Tulane University). Eventually he was awarded the Rosa and Charles Keller Jr. Endowed Chair in the Humanities, under which he currently teaches African American Music. He does extensive work hosting workshops and teaching about New Orleans music, including guest coaching at Juilliard School of Music

Since 1995 he has served as the main consultant for traditional jazz for Jazz Fest, and in 2002 he began to produce the "Culture of New Orleans" series at Xavier, a highly successful program of lectures, concerts, and film presentations featuring the authentic traditions and people of New Orleans. He was named a 2008 Heritage Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts (the nation’s highest award in the traditional and folk arts) and the 2010 Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities award as Humanist of the Year.

With a career now spanning more than three decades, Michael White continues to grow his musical legacy as one of the authoritative figures on New Orleans Jazz Music, and one of the finest clarinetists to walk the streets of the Crescent City. We saw him at his best tonight. 

Eric Krasno, Grammy-winning guitarist, songwriter, recording artist, and producer, is best known for his work with the bands Soulive and Lettuce, both of which he co-founded. His musical roots lie in funk, jazz, rock, and hip-hop, and he has written songs and produced records for a variety of artists in a range of genres including Aaron Neville, Talib Kweli with Norah Jones, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Ledisi, 50 Cent, and Matisyahu.

Krasno was born in 1977 and raised in the suburbs of New York City, Fairfield County, Connecticut, to be exact. His earliest influences were his musician grandfather, a professional pianist who played gypsy jazz and swing, as well as his older brother and father, also accomplished musicians though amateurs. His early attraction to classic rock records from Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jeff Beck, and the Grateful Dead influenced his decision to become a guitarist. He began playing in local bands during high school. After graduating, he attended the Berklee School of Music for one semester before transferring to Hampshire College

Despite his short time there, it was at Berklee that he encountered other founding members of the funk-jam unit Lettuce during a summer program. The band formed while its members were still in their teens and have been a going concern in both the studio and on tour since then. In 1999, he joined brothers Alan and Neal Evans, and Sam Kininger, to co-found Soulive, a jazz/hip-hop/folk/groove unit known for its rigorous touring schedule.

Krasno began his career as a producer on Kweli's 2002 recording "Quality" and his reputation quickly spread among hip-hop artists. Under various monikers he worked with a number of rappers as well as a diverse array of R&B, jazz, pop, and rock artists. As a guitarist, Krasno's work has appeared on many albums and tours. He issued "Reminisce," his debut solo album, in 2010.

Mario Abney was born and raised in Chicago but recently relocated to New Orleans. He fuses traditional and extended trumpet techniques in a most inventive way, giving his music an infinite array of tonal color. Recognized for his ability to create pure musical dialog and hear music in a spiritual way, he is definitely one of New Orleans most promising young jazz musicians. 

Abney was introduced to the piano at age 7. Influenced by his uncle's piano playing and the musical background of his church, Abney's fascination for music grew. By age 11 he had added drums to his musical experiences, and continued to hone his percussion skills by playing drums for his church. It was during high school years that his interest turned from piano and drums to wind instruments. During his freshman year in high school, he enrolled in the beginning band program and played the mellophone and french horn. 

Abney's first experience hearing jazz was the music of Wynton Marsalis. "I was hooked," he said. "I knew the trumpet was my instrument." He began to absorb the music of Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and all the greats who pioneered the trumpet in jazz, and during his sophomore year he brgan to focus on the trumpet. During the weekends Mario's mother would often drive Mario and several other young musicians to the Chicago jazz landmark Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge. Known for the most inspiring and creative jazz jam sessions in the nation, this is where Mario got his first experiences on a stage in a real performance. 

With a band scholarship in hand, Mario attended Central State University in Ohio, majoring in music education with a minor in jazz studies. In his freshman year he was introduced to Cincinnati jazz trumpeter and music educator Mike Wade, who was and remains one of Mario's musical mentors. While at CSU Mario began to play professional gigs and play from special recommendations of his mentor. In 2001, after several years of playing as a side man, he was inspired to lead his own quintet, which held weekly shows at Jazz Central and the 88 Club (now closed) in Dayton

Mario became interested in going to New Orleans after hearing the Hot 8 Brass Band perform at a Dayton festival in 2007, and early in 2008 he and two members of his quintet moved to New Orleans to absorb its culture and become part of the music scene. He has performed with Charmaine Neville, Ellis Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Irvin Mayfield, Bill Summers, George Porter Jr., Jimmy CobbHerlin Riley, Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson, Christian McBrideNicholas Payton, Kermit Ruffins, Erykah BaduRoy Hargrove, and many other outstanding musicians.

This was just a great evening, a fabulous way to get our together portion of the trip started. And guess where we stopped on the way back to the hotel? You guessed it, the Pinkberry at the Doubletree Hotel on Canal Street. Except tonight we sat on the patio outside by the fountain to enjoy the late-evening snack.

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© Jeff Mangold 2012