Among the roughly 480,000 residents evacuated from New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA), perhaps the most conspicuously absent are its musicians. Those who play Mardi Gras, the incomparable Jazz and Heritage Festival, and seemingly all day, on every corner are now sprinkled from Florida to California. Americans, who lovingly have donated more than $833 million to Hurricane Katrina’s victims, should consider supporting those who enrich the Crescent City’s, and America’s, character.
Music excites a visitor’s ears upon deplaning at NOLA’s Louis Armstrong Airport, named after that great inventor of jazz in the laboratory where he helped invent it. From recordings of Satchmo’s cornet that brighten the passenger terminal to the live notes that ring out from bars and restaurants on nearly every avenue and alleyway, the music is inescapable. But why escape it?
Just off fabled St. Charles Avenue, even the names of thoroughfares beckon the muses of ancient Athens. Beneath craggy, grandfatherly oak trees, Euterpe, Polymnia, and Terpsichore streets, among others, cross the grassy median where world-famous, pith-helmet-green streetcars shuttle riders between the Garden District and the French Quarter.
New Orleans’s distinct sounds are a national treasure–particularly within the arid musicscape that America has become, thanks to both joyless rap perpetrators and the Britney Spears School of bleach-soaked pop creations unburdened by talent.
Here’s how you can help New Orleans musicians–who actually play instruments!–in Katrina’s aftermath.
‐”The best and easiest way to help and show your support for us, as well as ALL of the musicians from New Orleans, is to buy tickets and attend the gigs,” said Reggie Scanlan, bassist with the Radiators. “There is no work left in New Orleans right now, and we are all relying on what we make on the road. Poor attendance at shows makes it more difficult for a band to return to a venue. Also, consider visiting the merchandise table. Purchasing music downloads is another way to help. Remember, not just the Radiators, but all of the musicians from New Orleans need your support.”
Venues from Seattle to Minneapolis to Muenster, Germany are staging benefits to buoy exiled musicians. Beyond newspaper entertainment listings, consult WWOZ.com, an outstanding NOLA radio station’s website. It identifies such concerts as well as selected performances by NOLA’s artistic evacuees. Ditto Tipitinas.com, website of the legendary nightclub at the corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas, just steps from the Mississippi River.
“The first order of business,” said Tipitina’s Foundation director Bill Taylor, “is to locate all New Orleans artists and their families and then find housing for those who need it.” Taylor added: “We are also developing an ever-expanding database of people throughout the country who are ready and willing to give our artists a temporary home or other support.”
‐Buy NOLA music. Royalty checks will help artists pay their bills. You also will be fortunate enough to listen to their tunes and share them with others.
Floodwaters and marauding vandals spared the French Quarter’s Louisiana Music Factory, purveyors of local recordings. “Although the store and inventory were not damaged, access to the inventory is severely limited, and it will take extra time to get orders shipped out,” its webpage states. “We appreciate the website orders, and we will try to resume business as soon as it is safe to return to the city.” This Decatur Street institution stocks a generous selection of rarities by Galactic, the Iguanas, Papa Grows Funk, and other area performers. Visit them at www.louisianamusicfactory.com, be patient, and shop as soon as you can.
Basin Street Records is an active local label featuring keyboard sensation Jon Cleary, trumpet virtuoso Irvin Mayfield, traditional jazz clarinetist Dr. Michael White, and Latin jazz greats Los Hombres Calientes, among others. Recordings and concert information are available here. Reflecting the existential uncertainty facing everyone in New Orleans, the label’s webpage says, “We are not sure whether we are still located at: 4130 Canal Street,” and “our phone (which isn’t working) is: 504-483-0002.” But, they add: “We are still in business!”
“To help exiled New Orleans musicians,” suggests company president Mark Samuels, “I recommend 1) paying to see them play when they perform in your hometown, 2) searching out and buying their CDs or downloading their music from sites like music.msn.com, itunes.com, rhapsody.com, or disclogic.com, 3) licensing the music that they perform and write for commercials, TV shows, films and more, and 4) hiring them to play at your private parties, festivals, and clubs.”
‐See a new documentary called “Make It Funky!” Director Michael Murphy’s cameras fluidly capture an April 2004 all-star concert featuring the Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Snooks Eaglin, and many other NOLA favorites at the majestic Sanger Theater abutting the French Quarter. He visits the Maple Leaf Bar, Donna’s, and other intimate haunts where participants enjoy what Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards lovingly calls an indescribable “mixture of music, mixture of cultures, and mixture of textures.”
The film includes now-eerie footage of a lively jazz funeral in a neighborhood called Treme. Revelers clap and boogie among small, colorful houses with tidy porches and trimmed lawns. These homes lately have appeared on TV with their owners on rooftops as airboats traversed the canals that arose without notice at their doorsteps. “Make It Funky!” shows NOLA in its glory at a typically joyous time.
Sony Pictures is exhibiting the film in New York and Los Angeles; cablecasting it on Black Entertainment Television on Sunday, September 18 from 2:00-4:30 P.M. Eastern; and releasing it on DVD September 27.
The French Quarter’s venerable Preservation Hall has established the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund to tide over distressed players during this crisis. The Fund accepts donations and also raises funds by selling T-shirts inspired by the now-bittersweet Louis Armstrong song, “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” To contribute, call: 1-888-229-7911.
The Jazz Foundation provides displaced players with gigs, first-month’s rent payments, and replacement instruments. “Through the New Orleans Musicians Clinic,” said Foundation director Wendy Atlas Oxenhorn, “we will be employing musicians to play at nearby shelters to lift spirits, repair and replace instruments, repair their souls by taking the time to have long talks on the phone, seven nights a week, and keeping spirits up when it seems that all is lost.”
Working with the Music and Arts Center and the Guitar Center, the Jazz Foundation announced Wednesday a gift of $60,000 in saxophones, trumpets, and trombones to the Treme Brass Band, many of whose members watched Katrina steal their gear.
But that was yesterday. What about tomorrow? NOLA’s future is in the hands of engineers, architects, and epidemiologists. They must determine how much of its buildings and infrastructure can be salvaged from the initial ravages of rushing waters and the subsequent havoc wrought by mold, bacteria, and chemical toxins. Reconstruction may be as daunting a task as any American city has faced since San Francisco began its rise from the rubble 99 years ago.
Nonetheless, “We’re bringing New Orleans back,” Mayor C. Ray Nagin reassured reporters Tuesday. “We’re bringing this music back. I’m tired of hearing these helicopters. I want to hear some jazz.”
–Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.