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New Orleans: Alive with the Song of Jazz

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New Orleans: Alive with the Song of Jazz
The Neville Brothers

Meanwhile “Jazz” is alive and kicking in all its glory in New Orleans. There are many people who believe that Jazz only thrived in New Orleans between the end of the 19th century and in part of the decade after the Great Depression and died a miserable death shortly after that. It is, of course, wholly untrue. One reader who (shall not even be dignified by a first name) wrote in after reading a piece about the best cities to listen to Jazz today (2019) scoffed at the writer asking, “Have you actually been to New Orleans? Or are you just reading from their tourism literature. New Orleans hasn’t been relevant in the jazz world since Satchmo left.” It’s hard to discern if the reader is lamenting the fact that “Satchmo left” or if there is not enough Jazz in New Orleans, or what’s played in the clubs is not New Orleans Jazz enough (the term is italicised simply because I don’t know and can’t tell what upset the reader so much because Jazz today has assimilated many more dialects in 2019 just as it had when Jelly Roll, King Oliver, Satchmo, Sidney Bechet, George Lewis and others first forged its myriad influences in the fire of The Blues.

Four-year-old Trombone Shorty
I also wonder what planet anyone who thinks that Jazz left New Orleans with Satchmo is living on. Four hundred years of slavery couldn’t break it; body and spirit, and neither could the wrath of God that came in the form of Hurricane Katrina and the monster of modern economics – Milton Friedman – that further devastated New Orleans in the name of re-construction. Ironically some might say it was God himself (or herself) who saved the city; others might say it was Vodun, Ochun or E’leggba that did. Most, however, would agree that thanks to whoever, or whatever, the only thing that matters other than life itself was the Black man rose like a proverbial phoenix from the devastation and saved and that is music – not simply music, but especially Jazz in New Orleans.

Many believe that Music is spoken and sung everywhere. But Jazz is spoken, sung and lived in New Orleans. It was created here by Mr Bolden Jelly Roll and Satchmo who are all long gone, but the bloodline continues, sometimes even transcending the colour of skin. What began with The Fathers has steadily grown and thrives by the many sons and daughters of New Orleans. The Funky Meters, Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Dr John, Irma Thomas, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Kermit Ruffins, Professor Longhair, Danny Barker, Marcia Hall, the Marsalis family, Dr. Michael White, Terrance Blanchard and Donald Harrison, Buckwheat Zydeco, Henry Butler, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Trombone Shorty and now Big Freedia are have all helped keep history alive and some of the younger ones are continuing to re-write the history of Jazz and New Orleans. They may make their homes elsewhere in the USA or even in other parts of the world; they may travel the world, but their hearts and minds and spirits remain in New Orleans.

the incomparable alto saxophonist Donald Harrison as Kabongo

One of the most famous sons of the city, Donald Harrison, had this to say on his social media page: “Me participating in Afro-New Orleans culture as the Big Chief of Congo Square in a suit that I hand made. Only in New Orleans. I have done 59 years in the culture and crossed over to be recognized by the hierarchy of our culture as the true representative of Congo Square. This year the Queen of The Republic of Congo also Chiefted me in Africa and gave me my African name Kabongo, which means the smart one. Now I am Chief on two continents.” And he had this iconic image of himself to share which if it hasn’t already, is likely to break the web quite soon.

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