There is too much to write. Too much to think. Too much to see. Too much to hear. And too much to do.
I graduated High School in 1985 - smack dab in the middle of the hair band era. Oh, and I was full-on into it with parachute pants, skinny ties and yes, a rockin’ bleached-out mullett.
Finding the Blues
Somewhere in there I also discovered Stevie Ray Vaughn and he was my doorway to the blues. I’d read his album credits to find other musician’s names and began an onion-peeling of musical exploration outside of rock.
I worked at a mom and pop TV store that started selling these new-fangled things called CD’s. I remember spending $18-$20 of my part-time 1986 dollars on issues from Benny Goodman and the Dutch Swing College Band (which I admittedly mainly bought because they were Dutch).
Hooked on Jazz
I was hooked. What grabbed me - and still grabs me - about Jazz and especially big band jazz with lots of brass is just how the musicians get to play. While a good hairband rock song may have a few measures of a blistering guitar solo the rest of the song is about the singer and the story.
Big band can have a dozen of those runs and it seemed like the notes and the musicians were every bit as cool as the hairbands.
Birthplace of Jazz - NOLA
Ultimately you can’t be interested in blues and jazz without finding yourself wanting to go to New Orleans. Ever since we started this traveling lifestyle I have wanted to spend time in the Big Easy and eat gumbo & Jambalaya while listening to live music.
On our first year around we spent a week hanging out in Mississippi waiting for the weather to break enough to allow a visit but it never did and we ran out of time. The second-year schedule routed us too far westward.
But this year it finally worked out. We had to kill a couple of days due to rotten weather again but persevered and had 3 solid days of exploring New Orleans.
Here’s our list of accomplishments:
- Ate beignets and and drank chicory coffee at the Cafe Du Monde
- Listened to Jazz on the street in front of St. Louis cathedral
- Found Preservation Hall - after missing it the first time
- Explored some shops selling the cool to the..umm…stuff you’d expect to find in a New Orleans shop…
- Ate Thanksgiving Lunch at City Cafe / Market Cafe choosing gumbo and a Muffuletta
- Explored Armstrong Park
- Stood in Congo Square
- Walked on Basin Street
- Peeked in Saint Louis Cemetery - not open but a tour guide came along and we got a good half-hour of stories and lore about the cemetery
- Volunteered at the local Ronald McDonald house for a couple hours
- Walked Bourbon Street on a Friday night (just the adults)
- Sampled live music in several clubs
- Attended a Preservation Hall concert
- Listened to another big-band on Frenchman Street
I have to call out the concert at Preservation Hall as the highlight of the New Orleans visit. It’s an interesting business. First - it’s hard to find and has poor signage.
There are no sidewalk hawkers holding signs and shouting out classic jazz players names. It’s small. The room you hear the music in is maybe 20’ x 40’. Seating? A couple chairs, a few benches, and some floor cushions take up about half of the room.
The back portion is just open for standing. Food or drinks? Nah. Get those next door. Bathroom? Nope. Again, next door. Sound system? Nope. You gotta solo you play louder.
And people line up for this, spend $15-$20 each and for that amount get 45 minutes of live music. It would be so easy to dismiss this as a officially-sanctioned scam, fleecing tourists for as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time with the lowest overhead. I’m not actually sure how many cities would allow it.
What Preservation Hall does is strip away everything but the music. You can’t get distracted with the quality of your food, or miss half a song trying to get the waiter’s attention for a beer refill. You don’t miss a note under the cheering of sports-fans watching the TV’s back at the bar.
What you get is 45 minutes of the good stuff. The pure, unadulterated sounds that this area is known for performed by musicians interested in keeping it alive and heard by people willing to suffer the lack of a light beer while enjoying it.
I’m glad we went - and I’m glad for a patient wife willing to stand in the cold with a sore back to accompany me on an experience I’ve been longing for.