Making it right

New Orleans drops the guns and dances
By JON GARELICK  |  May 5, 2009

SISSY BOUNCE: Freedia & Nobby aren't afraid to take New Orleans's macho hip-hop gay.

WFNX Jazz Brunch Top 5
1. Melody Gardot, You’re My Thrill [Verve]
2. Brian Blade, Mama Rosa [Verve Forecast]
3. Various Artists, Playing for Change: Songs Around the World [Hear Music]
4. Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi [Nonesuch]
5. John Scofield, Piety Street [EmArcy]

On the stomp. By Jon Garelick.

"Sew all day, sew all night/Gonna sew that suit till I make it right." Big Chief KeKe was chanting, trading call-and-response with his crew, the Comanche Hunters Mardi Gras Indians, and with the audience ("sew, sew, sew") — the stage alight with colored feathers and beads. It was a scene you could have watched played out any number of times at the 40th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The same chants — "Indian Red," "Shallow Water," "Shoo Fly," "Tu Way Packa Away." And the backing of nothing but parade drums and congas, the familiar call-and-responses, the freestyle verses of defiance and mayhem.

Whatever increments of recovery New Orleans has made since Hurricane Katrina, in many ways the city never changes. The front page of the Times-Picayune on April 25, the first Saturday of the two-weekend Jazz Fest, was typical: big center-page piece on the fest, bracketed by a right-hand column on the FBI arrest of a state district judge and the left-hand column about the mayor's being investigated for corruption. The only shocker was a lower-left-hand piece, "Crime is down sharply in N.O." All the same, when we called a friend who had lived in the city for decades and told him which hotel we were staying at, his response was unequivocal: don't walk in that neighborhood after dark, take a cab. "The violence is indiscriminate and almost always involves guns." Sure enough, the Monday Times-Picayune reported 13 robberies over the weekend, most with guns, a couple not far from us.

But if corruption and violence are constants, so are the music and the city's beauty. Less often this year than last did I hear the cry of "We're back!" Or progress reports from the stage by musicians who were living out of state, had moved back, or were planning to move back soon. Instead, local musicians delivered the music without much editorial comment. And the locals are what draw my wife and me back year after year: Irma "Soul Queen of New Orleans" Thomas, Cajun music avatars Marc & Ann Savoy, pop-song polymath Allen Toussaint, brass bands like Rebirth, Dirty Dozen, and Mahogany, Mardi Gras Indians like the Comanche Hunters, the Golden Star Hunters, the Semolian Warriors, Creole Wild West, the Golden Eagles. And yeah, every once in a while, we'd slip over to the football-field-sized Acura Stage to hear a few minutes of Joe Cocker or Pete Seeger. (We skipped the big first-weekend draw, Dave Matthews — though Wilco sounded nice as we headed for the shuttle buses back to the French Quarter at the end of the day.)

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  Topics: Jazz , Entertainment, Music, New Orleans,  More more >
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