Wednesday 7 March 2012

My New Orleans Dream

GIG #87 @ Corner of Frenchmen and Chartres Streets, New Orleans, LA
March 28, 2011

I sat on a new corner on Frenchmen by myself and started up the accordion. I was playing for about 15 minutes when a fiddler showed up and asked if he could play with me. He soon started up and another 15 minutes later Malcolm showed up with his drum.

Malcolm was one of the NOLA musical gatekeepers for me - he pulled up on his bike with his drum where I was playing on one of my first nights in the French Quarter and played a bit with me. He showed up regularly from that point on.

Malcolm played a red floor tom - which is a large drum that is usually part of a drum kit. It is traditionally played in a vertical position - it stands on three legs and the top head is played with sticks. Malcolm took the legs off, tied a rope around it, put it around his neck and played it horizontally - so the top and bottom heads could be played. He also had a small tambourine with him most times and he would use that to hit one of the heads. His tip jar was a blue bonnet margarine tub taped to the drum with blue painter's tape.

The three of us jammed for a while, and I was in heaven. Malcolm's groove was swinging hard, and the fiddler's gruff, gravely voice fit perfectly with his screechy, whining violin style. I spent more time listening than playing. Most of the time I would lock into Malcolm with either a simple bass line I doubled on the right hand, or with well placed hits. A small crowd would gather every so often to listen.

After our first "set" we took a little break and a trumpet player showed up. He stunk of cigarettes and alcohol. He was a large spirit with a great vibe. We started up. The sound of his trumpet filled the streets of Frenchmen and people began to gather. He sang and played as I imagined Louis Armstrong might have. I had now crossed over into the New Orleans of my dreams. After a few numbers the trumpeter took out a very long trumpet which had a blank purple banner dangling from it. I had never seen anything like it. The people on the street cheered and whistled.

He was a great listener, and was always asking the fiddler to step up and play, as he was shying away from it a bit. He was encouraging with all of us, while also being keenly aware of the audience and entertaining them with a dance, a flurry of notes, a comment. After a bunch of songs, he shook his trumpet case into the crowd and sang a few lines from Donna Summer's "Hard for the Money"

After an hour or two we wrapped it up and counted the money. He insisted that we split all of it equally. I would have been content giving him half - he was the show that night, and there was no way we would have made the large sum we took in without him. He took off down the street popping into a few clubs along the way and sitting in with whoever was playing. Before he left he told me to come to the Candlelight Lounge in Treme on Wednesday.

GIG #356 @ Corner of Frenchmen and Chartres Streets, New Orleans, LA
December 22, 2011

Oscar and I left St. Augustine, FL very early. We had a ten hour or so drive to New Orleans. I was excited to be returning to NOLA after many months, and it was Oscar's first time. I would need to play a gig somewhere after the long drive. The time flew by and before I knew it, I was back on Frenchmen. It was colder than it was back in March and the city didn't seem as busy. I started to play.
I noticed a bunch of brass players gathering across the street. One of them crossed the street and came up to me.
"My band always plays here, so you'll have to move"
He was a young black guy, and poured on the thick attitude. This was a change from the NOLA I knew in March where things happened incredibly organically, and no one ever asked me to move. They would just come and play with me if they dug it.
"That is cool. Do you mind if I play with you guys?" I asked.
He looked at me kind of strange. I imagined he was asking himself what I could possibly do with them.
"Mmm," he mumbled. "You'll have to ask our leader."
He went back across the street. I went back to playing.
Once they had assembled they made their way to the corner where I was playing.
"Did you ask if I could play?"
I think he was hoping I would just go away. He didn't reply, so I went up to another guy.
"Do you mind if I play with you guys? I play with Malcolm…and last time I was here I jammed with that trumpet guy with the long trumpet"
They all seemed surprised that I knew Malcolm.
"Yeah it's cool. Just stand between me and the snare" the bass drummer said.
I figured they were putting me there so I would be drowned out. I was thrilled. They were hitting it hard and the groove was deep. I couldn't have been happier between the drummers.
After a few tunes, the snare drummer yelled out "Let him solo!" and pointed to me. I made my way out to the front and tore it up.
I was back in my New Orleans dream, picking up right where I left off.