The New Orleans music scene: A decade in review
The New Orleans music scene: A decade in review
Geraldine Wyckoff, Contributing Writer
Posted: Monday, January 11, 2010 12:11 pm
January 2010 marks not only the first month of a brand new year but the start of a new decade. Like everything else in life, the New Orleans music scene had its ups and downs since 2000 and was hard hit by Katrina and the resulting flood caused by the levee breaches.
The last 10 years, however, boasted numerous positives for this city’s music and its purveyors as is reflected by the responses of some of New Orleans’ movers and shakers to the questions: “What do you consider a significant musical milestone of the last decade?”
One answer that quickly came to mind was the return of native son Terence Blanchard to his hometown. The much-esteemed, Grammy-winning trumpeter and composer also eventually brought the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance along with him. His mere presence shone a spotlight on this city, reminding folks around the world that New Orleans is not only the birthplace of jazz but faithfully continues its legacy. A big plus for locals was the opportunity to hear the brilliant trumpeter perform more often.
The street cultures of the Mardi Gras Indians and social aid and pleasure clubs certainly became more visible and gained greater respect and appreciation in the last 10 years. The Backstreet Cultural Museum, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2009, became the first institution to offer the public full displays of Black Indian suits and secondline outfits plus historic photos and videos of jazz funerals. People were also given accurate, comprehensive information on these cultures by those with deep roots in the heritage. The exposure provided by the museum, other cultural ventures and the news media helped create an atmosphere where police harassment of these organizations was no longer readily tolerated.
So when Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana stood up at a City Council meeting on June 29, 2005 to speak on the issue of the police’s treatment of the Mardi Gras Indians and, at age 82, died while standing at the podium still fighting the fight, the citizens of New Orleans were ready to insist on change. And change happened. The Indians were treated with greater respect when in ensuing years they roamed the streets on St. Joseph’s nights. Police sirens stopped their constant screaming at the end of the the social aid and pleasure club’s anniversary parades. It’s not perfect out there on the streets, but the scene has come a long way.
Here are a few other reflections from New Orleanians in the know about the last decade.
Deacon John, guitarist, vocalist, bandleader. During the decade, Deacon John Moore received further, well-deserved recognition following the release his excellent Jump Street Blues CD and DVD and the documentary film “Going Back to New Orleans.” He finds it significant that in 2006 he became the first African American to be elected president of the New Orleans Musicians Union #174-496. He believes it signifies that the musicians have gone past race in electing a Black to the highest position in the predominantly white union. “In the past, there’s always been a white president,” he notes. “I can’t say it was on race, but it appeared to be like that. It’s like the United States of America to think beyond race and elect President Obama,” Moore offers. “We changed the image of the union because people trust us now. We have the most diverse board of directors than any union in the United States of America,” Deacon adds, noting that the board now boasts people of a variety of races — Blacks, Caucasians, Asians — women, and those of all ages.
Jason Paterson, talent booker, Snug Harbor. Patterson cites the Satchmo Club Strut, a Frenchmen Street event where folks stroll from club to club for one set fee, as a milestone of the decade. “It was a Frenchmen Street jazz music showcase in a jazz town,” Patterson declares of the Strut that kicked off the Satchmo Summerfest in August 2001. Presented by the New Orleans Jazz Centennial, the Strut made its debut presenting some of this city’s finest jazz artists including pianist Ellis Marsalis, Astral Project, saxophonist Donald Harrison, trumpeter Christian Scott, Troy “Trombone” Shorty and more at various venues. The New Orleans Nightcrawlers began the popular tradition of brass bands performing on the street during the event. “It kind of pulled Frenchmen Street together and solidified it in the legacy of New Orleans jazz history,” Patterson declares. The party continued through the decade, expanding its scope to bring in some national artists like saxophonist Joshua Redman.
Irma Thomas, vocalist. Of course, personally, Thomas’ triumph of the decade was receiving her first Grammy – for her 2006 album After the Rain – after being in the music business for over four decades. The Soul Queen of New Orleans was also inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame. Concerned she might be misunderstood, the always positive Thomas chooses her words carefully when she offers that Katrina was a mixed blessing for the city’s music. “It opened up the eyes of those in power as to what this city needs to better itself,” she says. “They realized how important music is to the economy – they didn’t realize that until they thought it was gone.” Thomas also believes that as a result of the storm, musicians have become more unified. “The community as a whole has come together. It peeled away petty jealousies.
Kermit Ruffins, trumpeter, vocalist. Naturally, this year’s Saints season was on Ruffins’ lips when asked about a milestone of the decade. He then related how he and much of the city celebrated the “big, big history” of Barack Obama winning the presidential election. “We celebrated like only we can do in New Orleans,” says Ruffins of that night when he and the Barbeque Swingers rocked St. Bernard Avenue and the Rebirth Brass Band welcomed the news. Ruffins also remembered the loss of Michael Jackson and the secondline that celebrated his life. He clearly recalls playing Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” with the Lawless High School band and the accompanying dance routine.
This article was originally published in the January 11, 2010 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper