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New Orleans Five Years Later: Jazz music

August 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. Music is in the city's soul. Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the music scene is still trying to get back in rhythm.

What would New Orleans be without its music? It's the city's backbone, its energy, its spirit. But there was a time immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans that people were concerned it wouldn't come back.

Many musicians had to leave town. Some haven't returned.

But for the most part the music lives on thanks to tenacious musicians who refuse to give up.

They say the soul of New Orleans is its music. It's where jazz was born. It's described as a style of music where two or more people improvise collectively. It's loud and energetic.

Not nearly as famous as Bourbon Street is Frenchman Street. Locals have been coming here for years to get their music but now the word is getting out and tourists are finding out about it, flocking here, making it the hotspot for music.

But on one particular Monday night it's pretty mellow, thanks to the rain. But you can feel a beat coming from someplace. Most of the clubs are quiet, but as I get closer to one particular club, the music gets louder and louder.

I find the action: Glen David Andrews is ripping it up at DBA. Perhaps that's how things happen in New Orleans: On this Monday night, like a magnet, I stumble upon a real happening joint.

Andrews has the crowd in a frenzy, and uses the opportunity to help promote his beloved city.

"Today is the first day of shrimp season and tomorrow I'm going out to buy Louisiana shrimp," said Andrews.

"We need to promote and preserve the traditional music of New Orleans and spread it to the world, but also preserve and promote the culture of New Orleans," said Andrews.

Being a musician hasn't been easy since Katrina. The city lost an enormous amount of talent immediately after the storm. No place to live, no place to play. They migrated to cities like L.A., New York, Austin.

A majority has returned and the city's music life is coming back, although, admittedly it's different.

"Our musicians are paid very low wages. And the housing prices have just escalated here, post-Katrina," said Allison Plyer, chief demographer at the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

Allison Plyer with the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center says rent is up 45 percent post-Katrina. Some musicians haven't returned because they just can't afford it.

Signing autographs on Frenchmen St. is Rosalie Washington, better known as "Lady Tambourine," a legend here. She's reputed to be the best tambourine player in the city. I was intrigued. What makes a great tambourine player?

Her talents are always in demand, yet she's here actually signing posters for a fee. She's trying to make the rent.

"The rent is very high. I'm a single mother," said Washington. "I can't afford it. I have a little place here to call my home."

Chuck Perkins is another local favorite who often steps in with bands to perform his spoken word. He says most musicians are finding a way. And that is preserving this unique music community.

"I'm sure they have a lot of fantastic musicians out in Los Angeles, but in terms of that creative spirit that you find here, you ain't going to find no place else in the world," said Perkins.

"This is the only place where you're going to see traditional jazz the way it was created, in its true art form," said Andrews.

And by traditional jazz, he's not talking about the easy-listening modern jazz created in the 1950s, he's talking about New Orleans Jazz, with its swinging, stomping, syncopated beat that makes you want to dance.

A final point about New Orleans five years later: If you want to go sample the delicious food, the wonderful jazz, and help the city get back on its feet, you can do it at a really good price. The hotels have great deals. My flights going there and coming home were empty.

It is an inexpensive time to visit and experience one of the most unique and historic cities in America.


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