Listening Journal, Southern Journey, March 25

A little woozy from the high life at the David Doucet show last night, we grabbed a very early coffee at The Avenue Cafe (we are staying at The Avenue Plaza on St. Charles) and embarked for the swamps southwest of NOLA. The Jason Marsalis CD Nicole had snagged yesterday, while not remotely swampy, was the perfect antidote to the fog, Marsalis’ dancing vibe playing slowly bringing us into the clear. I am not a big fan of the family’s music: Wynton’s too “perfect,” Branford not distinctive enough to my ear, Delfeayo–well, I haven’t heard him yet…so, as usual, I am talking out my ass. I DO love the patriarch’s playing (Ellis just doesn’t have enough records), and I find Jason’s playing graceful, inventive, and wry. The record is IN A WORLD OF MALLETS, and it’s on NOLA’s own Basin Street Records, one of my favorite labels. Here’s one of the best songs from the record, live from its CD release party.

During our swamp tour with ZAM’s, I didn’t want to be a doofus of a tourist and chat up our very Cajun guide about “his culture’s music,” but I did float out a Beausoleil reference to not a flicker of recognition. Listened to more of Rhino’s ALLIGATOR STOMP on the way back to the city–Volume 2 is a little corny.

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The evening brought an event we had greatly anticipated: a trip to Preservation Hall. Perhaps you think it is merely for the tourists and mouldy figs–not so. It is a must for the true American. You’re packed into an ancient space with 4-5 masters of New Orleans jazz–NOT Dixieland!!!!–both young and old, and will get treated to warm, spirited, knowing, and soulful performances from the fathoms-deep city songbook. It will cost you $20 to request “Saints”; don’t do it! And no photography and recording is allowed, so (sorry) you’ll have to rely on your deteriorating memory. We were very fortunate to get a group led by master drummer Shannon Powell, who is like Baby Dodds made immortal, and gloried in renditions of “Rosetta,” “Darktown Strutter’s Ball” (woah!), and “Creole Love Song” (double woah–haunting and beautiful). It was our second time and we will always go. Tip for the traveler: if you get there early, there will be a loooong line no matter, so get your tics in advance and have drinks across the street on St.  Peters at Johnny White’s, the legendary bar that stayed open throughout Katrina. We had mint juleps.

We closed the night revisiting the Palace Cafe on Canal, where we’d eaten thrice on our honeymoon 22 years ago. I hate it when restaurant personnel interrupt your meal with birthday singing and seal-clapping, but a sharply-dressed trio of a capella singers (one a dead ringer for Philippe Wynne of the Spinners) walked in off the street and began serenading diners very beautifully with vocal group classics. We were hoping they would come to our table and do The Jive Five’s “What Time is It?” but no such luck. It was a chilly, windy evening, so we resisted the urge to walk up to dba’s on Frenchmen or take a taxi to The Maple Leaf to brave the packed house that always awaits The Rebirth Brass Band (we had done that before), but if you’re ever here and it’s normally warm, you must go.

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