If those of you living outside of New Orleans want to know why natives like me love it here, one reason is the plethora of and accessibility to great artists. The artistic ability per square mile in this city is astounding. I wrote an article that will appear in local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine during New Orleans Jazz Fest in late April/Early May, and had a chance to interview legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
I never get tired of speaking to great musicians and artists, particularly about the creative process and the courageous nature of developing your artistic gift in the face of daunting challenges. Here’s an excerpt from my interview – a quote from Irvin Mayfield, Artistic Director of the GRAMMY Award-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and of the New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans, regarding his esteemed predecessors in jazz and music education:
“Nobody starts to play basketball because they had a great coach. They play basketball because they saw Michael Jordan. As much as I have respect for all of the classroom time that these gentlemen (Marsalis and Battiste) have spent, I would never have been interested in them if they couldn’t play. We call these guys educators, but was Louis Armstrong any less of an educator? Was Cannonball Adderley any less of an educator? Was Miles Davis?”
- Irvin Mayfield
(Pictured left to right, Myself, Irvin Mayfield, and Ellis Marsalis)
Thanks to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment.
In 1985, David Lee Roth’s recording of “Just a Gigolo” hit the Billboard top 40. While many of my friends who grew up in the era of music video considered it a new song, there was nothing new about the song if you grew up in an Italian-American family in New Orleans.
Louis Prima was one of the most dynamic performers of his era, and his 1950′s Vegas show was a favorite stop of many of the celebrities of the day, many of whom rose to greater levels of fame and success. But they realized that Louis Prima was one of the most dynamic musicians in the business, and he had a rare gift. No performer exuded the joy of playing music like Louis and his band (The Witnesses led by sax player Sam Butera).
My fellow Sicilian-American, New Orleans native would have been 100 years old today. His son Louis Prima Jr. currently performs a tribute show to his dad. The music of Louis Prima has been rediscovered by new audiences through remakes by David Lee Roth, Brian Setzer, and other artists. His music has also been re-discovered and utilized by TV commercial and film producers.
Prima’s success was a great source of pride in my family growing up, and it was only later in life that I began to understand why. Here’s one my favorite (thought somewhat lesser known) Louis Prima songs, “Banana Split for My Baby.” Happy Birthday, Louis.
In this month’s Where Y’at magazine, my interview/profile of Irvin Mayfield, Grammy-winning leader of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and the cultural ambassador of New Orleans, among other accomplishments.
Here’s my favorite excerpt:
“We need to take a serious look at what being educated really means. The mandate has to be across the board that in New Orleans, every kid is going to know the sound of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and the recipes of Leah Chase. Those things are not less important than what Hemingway wrote. A dish, a word, and a sound are equals.”
The New Orleans street performers add ambiance to the French Quarter area and draw visitors to the area. Those visitors support restaurants and businesses. And if you’ve ever been in New Orleans this time of year, you know that being outdoors in the heat and humidity for 6-8 hours is no picnic. All of the residents of the New Orleans metro area benefit from their hard work and dedication.
When I was in college, I tended bar on Bourbon St. on weekends and holidays. Occasionally, some of the performers that included musicians, dancers, and mimes, clowns would come in for a glass of water. While they were all smiles for the crowds, I could see how grueling that heat could be by the expressions on their faces when they came in for a little relief from the hot weather.
The city is considering enforcing an ordinance limiting the hours that these performers can play. While I understand that there are concerns from French Quarter residents, they should proceed with caution. I don’t think it’s appropriate to limit music in the city that is defined by it. The prudent approach would be to simply handle compaints on a case-by-case basis rather than enforcing indiscrimanantly.
The New Orleans French Quarter is a unique and wonderful place. Some say it’s the only real Bohemian society in America. Let’s not let the beaurocracy ruin a good thing.
Photos courtesy of my 12 year-old son and photography buff, Michael Cortello.
I interviewed jazz guitar instructor Hank Mackie a few years ago. Hank’s reputation as both a player and instructor in the New Orleans area is impeccable, spawning a couple of generations of jazz guitar phenoms. I also interviewed a few of his most accomplished students who became professional musicians. Here’s a quote regarding the essence of Hank’s approach to instruction from a student that provides some insight into why he’s so beloved and admired:
“If I could sum it up with one sentence, he got in the trenches with the student,” student Ted Ludwig said, noting the propensity of some teachers to demonstrate a condescending attitude toward students. “He didn’t sit up there on a higher level, look down at you and say OK, this is the thing you need to learn to get up here. He came down to your level and he brought you up. A lot of teachers shoot things at you—If you get it, you get it, if you don’t, you don’t,” he added.
“Hank never was afraid to tell you things more than one time,” says Ludwig. “When Hank was teaching, he let go of the fact that he was a great player. Hank always encouraged his better students to come out and sit in wherever he was playing,” he added, offering further evidence of Mackie’s self-assuredness and humility.