When the jazz mass at St. Augustine’s Church finally ended, the Treme Brass Band came marching out of the church, and the second-line, which had already lined up outside, got underway. The Treme Brass Band was at the front, with the Baby Dolls and Zulus behind them, and then I walked with the TBC Brass Band, who were marching with the Sudan Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and behind us came the Fi Ya Ya Warriors with their chief and their drummers. We marched first down to Rampart Street, past a couple of hotels where tourists were cheering from the balconies, and to the entrance of Louis Armstrong Park, which was entirely appropriate given the purpose of this festival. From there, we headed back down Rampart to Esplanade, and down Esplanade toward the old U.S. Mint where the festival stages were located. Although I had imagined the second-line as something of an artificial thing scheduled for tourists, I was pleasantly surprised to see it pick up second-liners and buckjumpers as it proceeded down Esplanade. By the time we passed through the festival gates at the Mint, there was hardly room to move. I had meant to hang out at the festival, but I soon found that all of my homeboys in the TBC were leaving out to walk back up toward the Treme, and I was tired too. It took every bit of strength I had to walk back up to the Treme Center where I had parked my car.
As I was walking down Bourbon Street near the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, I finally came upon what I had been looking for all afternoon, a brass band, although it wasn’t one I had heard of, but rather a new band called the Legacy Brass Band. One of the signs that New Orleans’ brass band scene is healthy is the constant appearance of new brass bands in the city, and the relative youth of the members. The Legacy proved to be a good-sounding band with good arrangements, and the ability to attract a crowd. I was impressed with the slogan on the back of their shirts, “Music Is Not A Crime”, a reference to the city’s recent crackdowns on live music that have made brass band appearances rarer outside of night clubs or second-line parades. Far sadder was a handwritten eulogy on the bass drummer’s drumhead, in memory of someone named Big Whoop who presumably was killed, an all-too-often occurrence in New Orleans. The good news is that brass bands and the opportunity to become musicians are significant lures to young men and significant deterrents to crime and violence.
With no second-line, I spent the afternoon browsing in the French Market, and walking around the French Quarter. I was vaguely hoping to run into a brass band somewhere, but the city government has been discouraging that of late. A band had been playing in Jackson Square, but they had taken a break and left their instruments piled up on a park bench while they relaxed on the steps of the Cabildo nearby. The other spot where brass bands used to be common was at the corner of Bourbon Street and Canal next to the Foot Locker, which had been a sort of proving ground for new young bands, but the city has fenced the whole area off, on the pretext that bricks have been falling from the nearby building, so bands can no longer play there. In reality, the city had suppressed the brass bands there before the area was fenced off. So I did some shopping at a couple of book stores, and then started walking back east toward where I had parked my car on elysian Fields.
Almost anyone who has been to the French Quarter has seen Buffa’s Lounge. After all, it’s been there since 1939, and it’s on Esplanade, which is one of the major thoroughfares leading into the Vieux Carre. I had passed it any number of times over the years, but of course New Orleans is a city full of food choices, and so it just never occurred to me to try Buffa’s until I read somewhere a couple of years ago that they stayed open 24 hours a day and had a decent burger and decent breakfast. They also started booking live music a few years ago, and feature live traditional jazz at brunch on Sundays. So I decided that this was the year I would try Buffa’s, and I am glad I did. Parking was somewhat difficult, as it always is in the Faubourg Marigny, but the weather was beautiful and I didn’t mind walking a couple of blocks. The restaurant is in the back behind the bar, and there was literally only one table left when I walked in. Soon there was a small crowd waiting outside the door for tables, while a jazz band called Some Like It Hot was playing on stage. Breakfast was the reason I had come, and I had a delightful bacon, cheese and mushroom omelette with homemade biscuits and coffee. Omelettes are huge, taking up half the plate, and the only thing better than a breakfast in New Orleans is a breakfast in New Orleans with live jazz going on. Brunch at Buffa’s is an experience not to be missed.
1001 Esplanade Av
New Orleans, LA 70116
After 2 AM, parts of the French Quarter become calmer, more romantic and perhaps more mysterious. An odd note of music or distant laughter floats on the air. Bums are out and about, but so are lovers embracing, or tourists stumbling to their hotels, or locals walking home. Although night tours promote the idea of ghosts or voodoo, the French Quarter night seems anything but sinister.
New Orleans hip-hop artist and activist Truth Universal may not be one of New Orleans’ most popular rap artists, but he is certainly one of the best. He appeared at the Recording Academy celebration in conjunction with cultural guardian and percussionist Luther Gray and with notable New Orleans DJ E.F. Cuttin. His amazing show opened with a libation ceremony for the ancestors, including poet Amiri Baraka who died recently.
Robin Barnes is a relatively new neo-soul singer in New Orleans, backed by an excellent band known as the Soul Heirs. Her performance at the Recording Academy event on January 13 at the U.S. Mint was especially impressive, as was the musicianship of her band members.
Immediately after Black Water Bride, Valcour Records’ artists Bonsoir Catin appeared. They are an all-female band playing traditional Acadian music from Lafayette, Louisiana, and like all Valcour artists, they are really good.
The service region for the Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy also includes Shreveport, which is a city with a recording past and which seems to be experiencing something of a musical rebirth since the opening of Brian and Brady Blade’s Blade Studios. Black Water Bride is one of Shreveport’s hot up-and-coming new bands, blending elements of country, rock, soul and other Louisiana music styles, and they were a natural opening act for our Recording Academy party at the Old Mint.
The Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy (formerly NARAS) is a large, regional chapter that includes the city of New Orleans, so one a year our chapter board meeting is held in New Orleans. This year, after the meeting on January 13, we held a Membership Celebration at the Old U. S. Mint in the French Quarter, which featured food, drink and great live music from several bands and artists. Attendees included the chapter’s executive director Jon Hornyak, chapter president and legendary Memphis producer Boo Mitchell, chapter trustee and Memphis artist Susan Marshall, board member and producer Scott Bomar and folk artist/board member Shannon McNally.