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.
My friend Travis and I arrived at Jackson Square and ran into my homeboys from the TBC Brass Band, who had been hired to lead a wedding procession from St. Louis Cathedral to Galvez Restaurant on the other side of Decatur Street. Of course, in New Orleans, nothing ever happens as planned, and the wedding proved to take a lot longer than expected, but seeing the comings and goings on Jackson Square on such a pleasant night was fun in its own right. One strange, wheeled contraption was comprised of a number of drums and gongs which a man was playing as he wheeled it around the square, and several groups of tourists were walking around on “haunted” or “voodoo” tours. Eventually, however, the wedding party emerged from the church with the bells ringing from the cupola, and the TBC band struck up to lead them on their way. They of course played a more traditional style than their usual repertoire, but it was still exciting. Once they arrived at the Galvez courtyard, they kept playing until everyone had entered the restaurant, and then they disappeared into the night.
Although the city of New Orleans put a stop to the tradition of brass bands playing in the first block of Bourbon Street near Canal, brass band music can still be heard in and around Jackson Square on some afternoons, played by a band known as the Jackson Square All-Stars. This band is geared to the out-of-town visitors, and therefore doesn’t play the hood-infused youthful style that used to prevail at Bourbon and Canal, but a lot of the members of this band are young musicians from the city’s best brass bands, including the TBC.
Back when Jackson Square was the Place d’Armes, the land on either side of the square was also public property, but somehow the land eventually became private property, and owned by a Baroness no less, the Baroness de Pontalba. She chose to erect on her land two apartment buildings which still stand today, and which give New Orleans another claim to fame as the city with the first apartments in America.
In the early afternoon, this traditional brass band was playing in front of the Cabildo at Jackson Sqaure. The song, “Everybody Ought to Know” is a Sunday School song from my youth that I never knew was part of the brass band tradition, but it definitely works.
While enjoying my cafe au lait and beignets at the Cafe du Monde, I thought I heard the satisfying boom of a bass drum. It proved to be coming from the other side of Jackson Square, in front of the Cabildo, where a traditional brass band had set up to play for the handful of tourists out on such a cold, dark and windy day.
jackson square, new orleans
Walking around the French Quarter in New Orleans, July 4, 2012
The French Quarter, Friday, September 23, 2011