Uncategorized

In a city as well-known for music as New Orleans, record stores are important, and the Crescent City has some good ones indeed. Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street is the place for all things Louisiana, from brass band music, traditional jazz, swamp pop and local rock to books and magazines about Louisiana music. Peaches Records on South Peters occupies the space of the old Tower Records, and is a reincarnation of the legendary store in Gentilly that did not survive Hurricane Katrina. The old Peaches was in an inner-city neighborhood, and specialized in rap. The new location still sells rap, but caters more to the tourist trade in the French Quarter. There is plenty of used vinyl, a nice local section with a lot of brass band music, and even a small coffee bar in the front. 

8/28/09: Heading Way Uptown

Art, Bands, Books, Coffee, Coffee Bars, entertainment, events, Food, music, Music Conferences, Restaurants, Shopping


I decided to eat breakfast at a place called the Oak Street Cafe, which was in the far uptown neighborhood of Carrollton, so I walked up Canal to Carondelet, and caught the St. Charles trolley line there. The weather was sunny, but not particularly hot, and with the windows open, it was actually quite cool. The St. Charles route through the Uptown was quite an unusual one. Past Lee Circle, it passed boutique hotels and restaurants, beautifully-landscaped Garden District mansions, historic college campuses like Loyola and Tulane, and Aubudon Park and zoo. I also noticed New Orleans’ famous Exposition Boulevard, the street that never was , a “street” that can only be walked.
When the trolley line swung northward at Carrollton Avenue, most people got off at the famous Camellia Grill where I had eaten last year, but I continued further north to Oak Street, whose brightly colored row of shops and cafes was quite welcoming. On the corner with Carrollton Avenue was an old bank that had become an Indian restaurant, and another ancient building on the opposite corner (also perhaps a former bank) had become a coffee bar. Down the first block westward on Oak were a gelato bar, a snowball stand called Belle of the Ball, a independent book shop and the Oak Street Cafe.

The latter was fairly crowded, in keeping with its good reputation for breakfast, and, as I had heard, there was a live blues pianist performing, but what intrigued me more was the terrific local art work on nearly every wall. On the east wall was a vivid painting of a University of New Orleans basketball player, so realistic that I almost expected him to move at any minute. On the west wall behind the pianist were captivating paintings of jazz bands and tuba players. Unfortunately the prices were all rather steep. As I was eating breakfast, a blues singer from our conference came in wearing a big cowboy hat, and he got up a sang one song with the pianist. Before I left, he told me about a hit song he was getting played on blues radio stations, and, after walking further west down the street, I heard it playing on WWOZ from the speakers out in front of Squeals Bar-B-Que.
The Maple Leaf Bar area had been completely fenced off due to road construction, but I still walked down there to see it, and the Jacque-Imo’s Restaurant next door. After I had walked back toward Carrollton Avenue, I ducked into the bookstore for awhile, and then I went across the street to the gelateria for a cold dessert before getting back on the trolley.
An older couple sitting behind me were talking about going to the shops on Magazine Street, so I decided to get off where they did and walk down to Magazine, a five-block walk past a large former orphanage called St. Elizabeth’s that now belongs to Anne Rice. But five blocks in the heat of the day is stifling, so by the time I got to Magazine Street, I was both tired and drenched with sweat, and none of the shops in that area interested me much. But there was a store called McKeown’s Books and Difficult Music another few blocks to the south on Tchoupitoulas, so I walked down that way, past a place called Rose’s Jazz Hall, where a young women who had just walked outside called to me and asked me if I was J-Dogg. I thought perhaps it was someone from our conference, but it turned out to be the Shreveport music journalist and musicologist Kathryn Hobgood, who had moved to New Orleans a few years ago, and was now working on her masters at Tulane. She was about to get married, and had been checking out the jazz hall as a possible reception spot. I thought about what an odd coincidence it was as I walked on into the bookstore, where I bought an interesting book about the spiritual churches in New Orleans.
Still thoroughly hot, I walked across to the opposite corner to enjoy a snowball at a place that Kathryn had recommended, whose sign boasted of 70 years in business. With that refreshment, I began the long walk back northward to the trolley route, and then I rode the trolley back into the Quarter. After hanging around the conference events at the hotel for awhile, I got my car and drove out to Bud’s Broiler on Calhoun at Claiborne, where I had a charcoal burger with hickory sauce that was delicious, if a little small. Actually, it was small enough that I decided to head down the block to the Frostop and try their Lot-a-Burger with bacon and cheese. The Frostop burger was big, and all right, but I had to say that Bud’s Burger won the competition in my opinion.
At the coffee bar across the street, the talk on the outside tables was about the death penalty, perhaps because a New Orleans jury had imposed that ultimate penalty on a young man convicted of shooting five teenagers in the Central City neighborhood last year. The owner had been one of the debaters, but when I walked inside, he soon joined me, and I ordered a cappuccino to go.
Back in the quarter, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. The hip-hop showcase was scheduled to be at Peaches Records, and the DJ had set up there, and the New Orleans hip-hop artist Truth Universal was there, but there was little crowd, and the show hadn’t really started yet. The record store had a lot of interesting books about New Orleans, but I really didn’t have much extra money to spend, so I got tired of looking, and walked down past Jackson Square to the French Market where other acts were supposed to be playing for Cutting Edge. Those events had ended at 9 PM, however, and now the French Market was largely dead except for the Cafe Du Monde, where I stopped for coffee and beignets. Finally, with nothing else going on, I walked back to the hotel.

8/27/09: Nuthin But Fire Records, Snowballs and Preservation Hall

Bands, entertainment, events, music, Music Conferences, Restaurants


Restaurants in the Quarter are expensive, so I drove out to a place called the River Cafe in Harahan that had received good reviews on one of my iPhone apps, but when I turned down the street into an industrial park I thought I might have gotten lost. However, the restaurant was indeed in an industrial park, and the breakfast was good. Riding the River Road back into New Orleans, I came to a flea market that I stopped to browse through, and then came into the Uptown area, which seemed to have some intriguing clubs, restaurants and shops. Oak Street was closed for some sort of reconstruction, and St. Charles was also torn up from Carrollton Avenue back toward the Quarter, so past Tulane I turned northward toward Claiborne Avenue, partially to escape the construction, and partially to locate the Ted’s Frostop and Bud’s Broiler where I hoped to eat at some point during my trip to New Orleans. I found them on the corner of Calhoun and Claiborne, and then began heading back downtown on Claiborne, passing through beautiful neighborhoods and devastated areas back and forth. Down one street, I noticed a large wall mural of a man in fatigues withe legend “SLACK” painted above it, and I wondered if it was a picture of the Slack I had once known who was the CEO of one of the old New Orleans record labels.
I had called Miss Tee, and she had agreed to meet me at Nuthin But Fire Records on North Claiborne beyond the quarter, so I continued through Treme, an area that had been devastated long before Katrina by the high-rise lanes of Interstate 10, although there were still neighborhood landmarks like the late Ernie K-Do’s Mother-In-Law Lounge, which someone seemed to be maintaining. At the record store, I met the owner Sess, who I had talked with on the phone but never met, and an employee who turned out to be Miss Tee’s brother. She soon arrived as well, and then the rapper Kilo came through as he was promoting his artist Euricka. The heat was unbearable, and Miss Tee offered to walk me down the street for a snowball, but on the way we were joined by a junkie named Melvin who kept hitting us up for money. After he walked away, Miss Tee explained that Melvin was addicted to heroin, and that Governor Jindal had cut funding to the clinics and drug treatment programs. When we got to Elysian Fields, we learned that the snowball stand, which was mobile, had not appeared, although it was one of the hottest days of the year, so we walked back to the studio, and she decided to drive me in her car over to one of the best snowball stands in the city near A. P. Tureaud Avenue. It was indeed one of the best snowball stands in the city, and I soon learned that a snowball in New Orleans is not a snowcone. There’s something different about the way the ice is shaved, so that it soaks up the syrup, and I was still enjoying mine 15 minutes later when Miss Tee had driven me over to UTP Studios, where she hoped we would meet Partners-N-Crime. They had gone on a food run, but they soon came back, and I did get a chance to meet them and remind them about the Cutting Edge conference. After that, we rode back to my car, which I had left in front of the record store, and then I drove back into the Quarter and parked near the Faubourg Marigny, because I wanted to see where the evening showcases would be held.
Frenchmen Street had the gingerbread architecture and brilliant colors of a Caribbean street, and was primarily clubs and/or restaurants, with an occasional bookstore or residential building. Beyond Snug Harbor, my favorite jazz club in the city where I used to go to see Lumark Gulley play, there was a coffee bar called the Rose Nicaud Cafe, and I ducked in there to get a cappuccino, and then I drove back to the other side of the Quarter near my hotel. While browsing in the upstairs of Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street, I was startled by Memphis musician Scott Bomar, who came up behind me while I was browsing. He had been on the conference with Jody Stephens, the former drummer of Big Star, who was also involved with Cutting Edge, but sadly, their conference responsibilities were over, and they were driving back to Memphis the next morning. Walking further down into the Jackson Square area, I had hoped to come upon a brass band or some street musicians, but I didn’t. I did hear the boom of bass drums coming from somewhere behind the Cabildo, however, so I attempted to follow the sound, but was soon disappointed, as it was coming from some rehearsal from inside the Cabildo itself, but I noted the location of Preservation Hall, where the New Birth Brass Band would be playing later, and then walked back to the hotel. The American Federation of Musicians was sponsoring a reception for us on the third floor of the hotel, and I ate so much roast beef that I didn’t need to go out to dinner. Instead, I walked down to Peaches Records and Tapes, and had intended to go to the Cafe du Monde, but I was out of time, so I made my way to Preservation Hall, and got inside, but all the seats had been taken. The New Birth Brass Band was a curious mix of old-timers and youngsters, with a good steady beat and a great repertoire, mostly of standard New Orleans material. On one song, the singer from the better-known Treme Brass Band joined them. The hall looked as if it hadn’t changed in 30 years, which it probably hadn’t. When not playing, the musicians hung out in a beautiful courtyard, from which occasionally emerged a curious cat, who would nuzzle our feet before growing bored and reentering the courtyard. Afterwards, I did walk over to the Cafe du Monde, and enjoyed the usual coffee and beignets before walking back to the hotel.

8/13/08: A Quarter Interlude, New Orleans

Bands, Burgers, Coffee, Coffee Bars, Desserts, Diners, Drummers, Drums, entertainment, events, Food, Hip Hop, Hotels, jazz, music, Music Conferences, New Orleans, Record Stores, Restaurants, Travel

I got a fairly late start out of Memphis, heading for the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference in New Orleans, and I stopped for a lunch at Back Yard Burger in Batesville, Mississippi. Fighting sleepiness as I headed down I-55, I pulled off at Jazz & Java in Madison for a breve latte, and then I continued further south into Louisiana.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre.