One of the pleasant surprises of New Orleans each time I come here is the music. Between trips, I tend to forget that music is everywhere. It is pleasantly inescapable. Our new found friend Larry Talerico, who we are renting our temporary apartment from in New Orleans, is a member of the Levee Jazz Band (click here for sample). Larry plays the trumpet (see photo at left) and sings lead vocals. It is quite an impressive group and plays at a lot of local events. Larry occasionally jams with others around the city when he has the opportunity. A former music teacher from Ohio, Larry is a kindred spirit from the teaching world and has been the most welcoming of hosts on our vagabond travels.
Larry and Patti, during our first week in New Orleans, invited us to a party celebrating the grand opening of a new real estate office. The party featured New Orleans legend, Deacon John Moore and The Ivories. Deacon John is well known in and around New Orleans and is the subject of an NPR segment (click here). At the age of 75, Deacon John is going strong and is still in high demand. It was a rare treat to be able to hear such a talent live–an opportunity we would not have had without Larry’s and Patti’s thoughtfulness in inviting us. We were even treated to an honest-to-goodness fight that broke out literally right behind me. It would appear that one of the neighbors near the real estate opening had a little too much to drink, or participated in recreational pharmaceuticals, and took exception to the volume of the outdoor music (duh!!!). He walked over, obviously under the influence as near as we could tell, with his German Shepard. Not only did he send the dog into the yard where outdoor tables were setup and people were gathered enjoying drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and listening to the music. The dog panicked and started darting from table to table looking for a place to hide, get away from the people, and in the process caused a bit of panic among the guests. The guy also threatened the hostess, choked the skinny waiter who tried to intervene, and even though the guy had 40 pounds on the waiter, the waiter tossed him to the ground directly behind me on the sidewalk before the police were summoned. In true professional fashion, the band played on as if nothing were happening. I, on the other hand, thought “Holy cow! This is great! You can’t get tickets to this kind of entertainment!!!!”
While waiting for the streetcar near our temporary apartment one afternoon, we noticed an attractive, well-dressed young lady strolling toward our stop on foot about three blocks down. With no one seemingly watching, she spontaneously broke into dance–body swaying, arms rhythmically moving in the air above her head with a few pirouettes thrown in for good measure as she walked. She was clearly in her own zone and thoroughly enjoying the music in her earbuds–oblivious to all around her. As she got closer to the streetcar stop she halted the dance and casually got in line like all was perfectly normal. In any other place, you would have thought she was high on something. In New Orleans, it seemed as natural as breathing
Heide and I have been walking all over New Orleans (about 3-5 miles each day or more) and I find it remarkable how music permeates the culture. Not only are there street urchins who serenade passersby and tap dance their hearts out in the hopes of getting some “bread in their jar,” but bands are playing everywhere in the streets. Funerals are famous for jazz bands accompanying the dearly departed to their final resting place, celebrating the life rather than mourning the death. It seems no event is immune from live music.
We decided to stroll along the levee holding back the Mississippi River one afternoon and encountered a guy playing the saxophone. He was quite good. I dropped some money in his sax case, and he immediately struck up a conversation (I think he smelled an easy mark). He sang a special song to Heide (about what a scoundrel I was as it turned out!). Before I knew it, we were the proud owners of a T.S. Lark CD of his music and were $20 lighter.
Many bars have live bands but some of the best gems are the scattered street musicians who are quite talented and seem to draw small crowds all over. Not playing an instrument is no impediment to sharing your talent. The picture on the left was a guy that just setup on the street with nice acoustics between the buildings and started singing. He was pretty good and worth a stop to listen to for a few minutes.
Don’t listen to the news; listen to all the music you can find. In New Orleans, it’s everywhere.