Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Closer Walk in New Orleans

Later this year I will be visiting New Orleans for the umpteenth time for the Ponderosa Stomp and the Blues and Barbecue festival. I've lost count of the number of times I've been to this, my favourite city, but it's nearly every year since my first trip there in 1989. Many of the New Orleans music greats have died during this time and venues which were once regular music haunts have disappeared. But despite this, and the changes brought about by Katrina, it remains a wonderful place, a city I know well and always enjoy.
This year I will have a lot more places to search for as a result of an online project called A Closer Walk.  Supported by the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation and the community radio station WWOZ, it has huge amounts of information about places associated with the city's music history, interviews from the Stomp's conference sessions, music by many New Orleans musicians, suggested tour routes around the French Quarter and elsewhere, and what they called 'lagniappe' - bits and pieces about New Orleans such as dances popularised there and musical styles. Contributors include music writers John Broven, Jeff Hannusch and Red Kelly.
The key theme of A Closer Walk (the name of a gospel tune often played by New Orleans jazz musicians), is the wealth of places, past and present, where the various musical styles (jazz, blues and
New Orleans R and B) evolved. These include Congo Square, Storyville (the red light district which operated for 20 years until 1917), the original homes of jazz artists such as Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong and the still surviving Preservation Hall. There is info on many places where R and B stars have performed, including the Dew Drop Inn, The Little Gem Saloon, Iroquois Theater, Valencia Hall, Tipitina's and Ernie K-Doe's Mother In Law Lounge (pictured below). There's information too about Cosimo Matassa's studio and those operated by Sea-Saint and AFO. There's a mention too of the Dooky Chase restaurant. I learned a lot from the site - for example I now know where there is a monument to Gram Parsons and where Earl King and Ernie K-Doe are buried.
The festivals this autumn look excellent as ever. The Stomp has some interesting names, including Evie Sands, Gary US Bonds, Warren Storm and country singer Frankie Miller, although very few New Orleans legends this time. The line up for the Blues and Barbecue Festival, announced today, looks even better, with Bobby Rush and Robert Cray headlining and a strong under card including Walter Washington, Grady Champion and King Edward, who I've seen a couple of times in Jackson. I'm looking forward to taking a closer walk in the city this time.


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