By Mary Hall
Monday, February 22, 2010
Of course, virtually nothing here happens without music… not football, not funerals, not religion, not stepping out for a little walk around the corner even. Our friends J and M have been visiting us and they have exhibited that trait of the perfect house guest, which is to go out on one’s own to discover the neighborhood and not lie about waiting for you to finish your wretched email or whatever other boring, mundane thing you are doing. So, in addition to succumbing to the charms of the Ellis Marsalis band, J and M found any number of small adventures and, in the process, became habitues of The Spotted Cat.
In this funky neighborhood music bar they came to know the pianist who was there every week day from 4-6, and who, despite his surly comments and habit of drinking large quantities of rum with lemonade and whipped cream, was a great musician and singer, with whom they exchanged occasional brusque bon mots. The bar tender remembered them, called them by name, knew their drinks. They were familiars of the Moonshiners, a swing band of particular charm in a town of many swing bands, due in large part to the leadership and saxophone of the winsome Aurora.
Before I went to see the Moonshiners, I had been thinking that despite all the music in New Orleans, the only women that we see are singers. Nothing wrong with singers, but where are the female brass and stings and piano? Then we met Aurora and then we went to St. Augustine’s church, that fabled repository of Tremé history, where a woman plays saxophone in the choir. Is this a tradition… female saxophonists in the male world of jazz instrumentalism? If you know, post a comment.
And, speaking of Tremé, since J is an actor, we paid particular attention to the filming of the new HBO series, Tremé,, which, I believe, debuts at the end of April this year. It’s been filming in the neighborhood, making it difficult to park, of course, but, as New Orleans boosters, we’re glad to circle the block twenty times along with everyone else. One night close to midnight, on a neighborhood jazz bar crawl, we came upon the filming. Extras, swearing they would never do this again after 12 hours in the chilly February air with little action, were lounging about in Mardi Gras regalia under huge klieg lights; floats which replicated the 2006 Krewe de Vieux parade, were lined up. Nothing was happening and we had plenty of time to review the floats.
While J discussed technicalities with the actors, the rest of us examined a float entitled “Ray Nagin’s Premature Ejaculation” upon which reclined a plaster model of the mayor with erect member. Yes, indeed, and not only that, it had some kind of motor that kept it waggling about. The side of the float bore those famous words, “Heck of a job, Brownie.” Another float, carried an actor miming attitudes of despair and the caption, “Hey Chirac, Buy Us Back.” All the floats alluded to the massive difficulties immediately post Katrina and were copies of the those that had marked the first parade after the storm.
Never mind the troubles, this was a parade and, of course, it featured the mandatory brass band, including my favorite tuba. Sometime after midnight, the whole elaborate affair got moving and musical and for about five minutes, we all reenacted the joyous lunacy of Mardi Gras, but this time for the cameras. Then it was over, the lights were shut down, the extras went off to the food tent, and we went off to find what else was going on.
While you’re listening to New Orleans music, look for this new series Tremé. Starting, I believe, sometime in April, it is created by the same people that did The Wire, involves lots of local New Orleans people (as well as us as onlookers) and should be pretty interesting. And after that, or even before, come on down and visit this most musical and resilient of cities. Like our friends and countless others, you can establish an intimate acquaintance in the space of four days.