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Arts

When waters recede, music will rise again

New Orleans has a special way of nurturing the arts, musicians and music-scene watchers say, and they hope it won't be too long before they're back in full swing.

By PHILIP BOOTH
Published September 25, 2005


Those in love with New Orleans and its roots culture, its Deep South-meets-Old World ambience and spirit of good-natured abandon, are heartsick over the physical devastation of the Crescent City and the potentially fatal wounds to its music scene.

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the irrepressible blues-based singer, guitarist and fiddle player, and the subject of the Congo Square poster at this year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, died after relocating from his Slidell, La., home to Texas. Fats Domino was rescued from the raging waters, and pianist-composer Allen Toussaint lucked into a chartered bus to the Baton Rouge airport.

Other of New Orleans' musical luminaries have scattered along with the rest of the populace, and the city's great music spots - Tipitina's, Snug Harbor, Jimmy's, the Maple Leaf, Carrollton Station, the Funky Butt, Cafe Brasil, Donna's, Vaughan's - are temporarily shuttered.

Will those nightclubs reopen? Given the current chaos and the economic uncertainty, will the New Orleans music scene, as we know it, survive?

Yes, say the city's musicians and their supporters.

"I know that we're gonna be back in New Orleans, swinging like we've never swung before, in due time," said trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, a tradition-minded musician known for raucous, good-time performances, often accompanied by barbecue he makes himself. Ruffins, whose two-story house in the Ninth Ward suffered extensive water damage, relocated to a Houston apartment complex with his fiancee, two children and more than 40 other family members.

"I give it six months to a year before it starts swinging hard enough to bring tourists in so that (musicians) can make a living," Ruffins said from a tour stop in Canada. "I'm quite sure all of the musicians can't wait to get back to New Orleans and make that progress."

That's a sentiment shared by Mark Samuels, owner of Basin Street Records, the independent New Orleans label that's home to Ruffins, Los Hombres Calientes, Jon Cleary, Theresa Andersson, Dr. Michael White and others. Samuels has heard the first floor of his two-story house, 1 mile from the levee breach, is waterlogged; he figures he has lost extensive files and artwork.

"The people that love New Orleans, which is most of us who live there, the ones who really take advantage of the music and the food and the culture, have to get there as soon as we can," Samuels said from Austin, Texas, where he has relocated with his children.

But the longer they stay away, the harder it could be to return.

"If all of it happens quickly and we don't get the chance to adjust to a new environment, then I think everybody will be back and we'll have a very intact music community," Samuels said. "If people have to stay away for six months or one year or two years, then I think the New Orleans music community will end up being comfortable living in other places."

Jan Ramsey, publisher of Offbeat, the long-running New Orleans music monthly, is cautiously optimistic, too.

"Will they be back?" she asked in an e-mail from her temporary home in Baton Rouge. "I tend to think they will. New Orleans as a city seems to nourish the creative, musical process. I don't think they will be able to find that in other cities. I've spoken to a lot of musicians and they all say they'll be back as soon as they can."

Offbeat, publisher of the Louisiana Music Directory, a definitive source book for musicians, managers, agents, record companies and others involved in the music business, is helping to keep New Orleans musicians employed by updating their contact information on its Web site, www.offbeat.com

"We would like to get them in an aggregated list so we can send them gigs, newsletters, etc.," Ramsey wrote. Interested musicians and others can contact her at jan_v_ramsey@hotmail.com

Another way to help keep New Orleans music alive is to support charities that aid the city's dispersed musicians. Jazz publicist Sue Auclair suggests donating to these nonprofit organizations:

- The American Federation of Musicians, www.afm.org

- Hurricane Katrina Musicians Relief Fund, www.marsalismusic.com

- The Jazz Foundation of America's Jazz Musicians' Emergency Fund, www.jazzfoundation.org

- MusiCares, the nonprofit arm of the Grammy organization, www.grammy.com/musicares

- New Orleans Musicians clinic, an occupational medicine and wellness partnership, www.wwoz.org/clinic

- Preservation Hall New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund, www.preservationhall.com

How else to support New Orleans music and musicians? Consider the following:

- Support them on tour. The Subdudes bring their blend of roots rock and folk-pop harmonies to St. Petersburg's State Theatre on Oct. 7. Cajun favorite Beausoleil comes to Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa on Nov. 18.

- Go to the Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) slated for April 28-May 7. "There will be a Jazz Fest in 2006," fest honcho Quint Davis told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "It will be as close to New Orleans as we can get it." Suggestion: Keep it in New Orleans, even if not at the fairgrounds. Why not join forces with the French Quarter Festival, scheduled to take place April 21-23?

- Contact WMNF-FM 88.5 e-mail dj@wmnf.org) and WUSF-FM 89.7 (e-mail jazz director Bob Seymour at bseymour@usf.org) to request favorite New Orleans-related tracks.

- Listen to WWOZ-FM, New Orleans' community radio station, now broadcasting "in exile" at www.wwoz.org The station is airing archival material, in a special arrangement with New York free-form radio station WFMU-FM.

- Teach young listeners about New Orleans jazz. Sonny LaRosa, veteran trumpeter and director of America's Youngest Jazz Band, has already done his part, taking his young instrumentalists on the road to play Jazz Fest (twice) and Preservation Hall, among other New Orleans venues. All proceeds from the group's Sept. 10 performance at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg went to relief efforts for displaced jazz musicians. The band plays Oct. 15 at the Royalty Theatre in Clearwater.

- Keep up with everything New Orleans: Read the reports posted by Times-Picayune music critic Keith Spera and his fellow displaced colleagues online at www.nola.com - Take home New Orleans music on CD see accompanying list for suggestions and DVD. Legends of New Orleans: Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, The Neville Brothers (Image) is a good place to start. Jazz fans will warm to Los Hombres Calientes Live (Basin Street Records) and The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration (Marsalis Music/Rounder). Slated for release Tuesday is the concert film/documentary Make It Funky! (Columbia/Tristar).

- Philip Booth is a Tampa writer, musician and frequent visitor to New Orleans whose work has appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, Down Beat, Billboard and Rolling Stone.

[Last modified September 22, 2005, 11:52:04]


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