Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jazz Fest Notes from New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Fair Game
The Way That Jazz Goes Down
I’ve come to believe that memory inhibits creativity and spontaneity. I kind of know this from experience; at least I think that I do.
For example, decades ago, a younger me, down on my luck, took a temp job as a dishwasher. I was sent to a club to bust suds.
There I was, up to my elbows in plate scraps, bemoaning my fate, when through the kitchen wall (adjacent to the audience) came the sounds of a gifted jazz artist and… viola, I had an epiphany. I was there, yes I was, (or at that time I was here, the lines kind of get fuzzy). And I was actually being paid to listen to one of the all time great performers of my time!
I remember this, and I remember Ahmad Jamal coming into the kitchen to scam a bite and me feeling special and a part of it all. I remember it like it was yesterday.
From that moment forward, I became a musiholic. I ate, slept, woke, dreamt, and lived music. No artist was too obscure, no venue was out of bounds, no form was ignored, no rolling stone was unturned, and I even put a full Nelson on Willie.
I started to, and still do, listen to Dylan and Dvorjak, The Beatles and Beethoven, Tom Waits, Aretha Franklin, Doctor John, Otis Redding, Neil Young, B.B. King, The Spinners, Smokey Robinson, Clyde McFadder, Eric Satie, Bessie Smith, Peggy Lee, Marvin Gaye, Nat Cole, Elvis, The Dixie Cups, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Vladimir Horowitz, Mendelssohn, Santana, Brubeck and a thousand other artists that you can but hope in your dreams to appreciate.
Listen up! I was actually paid to tend bar and see Miles Davis perform, not once but a half a dozen times (at least)! Top that!
But, I also recall Jazz Fest being twelve dollars, phone calls being a nickel, bus rides being a quarter and my pay being not much more than it is today.
Where does that leave me? I’ll tell you. In a quandary and quagmire. Am I still gonna try my damnedest to get as much time off from work to blow my hard earned to be out there at the Fair Grounds to cram more music into my already overloaded skull? You bet your sweet ass I am!
Do I understand why thirty five years of profit can’t be accounted for so that prices go up, tickets become more inconvenient to procure and Mother Nature more unpredictable, for the privilege of seeing performances by legends of the music world and be actually there when they do their thing? Yep.
Every year I make whatever sacrifice it takes to be there or be square. Sure, there are forces at work beyond my control or understanding that put on the greatest show on earth; but I’ve got to be there! My life, my soul and my heart beats to the sounds of Johnny Vadokovitz (SP) on drums at the Jazz tent. The Dixie Cups and The Dixie Chicks melt my shorts and to be in the Gospel Tent is truly a religious experience. And I’ve got to be in the audience! This year, as in all previous, The New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival will not be televised …Jazz Fest is LIVE!
My policy is to get tickets and worm my way into as many and any hours that I can squeeze in, I pour over programs and maps, make the necessary strategic plans to see my favored performers and then upon arrival scap it all and go where the sounds take me. And I travel light, fast and able. There’s gut in my strut, glide in my stride and no shame in my game.
Okay, I hate the car lot in the space where a stage should be, I don’t understand why the beer doesn’t give me a buzz or how come this year they’re going to build bleachers for high rollers to get a better view than us shmucks on ground level. I don’t know why thirty something’s carry poles with flags and travel in packs. I wonder why folks buy tickets and then claim real estate with blankets, folding chairs and tarps and treat you like a trespasser and interloper should you tread on their sacred ground. I also can’t fathom why people carry so much gear with them, like chairs and backpacks and jungle fashion. And you know what? I don’t care.
In my own warped mind, I don’t think that they really get it. This is not Survivor Twelve, it’s the friggin’ Jazz Fest!
Dig this; a few years ago my step was losing its pep, my ocean was losing its motion…my get up and go was getting’ up and goin’. So I spy this rain tent, you know, one of those misting places that you stumble upon and can never find again?
So I go in out of the din and the glare and all of a sudden it gets quiet; I mean real quiet. The fine mist of cool jetted water is not quite wetting me as much as it is centering me. I can hardly make out the shapes of people around me but I’m sensing that there are them and we’re headed in the direction of this light at the end of the tunnel, if you will.
Nobody’s in a hurry, so naturally I’m not either (you know, go with the flow..?)
So, I’m cruisin’ thinking everything’s cool and this light is getting brighter, all of a sudden I can see the forms in front of me and we’re headed for this opening and we get closer and closer and it starts to open up……SHAZAM!!
The sounds of people having a great time, music all around us, the sun is shining and I smell food cooking. My body temperature welcomes the Sun’s rays and I believe, yes I do, that I have just gone to heaven!
Every year I start my Festin’ with a dozen raw oysters and the hoisting of a beer to my loved ones who’ve passed on or merely passed on by and hope that their heaven is at least as good a time as mine will be; and like I said: be there or be square. See you at the Fair.

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