Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Music of New Orleans reminds of what's lost

From Reuters News Agency:

By Chris Morris
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In the drowned city of New Orleans, Preservation Hall is still standing.

A story in Monday's Los Angeles Times said the fate of the historic jazz venue on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter was still unknown. But -- in the uncertainty of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath and because of the dicey nature of communications out of the city -- information about New Orleans is being passed hand to hand, from one soul to the other.

Ben Jaffe -- whose family has operated Preservation Hall since 1961 as a temple devoted to the city's traditional jazz music -- survived Katrina's blow, according to Andy Hurwitz of Ropeadope Records in New York, who is working on a remix project with the Preservation Hall label.

"He decided that he and his family had been through worse," Hurwitz wrote in an e-mail last week, "so he rode out the actual storm, and both he and the hall made it relatively unscathed. But just yesterday (August 31), he felt the need to finally flee -- not because of the hurricane but because of the wild looting and lawlessness. He said he was scared, and he's the baddest cat I know."

Shots of Preservation Hall are among the first and last things one sees in Michael Murphy's new documentary "Make It Funky!" In an unsettling coincidence of timing, the Triumph Films release opens Friday at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and the Quad Cinemas in Manhattan.

Murphy's film, like the all-star April 2004 concert that serves as its center, was meant to be a celebration of New Orleans' fount of musical genius. Most of the Crescent City's best-known and best-loved stars -- Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, the Neville Brothers, Snooks Eaglin -- are seen in live performance.

It's a jubilant movie, but, in Katrina's aftermath, it jarringly serves to show us all the more what's been lost in the destruction of New Orleans.

Murphy's walk through musical history makes the point that New Orleans music is very much a form of street music. The town's sound was born on the pavement -- in the singing of slaves on Congo Square, in the playing of funeral parade bands, in the rhythmic contests of Mardi Gras Indians.

And now one must wonder if that joyous noise will ever rise again out of those now-inundated streets.

For the time being, at least, the only way we can honor the city's tradition is to revisit it by dipping into the jazz of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet; the R&B of Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and Dave Bartholomew; the funk of the Meters and Dr. John.

Although closed indefinitely, the indomitable Preservation Hall has established a fund devoted to the relief of the city's musicians. (Consult The fund will be sustained by the sale of T-shirts emblazoned with a famed Armstrong song title, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?"

Now, sadly, we will likely all know what it means.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter


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