Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Friday, March 10, 2006


…so come on, sugar let the good times roll.”

Earl King: Come On, Part One.

Something about these days puts me in mind of poor old Earl, who died about three years back. He was a real New Orleans type; brainy, black, diabetic. Blessed with the ability, so common among people here, to make a good time out of practically nothing. And with an innate ability to depict, in his work, that N’awlins thing. The thing that shows us the thin line between good times at bad, sex and death, celebration and mourning.

I have a friend who works for radio station KNOX out in Los Angeles who dearly wanted to come out here to cover Mardi Gras, but her boss wouldn’t spring for the flight. I said “Brooke, he’s going to regret this. Because it may be really really good, or it may be really really bad, but ain’t no way it’s going to be Carnival As Usual.” I’m happy to report that it was really, really good.

The crowds at our ‘usual’ corner for Zulu (Lasalle and Jackson) were good, even though that part of Central City has hardly any residents. Mayor Ray Nagin looked splendid on horseback. The Rebirth, Hot 8, and Young Soul Rebels brass bands were kickin it. And on the way home, we ran into not one, but two Indian gangs, the Yellow Comanches (at Washington and Lasalle, hard by the Magnolia projects) and all the way up from deep downtown, the Ninth Ward Hunters (at North Broad and Orleans, across from the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club’s headquarters). I haven’t the words to describe the feeling…the sight of those magnificent costumes. In African American neighborhoods, this culture runs so deep, and it never fails to move me when I see it and hear it. Never more so than in these hard times.

And they are hard times, for all of us. I won’t harp on the details, except to say that things aren’t much better than in my last post. So many things that we took for granted, municipal services, trash removal. Stop lights that work, a functional fire department, reliable phone and internet service. These things just ain’t here. But I think it’s really the psychological aspects that wear the most. So many people have lost so much, and there’s an acute sense that we’ve been abandoned by the rest of the country. I can’t help but remember the valorization of New York and New Yorkers after 9/11. It surprised me a bit. New York has never been Heartland America’s favorite city, filled, as it is, with negroes, jews, opera fans, and other questionable types. Still folks rallied round and thrilled to the jut-jawed rhetoric of Rudy Guiliani (would things have played out differently if, say, Ed Koch had been mayor?).

Flash forward to post-Katrina New Orleans. Dennis Hastert thinks we should be bulldozed. Texas governor Rick Perry thinks he should have dibs on our recovery funds. And we’re being lectured on waste and corruption by FEMA, quite possibly the most wasteful and corrupt American political institution since Tammany Hall.

For musicians in New Orleans these days, it’s Death Valley. In the 80% of the city that flooded, I know of only one club (the Banks Street Bar and Grill) that’s back up and running with live music. Bourbon Street is pretty much back, but with rare exceptions, like Big Al Carson’s gig at the Funky Pirate, the Street is wall to wall cover bands working for chump change. I love Big Al. His nickname among musicians is “Big Nasty,” and among his signature tunes is an evening closer titled “Take Your Drunken Ass Home.”

Snug Harbor is back up, along with most of the rooms on the Frenchman Street strip in the Faubourg Marigny. But money is down all over town. Bassist Jim Markway told me yesterday he’d played two sets last Saturday at the Spotted Cat for $23. I played three sets the same night at Gypsy’s Café for twelve bucks. But I’ve got a salary coming in from Tulane. Jim is buying groceries with those two’s and fews. It’s a tough scuffle, bro.

At the Gypsy, the drummer was a sub, a young guy named Adam Kelly. Adam is a student of John Vidacovich, New Orleans drum legend and arguably the slickest guy out there at combining Second Line street beats with modern jazz vocabulary. Gypsy’s is a ‘latin’ room (the percussionist on the gig is California conga and timbale player Butch Haynes, who’s resume includes Larry Harlow, Sheila Escobar, and Poncho Sanchez) and we were sawing through a bossa version of Miles Davis’ “Four” in front of a largely indifferent crowd. At one point a beat-up looking white guy in a Marlborough windbreaker got up in my face and said, in a thick Yat accent, “How’s about one by Elvis, boo.” I laughed and started playing the bass line to “The Second Line” (known in other parts of the world as “Rock Around The Clock”). Adam immediately started laying in the funk, and the rest of the band picked it up. People started piling off bar stools and dancing between the tables.

That tune must have lasted 20 minutes. It morphed into “Little Liza Jane,” “Didn’t He Ramble,” and the Smokey Johnson classic “It Ain’t My Fault.” Dancers were spilling out into the street.
We’re down, but we’re not out



Blogger Haze Ablaze said ... (8:04 PM) : 

Gypsy's, huh? Cool space and the band I saw pre-March was great, but, ah, having worked there...not so cool.


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