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."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Congo Square.

New Orleans is doing what it does best; serving up big dollops of free music. French Quarter Fest this weekend. Jazzfest starting next Friday. And today, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra gave a free concert in Congo Square. With guests Yacub Addy and Odadaa.

First, let me tell you what I'm not going to talk about. I'm not going to talk about 'retro' jazz, or the validity of Wynton's traditional compositional approach. His "Ellingtonianisms"(what a thing to be accused of. Death, where is thy sting?) Whether the Ghanan musical vocabulary was compatible with American mainstream jazz rhythms (it was).

Instead, I want to encourage you to leave the realm of the rational. For those of you (like my good friend Mike Rud) of the 'material rationalist' bent, who are uncomfortable talking of matters of the spirit, of ghosts and ancestors, I would suggest that you think instead in terms of feelings. How does music make you feel? And what is it about these feelings that makes you want to repeat the experience (or not)? And what do you think it means?

If you're like me, and find that your experience of the world defies intellectual explaination, imagine youself here in New Orleans, with me. The disparity between what is broken and what is still beautiful in this ruined city forces us to surrender and accept the fundemental absurdity of existance. Day to day living amongst the remaining splendour and horrid devastation keeps us grounded in a sense of our own mortality. This is always the subtext in New Orleans. The subtext of: thank you. Thank you for this beautiful day, and this wonderful music, and the soothingly accented voices of these people all around. Thank you for waking me this morning, and allowing me to commune once again with the now-ness of being here, with the music, as we have been before, and as we hope to be again, yet being aware that there are no guarantees, so that when the parade passes we will dance, and laugh and sing, and have a little drink because even though life can be hard, it beats the alternative.

Thank you for allowing me to stand here today and see Wynton walk onto the stage, along with Carlos and Wycliffe, and Warmdaddy, and Victor and the rest, in their tan poplin summer suits. And the Ghanans in there robes. And thank you for the ears to hear the joyous mingling of African percussion and singing, and Mardi Gras Indian chants and Zydeco rub-board rhythms drifting up into the air, co-mingling with righteously swinging American jazz. And Wynton singing call and response with the band, in the tradition of the African American gospel church, but saltier ("Bull-shit!"What's comin round? "Bull-shit" Bullshit-bullshit).

We feel something moving inside of us, you and I. The spirits are being summoned here, in this holy place. The spirits of the slaves, and the 'gens de coleur libre' who once frequented this ground, who, as the song says "could not sing King Alpha's song, in this strange land." But more than that, we feel the presence of older entities, the Lwa, Gede, Erzulie Freda, Dhamballa Weido and his wife Aiyda Weido, whose side he never leaves. I can feel them moving in me. If the music doesn't stop, perhaps they will 'mount' me, as a rider does a horse, and speak through me to the world of flesh. Is this how possession feels? If the music doesn't stop, it just may happen.

But the music stops.

Thank you.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Few Words From Doc Brite.

Normally I’m not big on cut’n’paste journalism, but this little missive from New Orleans author Poppy Z. Brite bears repeating.


"Occasionally I'm asked by friends Not From Here, "New Orleans is better now, right? You had Mardi Gras!" or "Are you doing OK?" or some variation. Sometimes, particularly if they're contemplating a visit, I even try to reassure them: it's very possible to have a good, safe time here; the French Quarter is fine; lots of restaurants and bars are open. In truth, though, New Orleans and most of its inhabitants are very much Not OK. I present to you a baker's dozen facts about life in the city seven months after the storm. Some are large, some small. I think many of them will surprise you.

1. Most of the city is still officially uninhabitable. We and most other current New Orleanians live in what is sometimes known as The Sliver By The River, a section between the Mississippi River and St. Charles Avenue that didn't flood, as well as in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny. In the "uninhabitable sections," there are hundreds of people living clandestinely in their homes with no lights, power, or (in many cases) drinkable water. They cannot afford generators or the gasoline it takes to run them, or if they have generators, they can only run them for part of the day. They cook on camp stoves and light their homes with candles or oil lamps at night.2.

There is a minimal police presence, and most of it is concentrated in the Sliver. Homes in other parts of the city are still being looted, vandalized, and burned.

3. Many parts of the city have had no trash pickup -- either FEMA or municipal -- for weeks. Things improved for a while, but now there are nearly as many piles of debris and stinking garbage as there were right after the storm.

4. There are no street lights in many of the "uninhabited" sections, which makes for very dark nights for their residents.

5. Many of the stoplights, including some at large, busy intersections, still don't work. They have become four-way stops (with small, hard-to-see stop signs propped up near the ground) and there are countless wrecks.

6. There is hardly any medical care in the city. As far as I know, only two hospitals and an emergency facility in the convention center are currently operating. Emergency room patients, even those having serious symptoms like chest pains, routinely wait eight hours or more to be seen by a doctor. We have, I believe, 600 hospital beds in a city whose population is approaching (and may have surpassed) 250,000.

7. Most grocery stores, many drugstores, and countless other important retail establishments are only open until 5, 6, or at best 8:00 PM because of the lack of staffing. This is only an inconvenience for me, a freelancer, but it's crippling for people who work "normal" hours.

8. The city's recycling program has been suspended indefinitely. We talk about restoring the wetlands that could buffer us from another storm surge, but every day we throw away tons of recyclables that will end up in the landfills that help poison our wetlands.

9. Cadaver dogs and youth volunteers gutting houses are still finding bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward. Of course these corpses are just skeletons by now -- the other day they found a six-year-old girl with an older person, possibly a grandmother, located near her -- and they may never be identified. The bodies are hidden under debris piles and collapsed houses. This is in the same section of town that some of the politicians are aching to bulldoze.

10. Thousands of people who lived in public housing were forcibly removed from their homes. It is now being suggested by much of the current power structure, including our very liberal Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas, that they not be allowed back into these homes unless they can prove they had jobs before the storm or are willing to sign up for job training. (Many of you may agree with this, and I did too, sort of, until I really thought about it. Hadn't they already qualified for the housing? What about the ones who had jobs that don't exist anymore? How can they find jobs in New Orleans if they don't live here?)

11. There are still flooded, wrecked, and abandoned cars all over the streets, parked in the neutral grounds, and in many cases partly submerged in the canals out East. Now that it's campaign time, Mayor Nagin is trying to come up with a solution for this, but he thinks maybe we should wait for FEMA to do it (!!!!!) and he claims the best removal offer he's gotten so far was "written on the back of a napkin."

12. Many of the FEMA trailers -- you know, the ones costing taxpayers $70,000 each -- have been delivered to homeless New Orleanians but cannot be lived in because the city doesn't have enough people to come out and do electrical inspections, and the trailers need a separate hookup instead of being hooked into the house's power supply, and a dozen other damn fool things. While these trailers sit empty, there is an easily constructed, far more attractive structure called a "Katrina cottage" that could easily be built all over south Louisiana. It costs about $25,000 less than the flimsy, uncomfortable trailers. FEMA refuses to use it because they're not allowed to provide permanent housing.

13. A large percentage -- I've heard figures ranging from 60 to 75% -- of current New Orleanians are on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug. The lines at the pharmacy windows have become a running joke. When a visiting "expert" gave a Power Point presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder recently, the entire audience dissolved into hysterical laughter.”

I feel compelled once again to emphasize what’s at stake here. New Orleans ‘culture’ is not a separate entity which operates apart from the city itself. It’s a plausible scenario (though not, of course, a pleasant one) to imagine New York City without jazz, or San Francisco without opera. That is because these things are not indispensable. Their absence would be a huge drag, and no small financial hardship. But Wall Street would forge on, and tourists would still pile into SF to ride cable cars and stroll the Embarcadero.

In New Orleans, everything is connected. Living here is like being bathed in a kind of electrically charged soup. The culture is connected to the music which is connected to the food, which is nothing without the dance. And all of it is generated, and freely given, by the citizens of the city, and often the greatest contributions come from the humblest among them. It is this that is at risk. I personally could not give a shit if the well-to-do executive class returns here or not (although I certainly understand the economic imperative of their doing so). In any case, they have the means to return if they wish. But the musicians, artisans, social aid and pleasure clubs, Indians, neighborhood brass bands, choirs, church groups, and just plain folks are another matter. These are the people who contribute most, and what they contribute is impossible to define in financial terms. Unfortunately, we live in a culture in which everything is up for sale, and if you can’t put a dollar value on it, it gets pushed aside.

At the end of each and every day, this is what frightens me