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.

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