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."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas In New Orleans.

Left: Rev. Lois DeJean, with her lawyer.

You can pretty much rule out snow here at Christmas, but since I grew up in the Pacific Northwest I'm used to rain for Christmas anyway. A couple of days ago we got a doozy of a rainstorm, with three to four inches falling in Orleans Parish in a single day. The streets around Tulane flooded so bad that I couldn't get in to work until mid-afternoon, but classes are over and students have (mostly) gone home for the holidays, so all I was doing was cleaning up my office and answering e-mails anyway. Today it's sunny and beautiful, with a predicted high of 64F.

Every year at Christmas in New Orleans there's a series of free concerts at St. Louis Cathdral, and Darlene and I always make it a point to catch the Reverend Lois DeJean and whatever ensemble she chooses to field on any given year. The Rev. is a feisty 70 year old African-American lady, the matriarch of a vast clan that includes children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (among them jazz and funk drummer Eddie DeJean) almost all of whom are involved in some capacity in the Reverend DeJean's various choirs and gospel ensembles. The Rev. herself is a high-octane gospel singer who never fails to 'get house,' even in a Catholic cathedral full of (mostly white) tourists.

The Rev. DeJean is also a tireless community activist, and president of the Gert-Town Residents Association. Gert-Town, a poor-as-dirt neighborhood that nevertheless has spawned great musical talents like Allen Toussaint and is the home turf of Big Chief Larry Bannock and his Mardi Gras Indian Tribe, the Golden Star Hunters, was hit hard by the flood. Most of it's residents are still displaced, and as if that wasn't enough, a large chemical storage facility spilled toxic substances all over the area when it flooded out. The Reverend DeJean has been working with an Atlanta advocacy lawyer to notify displaced residents that they may have waded through dangerously toxic substances after the flood, and perhaps get the owners of the facility (based in the U.K.) to pay compensation of some kind, and assist in the cleanup.

I spent last night sitting in with my good buddy, pianist Fred Sanders, at his solo piano gig at Club 528 in the Harrah's Hotel at Poydras and South Peters Street. My wife Darlene has been going nuts baking Creole Christmas Cakes, and this gave us an opportunity to deliver Frederick's cake to him. We played a few seasonal favorites ("Winter Wonderland," a way-up, be-bop-style "Santa Clause is Coming To Town") and a bunch of standards like "I'll Remember April" and Duke Ellington's Rhythm-Changes workout "Cotton Tail."

As we were finishing up, the late-shift band (George French and Friends) started wandering in and taking seats at the bar. Now, you need to understand that all my life one of the most discombobulating experiences for me as a musician has been to have a bunch of super-heavy players come into a club and sit and watch me play. It really puts me on edge. But last night, an interesting thing happened. It didn't bother me. Maybe age is mellowing me, or I have less to prove, or I'm beginning to realize that these people, rather than being gods sitting in judgement, are actually my peers, but I felt totally relaxed.

As I was putting my horn away, George's tenor player (long-time Dr. John sideman and old-school New Orleans Be-Bop cat Eric Traub) came over and invited me to come down and sit in on his gig at Dos Jefes this Saturday. Drummer Herman Jackson and I passed a word or two about our mutual friend, clarinetist-educator and jazz guru Alvin Batiste. And my wife was thrilled to be introduced to bassist and singer George French, the man with the most gorgeous baritone in New Orleans, now that the 'tan canary,' Johnny Adams, has left us.

The vibe here at Christmas is very different than up north, but it's also the same. There's the same sense of the year coming to an end, the same urge to cleave to family or, in our case, to miss them in their abscence. The streetcars all have red bows and greenery on them, and there's some truly impressive Christmas light displays about. There a lot of different traditions, sure ( the Santa displays around our neighborhood feature black Santas, and there's a heavy French influence in things like Reveillon menus in local restaurants and the Acadian tradition of lighting bonfires along the levee so "Papa Noelle" can find his way) but it still feels just like Christmas.

I'm out. See you all in the new year.

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