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."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Drummer Down.

As Tom Piazza states in his excellent book, "Why New Orleans Matters," sooner or later New Orleans will test any love you bring to it. I don't think of myself as a particularly naive person, and as for being 'tested,' I figure choosing to return after a catastrophic flood that damaged or destroyed 80% of the city ought to earn me some props. But I'd be lying if I said there weren't days when my faith is tested.

If you've seen Spike Lee's documentary "When The Levee Broke" you've seen the Hot 8 Brass Band. In addition to performing in the film, Hot 8 members, particularly bass drummer Bennie Peete and sousaphonist Harry "Swamp Thang" Cooke, figure prominently as interview subjects. The 8 have done clinics up at Tulane, and the member that particularly stands out in my mind is their young snare drummer Dinerral "Dick" Shavers. It came up in conversation that I had once worked as a substitute band teacher in public schools. Dick was really juiced about his gig as a band teacher at L.E. Rabouin High School. He was in the process of starting up a marching band there and was excited that they'd be marching in some Mardi Gras parades this year. He was also concerned about his 15 year old step-son. Post Katrina, they'd had to put him in a new school in a new neighborhood, and some local thugs were giving the kid grief over turf issues.

Last Thursday, Dick was shot dead while driving with his family after playing a second-line parade in the Treme. The shooting itself took place in the 2200 block of Dumaine street, but Shavers, though mortally wounded, continued to drive his family away from danger before collapsing behind the wheel in the 2600 block of Dumaine, about six blocks from my house.

Police arrested a suspect, 17 year old David Bonds, the very next day. Bonds' official statement was "I ain't did it," though possession of the murder weapon and numerous eye witnesses make a successfull defense at trial unlikely. My initial thought was that he shot the wrong guy and this indeed turned out to be the case. Tragically, it was Shaver's stepson he was gunning for.


When you talk to these knuckleheads about this kind of thing, their usual defense is something along the lines of "there's a war on out there, dog. People get hurt in a war."

Oh yeah, boo. You're a warrior. Black Hawk would be proud.

The Hot 8 is shaping up to be the Kennedy Clan of Brass Bands, having lost 4 members since 1997, three of them to street violence. The most recent of these was the 2004 shooting by police of trombonist (and grandson of legendary 9th ward drummer and patriarch "Deacon" Frank Lastie) Joseph "Shotgun" Williams. He supposedly attempted to ram NOPD members who tried to pull him over in a stolen pickup, but numerous eyewitness accounts contradict the police version of events. It's one of those stinks-to-high-heavens NOPD scuffles that never has been satisfactorily resolved. The current "Danziger Bridge" trial looks to be another of these.

I've had a number of friends and aquaintances die by violence over the course of my life. Since moving to mid-city last summer, I'd guess that about half a dozen people have been shot dead within a ten block radius of where I'm sitting right now. But there's something about Dick's death that seems extra depressing to me. Maybe I'm just tired.

There's a saying in the great Black Gospel tradition that is at the center of so much here, "No cross, no crown." If we refuse to accept the tragedy of our own and others mortality, we are incapable of receiving the rewards that are our birthright as the tremblingly vulnerable creatures we are. I'm put in mind of another great New Orleanian, the gospel genius Raymond Miles. He was a Christian. A gay Black man. A middle school teacher in the bombed out hulk of the Orleans Parish public school system. He was tacky and tasteless and sang like a bird and wore outfits that would have made Liberace blush. A carjacker shot him three times and dumped his body near Elysian Fields. He deserved so much better than that.

Our neighbor Miss Vera is cooking up a big pot of gumbo out in front of her house, and I can hear people laughing and talking outside. I'm going to go join them.

"The people keep a comin, and the train done gone."

Comments on "Drummer Down."


Blogger trilussa74 said ... (3:40 PM) : 

I had been traveling... and none of it was going particularly well. Then I just thought of Dick and mentioned his name. Everything was alright after that.

So when I got the call that Dick was killed, I was shocked, sad... and then just pissed.

You see, the person who gave me the news said something to the effect of "well, you know how it is down here... he must have been into something."

That coming from a person who had never met him. That's what did me in.

I'd gone to his house. I'd met his girl. I'd seen his eyes light up when he talked about teaching... how he didn't want to leave the city because he wanted another young kid to just have a chance... and if he didn't stay, who would?

I never missed a chance to watch him play. Magic. Plain and simple.

He taught me about living life right, a little about music... and a lot about unconditional love.

And for anyone who never knew him... step on back. Don't tell me what you know about the crime stats and the drug wars until you've walked down those streets.

I have.
And Dinneral was with me... open-minded, with a smile and a laugh and a heart and a soul that echoed for miles. It always will.

I think if you listen, you'll still hear him playing some damn fine riffs... right where he should be... with his family and The Hot 8.


Blogger Don Thieme said ... (3:01 AM) : 

Happy New Year! It has to be better than the last one.


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