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."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Mardi Gras morning found me on the Zulu parade route at Jackson and Simon Bolivar, shouting at Rick Cluft over a cellphone.

Apparently I've become the 'go to' guy for CBC Radio on all things New Orleans. The Good Morning Canada show had interviewed me last August 29th on the first anniversary of Katrina, and I'd choked up on-air. I thought it was embarrassing, but the CBC people apparently thought it was good radio, so they came back for a second helping on Carnival Day.

No disrespect to the folks at CBC. I was happy and honored to be chosen to speak on-air about my adopted home town. It's just that I'm a little uncomfortable about all this info-tainment style 'journalism' and the seeming invisibility of the real story, which is the Army Corps of Engineers and their faulty levees. Try going to Anderson Cooper's site on CNN and googling "Army Corps of Engineers." You won't get one hit. What you will get is a lot of sob sister journalism and 'inspirational' stuff about plucky black folks rebuilding their houses in the lower nine with chicken wire and spit; what used to be called "human interest" stories. All well and good, but ...where's the beef?

Zulu was cool, as always. I finished shouting at Cluft just in time to see the Free Agents Brass Band go by. The Free Agents are members of a half-dozen different bands who got together informally after Katrina. The diaspora of musicians has meant that existing outfits wind up sharing a lot of personell, so an ad hoc grouping under the name "Free Agents" seems like an obvious step.

The rest of the day, Darlene and I hung out at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the Treme, where there's always a block party Mardi Gras day, and around the corner at a small neighborhood club called the Little People's Place. We did dip down into the French Quarter for a bit, to check out the drunken-frat-boy, girls-gone-wild action, but quickly found it so annoying that we fled back to the ghetto, where folks may not have much, but at least they've got manners.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Blood Shiffa Hoonah...

As of last month, I've been holding forth here for two years.

It's an anniversary that completely blew by me, I've been so busy. Man, it's a lot of water under the bridge (and over and under the levees) since January 2005. That was when Mr. Brian Nation (all-seeing 'eminence gris' of our host site, Vancouverjazz.com) suggested I might like to contribute a "column" to the site (are we old school, or what?).

Brian offered a number of extremely helpful suggestions, among them that I address myself not to Vancouver people specifically, but to an "international" readership. At the time that seemed to me like hubris in the extreme, but I've since learned that a fair number of people actually read the thing, in the United States, Canada, and Europe. I decided in those early columns that I was going to try to keep the focus on New Orleans and it's music and culture, and stay away, as much as possible, from self-referrential stuff.

Katrina changed all that. The experience of seeing my adopted city laid low has been a life-changing thing for me. It's also been an extremely humbling one, because I've seen so many people who have so much more invested in this place than I do (I am, after all, a relative newcomer) who have comported themselves in impossible circumstances with courage and dignity, despite the shocking lack of support and understanding displayed by many of our fellow citizens. I remember those early post-Katrina days with a clarity that I suspect will never leave me, and despite the intitial outpouring of sympathy from many, there was a deeply cynical part of me that was convinced it wouldn't last. What was shocking was how quickly the tide turned. It only took a few weeks for house speaker Dennis Hastert to suggest that we should be bulldozed. And I still can't fully fathom the kind of lack of empathy that must be behind something like Barbara Bush's comment about evacuees living on cots in the Houston Astrodome, that they were 'underpriviliged' before, so that getting three squares a day and a cot to sleep on in a sports stadium with 30,000 strangers was "working out quite well for them."

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that in order to say something like that you have to be so completely disconnected from those "others" (the poor and the non-white) that you don't really see them as people at all, but as some sort of highly intelligent barnyard animals, who don't require the sorts of social and emotional support systems that humans do.

Then of course there was the speech her indolent, frat-boy son gave in Jackson Square. It was actually a pretty good speech. Too bad none of it was true.

I'm going to stop writing about these people now. They are beneath contempt.

The headline on this piece is taken from a Mardi Gras Indian chant. The rest of the couplet is .."we won't be bowed." The Indians are a warrior culture, in the best sense of the word. They represent courage in the face of adversity, and the mentoring of the warriors of the next generation. They are one of the more public faces of a much larger, mostly underground culture that encompasses the Lwas of the Voodoo pantheon, the Saints of Santeria, the Reverend Mothers of the spiritualist churches, and the presence of legendary figures like Marie Laveaux, Black Hawk, and the original Dr. John.

Now that we are deep into 'Carnival Season,' these figures are more strongly present in the city's various neighborhoods. It makes me feel good that they are here, watching over us.