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."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mr. Arthur.

In New Orleans there's a big divide between "Uptown" and "Downtown." The dividing line is Canal Street and everything upriver from there is Uptown, everything downriver, Downtown (this can be confusing, because the Central Business District, the area with highrise office buildings and head offices and all the other stuff that makes it look like any other North American city's downtown, except for the palm trees and the winos that look and dress like Keith Richards, is upriver from Canal, and therefore, technically, 'uptown.').

Socially, Uptown is associated with the University District around Tulane and Loyola, the silk-stocking neighborhoods of the Garden District, white, middle class neighborhoods like the Uptown Triangle, and white-folks-with-money in general. There are some pockets of funk sprinkled in, like the Irish Channel (nowdays mostly 'black Irish'), our old 'hood on the river side of the 13th ward, and Central City, which is actually one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. But in general, when you say 'Uptown,' people associate that with 'white' and 'financially comfortable.'

"Downtown,' on the other hand, can be a code word for 'poor' and 'black.' It's an older part of the city. Canal Street was originally the dividing line between the French and Anglo-American parts of the city, and upriver from Canal was called the 'American Sector.' Some people still call it that. The 7th Ward has been traditionally inhabited by old-line, Creoles-Of-Color families, many of whom dominate the plastering, ironworking, and restoration-construction trades in the city. They are heavily Catholic and clannish. Over on our side of Esplanade Avenue, in the 6th Ward, there's more darker skinned black people with English surnames. Some people identify these neighborhoods locally as Gentilly, the Treme, Mid-City, 8th Ward, 9th Ward, and Lower Nine. But we're all "Downtown." And we have some local characters and traditions you don't see Uptown.

Shortly after we moved here from the 13th Ward my wife Darlene was working in her home office one day and heard a kind of metallic, chanting sound. She said at first she thought it might be Mardi Gras Indians, but it turned out to be Mr. Arthur and his produce truck.

For a terrific WWOZ radio documentary on Mr. Arthur (some people call him "Okra," but I've never been able to bring myself to address him that informally) click on this link.


There's no shortage of truck vendors in New Orleans but they tend to pick a spot and park. Mr Arthur is the last of a dying breed of mobile vegetable and fruit sellers. He starts way down in the 9th ward and works his way up through Gentilly and Mid-City. He never goes uptown past Canal.

People like Mr. Arthur are a godsend in the post-Katrina era. So many supermarkets were destroyed that in many neighborhoods there is no place to buy fresh produce. We have friends in the 8th Ward who routinely drive all the way to Chalmette to shop at the Wal-Mart.

But they buy their fruit and vegetables from Mr. Arthur.

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