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, August 27, 2007

Tootie's Last Suit.

Free ShowingSunday Aug. 26 7 pm Tremé Community Center 900 N. Villere. Parade to the film, led by the Black Men of Labor & theTremé Brass Band,Starts at 5 pm at the Montana home,1633 N. Villere (near St. Bernard)Celebrate and honor Chief of Chiefs Tootie Montana at the New Orleans premiere of “TOOTIE’S LAST SUIT,”an award-winning film about Mardi Gras Indian Culture.Members of Mardi Gras Indian Tribes will perform after the film • food will be served

Dig that last bit, "food will be served." I love this town.

Darlene and I attended this premiere last night. The film itself is absolutely wonderful.
(Go to http://www.tootieslastsuit.com/ for reviews, overviews, still photos, producer and director bios, and a thumbnail sketch of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition and Tootie's place in it). No doubt it will eventually show up on public television, and when it does I strongly urge you to catch it. But I wish you all could have attended the premiere. The event was special both because of the presence of Tootie's extended family (his widow and her daughters arrived by horsedrawn carriage) and the fact that it was held at the Treme Community Center and was preceded by a second line parade that began at Tootie's house, just seven blocks away.

Allison "Tootie" Montana (1922-2004), longtime chief of the Yellow Pocohontas, is perhaps singlehandedly responsible for evolving the Indian tradition from it's roots as a 'raggedy,' gang-style culture often wrought with episodes of violence to the aesthetic competition that it is today. It's because of Tootie that you no longer see rival Indian 'gangs' fighting and shooting in the streets on Carnival Day. It's because of Tootie that's it's now all about who is 'prettiest,' who can sew the best suit, and who can give himself most completely to the process of channeling the spirits of the Indian warriors and African forebearers who are still vividly present in this amazing place.

I've been a freak for the Indian Thing for almost thirty years. It moves me on a level that I can't explain, that's beyond words. But as Treme Community Center Director Jerome Smith instructed us before the film, we must not let our appreciation of the 'finished product' (community figures like Montana) distract us from our obligation to protect and nurture those young black men and women, so at risk in this racist society, who will inherit and carry this tradition forward.

Before the start of the film, an 'Indian band' (snare drum, tamborines, and chanters) circled the hall, infusing the air with the Spirit and creating an Indian Space. They were followed by the Baby Boys Brazz Band, none of whom appeared to be older than 12, playing "Whoopin Blues." If you know that tune, you'll know there are points in it where the audience cuts in with a shout. Nobody in New Orleans has to be told to do this; they are always right on time, shaking the rafters in this place.

Friday, August 24, 2007


August 29th is the first day of classes at Tulane. It is also the second anniversary of when hurricane Katrina made landfall about 30 miles east of New Orleans. The widespread trope, spead hither and yon by featherweight 'journalists' like Anderson Cooper, is that this great 'natural disaster' occurred when the city was 'hit by a hurricane.'

This is bullshit.

The city was missed by a hurricane. We were hit with not the 'greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States,' as Cooper and the rest of the sob-sister tabloid pack would have it. The city of New Orleans suffered the greatest engineering failure in the history of the Army Corps of Engineers when their faultily designed and constructed floodwalls collapsed during what was, by the time it reached New Orleans after plowing through approximately 100 miles of marshland (this is absolutely NOT a 'coastal city') a strong category one, or, at worst, a weak category two hurricane. The floodwalls were engineered to a category three level of protection. This is not just my opinion. It is also the conclusion of the Corps own report, as well as those of three other independant engineering firms. It's why many people here don't call it "Hurricane Katrina" when they speak of this disaster. They call it "The Federal Flood."

The feds designed and built those cheesy little floodwalls. It was their baby all the way. And they did it for the worst of all possible reasons; to save money. To built a levee (as opposed to a floodwall) requires a lot of space, because the structure must have four feet of width for every foot of height. The Mississippi River levees, which did not fail, were built this way by the French in the 18th century. The floodwalls that broke like a cheap watch were built by the Corps after hurricane Betsy in 1965, and were touted at the time as modern engineering miracles. They were cheap miracles as well, because the feds didn't have to buy up a big swath of adjoining land, just sink sheet pilings on a narrow little strip. Real 'space age' stuff. People used to take out of town guests out to the floodwalls and canals to show them off. Homebuyers were told by their mortgage holders that flood insurance was unneccessary; they were on a federally protected floodplane.

Now that the shit has hit the fan, of course, it's all our fault. Our corrupt politicians 'squandered the money for levees on other things.' Never mind that federal water project funding is not fungible, and must be spent for it's assigned purpose. Or that 'corrupt local levee boards who failed to maintain the levees' faced an impossible task. It is not possible to 'maintain' a faultily designed structure up to code. But these are all accusations which are thrown at us now, along with questions about where "all that money" that was sent down here has gone. The answer is that most of it still hasn't arrived, and that which has arrived has so many strings attatched (like the demand that the local municipalities pay ten percent, or, in some cases, 100 percent, and be "reimbursed" after the fact) that it may as well not have arrived at all.

The nitpicking and hostility though, is almost preferrable to the indifference. In most of world, we're out of the news cycle now. People either assume that 'everything is back to normal' or that the town's empty. Like most things though, it's more complicated than that.

Rents are high (getting 80% of your housing stock flooded will do that), but wages are still low, creating a huge service industry labor shortage. Property taxes are going up by 30% or more (having 80% of your housing stock etc.) so rents, of course, are due for further increases as landlords pass costs (including hugely inflated insurance costs) on to tenents. The local power company (Entergy) is bankrupt (losing 80% of your customers will do that) and has increased rates, in some cases by several hundred percent, in order to bail itself out ( one month last winter my tab to heat a 1000 sq. foot house was $297. In the tropics). They'd requested a federal bailout, such as Con Ed received after 9/11, and were told to go Cheney themselves.

President Dumbass has just promised to veto a bipartisan Coastal Restoration bill. Too expensive, he says. So much for doing "whatever it takes."

Home Box Office re-ran Spike Lee's documentary "When the Levee Broke" last night. If you haven't seen it, please make every effort to do so. Darlene and I first saw it almost exactly a year ago, and it was interesting to see it again in light of subsequent events. There are quite a few people in it we know. And at least one (Hot 8 Brass Band snare drummer Dinneral "Dick" Shavers, who was shot dead last December) who has since died. The film still has tremendous impact. Many people cry on camera. Darlene and I both cried watching it.

A recurring trope throughout is the notion that New Orleans, after the flood, ceased to be part of America. This was constantly reiterated by TV news anchors ("how can this be happening in America?" "This doesn't look like America. It looks like some Third World country"). I think, over the long haul, viewers internalized this, and decided that since a catastrophe such as this could not possibly happen in the United States, it in effect didn't happen in the United States, but in some corrupt shit-hole full of lazy negroes and welfare bums that had inexplicably attached itself to the geography of the good ole U.S. of A. and was now, mercifully, floating away, out of our collective conciousness and areas of concern. Those people couldn't possibly be Americans. Things like this can't and don't happen to real Americans. The possibility that they can and do is too disturbing, and must be driven from the mind.

Personally, I'm beginning to be okay with seceding from the union, if that's what they want. Because if we get to keep our royalties from the 20% of total oil production and the 30% of natural gas production that originates in the state of Louisiana (and that we've been getting screwed royally on) we'd be like Saudi Arabia; a bunch of coon-ass, ghetto sheiks driving Bentleys. Over a third of shellfish/seafood production happens here, and the city of New Orleans is the nation's third largest port (that's why it is where it is,dumbasses, so you can shut up with the "you people need to move the city to higher ground" stuff anytime). We'd be stinkin rich and wouldn't need any more 'handouts.'

Of course the present administration in the White House is very big on 'personal responsibility.' They like to lecture the rest of us on it all the time, although I've noticed they very rarely take on any themselves. Still it seems to me that if the feds, through the agency of the Army Corps of Engineers (a federal entity) are responsible for this mess, then they ought to clean it up. You broke it, you fix it. Until that happens, I'd prefer not to hear any more noise from President Pissypants about that Coastal Restoration bill being "too much money." He can go fuck himself.

With a chainsaw.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Willie Mae's

Finally, nearly two years after it flooded to the rafters, Willie Mae's is back up and running.

Perhaps some of you may recall my mentioning this place in my 'Food Porn' post from about a year back. 92 year old Willie Mae has been running this place as either a bar or a restaurant for half a century. After it was destroyed in the Federal Flood of '05, a consortium of foodies and fellow restaurant owners banded together to raise money to get Willie Mae and her place back on their feet. I'm told that the central A/C unit they installed in the joint is worth more than the whole structure was formerly.
As I said before, I'm not going to tell you where it is. Having a winner of the prestigious James Beard Award (Willie Mae won in 2005, a few months before Katrina) cooking in my ghetto neighborhood is an asset I'd like to keep close to the vest. However I will tell you this much. It's only a couple of blocks from the still-unre-opened Dookie Chase's on Orleans Avenue, across the street from the also un-re-opened Lafitte Housing Projects. Just start walking in expanding circles from Dookie's and you'll find it soon enough.
This is not a fancy place we're talking about here (front-of-house staff consists of Miss Willie's great-granddaughters and immediate family, and unoccupied tables sometimes double as daycare centers). The food is not fancy either. My wife Darlene and I both opted for the fish of the day (which was Talapia) and our lunch companion, Tulane jazz history professor John Joyce Jr., went for the 900 pound gorilla on the menu, Willie Mae's award winning fried chicken. What Darlene and I got was basically a piece of battered fish, and a side (in our case, string beans, but mustard and collard greens were also available). Simple stuff, but very, very well prepared. The fish was fried in a spiced, corn meal batter, and was so ungreasy you could have eaten it with your fingers wearing white gloves. J.J.'s fried chicken was so good, he wouldn't share. Really. I mean he was ready to fight us off with a table knife if necessary.
Simple food. Good ingredients. Superlative preparation. It never ceases to amaze me how hard that is to find, especially in North America. When I think of all the bloated, tasteless, greasy shit I've had inflicted on me (and often for more than the ten bucks an entre goes for at Willie Mae's) it just blows my mind.
Hurricanes. Shootings. Corrupt politics. I'm okay with all of it if I can get food like this just a few blocks from my house.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Man it's hot here. It's forecast to go up to 99F tomorrow. It was 'only' 96F yesterday but the 'humidex' was at 110.When I first moved here I was told by the old hands that you do actually get used to it, and to a large extent that's true. In fact my metabolism now seems more or less permanently set to "Louisiana Optimum," which means my body has became very efficient at throwing off heat, but completely useless at retaining it, so that a couple of years ago when I was up in Vancouver to play jazzfest I found myself running around all bundled up in a sweatshirt and windbreaker because 19C felt cold. Everyone else was in shorts and t-shirts and thought I was stone crazy or had an iron deficiency or something.
Even though it's been ninety-ish pretty much every day for the last few weeks, yesterday was the first day it ever felt like "gawd this is fucking hoootttt!" 80F is a nice pleasant spring day here, and I'm usually okay up to about 90, as long as I stay out of the sun as much as possible. "Summer" in my hometown of Seattle, or Vancouver Canada, is usually around 72-75F (20ish C). That's winter here. Except for those rare days in December-January when it dips down to close to freezing (or even below). There's so much moisture in the air, and my metabolism is so unprepared, that I can't stand to be outside for any lenghth of time, no matter how warm I dress. My wife (who's originally from Ottawa) thinks this is hilarious. It'll be,like, 38F, and my teeth won't stop chattering and I'll have to take a hot bath to get my core temperature up.
I've always been a weenie about cold, but New Orleans has made it chronic.
Summer slows things down around here, but it doesn't stop them. I was out of town for Essence Fest, the big African-American music and culture festival sponsored by Essence magazine, but it was by all reports a major success. I did manage to peek in at Satchmo Summerfest, an event that was made particularly poignant by tributes to two prominent figures who have passed since last years event, clarinetist-educator Alvin Batiste and jazz historian Tad Jones. It felt particularly strange not having Tad around this year because he was always a kind of 'New Orleans social director' for out of town musicians and speakers, organizing excursions to obscure, out of the way neighborhood restaurants so the visiting firemen would see that great food in New Orleans isn't restricted to the White Linen set. In fact I realized I had met a number of this years conference attendees (like Dan Morgenstern and John Broven) in exactly this way, waiting in the bar at Liuzza's for a table.
Speaking of food, legendary Treme lunch spot Willie Mae's Scotch House has finally, finally re-opened, and Darlene and I and Tulane jazz history prof John Joyce jr. are headed over there this coming Wednesday. This joint is one of the great, closely held food secrets of New Orleans, and while I may very well post a report of the meal, I will absolutely not be a party to publishing the location of the restaurant. It's hard enough to get a table there without another invasion of out-of-town food trendoids like the one I mentioned in this post.http://vancouverjazz.com/jdoheny/2006_10_01_archive.html
If you want a meal at this place, come down and I'll take you there. But I ain't drawin nobody no maps. I'm selfish like that.