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."

Friday, November 23, 2007

9 Times Parade

While the Times-Picayune was busy covering the Oak Street Po Boy Festival up in the Isle of Denial (the TP, as we affectionately call it, likes to cuddle up to it's advertisers, and the business owners up in the Carrollton-Universities area are biggies)) my student Laura Christensen (who took these pictures) and I attended a much different kind of celebration down in the Ninth Ward.
The genesis of the Nine Times Social Aid and Pleasure Club has been well documented in the Neighborhood Story Project's first post-Katrina publication "Coming Out The Door For The Ninth Ward." The work the folks at the Project are doing is highly commendable, and I stand in awe of their achievement. At the same time, one wonders what kind of a society we have created that would make this necessary. I've read (and thoroughly enjoyed) every one of the Project's books. They resonated with me because I recognize the people in them. Some of the authors live (or lived, pre-Katrina) just a few hundred yards from me. But I don't think a similar reader-dynamic is at work in the inclusion of the books in several high-school and university English curricullums. I suspect they are included to give white, middle class students a view of a culture and people completely alien to them. Most suburban white kids experience of African-American culture is limited to the porno-violence of music videos. They tend to either idealize black people or fear them as 'other.' Whenever I encounter this attitude, I'm always saddened. What a terrible, restrictive way to live.
Many Americans live this way, and most aren't even aware of it. They simply automatically avoid certain neighborhoods, and operate out of an instinctive, irrational fear of black people. They will also strenuously deny that this is so, and insist that they are 'not racist.' These are often the same people who instigate (or at least are passively involved in) all sorts of questionable policies, behaviours, and attitudes about race, insisting that these things are 'not racist.' How could they be, when they themselves are 'not racists'? Consequently all of their attitudes and actions must be beyond reproach. It's a worldview that makes excellent cover for the most horrid behaviour.
But back to the parade. I'll let the Nine Times people speak for themselves, as they do in the NSP books:

"A blessing from somewhere is always good."To be thankful for your blessing you have to speak what it is. We thank God for raising us in the Ninth Ward's Desire Housing Project. We couldn't ask for anything different. Many places don't get a chance to be mentioned, so when the opportunity came for us to write about the village, we took it to let the world know the blessing that came from Desire, the third biggest housing project in the United States.Images of drug dealers and violence are regularly put on projects all over the world. Until you actually go there and see, you will never know the love, the family, and the potential that exists in there-not only in sports, but educationally and culturally as well. We have a chance to say some things about the ones who otherwise may never have been recognized-the old timers that paved the way without knowing it.
Bringing some pride back to the community is a job for someone, and you never know who it is or what it is. It doesn't have to be a super speaker on black history all the time. We established Nine Time Social and Pleasure Club in 1998 as a second line club with togetherness, familyhood, and fun. One thing about the tradition is, everyone wants to parade where God raised them up-whether it's uptown, downtown, Carrollton, Algiers, or New Orleans East. The Ninth Ward is where we're from and that's where our smoke is coming from.
The first year we paraded, spirits awoke and we had some fun in that mighty Desire. You can imagine how much it hurt us as former tenants, and now club members of Nine Times, when the project was torn down with no future plans on what would be done with the village.

After Katrina, Nine Times Social and Pleasure Club members were displaced everywhere. Like so many others, we were doing the best to communicate. Once the majority of our members were back in town, we began to rebuild our club and plan for another parade. We also came together to write this book. While we've planned and participated in a lot of events together, we'd never done anything like this before. It wasn't always easy-sometimes it seemed like it would never end-but the process strengthened us to share some of our most important memories. We wrote about how we made it through our childhood in Desire and grew up to be independent. We looked back at our early experiences with second lining and traced the different paths that led us to join together as Nine Times
--Raphael Anthony Peter Parker, Jr.
Troy Materre
Gerald Platenburg
Corey Woods
Michael Simmons
Jean Nelson
Charlena Matthews
The parade was a magnificent experience, made all the more profound by the still-extant devastation of the surrounding neighborhood. The president has continually broken the promises he made in Jackson Square in September 2005. He is not a man of his word. But for the past two years, Raphael, Troy, Gerald, Corey, Michael, Jean, Charlena and the other members of 9 Times have made good on theirs, providing a shining focal point for the community and an inspiring example for us all. My hat is off to you. You are a collective example of the very best aspects of the humanity we all share.
Please check out the Neighborhood Story Project website. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

In the 'Hood.

Katrina has taught me a great deal about the illusory nature of modern life. You think you're safe and secure, cruising through life, snug in your house or walking in the business district of a large, modern city with highrise office buildings and streetcars and electricity and WiFi access. But in reality you are skating on the thinnest of ice, and when you break through you fall and fall. We in New Orleans now join that special fraternity of humans who have seen the veil pierced; by earthquake or tsunami, war or famine. We can never look at that cityscape again without seeing it reduced to a scene from Goya or Bosch; fire and flood, the apocalypso with a boogie beat.
We also understand that the illusion is necessary. You need it. You need to be able to feel 'safe as houses,' even if it's just whistling past the graveyard. And I don't employ that cliche lightly, because at the bottom of all fear lies the fear of death. That's why New Orleanians dance at funerals. We know that horse-drawn carriage from D.W. Rhodes is waiting, literally or figuratively, for all of us someday. So as long as we're here, let's shake a tail feather.
This is the duality of conciousness that allows me to enjoy a day like today. On one level I know, for instance, that young Anthony Placide was shot dead just four blocks from here last spring. I heard the shot that killed him. I also know that around the same time a fine young woman (I'm ashamed to say I've forgotten her name, but I recall many people speaking well of her) was minding her own business sitting on a bar stool at Pal's lounge, just a block from where I'm sitting, at the corner of St. Philip and North Rendon (so close I can walk out on my porch and read the sign out front) when some alien being in human form slit her throat from ear to ear for no reason at all.
But today is...a beautiful day. It's sunny, in the mid seventies (low twenties for you Celsius worshippers) and the air smells of sweet olive and confederate jasmine. A little earlier, as I was sitting out on the porch talking with neighbors, we thought we heard music from a parade; the thud of a drum, the spangle of a trumpet. I even walked down to the corner to see if I could figure out which direction it was coming from, but no soap. While I was down there I said hello to the lady who lives in the house on the downtown, riverside corner of Hagan and Dumaine. It's an unremarkable looking house made remarkable by the odd, sculture-like ironwork constructions that adorn it's doors and windows. On the Dumain street side there's one that looks like a giant eye.
Two weeks ago, this same woman stopped Darlene and I to tell us that her mother had passed. Her mother was a tiny, bird-like African-American lady who always told us to "have a blessed day" when we walked by. We expressed our condolences, and the woman said, "my moms always commented on how good you two looked together." On my way back to the house, the bells at Our Lady of Holy Rosary on Esplanade Avenue began to peal.
I'm sure some of you are thinking I'm nuts, or deluded, or avoiding the tough realities of urban life. Maybe you're thinking I'm a fool for living in a place like this and that I should move somewhere 'safer.' But you know what? There ain't no such place. You can move to Kansas and live in a subterranian bunker, or even someplace with universal health care and politicians who don't try to steal the fillings out of your teeth, and you could still slip getting out of the tub and crack your skull. And even if you somehow avoid that, eventually, you're gonna die motherfucker, and that's a natural fact.
Me, I'm taking my wife to see Taj Mahal at Tipitina's tonight, and we're gonna cut some steps.