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, June 04, 2009

Meyer the Hatter.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that, in a place like New Orleans, the sun is not your friend. After years of living in Vancouver, Canada, where a warm sunny day is such a rarity that a kind of mass hysteria grips the city when one occurs, compelling tens of thousands of Vancouverites to skip work in a mass stampede to the beach, to the bike path, to rollerblade, here I deal with an embarrassment of riches. The sun, much of the year, is so brutal that locals use umbrellas as much for protection against sunlight as against rain, and only non-natives (like most of my students at Tulane) are crazy enough to actually lay out in it. And if you're walking any distance out in the open, you're nuts not to wear a hat.

I own quite a few of them already (when I was a kid I loved hats of all kinds, and had a whole box of them); my current stash includes two felt fedoras ( Biltmores, in brown and grey), a pricey straw panama with a black band (the kind favored by the recently deceased pianist and raconteur Jack Velker), a cheap straw fedora with a band that says "Vancouver Sun Golf Tournament" that I bought for two bucks at a thrift shop in Vancouver, a "one size fits all" vent-air fedora (another thrift shop purchase, this time in Vicksburg, Mississippi), and a stingy-brim job I got for $4.98 at Walgreens drugstore on Tchoupitoulas last year that's actually made of paper, even though it looks like straw, and that never fails to get me complements from middle-aged African-American sports at second lines. I also recently aquired a straw version of the British "flat cap," which Mr. Arthur, our local truck-vendor fruit and vegetable man, refers to as my "Dago" hat. But since I'm going on the road for a few weeks worth of gigs this summer, and none of these hats are what you'd call "suitcase ready" (and hat boxes on the plane are a real pain in the ass) I decided today that I needed to pay a visit to Meyer the Hatter for something more portable.

Meyer the Hatter is a long, narrow store on St. Charles Avenue, just off Canal and right across from the streetcar stop in front of the Pearl Oyster Bar, that sells nothing but hats. It's sign advertises "quality headgear since 1894." When I was in there last winter the place was full of derbies (some of them green, for St. Patrick's Day) felt fedoras, porkpies, and dark colored Kangols, as well as the odd stovepipe and topper. Today it's filled with straw boaters, panamas, fedoras , various and sundry Palm-beachers and summer hats and of course the white, eight-point black visored caps that bandsmen wear in brass-band jazz ensembles. But I don't see what I'm looking for, a lightweight cotton version of the British flat cap, known in New Orleans as a "bebop cap."

A chubby little guy with a goatee, wearing, incredibly, a peaked-brim cap with earflaps, ala Ignatious Reilly in John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," skates up to me and says, "How ya dooin cap. Ma heptcha?" A major y'at for sure. God I love this place.

(For the uninitiated, a "y'at" is a working class, white New Orleanian. Their manner of speech is surprisingly un-southern, containing a lot of dese-dem-and-dose-isms. Think Archie Bunker with southern diction. The term "y'at" comes from the once-ubiquitous greeting "where y'at?" and he was asking me "how are you? May I help you?" The expression "cap" (short for "captain") is roughly equivalent to "buddy" or "pal," and is another form of address that one doesn't hear as often as even just a few years ago. Sadly, the homogenizing effects of mass American culture are spreading even here).

But I digress. Clerk: "Ma heptcha?" Me:"Y'all got any a those bebop caps in the store, in maybe a white or a powder blue?" Clerk:"Ohyesindeedy bruh, y'all follow me through heah, watch yah step" (he proceeds to lead me through a narrow opening between mountainous hat trees to a tiny, secluded oasis of hat drawers) "it's a little tight up in dis piece an dat's fuh sho." And after 15 or so minutes of this kind of back and forth, in which we discuss jazzfest ("too expensive for me bruh. I pay $50 to hear music, I want a chair, know what I'm sayin?") the absolute joy and perfection of life in New Orleans ("although I could use a bit less a da flyin bullets, an dats fuh sho") and his total commitment to my continued sartorial well being ("I gotcha covered like dew on da ground, baby"), I walk out of there in a spiffy new white Kangol be-bop cap.

And by god looky here, right under the brim. Meyer's has a website:

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