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, February 25, 2010

The End of It.

Well that's it, I'm done. With jury duty.

I was planning on doing a long post of Saints fever in the jury pool the day after the Super Bowl (which was indeed off the hook) and maybe finishing up with a character study of my last judge, Julius Parker, a pie-faced, built-like-a-fireplug Irish Channel Yat who looks exactly like my conception of James Lee Burke's literary creation Clete Purcel from his Dave Robicheaux detective novels.

But I don't have it in me. I'm sick (some kind of flu) and tired. There's a whole bunch of stuff I thought I was handling, but it turns out it's handling me. I've been thrashing about, driven by urges I don't understand and can't control.

After Katrina, I was filled with purpose. We did better than most people, no water in the house and nobody drowned (although the landlord's house in front of us burned to the ground in February 2006, necessitating our move here to the 6th ward). Sometimes I wonder though, what a thing like that does to your head. More specifically, my head. It'll mess with your sense of security, that's for sure. The phrase "safe as houses" doesn't mean shit to anybody here. And now and probably for the rest of my life, I can't walk down the streets of any modern city without an acute sense of how illusory the whole thing is,how once the lights are off and the shit hits the fan, things can get all 16th century on your ass real quick. Modernity and civilization are facades, we are all skating on very thin ice and when we break through we fall and fall. Don't think it can't happen to you because it can.

Lately some dark thoughts have taken up residence in my head and I'm working real hard to get them out of there. I'm going to stand up and walk away from this mess, just wait and see. Cause this shit is not me. Not at all.

Right now I've got a fever of 100.8 and a cough that's keeping me up all night. It feels like my lungs are coming up in chunks. But tomorrow's a new day, and spring is coming.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Jury Duty cont.

They called for 25 potential jurors and herded us into the elevator, where a small, elderly very dark skinned man with a voice like Howlin Wolf informed us that "somebody meetcha on th' second flo." We were lined up outside the courtroom in the hall by number (as 'juror number one' I got to stand closest so I could get whacked by the door as it was repeatedly flung open by various attorneys, cops and bailiffs) and then ushered into the courtroom of Judge Daryl Derbigny, who turned out to be a sixty-ish, light-skinned Creole of Color with glasses and bright blue eyes.

Absolutely nothing happened that we all haven't seen before on TV, many times before. Judge Daryl instructed us, in his soft, cultivated 7th ward accent, on the various procedural and legal niceties; presumption of innocence, beyond a reasonable doubt etc. I couldn't help but notice that the two prosecuting attorneys were both very young versions of a 'type' I've come to think of as "Garden District Bird Bones,' tiny, perfect little white women with bones like birds, who speak in a manner known as 'uptalk'? You know, where every sentence elides upward like it was a question? The defence attorney, on the other hand, was a solid, muscular Queen Latifah style African American woman who looked like she could kick both their asses.

The defendent was a suitably shifty looking young guy in dreadlocks and a cheap suit. Since it was a simple burglary beef, I couldn't figure out why he didn't just plead it out, since he'd likely get minimum to no actual time. Either he really didn't do it, or he was up against some nitwit "three strike felony" law and had nothing to lose by demanding a jury trial. Me, I kept hearing Frank Zappa's lines from "The Illinois Enema Bandit:

"The jury was composed, of ordinary folks.

And the judge instructed....no poo poo jokes."

Anyway, all that talk I'd heard about how they don't like teachers as jurors must be true, because they kicked me loose, along with the Tulane-grad high school teacher who'd been sitting in front of me. By the time we got back down to the jury lounge they'd filled all twelve dockets and let us go around one o'clock. I didn't have any teaching to do until two, so aside from feeling burnt from lack of sleep (I'd been playing at Donna's on North Rampart the night before) my day wasn't scuffed up too bad. I walked over to the Rite Aid at Canal and Broad and Darlene came and picked me up and drove me over to Tulane.

Wednesday was the same ole same ole, a bunch of tired, pissed off people sitting around reading the paper and bitching. This time I was called up in a 50-juror job lot to the coutroom of Terry Q. Alarcon. Where judge Daryl had been soft spoken and cultivated, Judge Terry, while he looked distinguished (he was a graying, middle-aged white guy) had the voice of Super Yat. (for the uninitiated, a 'yat' is a working class, usually white New Orleanian. The 'yat' is taken from the standard greeting "where y'at," and the accent is a hard edged, urban bray, where 'church' is pronounced 'choich' and there are plenty of 'dese, dem and dos-es.' Think Archie Bunker, but with southern diction). The case was a "possession of marijuana with intent to distribute" beef, the defendent was another shifty young guy with dreads, the defence attorney was a male version of monday's Queen Latifah (only with a folksier vibe) and the two DA chicks were light-skinned, 7th ward versions of the Garden District Bird Bones. Judge Terry spent a lot of time talking about how we'd need to render a 'just and fair verdict' regardless of our personal opinions on the efficacy (or lack thereof) of criminalizing marijuana. He waved around a blue-jacketed volume of the Louisiana Criminal Code. "Regahdless a my poisanal opinions on da details o' dis heah book, my pernt is dat I gotta rule on da law AS WRITTEN. I can't jus' say I'm down wit' page twenny but I can't git wit' page twenny foah." But when it came time for me to address this dilemma I had to say that no, I simply can't guarantee that I'll rule impartially on the case. As I put it to judge Terry, "I have some very strong personal objections to putting people in jail for possession with intent to distribute flowers." We went back and forth on this for some time. Finally I said, "look judge, what I'm saying here is that I will try my best to interpret the law as written, but that I have a big problem with being part of a process that I perceive as unjust. Let me put it this way; if I were the prosecuting attorney, I'd get rid of me with my first pre-emptory challenge." I figured I was off this jury for sure right there; not only a professor, but somebody using legal terms as well. Anyway, they all went back to chambers to do their thing while we sat there. Then a bailiff came out and said, "Mr. Doheny, Judge Alarcon would like to see you in chambers.

Oh shit. The walk back there felt like getting called into the principal's office. But it turned out that judge Terry just wanted to make sure I didn't think he was insulting me by belaboring the point. He also let on that his own opinions weren't far from my own ("but I gotta rule on da lawr AS WRITTEN because hey, dat's da gig") and that I was going to miss out on a nice lunch ("we usually order in from Mandina's") by mouthing myself off the panel. We shook hands, I went back outside, and they kicked me loose again, just in time for me to make my 2 o'clock class at Tulane.

Next: Who Dat's in the jury lounge.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Jury Duty.

I know this doesn't have much to do with jazz, but I thought some people might find it interesting. Because a "jury summons" in Orleans Pariah is a different kind of experience.

At least I assume it is, cause I've always managed to avoid these kinds of things in the past, mainly by taking the cranky, anarchist stance of not voting because it "only encourages them," and because then "the government has your name on another list." Then came the 2004 presidential election, and I decided the state of the union was so dire that I had to bite the bullet and take the plunge. I voted for Kerry (fat lot of good that did ) and for Obama (we'll see, but it's not looking good). And then, a couple of weeks ago, I got that dreaded little red-lettered summons in the mail.

I'd gotten one before and was enormously relieved to see that it had been delivered to the wrong address. Some poor bastard in the thirty two hundred block of St. Philip was on the hook, not me. Boy, he was not thrilled when I brought it down to him either. But this time it was for me, and since it said, it big red letters, "failure to appear may result in fine or imprisonment," and since it's conventional wisdom around here that the Orleans Parish Criminal Justice system has a real thing for slinging people willy nilly into the OPP jail and is not to be messed with, I figured I better show.

At the appointed hour of 8:30a.m. I was at the Broad St. courthouse, along with a whole gang of very unhappy looking people. Since I hold a whole raft of opinions that are box-office poison to prosecuting attorneys (do the police ever lie? Of course they do, just like the rest of us. Do you support the death penalty? No, because the justice system, like every other human endeavor, is wildly imperfect, and I'm not a big fan of making those kind of 'mistakes') I figured I'd be gone by lunch. But it was not to be.

The Orleans Parish jury system, possibly because the demographic of people without felony convictions in New Orleans is rather shallow, slings a wider net than most other places. I was not just required to show up one morning, voice my dangerously liberal opinions, be vetoed by the prosecuting attorney during voir dire and sent home in time for lunch. Instead I was to show up at 8:30a.m. every monday and wednesday for the entire month of february, and, get this, get shuffled through all twelve coutrooms in the system until their dockets had been cleared. If I'm not selected for one jury I return to the jury lounge to await a call for the next.
Unconcionably early and not at all bright, I arrived last monday at the 'jury lounge,' (after of course first passing through the metal detector) along with a couple of hundred other tired, pissed-off looking people. Around 9:00a.m. a guy comes in wearing a blue blazer and gray slacks (only the blazer is the kind of electric blue worn by airline ticket agents), leans into a mic and says "good morning." After getting a few mumbles and grunts, he leans in again and says "Who dat" and gets the thunderous response he's looking for (for the uninitiated and non-New-Orleanian, "Who dat?" is an abbreviation of the New Orleans Saints fan's tribal war whoop, "Who dat say gonna beat them Saints.") and announces he's a judge, and procedes to lay the voodo down. We will be rrequired to sit here pretty much exactly like a bunch of two dollar hookers awaiting our call, until one of the judges in the 12 courtrooms upstairs announces he or she needs a jury, and which point we'll be lead up to the appropriate courtroom, questioned by both prosecuting and defense attorney's regarding our various quirks and pregudices, instructed further in the law by the presiding judge and, if deemed acceptable by all parties, sworn in as a juror and paid $20 a day for our trouble. If not, it's back to the jury lounge for the next cattle call.
From conversations with those around me (and since this is New Orleans, there's plenty of conversating) I learn that we're a pretty eclectic bunch. We actually are a pretty good cross section of the city's population. Visually, the crowd is maybe 60-40 African-American (again, about like the city) and there's all kinds; employers, employees, professionals, laborers, retired people, a couple of guys who look like thugs but turn out to be counter help at Auto Zone. A guy who owns a fence company. A retired high school teacher.
The first call is for 75 potential jurors, and as they read the names off, it feels like the grim reaper setting down and spiriting people away. Most of us don't want to go, because it offers the possibility of wiping out the rest of the day, whereas if we just sit down here we're told the dockets are usually cleared by 1:00p.m. I don't teach anything before 2:00p.m. mondays and wednesdays, so it's possible this whole thing won't inconvenience me beyond loss of sleep and weekends in the office to make up for the administrative stuff and personal practising I usually do in my office in the mornings. 75 jurors are called and I'm not among them.
Next round, I'm not so lucky. Potential jurors are numbered, then called by name. When the next round is called, the first thing out of the speakers is "juror number one. John Doheny."
to be continued.