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, May 31, 2010


For the benefit of non-New Orleanians, a 'po'boy' is a sandwich. It takes it's name from an early 20th century streetcar strike, when merchants sympathetic to the strikers offered jumbo sandwiches that were good for a whole meal for only a nickel. The "poor boys" up against the Company could afford that.

Most days I ride my bicycle past one of my favorite po'boy places on my way to and from Tulane. It's called the Parkway Bakery and Tavern, and most days I ride right on by, even though this is not easy. The smells wafting out of that place make it awfully tempting.

The Parkway has been around, in one incarnation or another, since the 1920s. Back then it was the favored lunch spot for workers at the American Can Company, directly across Bayou St. John. In the 1960s, my friend and colleague John Joyce Jr. would occasionally sub for Pete Fountain's regular drummer, and Pete was tight with the owners of the Parkway, which in those days made it's own french bread. It was Pete's routine to stop in, band members in tow, at the Parkway after the gig, at about four o'clock in the morning, when the bakers were pulling the day's fresh bread out of the oven. John tells me of ordering a roast beef sandwhich and being asked "ya want extra gravy on 'at?" and watching a baker run the sandwich under a faucet sticking out of a large tank by the door. It took him a second to realize that the establishment enjoyed "gravy on tap." (Incidentally, to this day, many of these joints offer "debris gravy," gravy into which all the "debris," the bits of scorched and blackened meat on the grill, has been scraped. I know some of you are thinking "eek! Carcinogens!" Those who know are thinking "delicious!") John also tells me the bakers would fire the completed sandwich, wrapped in butcher paper, out a servers window behind the bar, where the bartender would catch it, football style, before handing it off to the customer.

The Parkway suffered catastrophic flooding in the early 70s and sat vacant and ruined for years. The American Can Company went out of business, and eventually the building was converted to condos and rental apartments. Then a few years back current owner Jay Nix bought the place and re-opened it. After Katrina, when the neighborhood around it was mostly empty and in ruins, the place would still be packed on weekends with people taking a break from repairing their houses and arguing with their insurance agents. The place used to have music on saturday afternoons, which was really cool. Lots of toddlers dancing to the Hot 8 Brass Band in the parking lot.

Last wednesday I was grinding my way home on my bike and started feeling weak and dizzy. New Orleans has no hills to speak of, so the five mile (each way) bike ride to Tulane and back never gets to be a particularly athletic affair, but it is getting damn hot out there these days and I was feeling dehydrated. I decided I was suffering from po'boy anemia.

I pull in, rack my bike and go inside to the order window. Nobody there. I pull a Barq's root beer out of the cooler, pop it open on the bottle opener mounted on the counter, and drain it in four swallows, so great is my thirst. Plunk the empty on the bar, still no one around. I lean over the counter and look down, and there's Lakeesha, the counter girl, crouched down on the floor, looking back up at me.


"Johnaaaaaaye!" (Keesha always manages to make my name sound slightly naughty).

"Are you hiding down there Keesha?" I ask.

"No Johnny, I surely ain't," she teases. I have no idea what she was actually doing down there, and I don't care, I'm so hungry. "What I can get you you ain't already got?"

"Gimme a large shrimp sandwich, dressed," I tell her. "Dressed" means with mayonaisse, pickles, lettuce and tomato. "I was riding by and the smell just pulled me in here."

She smiles. "Oh I feel ya. When that shrimp drops and that smell comes out, baby I work here and I never get tired of that smell."

Po'boy fillings vary, you can have roast beef, shrimp, hot sausage, fried oysters, all kinds of things, but the basic construction of the sandwich is always the same. You take a loaf of french bread, cut it in half through the midde, then slice each half lengthwise, and put the filling in there. Most places, they give it to you wrapped in butcher paper. And it has to be 'real' french bread, cooked in a hot, brick oven so the crust is hard but the inside is fluffy. There used to be all kinds of bakeries in New Orleans that did this, but pretty much the only one that still does it is Leidenheimer's. The Parkway uses Leidenheimer's bread, exclusively.

I got Keesha to throw in a couple sides of sweet potato fries, took the sandwich home to my wife, and we split it. It was enough for dinner. Seriously.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bayou Boogaloo, May 21-23 2010.

So we've slogged our way through another 'festival season' in New Orleans, caroming from Mardi Gras (really "carnival season,' stretching from 12th night through to Fat Tuesday), Faulknerfest, French Quarter Fest, Crawfish Fest, Jazzfest, and all the little mini-festivals (like the one in my neighborhood, Faubourg St. John fest, which got rained out this year) in between. The tourists have mostly gone home (too hot). So it's time for a celebration for Just Us Locals. And that would be the Bayou Boogaloo.

The Mid City Bayou Boogaloo is hosted by the Mothership Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to achieving social change through the promotion of arts and culture. The Boogaloo is only 5 years old (it's a post-Katrina affair) and we've been in the neighborhood for four of those. In fact, the main stage (there are three) is only three blocks from our house, yet coming home for bathroom breaks (is that cool or what) you can't even hear the music in the house. As festivals go, the Boogaloo is an extremely good, non-disruptive neighbor. I don't even mind the parking headaches it brings, because, unlike at Jazzfest, virtually all the licence plates are local.

The other nice thing is...it's ABSOLUTELY FREE, so you can come and go as you please, taking in as much or as little of the music and arts and crafts as you like. This year Darlene and I opted to simply stroll over after dinner on Friday (for Bill Summers featuring Donald Harrison Junior on alto, and yes he closed with Chameleon) and BeauSoliel on Sunday.

It was...interesting, hearing that high lonesome Cajun fiddle wafting out over my neighborhood. New Orleans is not a big, cosmopolitan city, but it has an urban vibe, despite the picturesque houses. Where we live in the 6th ward the neighborhoods run from serious ghetto to the grand homes along Esplanade Avenue. But up towards our end (Bayou St. John) the presence of a body of water lends a more rustic feel. Bayou St. John is the last 'real' bayou within the city limits, but it's really a concrete channel, an open-air extension of the canal system that pumps rainwater out of the city into Lake Ponchartrain. Still, with the sun going down, and the sound of accordian and fiddle (and later, special guest bluesman and eco-wetlands warrior Tab Benoit) and lyrics in french, my little corner of the 6th ward felt real country, for a little while.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Harold Battiste Booksigning.

There's so many major cats here in New Orleans who are important to the music, yet are virtually unknown outside the city. Jazz media tend to be kind of "New York-centric" so New Orleans is largely off the radar, even though the music kind of, you know...started here. And let's be clear; jazz in New Orleans does not begin and end with the traditional form of the music, nor is "modern" jazz in New Orleans something that begins and ends with Wynton Marsalis.
Harold R. Battiste Jr. is one of that generation of post-war jazz men (Edward Frank, Ed Blackwell, Ellis Marsalis, Alvin Batiste, Idris Muhammed, James Black, Nat Perrilliat) who were forging their own regionally unique brand of modern jazz here back in the late 40s, 50s, 60s. To the extent that modern jazz in New Orleans is a style distinct from the rest of the United States (and I absolutely believe that it is) these men are at the back of it. Harold himself has worn many hats; producer, composer, arranger, musician, A&R man. He arranged and produced Sam Cooke's early hits. Produced the first three Dr. John albums. Produced Sonny and Cher's hits, and was musical director on their TV show. He also taught in, and helped develop (along with Ellis Marsalis), the jazz education program at the University of New Orleans.
Harold is also my neighbor here in the Bayou St. John area, and I figured I knew him fairly well. Reading his recently published autobiography though (Unfinished Blues: Memoirs of a New Orleans Music Man") reminded me again of how little we really know about others. I'm just happy Harold is getting some props while he's still around to enjoy them.