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, September 27, 2010

Shots Fired.

Every fall, I teach a class called TIDES. I taught it for two years before I even knew what the acronym stood for, which is Tulane Interdisciplinary Educational Seminar, but it's really just an introduction to New Orleans for freshmen, the vast majority of whom do not come from here. The music dept. has six sections of TIDES, of about 15 students each, and we meet in both small groups and large lecture-format meetings of all the combined sections, where various profs offer lecture-presentations on their speciality; Jazz, Opera in New Orleans, Drama (usually the Tennessee Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire") Cajun/Creole Culture etc. It's an enormous amount of fun for me to teach, because the students are usually very interested in the subject at hand, and it's a subject I love to talk about. Nothing makes me happier than to introduce the city I love to newcomers.

One of the course requirements is attendence on two 'field trips,' which usually offer a range of choices. Performances by the New Orleans Opera Company, the Louisiana Philharmonic, trips to the "Fai Do Do" dance at Tipitina's, Zydeco Night at the Rock and Bowl etc. In previous years we even used to bus students out to Angele's Whiskey River Lounge in Henderson Swamp, an incredible Cajun dance hall with fantastic music and some of the most amazing dancing you'll ever see, but the university discontinued that. Too many logistical and insurance headaches.

For the last couple of years some of us have been pressing the TIDES program to include a "Second Line" parade in the field trip choices. We argued that the students will never have an opportunity to see something like this anywhere else in the world, and that the statistical probabability of them being victims of violence (even though the parades happen in ghetto neighborhoods) is actually less than at a Saints game.  Finally they came through this year and greenlighted us to take 28 TIDES students to the Young Men Olympian parade, one of the biggest and most well attended of the SAPC (Social Aid and Pleasure Club) parades.

I've been encouraging students in my other classes to attend these things for years, and I'm very gratified now to see increasing numbers of them, including recent graduates, at various cultural events around town. I've even taken groups of two or three students to these things on my own personal time. The first thing I noticed about this group though was how at ease they felt right off the bat; maybe they felt less conspicuous because they were a large group. And they absolutely loved it, man. When we fell into line behind the Hot 8 brass band (and right in front of theRebirth band, which was bringing up the last division of the parade) it was a glorious feeling on a glorious day. The heat has finally started to recede a bit here in New Orleans (though it's still damn hot) and the students danced and kibbutzed with neighborhood folks, who in turn instructed them in the finer points of shaking your stuff in a second line. I remember walking behind a group of three girls (two of whom are in my TIDES section) and thinking how great it must be to be young and seeing and experiencing these things for the first time. I jokingly asked one if she was sorry she came and she laughed delightedly, her face glowing in the heat. For those of you who've never done this, there is no feeling like being part of this kind of parade, not standing on the curb watching it, but being part of it, and dancing through the streets of the city while the Hot 8 plays earth-shaking funk out front of you and the sound echoes off the sides of buildings.

About two hours into the parade we made our first bar stop, at First and Dryades. A quick straw poll was taken among the students (many of whom were starting to feel the heat) and the rough consensus was that, as much fun as we were having, it was time to call the bus to come pick us up. We started moving the students two blocks up to Third and Dryads (the bus would have never been able to make it through the dense crowd in the street in front of the bar) and I went back to First and Dryads to look for stragglers. Then...pop pop pop pop pop pop, very rapid series of six shots, a whole clip of what sounded like a .32. Screams, pandemonium, me almost getting trampled by people fleeing the scene. I don't see any young, white faces near the action so I haul ass myself.

As shootings go, it actually wasn't bad, I know that sounds ridiculous but it's true. You hear automatic weapons that means real trouble, like a firefight between drug gangs. A full clip from a small handgun usually means a personal beef, and unless you're in the nearby crowd and catch a stray round (because these type assholes don't have the jam to get in close, spray and pray is their modus operandi) you're okay. It saddens me to have to say I know this from past experience but there it is. And sure enough I subsequently heard that the only fatality in this was a two year old boy sitting in a car. The target was unscathed.

I caught up with the rest of the students and faculty at the corner of Third and Dryads, and before the cops even got there (and they were there inside of two minutes) some very scary looking dudes on Harleys were scouring the 'hood, looking for the shooter. My primary concern at this point was getting us out of there, because I know these cats from my neighborhood and I know what they're capable of. They would have lit up the shooter on sight if they'd found him, and god's mercy on my students if they were in the line of fire. Fortunately the bus arrived and we got out of there.

Before it did though, a guy about my age, just a middle-aged guy in an undershirt, came over to us and apologized. "I'm sorry you had to see that," he said. "It wasn't always like this. Some of our young black men have a coward streak in them. They're not man enough to step to someone they have a beef with, they'd rather stand back and shoot into a crowd." He shook my hand. He shook Beverly Trask's (dance department faculty) hand. He apologized again and walked away.

When we got back to campus I took the three girls, the ones who had been so happy, aside for a private word. "I'm sorry your first Second Line ended this way" I said. "But maybe it's best in a way. What you've just seen is the Alpha and the Omega of life here. If you stay here long enough, no matter how much you love New Orleans, there will come a time when that love will be tested. And if you really love this place, you have to understand all of it. And love all of it."

I'm going to talk about this some more in class at our next meeting. I could see the shock and confusion in their faces; how could things be so good and then suddenly be so bad? I'm hoping I can help them understand.

Comments on "Shots Fired."


post a comment