MEMO TO the overly-loud and, I guess I could politely say, new-to-it “connoisseur” of “Loo-ee’s” music, who wanted to hear more of the “sweet Southern sound” — and less of all of those “distracting Latin” elements that were being “thrown in” to “spice things up.” Now I can say I finally have an answer: Well son, I guess you don’t know very much about New Orleans music and from whence it came.
But let’s back up a bit.
Dr. John — Mac Rebennack — was here for little minute at the Hollywood Bowl’s Jazz Wednesday event hosting a salute to the great Louis Armstrong in an evening dubbed, “Props to Pops.” The title itself suggests “legacy” and with it the power of influence. So in that spirit, he shared the vast stage with more than a dozen musicians across genres — among them — Dee Dee Bridgewater, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and trumpeters Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard and Arturo Sandoval — who blasted big and bright like a summer sun. What we would be watching, Bridgewater explained at the outset, was “Mac’s vision” — a configuration that came to him in a dream in which the great Armstrong in spirit form paid a visit. The evening proceeded more like a workshop, with many of the musicians lingering on stage after they’d stepped up for their song or solo, interpreting either the work of Armstrong or a piece upon which he had indelibly engraved his signature. That decision was key to evening’s overall flow.
Sleek sofas and easy-charis were arranged on stage (I would have loved to have won a raffle to settle in up there), where the players would sit out and literally become another tier of audience, until Dr. John would croak out their intro then ask them to step up, join in. End-to-end, through the varying styles, the sweep of the music and its varied interpretations was another way to communicate not just Armstrong’s legacy but the complex twists and turns of New Orleans’deep music traditions — which of course include influences from Cuba, Spain the Caribbean, Africa — as well as traditional jazz and blues, R&B — Really, what hasn’t passed through that long river of sound and not been touched and/or shaped by it.
So suffice it to say that the pontificating about “the sweet South” hit a nerve. The over-simplification made that long march back down Highland even longer. The entirety of it shored up with marshy arguments. (Whose nostalgia is it anyway?) My friends kept glancing over at me to make sure my head hadn’t blown off yet. (It was ready. If I were kettle of water, I would have been on the cusp of rapid boil.) But, all in all, it would have been difficult to ruin the evening’s delicate afterglow, which was both a tip of the hat and a reminder that talking about New Orleans and its music was never a simple matter– and it’s no less so today.
And here was some great lagniappe that was beamed over the big screens to all of us assembled. Cue the way-back machine to Armstrong at the Bowl more than a half century ago: