THE GREAT NEW ORLEANS musician, raconteur and historian, Danny Barker gave the West Coast 11 months. He was unimpressed, called California “a flim-flam town.” Jelly Roll Morton invested a little more time, zooming from gig to gig, late into the night, drumming up excitement around himself. Harold Battiste, Jr. put down deep roots here in Los Angeles, yet always kept his connection home in New Orleans alive. For a time, he was the first call people from home made when they landed in L.A.; the one who would help you get your footing. In other words, his was the number scrawled on the matchbook.
Each of them journeyed to Los Angeles with a different set of hopes and achieved divergent results. The region shaped them at times as much as they shaped it. California wasn’t just a dream, for some of these Louisiana musicians it was a prayer. My full piece looking at Louisiana musicians in Los Angeles is now up here at Los Angeles Review of Books.
I’VE WRITTEN some here about my summer trips to Louisiana and just how and why New Orleans became part of my yearly ritual as a child.
The old luggage tag from my mother’s old train case.
It wasn’t, however, until I was fully grown that I understood just how significantly New Orleans had marked me — both inside and out. Nor did I realize how much it mattered within my being.
Consequently, in the last few years, after a very long time away, I have been trying to make up for lost time. An editor and friend of mine had a conversation a couple of years ago that finally (just a few weeks ago) worked its way into an essay.
The piece went live this week on Zòcalo Public Square. You can read the piece here.
One of the first streets my early forebears lived on in New Orleans
So late on my summer L.A. to LA post. But we sometimes cut it close.
Here is some Louis and Ella for the ride from LAX to MSY …
In honor of summers gone:
I JUST COMPLETED an important reporting and research trip that helped connect some dots and solve some riddles that had been rolling around inside.
Back home, I’m trying to get the last bits and pieces of writing finished before the year turns and while everything is still fresh and at the tip of my tongue.
Lots of walking, looking, listening and pulse-taking — and loads of synchronicity with a nice chaser of serendipity.
Los Angeles feels more like winter than New Orleans did. I landed and it was in the 80s, humid and feeling oh so familiar.
Thanks, Lewis. We got a lot started and now we’ll see how it all unfolds.
Remembering Allen Toussaint
New album due out in 2016. Details here.
From producer Joe Henry’s statement:
“Joining Allen over four days this past October in a Hollywood studio were the rhythm section of Jay Bellerose and David Piltch joined by other masters of understated invention—guitarist Bill Frisell; legendary tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd; multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz; the luminous singer Rhiannon Giddens; and the irrepressible composer/arranger/pianist Van Dyke Parks, who had a long friendship and collaborative relationship with Allen dating back to the early 1970s.”
Signing off with this:
THURSDAY WAS a research and reconnaissance day, sweeping mostly through East and South L.A, with Gary Krist, author of the excellent “Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans.” One of the highlights was finally visiting New Orleans pianist Jelly Roll Morton’s grave at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles. We were given a map as well as very precise directions to the plot/memorial. We trudged out under a somber sky and there he was, below a tree. I wished I’d brought along some sort of token offering, perhaps for next time.
“On 2pm on July 10 Jelly Roll Morton died in Los Angeles County Hospital, a victim of ‘cardiac decomposition’ due to ‘hyper-tensive heart disorder,’ according to the death certificate….On the morning of July 16, when the casket containing Morton’s body was carried inside, a church that could seat a thousand looked almost empty. Fewer than a hundred people assembled to mourn a man who had helped bring the sound of jazz to the world . . .The newspapers barely noted the passing of the first great composer in the American music the world embraced as jazz, but Down Beat devoted several pages to the man’s demise. One headline though, said it all: “Jelly Rests His Case.”
— from “Jelly’s Blues: The Life, Music and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton” by Howard Reich and William Gaines
And here’s a little bit of that “Spanish Tinge” that JRM loved so much. Thanks for the suggestion GK:
More research opens new doors. A festival, some wandering and good conversation. Thank you as always, New Orleans.