“Jelly Rests His Case”

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:


Mother Tongue


ANYONE WHO has known me since childhood remembers summers when my family would slip away, back to New Orleans — my mother’s birthplace and essentially my “other home.” It was family ritual.

This week, as part of a partnership between Zócalo Public Square and The Smithsonian, my essay “New Orleans Is My Second Language,” is part of the “What It Means to Be American“-series exploring identity, journeys and sense of place. I chose language and ritual which were both in many ways the bridge “back home,” not just for my mother, but now I’m realizing for me as well.

My grandfather, Frank Dixon Bowers, III in Jackson Square, New Orleans. Circa 1970s.

My grandfather, Frank Dixon Bowers, III in Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana. Circa 1970s.

top image via Plurale Tantum

more jazz appreciation


I’M ROUNDING the final stretch of Thomas Brothers’ 2006 book Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans and just stumbled upon this dreamy quote of Sidney Bechet’s :

‘No matter what he’s playing, it’s the long song that started back there in the South. It’s the remembering song. There’s so much to remember. There’s so much wanting, and there’s so much sorrow. My people, all they want is a place where they can be people, a place where they can stand up and be part of that place, just being natural to the place without worrying how someone may be coming along to take that place away from them. There’s a pride in it, too. The man playing it, he makes a place. For as long as the song is being played that’s the place he’s been looking for. And when the piece is all played and he’s back, it may be he’s feeling good … Maybe he starts wanting the place he found while he was playing the song.’

… sad that this one is almost over … I have learned so much ….

“All Kinds of Unfathomable …”

I REVIEW Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker’s collection of maps and easy — “Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas” for Printers Row Journal.

New Orleans is “all kinds of unfathomable,” Snedeker and Solnit assert. It’s a city of vague and porous boundaries; it’s a city both of great need and of great excess. And as the book’s title implies, the very notion of developing an organizing thesis about New Orleans is futile and folly. “The compass that orients all the world,” writes Solnit, “makes little sense here and is not much used.” Cartographically, New Orleans is an enigma. Whereas mapmakers generally delineate land and water as distinct boundaries, “on the Louisiana coast,” Solnit and Snedeker explain, “land is so pervaded with water that it’s both or neither.”

Read the rest here