The gig was over, and there I was, walking down Bourbon street at 5 AM. I had just left a session at the Monteleone Hotel; it began a little before midnight. As I walked to my hotel, six blocks away, wearing my Dobbs Fifth Avenue, blue blazer, red tie, and the usual...I was holding my black tenor bag in one hand, my clarinet in the other hand; the tools of my trade...a musician. I noticed that there were only three people in the street; the driver of a garbage truck, a young African-American kid with a broom sweeping the gutter...and me; the French Quarter! While walking down Bourbon Street, I had a vision, don't we all? It's a bit lengthy, so I'll save it for later.
Should you elect to accept this mission, the story of course, you shall not succumb to brain washing, wire-tapping, visionary illusion, auditory nonsense, or any extraterestial activities; what you will subscribed to is, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, of the essence of jazz, as it abodes, still, where it was BORN...in New Orleans.
The story you are about to read took place on October 21, 1985; my 50th birthday celebration..."YAHOO!" Don't laugh, it could happen to you (I'm still 50). For what evil lurks within the shadows of age; it's only a date on your calendar; you do have one, don't you-year 2000.
A friend of mine who use to live in New Orleans recommended I stay at the Lamouth House, located on the Esplanade. In 1838, The Lamouth House was a Guest House (Hm, wonder what a Guest House was?)! It has been refurbished several times since; now a unique and quaint, French decor hotel. They offer a continental breakfast if you get up and get there before 10:00 AM. What? What musician gets up before 10:00 AM? I did enjoy it though...I think?...getting there for a piece of cake and half a glass of juice...the life of a musician!
First order of business on this jazz-vacation-extravaganza was to check out the "New Orleans Jazz Club"...I did...I joined...just in time for a session. I met all the dignitaries and was received with an abundance of congeniality; they saw my two horns. Up on stage, it was like a free for all...not my style; if you were lucky, you might get a solo? So after a few solos from others, it became more congested...I turned to the musician next me and said, "Hey brou, this gig ain't happenin, I'm gonna split." I took my leave to the streets where I could feel the essence of jazz...which is what I was there for.
About a half hour later, I managed to locate a few tenor saxophonists, and one soprano. They were doing the same thing; the musicians were standing in front of a building across from a famous restaurant...with lines depicting the popularity of their food. One musician seeing my horn bag, asked me to join in...I did; after all, that's what I was there for...to feel the essence of history by playing in the street. We did a few standards together-tenors a la cart-and when we finished, I made a motion to drop some green in his horn case...he shook his head no; I knew what he meant; two tenors playing two part harmony, is bound to attract more listeners than that of one tenor...it's the human ear!
I repeated this experience a number of times. And every time, you could see the musician's case on the pavement in front of him-open; there was a glimmer of silver coming from the case...with some green in a helter-skelter fashion. One musician I sat in with told me that he makes about $200 per week blowin his horn in the street; leaving evenings open for other gigs. To myself I thought, 'hm, I wonder if this would work in Redondo Beach-my home?'
After smelling the aroma of the 'hot' Cajun food, I decided to stop in one of the restaurants and chow down. I went in and ordered..."Ay Chihuahua!" The food was 'hot.' Gimme a taco and a burrito any time. With water-on-the-side, I finished eating. The urge to blow my ax was laboring within me. So I decided to check out St. Peter Street. I walked over there, turned right, and holy toledo! In the first block, I saw jazz-ville, right there in the street.
As I approached the intersection, I saw two musicians working out. One playing trumpet, and the other, a senior's senior, sitting on a milk crate, strumming a banjo. At this point, three things happened and happened fast! I held up my black tenor bag and they waved me over. When I arrived at the scene of the gig (sounds like a detective novel) the gig to beat all gigs, I pulled my ax out of the bag and threw it behind me (the bag, not the sax). With my camera in hand, I hurried to the corner, 20 feet way, gave the camera to a lady and asked her to take a picture of the three musicians. You can see all this in the picture provided.
These two seasoned musicians exercised professional protocol and were very courtesy; this is always nice to see when your working with musicians you don't know. The Trumpet player asked me, "What do you want to play" With that question, he opened up my musical mind and...'a reservoir of sounds.' So I picked two, I didn't want to over due it: "Ain't Misbehavin (Fats Waller)," in E flat; and the other was, "Honeysuckle Rose (Fats Walled)," in F; perfect charts for the occasion, and my favorites. I knew these tunes like I grew up with them...I did!
The trumpet kicked off the first tune..."Ain't Misbehavin." We played the head, then the horn man and I took a full chorus, then back to the head...the banjo player was content just keeping the harmonics flowin. The horn man called the other tune, kicked it off and we were on our way with..."Honeysuckle Rose." Two, very enjoyable tunes to play, any time on a gig. The horn man used the same format as before and it was jazz all the way. When he played his solo, I heard a melodic line I hadn't heard before ; I found it enjoyable. What was interesting for me was, I never thought I would enjoy playing a gig with only a banjo as the rhythm...but I did! We finished the last tune and it was time for me to make my exit. I can now say, I have experienced jazz in it's true form, New Orleans style.
Before I continue, lets go back to the first paragraph and account for the vision which appeared in my mind while walking down Bourbon Street at 5 AM! I pictured the cover of a record album; on the cover I could see me, holding my two horns, the garbage truck, and the African-American kid; the same setting that was there when I strolled down Bourbon Street. On the album, it was my intent to record, with my tenor, some great tunes written about New Orleans; I would have dedicated the album to the great musicians and people of New Orleans. However, after I arrived home from my first trip to the French Quarter (I made another trip in April, 1986), I broke open my 'piggy bank' and..."Ay Chihuahua! El dinero es no mas (the money is gone)!" I could swear I had at least $20 in old piggy to record the album (low budget) which I would call, "5 AM BOURBON STREET."
On another night at the Monteleone Hotel, the session was really cooking. Little did I know who would show up and rock the boat. Earlier that evening, I stopped in to hear the "Dukes of Dixieland." Even with a few new musicians, these guys wear the banner of New Orleans Jazz with pride. Back to the Hotel, the session was gaining steam, and about 1:00 AM, this young trombone player from the Dukes of Dixieland arrived, took out his trombone and blew everybody away ( I put my saxophone in it's stand and listened)! The kid was incredible; he had speed, articulation, intonation, he was a true artist. A vision came to me...'wonder how much bread I could get for my tenor?
WOW! After that last session, it was time for some R & R. So, the next day it was time to check out a few places like, Cafe Dumonde on Decatur across from the Jackson's Brewery. Dumondes's makes the best French donuts you've ever tasted; they offer a variety of coffee brands from foreign lands. So I sat down and as soon as I opened the menu, I heard the sound of a piano from somewhere. The waiter told me it was coming from the outside patio.
Hearing the piano, curiosity was abode within me; I ate my donut, drank my coffee, paid the bill, picked up my black bag, and headed for the patio to bring in a new day of New Orleans Jazz. There he was, cranking out a great standard, dressed in a white shirt with stripes, a garter on his sleeve, and topped off with a straw hat; this guy may be dressed like a ragtime pianist, but my ears told me he was definitely in a groove.
As I moved closer, he saw my black bag and waved me over. No sooner than shaking hands and exchanging names, he was hell-bent-for-leather with a rather feisty rendition of H. Warren's great classic, "September In The Rain," in E flat. We played the head, shared a full chorus each, and the out chorus was a joint effort to see how close we could come to sounding like a big band; we came close!
No sooner than I took off my straw hat and put it on the piano, the piano player kicked off another standard...F. Loewe's "Almost Like Being In Love," in B flat. As I listened to the intro, my musical mind told me this ones going down at about 200 on the metronome...I loved it! After sharing a few choruses, I looked behind me...we had just given birth to a trombone player; now we were a threesome...what next?...big band? No sooner than I made that proclamation...a soprano player shows up and we become a foursome.
Now with the two new musicians, we continued passing the solos around. Then it occurred to me, my plane leaves for smogs-ville LA in the morning. I had a few hours left and I wanted to stop in at "Maison Bourbon" and check it out. When I had walked by earlier, I heard a trumpet but no other horn; made me curious? Anyway, I blew another chorus of the tune we were playing and decided it was time to check out. With a round of hand shaking and good by's, I was on my way to Maison Bourbon's to see what's going down?
Mason Bourbon is located at the corner of St. Peter and Bourbon Street...I was about five blocks away, and gaining. I could hear the sound of the trumpet player, the one I heard before. As I walked in, he saw my bag and motioned me up on the stage. I took out my ax and noticed that he didn't ask me what I wanted to play...he knew! The rhythm section started the intro, and few bars later we were playing "Pennies From Heaven ( A. Johnston)," in B flat. What a great tune to open with; it flows easy, the bridge is fun, and the whole thirty-two bars makes it one of many standards you can never get enough of.
We put down two more tunes..."Foggy Day (G. Gershwin)," in E flat, and "Our Love Is Here To Stay (G. Gershwin)," in F. WOW! I sure like the tunes he called out, and the tempos, it's as if he had a metronome...he picked tempos that any musician would enjoy playing at...right around 200 on the metronome!
After the last number, I put my sax in it's bag and thanked the musicians for their hospitality And, for such a great selection of tunes; you can never go wrong with the standards! The trumpet player came over and thanked me. Then gave me some information I didn't know...when a group has a tenor and trumpet as a front line, and play the head in unison, with tenor an octave below trumpet, we have a jazz style know as... "Chicago Style."
On the plane, I was thinking, what a great jazz-adventure I had experienced in the French Quarter of New Orleans; playing in the streets, in the hotel, in the patio, in a few clubs; but the real experience was, doing all this in the place where jazz was born...New Orleans. And the musicians who shared their homeland with me, may they continue to keep the light burning; the light of real jazz...the essence of which is, New Orleans!
My sincere thanks to all the musicians and people of the French Quarter for making my four-day gig, in October, 1985, one I will never forget!