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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 13:40 GMT
Will music return to New Orleans?
By Stephen Evans
BBC News, New Orleans

If you walk along Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, you will hear the sound of music coming out of the clubs beneath the ornate wrought-iron balconies that give the city its post-card, ad-land appeal.

As your shoes stick to the beer on the floors of the tourist joints, you might think: "The music is back in the Big Easy so Katrina's blown herself out and left little damage."

You would be wrong.

The musicians of New Orleans have been blown to the wind and the big question is whether they will ever return.

The thing about musicians is that they play to make a living so they go where the work is - and that place now is New York or Houston or even London or Lyon in France.

The venerable Preservation Hall in the French Quarter is locked up and silent while its band, four of whose members are homeless, plays the Pizza Express on Dean Street in Soho in London.

Ben Jaffe, the bass player with the Preservation Hall band said: "I was there during the hurricane and I saw first hand that we were unable to get our brothers and sisters out of New Orleans and now I see that we're going to have just as much trouble getting them back to New Orleans."

Jazz funerals

The point about New Orleans was that it was a genuine culture and not a tourist confection.

Musicians lived in clusters in the city and left and returned as the work came and went.

Now, the work has gone. And so have some of their homes.

Musicians who have remained or returned are confident
Dr Michael White is a clarinetist and scholar who lived near Lake Pontchartrain, just behind where the levee on the canal burst.

The walls of his one-storey house still stand but the inside looks like it has been tumbled to destruction in a washing machine and then left in the heat to rot.

He weeps as he contemplates sodden, mildewed clarinets that were part of his collection of historic instruments handed down by the jazz greats.

"It's my whole life. This is like a death and the only way I can look at it is like a jazz funeral - the first part of it as slow sad music to mourn the loss, the second part has up-tempo joyous music because the first person has started life again".

There are jazz funerals in New Orleans now, organised by undertakers to remember the deceased but also to raise hope for the future.

They trundle around the city, a coffin on a horse-drawn hearse with what are called "second liners" - mourners who join the procession on its way to the cemeteries which are above ground (New Orleans is below sea-level so burials below ground would have filled with water and the dead literally rise).


Some of the clubs like Tipitina's are getting back into action but most musicians are wondering what will resurrect the remainder - and what will bring an industry and a culture back to life.

You need to bring the wildness back too. We're wild - and we're elegant. If you get rid of our wildness, it's not New Orleans
Wynton Marsalis
When you talk about the future of the city to musicians who have remained or returned, they are confident - or at least they assert confidence.

To a person, they are contemptuous of government and say: "We'll have to do it ourselves. We will do it ourselves."

The thing about New Orleans is that it was not just a tourist destination.

Kids really would pick up a trumpet in poor areas and learn it - and without those kids a culture dies.

One danger many foresee is that of a "Disneyfication" of New Orleans where the money gets spent on the tourist French Quarter - which wasn't damaged anyway - while the residential, poorer parts get ignored.

That, most say, would be a disaster, the killing or rather the acceptance of the death of one of the great cultures of the US and the world.

There needs to be grit in the new New Orleans too.

As Wynton Marsalis, the world's greatest trumpeter - classical or jazz - puts it: "You need to bring the wildness back too. We're wild - and we're elegant. If you get rid of our wildness, it's not New Orleans."

You can hear the second and third programmes in the "Blowing the Music Away" series on Radio 4 next and the following Tuesday at 1330.



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