April 22 Friday, Trussville, Ala. We’re rolling home in triumph. New Orleans doesn’t do “success” – or failure – as other cities do. Everything’s just ok, man, just living, even post-Katrina. Still, we feel great about how things worked out for us, having achieved Big Peter’s non-stop whirlwind tour and diverse gigs all over the place, without a hitch. The Big Easy says thanks in a lot of little ways. One of these, like a cheap gold doubloon thrown from a Mardi Gras float: David Krantz and I were waiting for a streetcar on St. Charles downtown when one of the outbound cars waiting at the traffic light showed the face of the driver leaning over to the passenger side window to say something to us. “Y’all played great at the French Quarter yesserday!” he says.
That last gig, at the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park near the French Market, was the peak, at least for alto sax cats Jack Burks and Spencer Moore. Jack’s solos in the first three numbers got the crowd jiving, and closing with “In the Mood” was transcendental (especially since the 50 or so souls packed in that performance space were mostly middle aged tourist – not counting the four lovely ladies who were W&L seniors on their spring break and Hammer’s cousin Britney Holland the charter school teacher and her boyfriend all in the front row). Jack and Spencer were so on, for “Soul Man” they were choreographing their horns from side to side together, and high for high notes, low for low notes, Motown style.
Another peak was Tchefuncte Middle School in Mandeville on Monday. We put the funk in Tchefuncte. This is where Professor Del Vecchio (Ital., “of the old man”) showed his public school teacher chops. He got these well behaved students (first, 700 from Pontchartrain Elementary, housed in the same building, then 900 from the middle school) in their uniforms cheering and swaying. His lesson in improvisation for a small music class that stayed after was classy. He summoned Marshall Olsewski, without warning, to come out from the t-bone section and demonstrate how you could just “make up” stuff. After trading a few licks of a cappella skat singing, dubee-dubee-dat-dat, Marshall in his ultra suave way ad libbed this: “Saying random words is what I like to do.” And then, without breaking his cool: “It’s called improvisation, and you should try it, too.”
We’ve had a couple of star trumpet players sitting in on our performances. On Sunday and Monday shows, it was Joe Messina, a droll cat who has taught generations of younger jazz players. On Tuesday, in the Quarter, it was Joe’s son-in-law Barney Floyd. Both of them hit the stratosphere with their their solos, cool and modest hanging in the background, but making music that just sailed to Byzantium. Barney, it turns out, plays the trumpet parts dubbed into the HBO show Treme. He also plays in a jazz brass band called the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. And he’s playing in something like 13 bands scheduled for the upcoming Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Meals, of course, have been lavish and decadent, in the best sense. While Nicolas Cage was getting arrested in the French Quarter, we were eating at places there like Muriel’s on Jackson and the Riverside. But some of the best times were meals with parents of the band members – last night, at an Applebee’s near our Holiday Inn here north of Birmingham, we were joined by Hobie King’s cool parents. And on Wednesday night, law student-drumstick-hurling Daniel Montgomery hosted us at his family’s home in Mandeville. Or I should say his parents Mr. and Mrs. Warren Montgomery, hosted us most graciously, serving mountains of pepper-boiled crawfish, barbecue and donuts.
Yesterday morning, we had time for wandering around Magazine Street in the Garden District for breakfast and shopping (although David is the only one who could really appreciate the funky items in the antique stores, being a collector of post-war oddities). No more time for this, since we’re trying to get back on the road by 7 a.m.