June 6, 2007

Freret Street, Bill Jefferson, Hamid Drake & Kidd Jordan, and Sandy Alomar Jr.

From 1998-1999, I lived at the corner of Napoleon Avenue and Freret Street, in a small studio apartment upstairs from a gay couple who owned the large house. Apparently, they panicked after the storm and attempted to raise the building 8 feet, setting off a chain of events that led to the house’s current state of vacant decay. Whenever I drive by that corner and see the empty trailer wedged in the backyard where once a dainty garden bloomed, the foundation of the house splitting, and the doors pried open to the elements, I lament the fate of those poor guys and my former home.

Because that was my apartment when Kim and I started dating, the spot holds an important place in my heart, as does all of Freret Street. That year we attended what must have been the 3rd Freret Street Festival, with Walter “Wolfman” Washington playing from the back of a Ryder truck and the two of us dancing among a modest crowd of neighborhood people. The stretch of Freret above Napoleon has a very Caribbean vibe to it, with old stucco buildings and some tile roofs, and, though it’s a central street uptown, I guess that part always seems like an island to me; sorta romantic, always sun-baked, self-contained.

This year we returned to find a festival with 3 stages, probably the best line-up of any of the free festivals in the city, and thousands of people filling those blocks. More importantly, Kim is now director of the new neighborhood center, so we’ll be up there a lot from now on. A double-wide shotgun, the center is close to finished, but not fully opened. There is a stage in the backyard, though, and a talent show went on most of the afternoon. Mardi Gras Indians, spoken word, and a loose funk band gave way to some R&B, some crunk, and some straight-up N.O. hip-hop.

Game Tight Records
(that's a grown-over satellite dish behind them)

Grand Jury


Monday brought the news of Rep. Bill Jefferson’s indictment on racketeering, obstruction of justice and money laundering charges, and with it another sad chapter in the story of old sins coming back to cripple the city’s recovery. Caught just before the storm with 90G’s stuffed in his freezer, Jefferson faces ouster from the House after giving up positions on the Trade, Ways & Means, and most recently the Small Business committees.

Think about what that means: instead of a senior representative in the House on three of the committees (hypothetically) most import to New Orleans, we get an impotent soon-to-be felon whose own family is implicated with him in a scheme to bribe Nigerian officials. Just when we could use maximum efforts in Washington, we get a soiled void.

What hurts is that the people voted him in last fall knowing full well that he faced just such a fate. Victorious by way of a long-established machine and an appeal to suburban conservatives, Jefferson represents the most needy district in the country as a pariah in his own ruling party. All we can hope for is his forced ouster, if hope is what you want to call it.


In New Orleans, music’s ubiquity always threatens to make it too accessible, and thus taken for granted. The epiphanies of great performances come too easy at times, and so their magnitude lessens and we miss gigs we should make, sure that we’ll catch the next one. Great musicians who do their thing end up not being enough because, even in the disarray of the current scene, that’s what New Orleans cats do—survive and blare.

At the same time, with the stakes so high today, a show that might’ve been great 10 years ago shifts into transcendence now when certain musicians, in the grip of those stakes, decide to take things further. And for complex reasons, it matters more. Many times in the 1990’s, I had my mind blown. Nowadays, when the sound is right, my mind focuses and tunes into line with my heart; I am reassured and given direction.

On Monday night, we stood in the Dragon’s Den and listened to Kidd Jordan play with the Rob Wagner trio, which features Hamid Drake, the great Chicago drummer. I’ve heard Kidd and Hamid play with different ensembles, mostly in New York, and so I’ve been telling Kim to get ready for weeks now. But Monday night was different.

The gig was the trio’s 2nd night in support of a new CD, which I hear is dope. Kidd Jordan played the Monday gig only. At times it felt like this was the first and last gig he’d ever play, like he had to get it all out on the canvas Hamid wove, and fuck everything else. Really and truly: Hamid Drake must be the greatest drummer alive and perhaps ever, and Kidd just turned and played right back at him and with him and people stood in a trance, sometimes broken by yelps of disbelief.

When free jazz hits me right, I am prone to laughter, which is not the norm in the often museum-like crowd at a lot of those shows. This time I didn’t need to worry about that, as other people got carried away. Kidd Jordan and Hamid Drake proved that sometimes a moment comes and will definitely pass and you make the art you have to in that space. From the get, you could see that Kidd was so glad to play a night with Hamid and that appreciation, that sudden shock and then work—that’s what I keep reminding myself to keep close.


Is it for the money or the love of the game?

Games played in New Orleans must suffer from more rain delays than almost anywhere else in the country. At this time of year, the skies behave in true tropical fashion, with a strong shower in the early evening that gives a brief respite from the humidity. So far we’ve had a mild spring, but the heat lurks, ready to slow things to a crawl.

Last night, we drove out to “The Shrine on Airline,” aka Zephyr Field, the minor league baseball stadium on Airline Highway, home to the New Orleans Zephyrs. Kim had coupons for $1 tickets for volunteers, courtesy of the United Way. Instead of the usual get-what-you-get cheap ticket, this put us in the first row just to the first base side of home plate.

I was pretty amped about this positioning, as the Zephyrs feature one Sandy Alomar Jr., the former All-Star catcher who, at 42, is on a quest to return to the Majors, this time with the Mets. From our prime seats, we could watch Sandy call the game, and peek into the dugout to check in on, among others, former Yankee Ricky Ledee and hot prospect Lastings Miledge.

Mostly, though, Sandy Alomar Jr. I mean, after a fairly illustrious career, why try to get back to the show one last time, especially when already the Mets sit in 1st place with an all-star catcher? Sandy’s chances are pretty slim, but there he was, doing the Bull Durham in Metairie.

Equipped with two beers, two dogs, and an order of nachos, we sat down for the beginning of the game vs. tonight’s opponent, the Salt Lake City Bees. After the bottom of the 1st began with two hits from the Z’s, the rain started and grew increasingly fierce, soaking the nachos and watering down the beer. We didn’t give up until the grounds crew, which included members of the crowd, announced a rain delay by dashing onto the field.

At the top of the bleachers, we watched the storm and ate our dogs. For some reason, the scoreboard showed an old clip of Sheriff Harry Lee marrying what appeared to be two mascots on the grass of Zephyr Field.

Harry Lee Loves Nutrias

The delay lasted about 40 minutes. When the game resumed, the Z’s stranded the two runners and the long 1st inning was over. In the 5th, though, they could not be denied. Things got nuts when Sandy took one deep for a 3-run homer, followed by one hit after another until Ledee knocked another 3-run homer.

Then two utterly ridiculous things happened: the Salt Lake pitcher attempted to attack the ump and was thrown out, along with the Bees’ manager. Then Kim reminded me that the homer run meant the first 100 people to the beer stand won a Miller Lite "foamer." I raced up there and took my place in the long line. An old feller came up and started telling the guy in front of me that he didn't "drink the stuff, I'm just getting it for Ledee's wife." And sure enough, each of us got a 10oz cup of beer, thanks to Ricky Ledee.

I’m rooting for the Zephyrs from now on.