Thursday, May 7, 2015

Immersed in music

I love to travel. Peter loves to be at home. I knew it would be a challenge to plan a trip he might actually enjoy, but I really craved some time in a warmer climate, so I gave it a try. And I succeeded.

We decided I'd find a place where we could settle in and become part of a neighborhood for a week. We agreed on New Orleans, a well-loved destination we had visited several times, but not since Hurricane Katrina. We'd see how the city had recovered, but mostly we'd concentrate on music and food.

On our balcony, overlooking Frenchmen Street
With music as a focus, it made sense to stay in the Faubourg Marigny, a district just beyond the French Quarter, where a three-block section of Frenchmen Street has become the place to enjoy jazz and blues. On, my go-to travel research site, I found housing choices ranging from elegant to slightly shabby, and then I hit gold: a rental apartment with big, airy rooms, 14-foot ceilings, and the most wonderful balcony overlooking the street. The second floor of an 1870s commercial building, it's been renovated to include a modern kitchen and bathroom, air conditioning (which we never needed), and lots of electrical outlets. It even has wifi, courtesy of the bicycle shop downstairs. The only downside: a flight of 28 stairs. Happily, Peter's knees cooperated and the stairs, while difficult, were not impossible.

Some people might see another downside. Frenchmen Street is much quieter than, say, Bourbon Street, but it is not quiet. There are at least seven music clubs just on the block where we stayed. We had Snug Harbor and dba on either side of us, and The Spotted Cat directly across the street. Spotted Cat brings on a new group every two hours between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m. weekdays and from 2 p.m. and 4 a.m. on weekends (which in New Orleans can stretch from Thursday through Monday). The way the club is set up, music sashays right out the front door and into the street...and directly into our home-away-from-home.

Some people who stay there use earplugs when they want to sleep. We just let the music wash over us. Hot jazz, cool jazz, funky jazz, Dixieland, blues--it became the soundtrack for our lives. We went to other venues, too, most notably Snug Harbor where we heard two especially fine concerts. Who could have known that Dick Hyman, whom Peter and I both remember from the 50s, can play jazz with such virtuosity at age 88? He appeared with a quartet headed by Evan Christopher, my new favorite clarinetist, and the entire show was an experience in perfection. Another night we heard a jazz band led by one of the Marsalis brothers. The room is tiny--the very definition of an intimate venue--and Snug Harbor audiences are attentive and respectful, as you want them to be when you've paid a handsome cover charge to hear some of the best in the business.

After the shows at Snug Harbor, we'd walk next door, climb the stairs, and once again sit on the balcony enjoying the scenery and the perfect weather. People up and down the street were having a good time. Those in The Spotted Cat were whooping, dancing, clapping, singing along--not only enjoying music but participating in it--and the energy was contagious.

We've been back several weeks now, and still when I hear any music at all, my ear homes in, eagerly paying attention to the interaction among instrumentalists. Also, I crave hearing live music--blues, jazz, rock, whatever--in small venues, something we haven't done much lately. I've begun to watch the listings in Saint Paul and Minneapolis so we can do more, without having to pack our suitcases. Meanwhile I'm listening to Evan Christopher on YouTube and am about to order a CD, or two or three. He's a wonderful performer and a great scholar of New Orleans jazz, which shows in his work. Hope you enjoy this sample.

I'll be back soon.


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