POEM: every white person has a Cherokee grandma

every white person has a Cherokee grandma

every white person has a Cherokee grandma
& a dream catcher dangling like a promise
from the rear-view mirror of their Forester
they never look back because
someone might be losing everything

we grow up learning to love hot cocoa
from the box, the name with the funny accent
over the final e — & it certainly is final, nailing
the coffin lid shut as the last drop of water
disappears beneath a tight plastic cap

we let them have what they want
because we cannot face who we’ve become
or who we had to kill to get here
Nikes squishing through the mud
made by mixing blood & dirt

tie your lips shut so capitalism doesn’t slip out
stay in the protective circle or the Bogey Man (TM)
will come for you
do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
do you remember where you were when it was too late?

/ / /

Jason Crane
15 March 2018
Butler PA

Mardi Gras: Pete Fountain

Pete Fountain is how I first learned of the existence of New Orleans. When I was a little kid, my grandpa took me to hear Pete Fountain and Al Hirt in concert. Then I got a double-cassette collection of Pete’s music and fell in love. I’ve heard a lot of great music from the Crescent City since then, but Pete will always have a special place in my heart for being first. Here’s my favorite Pete Fountain performance:

POEM: everything stays

everything stays
(for Uncle Lionel)

just last night we danced in our hundreds
on this very same street, arms upraised
now the shop windows are barred
the doors hidden behind metal grates
no sound but the occasional birdcall
and even those are rare on this day after

but the pavement carries with it the feel
of our feet moving to the bass drum’s rhythm
the walls like the banks of a mad river
slowly receding after last night’s flood
after the deluge of outrushing emotion
the tears of pain, the wild sounds of joy

how we danced at the Candlelight Lounge
embraced against the wall of Kermit’s Treme
comforted one another on Frenchmen Street
while the band played “I’ll Fly Away”
that’s the dire beauty of this old city:
even carried on wings of song, everything stays

12 July 2012
on the bus from
New Orleans
to New York

Tour Diary: Go-Go, Cello, Second Line

(July 9, 2012) NEW ORLEANS, LA — I didn’t have any plans for my final day in New Orleans. But plans found their way to me anyway.

The only thing I knew I needed to do was make today’s show, featuring DC saxophonist Brad Linde. You can hear it here. And I thought I’d show up at Bacchanal on Poland St to hear Brad Walker play. Other than that, I wasn’t sure how I’d spend my time.

I wandered around the Quarter a bit, found myself at Mama’s on Frenchmen Street enjoying some of the tastiest falafel I’ve had. Very scrumptious tahini dressing on the salad, too. And no iceberg lettuce, which, as we all know, is the greatest evil the world has ever known. As I tweeted the other day, every time someone serves me iceberg lettuce, I feel like I’m being punished.

Then I spent a few hours in Cafe Flora mixing the show. The people behind me were planning a poetry reading. The people across from me were playing scrabble. I was producing a jazz podcast. For a brief moment, Cafe Flora was beatnik nerd central.

Just as I was finishing the show, my pal DJ Soul Sister tweeted to ask where I was. I told her and she said she was on her way to pick me up. We had no plans to meet or anything, but who can resist DJ Soul Sister? Not I!

I finished my work, packed up my stuff and stashed it at the apartment, and waited in front of Mimi’s for DJSS, as I’ll abbreviate her, to pick me up. That was an appropriate place to wait, because Mimi’s is where DJSS holds court every Saturday night, spinning rare groove funk for the dancers on the second floor.

She’d just come back from DC and a deep exploration of the go-go scene, and I knew she was approaching because I could hear old-school go-go blasting from her car speakers. That’s how I always want to be picked up on the street corner from now on.

With no fixed destination in mind, we cruised around the city. Particularly uptown, a part of New Orleans I hadn’t made it to. DJSS showed me the Dew Drop Inn, home to thousands of classic shows by local and national acts. Now closed.

She also took me by Tipitina’s, now a nonprofit that is still dedicated to supporting local music. Those of you who’ve listened to The Jazz Session since the beginning may remember that I used to do a “Cause Of The Month” and the Tipitina’s Foundation was the first one.

We headed over to the Treme, where we spotted the sign for Ruth’s Cozy Corner. It’s a house now, but the neighbors renovated the old sign.

When I got out of the car to take the photo above, I heard brass band music from down North Robertson Street. And just like that, we were in the middle of my third second line for Uncle Lionel in two days.

Once again, the band and crowd surged into a club, this time into the Candlelight Lounge. Then we marched and danced down the street, ending up for a few minutes in front of Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy, site of the first of yesterday’s second lines.

After a while DJSS and I broke away and went back to the car. Then she dropped me at Bacchanal to hear the music. The band was led by guitarist Jonathan Freilich and featured cellist Helen Gillet, saxophonist Brad Walker and percussionist Anthony Cuccia. I thoroughly enjoyed Freilich’s compositions. I was also impressed by Walker’s playing. He sounded a lot like Ernie Watts to me (a sound I love) but with a much different harmonic vocabulary. And Walker and Gillet sounded fantastic together. She’s a monster on the cello. Extremely creative as a soloist and accompanist.

I dug the whole Bacchanal vibe. Outdoors, lanterns burning, good food, good music. Good conversation, too, with my housemate Scott and also with Brad’s partner, Carly. A great way to end my first trip to New Orleans.

Tomorrow I go to Auburn, AL, for the night. Then the loooooong trip from there to New York. I leave at 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday and arrive in New York at 2:20 p.m. on Thursday. That’s a lot of time on a bus.

(If you’d like to support my tour, you can make a one-time donation and get great thank-you gifts HERE. If you’d like to become a member of The Jazz Session and make recurring monthly or yearly payments, you can do that HERE.)

Tour Diary: Didn’t He Ramble: Remembering Uncle Lionel Batiste

(July 8, 2012) NEW ORLEANS, LA — Today I spent the day dancing and singing in memory of someone I’d honestly never heard of before this morning.

I like to think I know a little bit about New Orleans music, but that’s all I know. I’ve listened to a fair amount of music from this city over the years, but I don’t have nearly the familiarity with the city’s royalty that locals or even many frequent visitors have. So although I’d seen photos of Uncle Lionel Batiste before, I didn’t know who he was and had never heard his name until Scott, the guy I’m staying with, told me this morning that he’d died.

Uncle Lionel Batiste was the drummer for the Treme Brass Band. He died this morning at 80 years of age. He was, for many people, the heart and soul of the brass band tradition in New Orleans. His photo is everywhere — in clubs and restaurants all over the city. He is revered by many local musicians and, if today is any indication, beloved by the people of New Orleans.

I walked through a torrential downpour from my apartment on Port and Royal all the way over to Basin Street in the Treme, the oldest black neighborhood in America. According to WWOZ’s Twitter feed, Rebirth Brass Band was going to play a sendoff for Uncle Lionel at 3 p.m. To get there, I had to walk through Louis Armstrong Park, where the names of many New Orleans musical luminaries are set in the stone walkway, including the name of the man who first made me want to come here, 30 years ago:

I arrived about 45 minutes later, soaked to the skin despite my umbrella, at Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy, a club run by trumpeter Kermit Ruffins. As I walked in, the man walking in ahead of me said, “They gonna be some dignitaries up in here.” But there weren’t all that many people inside. And no band. And it was 3:45 already. But this is New Orleans, where time runs at a pace that would give Einstein fits trying to explain it.

Most of the seats were taken, but one table had an open seat and I asked the couple sitting there whether I could join them. They said yes so I sat, dripping, on a seat. I eavesdropped, of course, and heard the woman ask the man who he had interviewed today. So during a break in conversation, I introduced myself and asked him whether he interviewed people for a living. His name was Basil, and he told me he was a documentary filmmaker currently in town working on a project about the US Army’s PR efforts. They’d sponsored the Essence Music Festival this weekend, which is why he was here.

He asked me what I did for a living and I said I interviewed jazz musicians and was traveling the country doing that. The woman across the table said, “Wait, are you also a poet?” Turns out she knew who I was and liked my poetry. What a small, crazy world. I am so unfamous that those moments are always surprising and, let’s be honest, gratifying. Danielle turned out to also be a documentary filmmaker. And we were joined later by Aaron, yet another documentary filmmaker. I guess I need to buy a video camera.

The three of us — Basil and Danielle and I — got on very well. We had a lot in common and had a great conversation. It’s funny how when I’m feeling the loneliest, sometimes life drops wonderful people right into my little world. To prove my point, here are the two books Danielle had with her:

Buddy Bolden and Michael Ondaatje. Not bad, right?

Oh, and one other thing before I continue with the main story. I ordered fried chicken, and rice and beans with pork. I know, I know. I’m a vegan and I don’t ever do things like that. But there was something about the day and the place and, let’s face it, the fact that I was very hungry. It was weird eating meat. I wasn’t grossed out at all. I never am by meat. I was mostly apathetic about the experience. It tasted good. I don’t want to do it again. But I don’t feel awful about having done it.

Anyway, after a while we heard the sound of a trumpet from outside. That was our cue to spring up from the table and head out to the sidewalk, where Rebirth was in full effect. I don’t know if you’ve ever been five feet from a brass band, but it’s quite an experience. I’ve been close to quite a few amplified brass bands over the years (Dirty Dozen, Soul Rebels, Stooges, others), but this was on the sidewalk, no amps, tons of dancers, all soul and passion and emotion and love and respect. This was music that lifted you off the ground and rooted you to the earth at the same time.

Uncle Lionel’s brother was there, too, dancing and hugging folks. There were news crews filming and dozens of phones raised to capture pictures and videos. I saw tearful faces mixed in among the joyful faces, too. It was very powerful.

Most of what I know about the New Orleans tradition where death is concerned comes from books and movies. And I don’t really know what part of the process today represented. But I’m a huge fan of joyously celebrating life, particulary when it’s the passing of a beloved elder member of the community. Of course it’s sad, and I’m not downplaying the need for grieving, but death also affords us a time to reflect on the joy the person brought to our lives. And in the case of Uncle Lionel, that was apparently a lot of joy.

Basil and Danielle and I danced in the street while a light drizzle fell. Luckily the downpour had stopped by this time. After maybe 30 minutes Rebirth stopped playing and everyone went back inside. We realized after a while that nothing else was going to be happening for quite some time. I left to get some work done, while Danielle and Basil and Aaron (who had joined us by this time), went off to have fun.

A couple hours later I met them at the Spotted Cat, a live music club on Frenchmen Street. The Shotgun Jazz Band was playing trad jazz and people were dancing.

When they took a break, the four of us walked down Frenchmen Street. Danielle said she’d overheard someone say there was going to be an event for Uncle Lionel on Frenchmen Street, but we couldn’t find anything. Well, not at first. After we’d walked around for a while, we heard some trumpets coming from up the street. A crowd quickly gathered and before we knew it, another second line had formed. The band and the crowd marched up and down the street, dancing, singing, shouting, raising hands, clapping, rejoicing.

More and more people joined the throng. There must have been a couple hundred people marching up Frenchmen. Then we were back in front of the Spotted Cat, and the entire band, with as much of the crowd as would fit, took over the club for a few minutes.

Now the streets were packed with people, so many that the police had to occasionally clear a path for cars to pass. We marched around the corner onto Royal Street, where the singing and dancing and playing continued. I recognized one guy from the Stooges, and also Washboard Chazz, but I don’t know who made up the rest of the band.

I was so moved to be part of the whole experience. I think the way we treat our elderly is indicative of who we are as people. Here in New Orleans, from what I saw today and tonight, the elderly are respected and valued for what they have contributed and still contribute. It was a truly beautiful thing to see.

After a while things died down and we four returned to the Spotted Cat, where we checked out a few songs by Pat Casey’s band. Then I went home to prepare for a morning interview. Though while I was typing this it was rescheduled.

I’m heading out of New Orleans on Tuesday night. I’m going to New York for a week, then to State College for about a month to spend time with my sons. Then I’ll start the tour again, probably at the end of August at the Detroit Jazz Festival, if all goes as planned. And, again if the plan comes together, I won’t be alone.

By the way, I took a ton of photos at both events today. Here are links to the two photo albums:

(If you’d like to support my tour, you can make a one-time donation and get great thank-you gifts HERE. If you’d like to become a member of The Jazz Session and make recurring monthly or yearly payments, you can do that HERE.)

Tour Diary: Lizards And Spiders And Thunderstorms

(July 7, 2012) — “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men / Gang aft agley,” said Mr. Burns (no, not that one) and he was right.

My plan on this tour was to spend July in New Orleans then head north to spend August in Pennsylvania with my kids. But it turns out my sons are out of town for two weeks in August, so now I’m working on leaving New Orleans this week so I can spend part of July with them, too.

And truth be told, that’s not the full story. As I wrote the other day, I’ve been struggling with how lonely I am on this tour. I really need to spend some time in the company of people who love me, and these days that means being in either New York City or State College, PA. As I mentioned, I’ll be traveling with someone for the second leg of the tour, and I think that will make things much easier.

It’s not just the loneliness, though. This week I really realized for the first time that I am, in fact, homeless.

Robert Frost famously wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” And at the moment, I don’t have a place like that. I don’t speak to my parents. The situation is State College is tricky because of my former wife’s family and their intense dislike of me. My sister, with whom I do speak, lives in a small place in Manhattan and can’t house me. And the woman I’ve been dating now lives at home since we lost our apartment in Brooklyn, and her folks don’t like me either. Makes me sound like a monster, doesn’t it? I’m really not a bad person, but you’d hard-pressed to find people related to me by blood or marriage who share that opinion.

So these last few days, when I’ve wanted more than anything to just go where people I love are, it’s been made clear to me that I can’t choose to do that. I keep coming back to Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, which I’m reading now. He was on the road for an extended period, but he had a home back in New York to which he could return at any time. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, he had a dog. Companionship and the possibility of return. Those are two huge factors, for me at least, in a successful extended road trip.

Yesterday was another low-key day her in the Crescent City.

I got some very tasty vegetarian pho soup over at the Lost Love Lounge. Wrote another poem there, too. Fact: There is no correct pronunciation of “pho” and you will always say it wrong when you order it.

Then I spent a couple hours reading at Flora’s Cafe, a coffee shop right around the corner from where I’m staying. I had the “Iced Tea Especiale,” a blend of jasmine, earl gray and cranberry juice.

While I was there, a twentysomething woman named Honey came in with a friend. She was wearing a skirt with a fluffy tutu over it, a tanktop and a tiara on her head. She had that raspy voice I associate with drinking and smoking that many people get no matter their age. She was chatting with the barista and with a few of the customers, when suddenly she said this: “There’s no way to avoid causing suffering in the world or in your own life, but with awareness you can lessen it.” Wisdom is everywhere, if you keep your eyes and ears open.

Another New Orleans truism: Every store and bar has a cat. Here’s the cat from Flora’s:

After the cafe, I hung out at the apartment for a while, then decided to go see The Amazing Spider-Man. Right as I made that decision, another of New Orleans’ daily thundershowers started. The rain was really bucketing down, and I decided to stay in. Then it let up for a few minutes so I went for it. And of course I was about two blocks away when the bucketing resumed. But I had an umbrella and it was a warm rain. Nice, actually.

SPOILER ALERT! I probably won’t actually spoil anything in this paragraph, but I will make a few comments about the movie, so if you don’t want to read them, just skip to the next paragraph. I liked The Amazing Spider-Man. Both Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were well cast, and I enjoyed the look of the movie. My major complaint is that every franchise reboot has to retell the origin story. Really? He was bitten by a wonky spider. He has superpowers. We get it. Can we just start from there? Or even give a little history in flashbacks or something? Instead we spend the first half of the movie figuring out how he becomes Spider-Man and watching Peter Parker learn to use his powers and watching the classic story of Uncle Ben. Oy. But it was good and I enjoyed it.

END OF SPOILER SECTION

BEGINNING OF GRUMPY OLD MAN SECTION

Now a few words about the theater where I saw the movie. I went to the Theaters At Canal Place, right on the main tourist strip downtown. The ticket cost $17, which is even more than New York. The theater had at-your-seat food service. Menus and everything, and servers who took your order and brought your food. I didn’t get anything, of course. I was still in shock from the ticket price and I’m traveling on an austerity budget. However, the fact that were servers and that you could summon them at any time using a button at your seat, meant that all during the movie there were people walking in front of the screen delivering drinks and food. This wasn’t stadium seating, either, so they really were walking in front of the screen. For $17, I don’t expect to be repeatedly taken out of the movie by the sight of a head traveling in front of the image.

END OF GRUMPY OLD MAN SECTION

I walked home from the movie. It was a warm but gorgeous night and people were out in droves. That means “crowds,” right? I walked up North Peters Street, which is one block removed from the main drags and was a little quieter as a result. I like cities at night, particularly when you’re a little off the beaten path.

So that was my day. I’m not sure what this week will bring. Probably a loooooong bus ride back north. And the search for housing. And some time with people I love. But who knows?

(If you’d like to support my tour, you can make a one-time donation and get great thank-you gifts HERE. If you’d like to become a member of The Jazz Session and make recurring monthly or yearly payments, you can do that HERE.)