By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
But just a week prior, Governor Bobby Jindal had ordered the state's decentralized arts funding cut by 83 percent, and its overall cultural support (some $4 million) halved. "That's short-sighted and just wrong," Landrieu said. As Jindal shepherded a $50 million rescue of a chicken-processing plant, some 70,000 e-mails rained on State House Representatives, who've since voted to restore much of the money, pending Senate review.
Working musicians in New Orleans face steep enough challenges: Since Katrina, bookings are down by nearly half, while the cost of living has risen 11 percent, according to one recent survey. Sure, there's great music everywhere, but the time-honored conundrum of a culture that's beloved around the world from a city possessing no serious music industry has grown starker and, well, far less charming. As one response, Jazz Fest's foundation hosted "Sync Up," a talent exchange to connect visiting executives and talent bookers with local players. Outside the Jazz Tent, clarinetist Evan Christopher criticized the tourism machine for trivializing the culture: "You'll see tourism ads that show guys playing for tips, or just instruments next to a plate of gumbo, like it's a side dish." He thinks local musicians should "stop giving it away" and call their own shots. (At the very least, city officials should revisit archaic and arbitrary live-music ordinances.)
Jazz Fest itself can be suspect. Tuba player Bennie Pete turned down a slot at the modest "Jazz & Heritage" stage for his Hot 8 Brass Band, requesting a bigger-draw tent based on his group's raised profile and international tours: "The festival has an opportunity to help lift up the local musicians," he said. "We want something to aspire to—not just surviving in the streets."
Yet despite hard times and spurred in part by disaster, local musicians have broadened their creative pursuits. Trumpeter Shamarr Allen's new CD is titled Box Who In? "Lately, I'm covering Ornette Coleman and Jimi Hendrix as often as Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington," Christopher noted. Clarinetist Michael White, an authoritative if often buttoned-down traditionalist, wore a T-shirt and the smile of a pleased mentor while playing with the Hot 8 at Sound Café. And at the Jazz Tent three days later, he sported a colorful West African shirt with Fatien Ensemble, in collaboration with Seguenon Kone, whose balafon and dundun drums bespeak his native Ivory Coast. The group played a new tune of White's, "Ancestral Reunion," then a rhythmically realigned version of "St. James Infirmary."
"I think life as I knew it ended with Katrina," White had told me. "And I'm on to another one now."