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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 4. 1962.

Four New Zealand Students Visit the Home of Jazz

page 7

Four New Zealand Students Visit the Home of Jazz

The thirty-odd strip joints and countless little bars in the area round Bourbon, Royal and Canal Streets in New Orleans, seem mostly to be dedicated to taking down the tourist. They religiously make the bus tours to gape at the strippers and have their pictures and money taken at the famous night clubs.

Traditionally the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans today offers very little of the genuine music for visitors. In the whole Bourbon Street area, I found only four places where an approximate version of the real down-home jazz band can be heard.

There the drinks are mainly water, the atmosphere is noisy, hot and crowded and the "jazz" Is the plebeian sound typified by Pete Fountain and Al Hirt.

Because of the invidious role of black clown that many of negro jazzmen have been forced to assume in New Orleans may of them have migrated, and a lot have simply stopped playing. Big Negro bands like those of Armstrong and Ory rarely return to New Orleans. They are barred from performing in the local Town Hall because of their race.

It has been left to a small group of stalwarts who stoutly defend the integrity of the tradtional New Orleans idiom to maintain and improve the standard of local music. A couple of the old clubs—the Paddock and the Famous Door—have done their best. These clubs are up against the popular tourist spots.

In the Paddock the music is hot and strong; led by a raucous, Rabelaisian tailgate trombone and a sweet, lyrical clarinet. At the Famous Door, the band features Sweet Emma, a crone with fingers like talons and bells on her wrists and ankles which jingle in time as she pounds out blues on the piano and sings in a surprisingly youthful, husky voice.

But Emma, and the Paddock's clarinetist are both over sixty, typifying the advanced age of most of the jazzmen around the city.

Around the corner in St. Peter's Street, next to a very loud and garish tourist trap, is Preservation Hall, where the average age of the musicians is usually over 60. These are mostly men who quit playing commercially in the early '30s, when the depression hit the South, and more especially, the negro. They continued working as busboys and porters until the management of the Hall ferreted them out. The Hall is a couple of bare rooms facing onto the street. In one you sit in folding chairs or on the floor and listen to jazz. In the other there is folk-music—blues guitar, usually played by young white students.

In both places there is no entrance fee—the audience just tosses in a contribution when the hat is passed around. Here the music is genuine and happy: everybody stomps and claps, and the band personnel shifts around as they fire.

The night I was there the band playing was Kid Roberts and his Original Papa Celestin Tuxedo Dixieland Ramblers.

Rhythm and Blues

There is a considerable interest taken by local white guitarists in the blues guitar—a resurgence of which is evident all over the country. Suddenly a market has developed for Broonzy, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Terry. Bill Roberts, a guitarist I talked to at the Hall, had a twelve-string guitar like the one Leadbelly used to play, but said it was a bit of sentimentality on his part. As soon as the old-time negro singers made any money, they bought electric guitars. In some cases the results have been disastrous.

John Hooker's records with electric guitar are excruciatingly bad examples of tone control. But it would be wrong to say that it is a complete mistake. Some of the rhythm-and-blues groups that play locally over the radio sing fierce gospel blues and yet their instruments and rhythm structures are essentially the same as in the emasculated R.&B. we get in New Zealand.

Back to Basics

The negro seems to have gone back to his basics in New Orleans—a more updated version of the original popular negro music. You can hear echoes of the field hollers and the ring shouts in the music of Ray Charles or the Drifters, and here again they may find a music that does not relegate them to the position of clowns—a role which has not been fashionable among the negroes of America since the Jazz Age of the 20s.