An Online Story of Jazz in New Orleans – Introduction

March 26th, 2013

An Online Story of Jazz in New Orleans

With an introduction by Nat Hentoff

__________

Featuring the complete text of chapters 1 – 5 from Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told By the Men Who Made It, a 1955 book by Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff

(Published with the consent of Nat Hentoff)

Chapter

1  2   3   4   5

Introduction

Bunk Johnson, Jim Robinson and George Lewis (holding clarinet), New
Orleans, 1946

*



When the Saints Go Marching In

, by Bunk Johnson

_____

  Few cities in the world are as unique and culturally rich as New Orleans. When describing the city, the writer Gary Giddins called it a “movable feast,” and that people would go there to “experience its peculiarly avid, omnivorous feeling for life.”

  The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina made clear how vulnerable the city and its cultural institutions are, and created a sense of urgency within this publication to help communicate the contributions the city of New Orleans has made to the world dynamic – and no Crescent City contribution has been more potent than jazz.

  How does a publication go about communicating a city’s essence, especially since those who lived its history are no longer alive to share it? One way is to have a jazz historian with the credentials of Giddins tell its story, as he did in a conversation recently published on this web site. Another way is found on this page, “An Online Story of Jazz in New Orleans,” now a component of our “New Orleans Stories.”

  The core content of this feature comes from the first five chapters of Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told By the Men Who Made It, a 1955 book by journalists Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff. As the authors wrote in the book’s introduction, the seventy-two pages that make up this feature are “first person descriptions of the way life was enjoyed in New Orleans at the start of the century, when jazz began to come of age there.” Who better to communicate the jazz culture of New Orleans than Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson, and Kid Ory?

“An Online Story of Jazz in New Orleans” includes photographs of many of the narrators, as well as scenes from the community and era they describe. Every effort was made to duplicate the exact format and text of the book’s manuscript. And, as is common within Jerry Jazz Musician features, there are numerous musical and spoken word recordings to sample. It is important to note that because recordings were virtually non-existent during the years this story takes place, oftentimes the music associated with the content or photos was actually recorded years later.

  It is hoped that this feature can be a permanent address for readers to turn to when seeking an understanding for the culture of New Orleans.
With the gracious consent of Mr. Hentoff – whose new introduction follows – Jerry Jazz Musician presents “An Online Story of Jazz in New Orleans.”

__________________________

Discovering New Orleans

By Nat Hentoff

_____

 I had not yet been to New Orleans when Nat Shapiro and
I decided to lead off Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told
By the Men Who Made It
with Danny Barker’s opening chorus. He impelled
me to go to that reverberating city, where Danny recalled:

 “One of my pleasantest memories as a kid growing up in
New Orleans was how a bunch of us kids, playing, would suddenly hear sounds.
It was like a phenomenon, like the Aurora Borealis – maybe. The sounds of
men playing would be so clear, but we wouldn’t be sure where they were coming
from. So we’d start trotting, start running – “It’s this way!” “It’s that
way!” – And, sometimes, after running for a while, you’d find you’d be nowhere
near that music. But that music could come on you any time like that. The
city was full of the sounds of music…”

 And being actually there, with joyous music coming out
of club after club onto the streets made me feel that if there is a Heaven,
I was already there!

 Then, at Preservation Hall, as Jim Robinson’s trombone
filled me with the life force of jazz, I remembered his words at the very
end of our book: “If everyone is in a frisky spirit, the spirit gets to me
and I can make my trombone sing. If my music makes people happy, I will try
to do more. It is a challenge to me. I always want people around me. It gives
me a warm heart and that gets into my music. When I play sweet music, I try
to give my feelings to the other fellow. That’s always in my mind. Everyone
in this world should know this.”

 And it came to pass that jazz became an international
language so essential to so many that when that glorious son of New Orleans,
Louis Armstrong, was scheduled to play in the Belgian Congo years later,
the two leaders in fierce civil war there decided to stop the fighting as
long as Louis was playing in the Congo so they could hear the Aurora Borealis
of his sound and spirit.

 When Danny Barker came back to New Orleans after being
a major figure on the jazz scene elsewhere, he – being a natural teacher
insistent on keeping the New Orleans heritage alive – accepted the
invitation in 1970 of the Reverend Andrew Darby of the Fairview Baptist Church
(in the Seventh Ward) to form a band of kids from the neighborhood.

 As Tom Jacobsen and Don Marquis write in “Danny’s Boys
Grow Up” (The Mississippi Rag, May 2006): “Danny [had] become concerned that
a generation of youngsters with an interest in music had no encouragement,
nor any outlets [then] to the city’s traditional music. The music had become
associated with an older generation of musicians…the dictates of the
local music scene when they were growing up told them, ‘If you are not old,
you are not authentic.'”

 In a few years, many of Danny’s Boys “were sitting in
with the veterans and were more than holding their own.”

 And Hurricane Katrina has not shut down the resilience
of that insistently living New Orleans heritage as these continuous “sounds
of surprise” (in Whitney Balliett’s definition of jazz) keep on keeping on.

 In her book, Exuberance: The Passion for Life
(Knopf), Kay Redfield Jamison quotes Jack Teagarden telling of the first
time he heard Louis Armstrong on a far off river boat:

 “Standing in the wind, holding a trumpet high and sending
out the most brilliant notes I had ever heard. It was jazz…it was Louis
Armstrong descending from the sky like a god.”

 Imagine what this country – and the world –
would be like if history had missed New Orleans.

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

This issue features a roundtable discussion about how the world of religion may have impacted the creative lives of Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; three new podcasts from Bob Hecht; new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently released jazz recordings, and lots more.

Short Fiction

"The Wailing Wall" -- a short story by Justin Short

Interviews

Three prominent religious scholars -- Wallace Best, Tracy Fessenden and M. Cooper Harriss -- join us in a conversation about how the world of religion during the life and times of Langston Hughes (pictured), Billie Holiday and Ralph Ellison helps us better comprehend the meaning of their work.

Poetry

Nine poets contribute ten poems celebrating jazz in poems as unique as the music itself

Short Fiction

In celebration of our upcoming 50th Short Fiction Contest, previous contest winners (dating to 2002) reflect on their own winning story, and how their lives have since unfolded.

The Joys of Jazz

In this edition, award winning radio producer Bob Hecht tells three stories; 1) on Charlie Christian, the first superstar of jazz guitar; 2) the poet Langston Hughes’ love of jazz music, and 3) a profile of the song “Strange Fruit”

On the Turntable

25 recently released jazz tunes that are worth listening to…including Bobo Stenson; Medeski, Martin and Wood; Muriel Grossman and Rudy Royston

Features

Chick Corea, Rickie Lee Jones, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Randy Brecker and Tom Piazza are among those responding to our question, "What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940's?"

Poetry

"Billie Holiday" -- a poem (with collage) by Steve Dalachinsky

Coming Soon

Thomas Brothers, Duke University professor of music and author of two essential biographies of Louis Armstrong, is interviewed about his new book, HELP! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration; also, Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell, author of An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden, in a conversation about the brilliant 20th Century artist

In the previous issue

This issue features an interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins; a collection of poetry devoted to the World War II era; and a new edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in which the question “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s” is posed to Rickie Lee Jones, Chick Corea, Tom Piazza and others.

Contributing writers

Site Archive