Posts tagged new orleans

June 5th, 2012

I saw Theresa Andersson last night at the Swedish American Hall here in San Francisco; it was indescribably good. The joy with which she performs despite the impossible simulataniety of her multi-tracked singing, instrument-playing, loop-building and -managing, and dancing is its own kind of artistic achievement: the music’s resonance exceeds the novelty of the techniques involved in its creation, even when the techniques are astounding to watch.

I cannot recommend seeing her live enough; her many excellent videos cannot do it justice. Andersson also performs songs from her latest album, the wonderful Street Parade, and since that album’s orchestration makes use of massed horns and other complexly textural washes of sounds, her tour arrangements are almost new compositions. They were all beautiful, but I was particularly overwhelmed by "Endymion."

Anyway: I think she’s the best. You should see if you can catch an upcoming show.

May 8th, 2012

From my favorite New Orleans history site Backatown: a 1902 invitation to the Comus Mardi Gras ball.

Reblogged from Backatown
April 25th, 2012
Birds Fly Away
Theresa Andersson
Hummingbird, Go!

Theresa Andersson is an impossibly talented multi-instrumentalist and singer who’s lived in New Orleans for a couple of decades. Her music exemplifies the value of a particular relation between an artist and a tradition, in this case the enormous tradition of New Orleans music. This tradition is both rich and daunting; it contains everything from the invention and development of jazz (and all that flows from this astonishing, epochal revolution in music) to the expression of inimitable ethnic and cultural musics to the role song plays in New Orleans culture: the jazz-funeral, the Mardi Gras parade, etc.

French Quarter, February 1981. Photo by Tom Haggerty. From Backatown.

A tradition can choke aesthetic and artistic innovation, typically by inclining audiences to measure work against a congealed history; in other words, a tradition can fall into backwards-facing aesthetic conservatism, whereas all arts require for their vitality some degree of novelty and a sense of futurity, too. Humans acclimate to meanings and forms; they stop “working” as experiences and instead become perfunctory expressions of mannered habit. Rather than opening the hearts or minds of audiences or reacquainting them with the reality in which they live, the reality inside themselves, moribund traditions allow audiences to go through motions without attention. Even a great tradition can lull us into semi-cultured sleep (or sleepwalking dance).

On the other hand: without a tradition, the arts have little orientation; every artist must invent not only her formal, aesthetic, artistic innovations, but the entire constellation of justificatory or explanatory ideas, cultural meanings, and purposes on which her art relies. Art apart from tradition requires the artist, before painting an apple pie, to invent the universe, with its possibilities and constraints. Perhaps worse, or more consequential for audiences, traditions sum the knowledge of the artists and thinkers and audiences who have come before; without tradition, we must continually rediscover what previous generations knew intuitively, knew from tradition, while discarding solutions that worked and which could have been developed, extended, combined with novel phenomena or filtered through a new artist’s self to make art that extends tradition, rather than childishly pretending not to care about it.

Andersson has a multi-loop-pedal setup to perform without a band.

All of that is to say: Andersson —on both Street Parade and Hummingbird, Go! and probably elsewhere— negotiates the tension between tradition and invention perfectly. If one is attentive, one hears the syncopations and swings and shouts of raucous New Orleans street music; one hears, too, the melodic and harmonic beauty that music from the birthplace of jazz should  possess. Orchestrations and instrumental performances are likewise given reach and depth by their relation to the great musicians of the city’s past and present.

Thus: some of her music has a swing to it that few contemporary artists can hope to achieve, since their rhythms are the basically-dull 4/4 rhythms commercial pop-rock has been reduced to; and there is an historical scope to her music’s aesthetic that makes its regular lyrical profundity seem natural, unaffected, appropriate. Against the larger tapestry of aesthetics and meanings, it’s easier to be serious. Connected to tradition, experiments can be bolder: there is less of an explanatory burden for deviations since foundational elements remain familiar.

But the lightness of her touch makes her music a bit like New Orleans for me: deeply moving in reflection, touching at moments, but always, always, always fun. Happiness is the point; New Orleans understands that, and that’s why its musical tradition is so wonderful. It’s insanely exciting to hear someone who seems to be as much a part of that tradition as, say, Louis Armstrong or Allen Toussaint, while still being a contemporary, recombinant, adventurous artist, singing not about dear, departed characters like Junko Partner but about love and life as they are now.

I didn’t know what song to choose; I recognize that this one is perhaps sweet for many, but I love it; other tracks may be more to your liking. Thanks a lot for the tip, Erin!

April 3rd, 2012
Livery Stable Blues
Original Dixieland Jass Band

Backatown, an excellent new tumblelog by my friend Stuart Carlton, features historic photography of New Orleans and her neighborhoods, artists, advertisements (Katz & Besthoff!), and more. It also has some excellent music. This, for example, is the first ever recorded live jazz track: “Livery Stable Blues,” by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, from 1917.

Below is the old D.H. Holmes on Canal Street, where Ignatius Reilly waits impatiently for his mother at the start of A Confederacy of Dunces.

Reblogged from Backatown
February 23rd, 2012

Abby and I had a wonderful Mardi Gras in New Orleans; I took very few photographs, and I didn’t worry whether I would ‘capture’ any given sight, sound, event, or preserve it, document it, substantiate myself with its digital evidence. It was a release from my duties as a nervous, unpaid curator of the self, a documentarian of vain trivia. I felt joy for nearly all of our time there.

In the past, however, I worked a bit harder. I’ve taken some photographs of Mardi Gras with which I’m happy; I think they manage, here and there and despite their technical clumsiness and under-culled quantity, to present some of the visual beauty of the carnival parades. This beauty —and the vital, bawdy, syncopated music, and the thrill of kindly crowds, and much more— is a larger part of why New Orleanians love Mardi Gras than the clichéd debauchery of topless tourists and Budweiser beads.

In any event: here are some better Mardi Gras photos, mostly from 2009 and 2010. You should go next year.

September 21st, 2011
Don't Fuck Around With Love
The Blenders
The Sway: New Orleans Rhythm & Blues

From David Cole’s wonderful mix The Sway —a “trim 35 minutes of old fashioned rhythm & blues from mid-century New Orleans and Texas”— comes this, perhaps the oldest song I know of featuring the f-word.

The profane alternate-take version of “Don’t Play Around with Love” is especially appropriate for a friend of mine today, who’s clever as a fox and should just keep on struttin’ (as illustrated in one of Cole’s essentially perfect works of pixel art).

March 8th, 2011

Rex. Mardi Gras in New Orleans, 1906.

Abby and I adore Mardi Gras, and we’re inclined to mourn having missed it this year by looking through favorite old photos and listening to New Orleans music. I’m not sure if it helps or makes it worse, but I do know that these are some of my fondest memories, and there’s some damn fine music, too.

February 26th, 2011
Bright Mississippi
Allen Toussaint
The Bright Mississippi

Allen Toussaint - Bright Mississippi

I know I’ve made it abundantly clear that I love Allen Toussaint, but this title track from his newest album really made my afternoon. I adore San Francisco, but I do miss New Orleans music quite a bit. Even if you don’t like this, I’d be surprised if you didn’t enjoy some of his earlier work I’ve posted; and if you don’t like that either, well, what can I say? There’s only so much I can offer.

September 6th, 2010
Don't You Just Know It?
Huey Piano Smith & The Clowns
Snatch Soundtrack

Don’t You Just Know It? - Huey “Piano” Smith

For a pianist, is the nickname “Piano” supremely awesome or inescapably lame? I think the former, and besides: this song makes Abby happy -she is singing along with it right now, like a sugar-high child- and demonstrates forever that New Orleans music is the best, so why quibble over strangely inert monikers?

May 28th, 2010
Black Minute Waltz
James Booker
Junco Partner

Black Minute Waltz - James Booker

I’ll be out of town this weekend at a farm, most likely listening to Leo Kottke, but as I’ve been obsessed with and dancing awfully to James Booker this week I thought I’d share this sweet little song of his as a farewell to New Orleans for a few days. For something more propulsive, try his famous song “Classified” or the Dr. John version called “Qualified.”

May 25th, 2010
It's Gonna Rain
Gentleman June Gardner
New Orleans Funk (New Orleans: The Original Sound Of Funk 1960-75)

It’s Gonna Rain - Gentleman June Gardner

I think this is pretty swell. I’m sorry I’ve been finding it so difficult to write anything here; living in New Orleans again -if only for this week- has been delightful and distracting; I spend mornings smoking and drinking coffee and discussing the themes I ordinarily treat at length here with my father before venturing out with my old friends and savoring this city I love. After all the talking and walking, I have stamina sufficient only for Twitter, which I am ruining.

Perhaps I could take requests?

May 10th, 2010

An observation about disguises: the New Orleans French Quarter has long attracted artists and writers and homosexuals for the good and understandable reasons given above: Latinity, quaintness, moderate exoticness, Mardi Gras, the usual para-Catholic aura- and the easiest way to get out of Mississippi and Ohio. But it is also a para-creative aura. Just as the denizens of the Vieux Carre live in the penumbra of the cathedral, they also live in the penumbra of art. Surprisingly little first-class art has come out of the French Quarter, even though it rather self-consciously imitates the décor of the Left Bank, habitat of many great artists years ago. This life style, as it is called, reminds one of the urban cowboy who secretly believes that if he dresses and walks like a cowboy, he may be a cowboy…

A prediction: What with artist types and writer types and homosexuals (who must be applauded for their good taste in cities: New Orleans, San Francisco, Key West) taking over such places as the French Quarter, and business types and lawyer types going cowboy, I predict that working artists and writers will revert to the vacated places. In fact, they’re already turning up in ordinary houses and ordinary streets long since abandoned by the Hemingways and Agees. Soon they’ll be wearing ordinary shirts and pants and Thom McAn shoes, not altogether unconsciously, but as a kind of exercise in the ordinary.

Walker Percy on the tactics of identity in a time of mediated self-consciousness, from Lost in the Cosmos. Today is the 20th anniversary of his death. I’ve posted many extraordinary excerpts of his writing before.
May 10th, 2010

This entrancing photograph of Royal street, in New Orleans’ French Quarter, in 1906 comes of course from Shorpy. One could and should lose hours there, not solely because extraordinarily beautiful, high-resolution photographs from the past remind one viscerally of human continuity throughout history -these boys are any boys- but also because the community of amateur history connoisseurs in the comments section remind one that cursory looks are never sufficient.

The mind is designed to generalize, to make rules and judgements which are broad enough to be flexibly applied to novel situations, and quickly; it is in this way that consciousness helps the organism take detailed instances of reality and make abstract principles with which to survive future variations of its experiences. But at what loss! One looks at everything with a categorial eye, reduces to schema the most varied and dense scenes, turns into discrete formulae the most continuous and engrossing transformations!

I saw this photograph of Royal street, down which I’ve walked more times than I could count from childhood to the present, night and day, while drunk and while sober, and thought: “Old-fashioned people! And look, the streetcar ran down it back in the day.” And then I was ready to move on, stupidly, like someone whose gum runs out of flavor who absent-mindedly stuffs more in: the chewing cannot stop!

But the commenters and, later, my mother, noted more, made me look more closely:

A 45-star flag: our America wasn’t yet in existence; that Hawaii and Alaska were yet to be included is not surprising, but Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma were not part of the nation either. Did Oklahomans at the time think of themselves as Americans-to-be? Were there disgruntled opponents of incorporation?

My mother noticed that the city’s lights seem to have been naked bulbs strung down the streets. Can you imagine how beautiful it must have looked at night? Look at them running down into the distance!

I know a Fabacher in New Orleans; he wrote a very funny poem to commemorate my father’s 60th birthday. A commenter adds a bit on the nature of Fabacher’s restaurant. And that “Commercial Hotel” is now the famous Hotel Monteleone, home of the slowly-rotating and very lovely Carousel Bar; I’ve been there often. A commenter adds:

It became the Hotel Monteleone in 1908 after being bought by Antonio Monteleone, an Italian shoemaker who came to America to make his fortune. The hotel has been patronized by a who’s who of Southern writers, and is haunted by the ghost of a three-year-old boy.

Elizabeth, of Locomotive-Hootenany -who introduced me to Shorpy, I believe- stayed at the Monteleone with Betsy, of Giant Squid and Locomotives.

Ice-delivery men in a drawn-carriage approaching a restaurant with the catchy name “Restaurant and Lunch-Counter.” Note also: flags everywhere! New Orleans is not the most American of cities, and so near to the close of the Civil War it seems surprising there are so many stars-and-stripes everywhere.

Bayou Oysters for sale. Local and long-distance telephone pay station.

A woman and her matched children. The woman appears to be wearing a hat made to look like a cake, which a commenter linked to another old photograph: a style, then. The children’s hats are something to see, as well.

So many photographs, so many texts, so many sounds, so many moments bear and reward greater immersion and scrutiny, but we fly from one to the next: a compulsive rush, as though we’ve interiorized the lunacy of time and despise the ever-extant non-existent present and want it annihilated, turned into an outline-memory or forgotten forthwith. Old photos like this disrupt that tick for me, if only for a spell.

(And there are so many great photos of New Orleans there! Two favorites, and one of Bay St. Louis).

May 3rd, 2010
Love Lots of Lovin' (feat. Betty Harris)
Lee Dorsey
Ride Your Pony

Lee Dorsey - Love Lots of Lovin’

"Holy cow, what you doin’ child?" Naturally, this was written by Allen Toussaint. The airing of Treme has made me feel like a carpetbagger in my own city, as though my natural and ordinary fondness for my native culture has been retroactively rendered an affectation. On the other hand, it isn’t, so I don’t mind.

See also: more Dorsey & Toussaint, and additional fine songs from that show.

April 28th, 2010
Abby and I after Jazz Fest on Saturday; Simon & Garfunkel were excellent, but for anyone attending in the future I cannot recommend the Midnite Disturbers highly enough. Also: cracklin, crawfish strudel, soft-shell crab poboy, bread pudding, etc.

Abby and I after Jazz Fest on Saturday; Simon & Garfunkel were excellent, but for anyone attending in the future I cannot recommend the Midnite Disturbers highly enough. Also: cracklin, crawfish strudel, soft-shell crab poboy, bread pudding, etc.

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Hello! My name is Mills Baker. I write about art, culture, love, philosophy, memory, history, and more. Here are some relatively better posts. This site has been featured on Tumblr Tuesday and is listed in the Spotlight, but it pines for its youth as a coloring book. (Header lettering by the amazing Chirp).