Will New Orleans' Master Plan Include Culture?

Join_MaCCNOTo love New Orleans is to love its culture.
To love New Orleans culture—to experience it, explore it, study it, dive in and swim in it, as I have done for more than decade; or, more importantly, to live it, as so many of the musicians, culture-bearers and born-and-bred natives I’ve written about do—is to wonder about its place in its city.
Often, it’s to shake your head, sigh, and sometimes cry out in disgust or anger.
To demand understanding and respect.
To pine for reasonable solutions and compassionate support.
To take action.
If you’ve been reading me, you know that I’ve been questioning, urging and challenging the powers that be in New Orleans for quite some time about the curious and damaging tensions between this storied city and the culture that is at the heart of its story—I’ve been demanding that they rethink and reform the city’s cultural policy (or its lack thereof).
In this 2010 piece for Truthdig, not long after Mitch Landrieu was elected mayor, I asked: Continue reading “Will New Orleans' Master Plan Include Culture?”

From New Orleans to New York: On The Care and Feeding of Jazz Culture

On a muggy Thursday evening in Manhattan last week, six musicians formed a loose brass band, with sousaphone, snare drum and such, and stood before a banner that read “Justice for Jazz Artists—Fairness. Dignity. Respect.”
Trumpeter Kevin Blancq, who grew up in New Orleans and has lived in New York City for 30 years, led the musicians through “Li’l Liza Jane,” a brass-band and traditional-jazz standard. This was a rally organized in cooperation with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians to promote ongoing efforts to get Manhattan’s key jazz clubs to contribute to a pension fund and to secure other rights, such as recording protections.
As they left Madison Sqaure Park, the musicians formed a miniature mock second-line parade, turning north on Park Avenue South and played “Bourbon Street Parade,” another standard of New Orleans repertoire. When they arrived at the Jazz Standard club, leaflets were handed out to the strains of “Mozartin’” composed by a Crescent City clarinetist and educator of great renown, Alvin Batiste.
Few would argue against the idea of pensions and other benefits for jazz musicians who play New York’s clubs. However, this particular initiative is complicated, folded as it is into an effort to expand the union’s scope of representation.
As James C. McKinley Jr. reported in a 2011 New York Times piece, after similar rallies were held in front of the Blue Note jazz club:
The disagreement between the union and club owners dates back to 2005, when union leaders joined the nightclubs to lobby the State Legislature for a reduction in the sales tax on tickets because the extra revenue would be used to pay for pension and health benefits…. The tax break was passed in 2006, but the union never hammered out a formal pact with the club owners.
As McKinley’s piece described, clubs have resisted the proposal for a variety of reasons.
That initiative is specific to New York City. Yet as I work on a book about “The fight for New Orleans jazz culture since the flood, and what it means for America,” the rally’s choice of repertoire pointed, for me, to more than coincidence. Continue reading “From New Orleans to New York: On The Care and Feeding of Jazz Culture”