I’ve never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras proper, but my wife and I were in the Crescent City last year on the Feast of the Epiphany, better known as Twelth Night, the traditional start of the Mardi Gras season, much as Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. As dusk descended on the evening of January 6, we made our way to the Carrolton streetcar barn at the invitation of our friend Fred Kasten, a chief, and former king, of the Krewe of Oak. The krewe was toasting the year’s king and queen of another Carnival organization, the Phunny Phorty Phellows, a custom that called for fabulously colorful attire, brass band music, platters of tasty morsels, and a bonhomie that I’ve come to associate with all things NOLA. Once the basic rituals were attended to, the king and queen and members of the Phunny Phorty Phellows boarded a streetcar, the brass band climbed aboard with a trombonist assuming the tailgate flank, and a lively second line paraded behind the car as it made its way toward St. Charles Avenue heralding the arrival of another carnival season.
This, of course, was just a prelude for the parades and parties that would take place later in the season and that are once again underway in the Big Easy. Today is Fat Tuesday. I began my annual celebration in Jazz a la Mode on Lundi Gras, or Fat Monday, and featured trumpeters Leroy Jones, Nicholas Payton, Wynton Marsalis, Kermit Ruffins, and Louis Armstrong, as well as the inimitable voices of Irma Thomas, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, and John Boutte. Tonight I’ll feature recordings by New Orleanians Jason Marsalis, Evan Christopher, Tom McDermott, and Donald Harrison.
(Krewe of Orpheus members yesterday on St. Charles Avenue)
Since last year’s sojourn, I’ve posted several blogs on Crescent City matters, including this memorial tribute to drummer Bob French, who died late last year.
Here’s a look back at the role George Wein and Duke Ellington played in establishing the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1969.
I spoke with Evan Christopher last July. Read more about this avatar of the Clarinet Road here, where you’ll also find a link to our conversation.
I wrote about Dr. John before his appearance at UMass in November. Here you’ll find rare footage of the renowned pianist playing guitar on Earl King’s NOLA classic, “Let the Good Times Roll.”
Speaking of Fred Kasten, who spent three decades as a producer and music host at WWNO, he’s lately been conducting a series of interviews with leading New Orleans musicians at the New Orleans Mint, which houses the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Listen here to an engaging conversation that Kasten recently held with the great drummer Herlin Riley, whom many know through his long years with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The Lower Ninth Ward native is a lively raconteur too.
Here’s the entry I posted last year on Sidney Bechet, the great clarinetist and soprano saxophonist who was born in New Orleans in 1897. I began the piece with a reference to Philip Larkin’s poem, “For Sidney Bechet.” Since then, thanks to Armstrong biographer and playright Terry Teachout, I came upon this footage in which you’ll hear the English poet discussing Bechet and reading an excerpt from his poem inspired by the man whom Duke Ellington hailed as “one of the creators whose things were all soul.”
Though I get there too infrequently these days, New Orleans is always on my mind, and thankfully through friends, records, periodicals, WWOZ’s audio stream, the writings of John Swenson, Ben Sandmel, Ned Sublette, Tom Sancton and others, I’m able to maintain vicarious and virtual connections to the city. And of course, there’s also the superb HBO series, Treme, which is wrapping up production on its fourth and final season. Here’s a picture that Northampton resident Diane Danthony took last week on Frenchman Street of Treme regular Clark Peters (left), who plays Albert “Big Chief” Lambreaux, and pianist Jon Cleary (middle), who makesTreme cameos as himself. View more of the Times-Picayune’s gallery of Mardi Gras costumes here. Happy Mardi Gras!