Sunday, September 16, 2012

`An Air of Delicacy Is Also Manifest'

Six men made a big noise around a wrought-iron bench in front of the Cabildo on Jackson Square in New Orleans. Seated were a white-haired man wearing a suit jacket and homburg, and playing a shiny soprano saxophone, and two younger men playing coronet and trombone. Standing behind them were a sousaphonist, a tall fellow on snare drum and another playing the bass drum and working the cymbal with a screwdriver. They played “Big Chief” and “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” and all drank beer from the can. The New Orleans City Guide published by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (1938; rev. ed., 1952) says of the Cabildo:

 "The solid repose of this edifice, originally known as the `Casa Curial,’ or courthouse, emanates from the graceful repetition of massive arches that make up its fa├žade. Yet an air of delicacy is also manifest.” 

A few blocks away on Rampart Street, across from Armstrong Park, we stopped in front of a laundromat to consult a map. On the wall next to the entrance was a plaque honoring Cosimo Matassa, who produced records for Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles and Smiley Lewis. The laundry formerly housed his J&M Recording Studio. A chalkboard in front of a bar down the block assured us: “Get a good start to your day. Have a cocktail.” In its chapter on music, the New Orleans City Guide informs us:

“Playing in front of the theaters, saloons, and brothels of the city, these bands regaled the public with their informal `ear’ music. One of the earliest of these organizations, the `Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band,’ was composed of such colorful individuals as Stalebread Charley, Family Haircut, Warm Gravy, Cajun, Whisky, Monk, and Seven Colors.”

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