If you’re T.R. Johnson – director of the writing program and associate professor of English at Tulane University, WWOZ DJ specializing in free jazz, board member of the New Orleans Healing Center and all around amazing guy – you invite your friends to the Tigermen Den in Bywater “known way back in the day as Miss Taylor’s Soul Kitchen and now just a great space for community gatherings” for four-and-a-half hours of food and fun.
He emailed a musical lineup that changed on the hour:
5 p.m. Helen Gillet, Rex Gregory, Jeff Albert, Marcello Bennett
6 p.m. Jeff Albert Quarter (with Jesse Morrow, Dave Capello and probably Ray Moore)
7 p.m. James Singleton, Aurora Nealand, Justin Peake
8 p.m. Marcello Bennetti, Will Thompson, Brad Walker
He also brought bags of tofu bahn mis, fresh iced tea and had a large tub of ice with Champagne, a huge selection of beers and a couple bottles of wine.
Not being one to ring his own bell, the “wingding” doubled as the public dedication of a community art project: a 200-square-foot mural with matching benches at Clouet Park. Under the direction of Laurel True a large number of neighbors who live around the park (on Clouet Street between Royal and Dauphine streets about two blocks “downstream” from the railroad tracks) banded together over the last several months to create an inspiring work of art – even in the rain.
So in the downpour of last night, more than 30 people packed into a wooden building to listen to free jazz by some of the city’s most talented players – some of whom even created pieces specifically for the occasion and there was even a free rap of T.R.’s name as a birthday song – and squished through the sodden park to see a mural that even in the dark lit up the night.
If this gathering of friends and neighbors to celebrate not just a birthday but also a community is what the “new” New Orleans could be, then sign me up.