The University of New Orleans has taken a huge financial beating from the Jindal Administration and legislators the last seven years; so has Louisiana State University. As I write in May, the legislature faces a $1.5 billion dollar deficit amid escalating costs in the privatization of public health care, while the governor prepares to run for president.
Officials of LSU and other universities are lobbying the legislature to halt deeper cuts that would pierce the bones of survival. In such a time of loss, we should acknowledge one of Louisiana’s pearls: UNO Press.
UNO has published novelists Frederick Barton (most recently, In The Wake of the Flagship) and Moira Crone, a series on Austrian studies, works of photography, essays, poetry – and now Talk That Music Talk: Passing on the Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way.
The 400-page book, sized for the coffee table, features a wealth of black-and-white photographs, in-depth profiles and interviews with musicians, parade club members and youngsters coming up. The last book to attempt the sweep of an encyclopedia was New Orleans Jazz: A Family Album by Al Rose and Edmond Souchon, published by LSU Press 48 years ago; a worthy reference text, long out of print.
The book is a “collaborative ethnography” by Bruce Sunpie Barnes, the zydeco blues accordionist lately touring with Paul Simon, along with Rachel Breunlin, who pioneered the Neighborhood Story Project books. The list of sponsors includes the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park, Surdna Foundation, the state Division of the Arts, the Arts Council of New Orleans and an array of partners that helped provide photographs.
Here are some cameos:
• Jerome Smith, founder of Tambourine and Fan Club, recalling Yellow Pocahontas Big Chief Tootie Montana: “I knew Tootie as a person, but got a deeper connection to his gang when my nannan, Ruby, became his queen. That’s when I got a chance to go to his house and meet all the people who sewed [suits.] I got addicted to that sewing because I was able to see something coming from something mysterious from the self – and give that gift.”
• Trumpeter Gregg Stafford: “In the Irish Channel, there were white social clubs like the Delachaise Marching Club, Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Marching Club, the Buzzards, Frankie and Johnny’s,and the Lyons’ Club. They were social aid and pleasure clubs for white people, but they hired black brass bands for their parades. … We would march all around the Irish Channel, criss-crossing with Doc Paulin or the Tuxedo.”
• Danny Barker, the balladeer (who died in 1994), is included through a quote from an interview with the late Tom Dent, courtesy of Amistad Research Center at Tulane: “Most of the riverboats had calliopes. It’s similar to a piano, but it worked by steam with copper keys on it. You had to play it with gloves on, and a rain hat over your uniform because the steam came from all directions. The keys got awfully hot and you had to hit them staccato. Long, whole notes would scorch your fingers. It was a real haunting sound before the city got so commercial with electric wires. Without the noise of the trucks you could heard it real clear. Fate Marable used to give a half-hour concert around seven o’clock before the boat would depart.”
•Storyville Stompers snare drummer Ray Lambert: “During Mardi Gras my parents loved to take us to parades on St. Charles Avenue, not far from our house. When those high school bands would pass by – the drum and bugle corps – I wanted to be in it something awful. … The horns would rest between songs, but those drums didn’t stop. You could feel the pressure. It was like a machine throwing something at you.”
Talk That Music Talk is a classic that belongs in every home where people care about the music and its regenerative role. The book is reasonably priced at $35, thanks to a host of grants and funding partners.
Ten years ago we wondered if the city would survive after Katrina. Imagine if the music had disappeared. That would really be something tragic to talk about.