Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day 229 and a half/365 New Orleans 1961

January 1961, New Orleans - it's still illegal for black and white musicians to play together, much less for black musicians to play for white audiences. New Orleans jazz is available mostly in black neighborhoods and is definitely not part of the white tourist package.

Later that year, Allen and Sandra Jaffe move to New Orleans and rent out an old art gallery, strictly for the purpose of giving New Orleans jazz musicians exposure to audiences in the French Quarter. They hang an old instrument case over the door, add some wooden chairs for the musicians, and call it Preservation Hall.

"Preservation Hall" explained Louis Armstrong "now that's where you'll find all the greats."

The sweetheart of Preservation Hall is Sweet Emma Barrett on the piano - she is a local star in 1961, and spent the 1960s touring the world with her Preservation Hall Jazz (Alonzo Pavageau, Big Jim Robinson, Emmanuel Sayles, the Humphrey Brothers -Willie and Percy - and Cie Frazier), with Ernie Cagnolatti leaning in from time to time on trumpet.

Sweet Emma and Preservation Hall both became iconic figures in jazz.

Then, in 1967, Sweet Emma suffers a stroke that paralyzes her left hand. No matter. She plays on until her death in 1983, with the same unrelenting tight rhythm she was famous for.

But back in late 1961, to my six-year-old self, Miss Emma was the nice lady who played piano and always handed me a sucker right before we settled down on the floor to hear the band.

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