New Orleans a jazzy feast of sights and sounds

New Orleans a jazzy feast of sights and sounds
May 21, 2010
Gloria Cole Sugarma

New Orleans, that beloved, beleaguered city that hugs the muddy Mississippi River never seems to get a break, unless it's when the musicians take a time out between sets. Battered by Hurricane Katrina five years ago and still barely recovering, residents are now facing the horrendous aftermath of the gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although they have every reason to sing the blues, they seem to always come back to an upbeat tune.

From a lone sax on a French Quarter street corner to the competing sounds of 4,000 musicians playing over the two-week long Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest), the city, as it is portrayed in the new hit HBO series, "Treme," has an indefatigable spirit amplified by its music. From jazz to blues to gospel to rock, it's all there for the listening, the foot tapping and the dancing; a heavenly constellation of sounds to the incessant rhythms of a beat.

For us -- myself and my three grown children, Loren, Michael and Suzanne -- it was the perfect choice of time and place to celebrate Mike's 50th birthday, which happily coincided with Jazz Fest.

Jazz lover that he is, it fed that appetite as well as his other for wonderful food exemplified by its spicy delicious Cajun and Creole cuisines, succulent crawfish and shrimp every way it can be served. Coming from Vermont, Alaska, California and Connecticut, we converged in New Orleans to celebrate each other and that vibrant city, which even catastrophe never seems to dampen.

After spending one night at the luxurious Loew's New Orleans hotel, just off the French Quarter with its spacious rooms and handsome Adelaide's restaurant, we moved into our rented duplex in a lovely old Victorian house in the Garden District; better for those of us who like to do our own cooking, want more space than a hotel room provides and relish the feeling of actually living in a place as opposed to being tourists, even though we are.

From there we could easily take the trolley to the Sheraton Hotel where we could buy our tickets for the shuttle bus to the 27-acre fair grounds where the Jazz Fest took place.

Mingling with some 375,000 jazz lovers of all shapes, sizes, ages, and dress codes (hats, for instance, ranging from cowboy to straw boaters to sun visors) and physical conditions (wheelchairs, canes and walkers, gamely included), we strolled from tent to tent picking up strains of jazz and all of its derivatives: Dixieland, soul, rhythm and blues, bebop, hip-hop, punk, funk, rock, rap, country and zydeco, among every other genre there is.

The headliners for this stellar annual event. now in its 37th year, included Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello, Lionel Richie, B.B. King , Simon & Garfunkel, Keely Smith, Allman Brothers, Anita Baker, Pearl Jam, Neville Brothers, Van Morrison, Ellis Marsalis and of course, the iconic Preservation Hall.

As my younger generation wandered from one venue to the next, sampling and stopping wherever the music struck their own personal chords, I chose The Blues Tent where the mellow strains of "Down by the River Side" drew me in and the sight of women audience members with twirling parasols high-stepping through the aisles to "The Darktown Strutter¹s Ball," made me stay.

And since music lovers need to eat to keep their toes tapping, there were endless food stalls offering such New Orleans classics as muffulettas. (like a hero sandwich on crusty Italian bread with a rich olive spread covering the meats and cheeses) and po boys (another crusty bread combo filled with crawfish, shrimp, oysters or catfish mixed with lettuce tomato and mayo) as well as all kinds of crafts tents offering everything from souvenirs to expensive African carvings.
Comments: 0