1. Freret Street
The music of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which I had the pleasure of experiencing live at the Carolina Theatre Saturday night, evokes a strong sense of memory in me. I lived in New Orleans for more than a decade. One night, right around 1990, I was walking down Freret Street to my apartment on Jena — Freret was more downtrodden than it is today — and saw an old black man on a balcony blowing spare licks through a trumpet. In the night air I could hear a trombone answering him from a few blocks away.
2. My old neighborhood
When I lived in the French Quarter, I could walk past Preservation Hall on my way home. That old-time New Orleans music, born in the brothels and liquor houses of Storyville, spilling onto those ancient streets almost every hour of every day gave my old neighborhood a strong sense of character.
The summer after I graduated college, I worked at Rhythms on Bourbon Street, a touristy blues club where we used food coloring in the drinks and I made hurricanes with water from the hose. Willie Lockett & the Blues Krewe played the weekends back then, sets of standards in the style of Satchmo and Calloway, with a few rock-blues numbers in between for dancing. Sure, it was watered-down gruel for the out-of-towners, but Willie’s version of “St. James Infirmary” could move me to tears even after listening to him do it the same way, note for note, all summer long.
4. The French Market
I worked the overnight shift for years, so often when I hit the French Market on weekend mornings, it was just before I went to bed. These days, there are almost as many buskers in the French Market section of the quarter as vendors, but back then the music was traditional: horns, drums and that’s pretty much it, made by old men in white shirts and captain’s hats.
5. My balcony
Funny thing about those ornate, wrought-iron balconies of the French Quarter: Off the touristy section of Bourbon Street and outside of Mardi Gras, you rarely see anyone hanging out on them. Not so for me. I hung out on mine all the time, a third-floor perch on Burgundy Street, where I could hear the steam whistles of the paddlewheels, the occasional roar of a crowd from Bourbon Street and, almost always, the distant strains of a brass horn.
6. The Moonwalk
A stretch along the Mississippi near Jackson Square, less commercial and ornate than the Riverwalk a little bit upstream, is a great place to sit as the night comes on. The river rolls under the twin spans of the Mississippi River Bridge ridge as the ferry makes its loop and the steamboats sound off. When I hear that old-time New Orleans jazz, it’s like I’m sitting right there.