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  Commentary 8/Sep/05  
Goodbye New Orleans


New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band
For the past week my head has been filled with fragments of old Dixieland music.. Basin Street Blues, Mississippi Mud, other tunes whose names I can't remember. So tonight I gave in to temptation and pulled out some old vinyl to listen to... my god.

I don't know if everyone here knows what we've lost. New Orleans is where it all started; where jazz was born. And jazz gave us rock, and rock gave us most of the forms of electronic music we listen to today. Yes, we lost Bob Moog last month, but Bob was a man, and we expect men to die.. but New Orleans was a city, an irreplaceable cultural treasure; its loss is by far the greater.

If you've never had a chance to listen to any Dixieland - either great New Orleans stuff, or even the Disneyland variety, you should take the time to track some down and give it a listen. It's the happiest, most uplifting music you'll ever hear; even the sad bluesy tunes are filled with life and hope. The songs tend to have rigid structure, mostly based on a 12-bar blues pattern, but with incredible opportunity for the performers to take wing, either with little ornaments around the melody or with extended solos. And then there are those magical moments when all of the lead instruments are improvising.. trumpet, clarinet and trombone, each playing their own parts, straight from the heart - yet, by virtue of their own unique timbres and capabilities, never stepping on each other's toes. Something we synthesists have a tough time doing when we play together...

When I was in high school, I had the geat fortune to play in a dixieland band, and I can say without any hesitation that that is where my love of music was born. God, how I miss that; I've never had a more potent music experince than playing solo trumpet in front of that group. We were a small high school, and didn't have enough students to field a complete jazz band, so our band instructor found a set of Dixieland books and set us to playing that. We had no trombone players, so he played 'bone; we had an electric bass and guitar instead of tuba and banjo, but shit, we rocked ;'). When we played at the Alaska Jazz Festival in 1976, all the jazz students from the big city (Anchorage) schools chuckled when we went on stage, but they didn't laugh much when we played. (You can't listen to Dixieland without smiling, though...)

And now New Orleans is gone... all because of shortsightedness, neglect, cronyism, and greed. Georgie Boy chuckles because he used to party there.. but he's too fucking culturally illiterate to understand what we've lost. But unlike others, I don't place the blame entirely on him.. no, its the fault of this entire anti-tax, "I've got mine so to hell with you" attitude that has been the driving force in politics for the past two decades. Ronald Reagan, Grover Norquist, Paul Wolfowitz.... they're all to blame. By gutting FEMA, by not funding the levee repairs, instead cutting taxes for the rich (and don't even get me STARTED on Iraq) they guaranteed that this would eventually happen.

Goodbye New Orleans. All beauty is transitory, and your time is passed. You left an indelible mark on American culture and world music, and maybe, with a little luck, your death will awaken America from its stupor and help us to change direction before we sink into oblivion.
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