Saturday, January 22, 2005

Visit with 1 Giant Leap, New Orleans, LA, USA: DAY 5

Saturday, 22 January 2005

Bright and early on Saturday morning, we met for breakfast. Speech and Yolanda were there and we joined them before heading over to Tip’s to finish off his tracks. We spent the rest of the morning observing his artistry, as he laid down tracks to yet anther message of beautiful ideas and melodies. He and Yolanda had plans to get back on the road to home around noon, so when we wrapped up, and we said our good-byes. I told him that if he ever comes to Durham that he should get my number from Duncan and give me a call. He said he would, and then took my number and programmed it into his cell phone! Wow…then I realized, well, hey, why not? I am a nice guy. Thanks so much, Speech. Your messages are so powerful and so positive and so non-threatening. I look forward to seeing them climb the charts.

Adam Shipley had been arranging a jazz funeral for us…a concept that I had heard of…the typical New Orleans brass band marching in front of a coffin playing a dirge. By arranging, I don’t mean that he knocked someone off and paid for their funeral, but he did find a brass band that was playing a funeral, and it turned out to be that someone in the band knew the family or was part of the family of a lady named Inez who had passed away. The funeral was set for 2pm, so we broke for lunch. Adriana, Duncan and I went off nearby in search of Poboys, a New Orleans-style hoagie/grinder/submarine sandwich. When we were just finishing up lunch, we got a call that the funeral was happening and so Ben, Adriana and I hopped into the van and headed off in search of the procession. We had gone just about a mile when I could hear music playing in the distance and we followed the sound to find a huge crowd gathered outside a community recreation building.

Among the crowd was the Rebirth Brass Band. They were rocking! The crowd was rocking. I let Ben and Adriana out of the van just in front of the building and took the van down the street to park. When I came back, the crowd was still filing into the building, so it took a few minutes for me to get into the hall where the party was taking place. I was in no way prepared for what I experienced at this time. The most raucous party I have ever witnessed was taking place inside. People were drinking alcohol, the band was at the end of the hall playing up a storm and there was a huge crowd, the elders seated at tables moving to the beat in their chairs and the younger ones on the dance floor. There were pots full of local food and some people were eating. I had a sensation of watching a film that was recorded by spinning the camera around and capturing a magical moment in 360 degrees of activity. There was a young woman dressed in pink stiletto heels, a pink and black camouflage pattern mini-skirt and a pink hat with a pink veil. She was very dark-skinned and the contrast was striking. More striking, however, was the butt-dance from hell that she was performing. She was slightly bent at the knees, and was waving her fanny around in circles and up and down as if she were making very fast-paced love, as I dare not use the f-word, though that is more what it looked like. Had there been a man underneath her, he would have been no doubt amazed! A moment later, I looked to my left to find a man in his 40’s tap dancing right by me and a small boy of about 5 right beside him doing his best version of the same dance.

About that time, I realized that like most people there, I was grinning from ear to ear and could not stop myself. Ben came up and said, "OK, that’s enough. Let’s go." I just looked at him, probably like I thought he was nuts and said "I don’t want to leave! This is too much fun!!!!" I looked across the room and saw Adriana filming different people on the dance floor and she was smiling too. Then Ben started filming again and he found a woman on the floor, on her knees, with one hand raised into the air as if praising God but waving her fanny around like the other lady we has seen earlier. Everyone was grinning and it continued to feel like we had been blown into the room by a strong wind. When we left less than 5 minutes later, it was like being dropped by a tornado back on our feet into the sunny street where we walked to the van, got in and closed the door on that chapter of our lives that took every bit of 10 minutes, yet that touched me so very deeply in the knowing that I want to go just like this when it is my time. Thank you Inez, whoever you were!

A couple of hours afterward, the Rebirth Brass Band came in for a session. I was surprised to see the name. Those who know me well know that I am a big fan of a local artist, Stephanie E. Robinson, and her print "Seasons of the Soul" which presents 11 figures representing states of mind that we experience in our lives. I have the symbol for "Rebirth" tattooed on my upper right arm and "Harmony" on my upper left arm. I thought that with the name of the band, this was a good omen!

Unfortunately, there was a vibe that went wrong along the way somehow. I am not entirely sure what happened, but I don’t think that the guys in the brass band had an idea of the scope of 2s2e and the potential that it could bring to them. For whatever reason, the session was difficult and a couple of the band members refused to wear the headphones that would have piped them the rhythm of the beautiful track that they needed to play. It was truly a sad moment for me, because I think they were a talented bunch of people and I saw how a person’s attitude can prevent them from achieving their fullest potential play out right in front of me. I really wanted them to be able to share in this same dream that we all seem to share. Another one of life’s subtle lessons. It reminded me of the saying from an unknown source, "One teaches best that which one needs to learn." I wonder what I need to learn. I also wonder if others every really know what they need to learn before they hit the wall of insight.

I could see a bad vibe developing and could see that Duncan was getting frustrated. It felt to me that there was a cultural difference in play as well. We often think that we are speaking the same language because we all speak English, but there are cultural cues that are different from country to country, from class to class, from race to race, from gender to gender, from sexuality to sexuality and from region to region. Somewhere, there was a lack of communication and I was feeling it, but couldn’t place a finger on the errant pulse. I finally suggested to Duncan that he call out the leader and talk to him. Duncan observed that the guys were not being very disciplined as a group and the leader was just letting it go. I could tell that some of the guys probably felt badly that things weren’t going well, but they couldn’t do it without the help of the others. I was hoping that their group leader could remedy the situation. As Ben, Duncan and the leader/tuba player disappeared outside the building, I heard Duncan ask "Where have I gone wrong?" I thought how that was such a totally skillful way of handling the situation. It took the accusatory nature of a scolding away and yet let the man know that things were not going well.

Back to the session, though. There were a couple of observations that I want to make. First, watching an eight or nine person brass band learn a riff together was unbelievably cool. It was a little bit like hearing a pod of whales sing to one another. As these guys practiced the melody that Duncan had selected for them, they would look at one another and the notes from their respective instruments were sometimes discordant but most often in harmony. Sometimes the whole riff would come from all instruments, sometimes one would lead off and others would join in on certain notes or to complete a bar. One of the trumpeters took the role of "showing" the others how to hit the notes. When they got it wrong, he would stand right in front of them and blow his trumpet with this expression on his face that seemed to say "See that? That is what you have to play." All of his expression came from his eyebrows and the intensity of his eyes.

The sax player had a really cool vibe. He was a light-skinned man with dreads and a beautiful smile and beautiful eyes. He reminded me a lot of Bob Marley and he was really cool and even tempered. I was amazed when he lit up a cigarette and continued to play his sax while smoking away . Another of the trumpeters had the misfortune to turn into a frog when he blew his trumpet. Not only did his cheeks blow out like Dizzie Gillespie’s did, but so did part of his neck all the way down to the back of his shoulders and all the way up to his eye sockets. It was obviously painful for him as he sometimes would place his finger over his cheek when he blew. Another trumpeter played out of the corner of his mouth rather than straight-on. It was so interesting to watch all the different personalities interplay with their physical and personality differences.

After the discussion outside, a new attempt was made to bring the band together for the session and they almost had it. I didn’t have headphones that day because there were so many of them in the band, and I could only hear them playing. It sounded great to me, but then, it wasn’t coming in through a headset with the pre-recorded track and I wasn’t hearing the differences between the two. Ultimately, we had to just can the session and send the guys off to the Mardi Gras parade that they were playing at 7pm.

Around that time, Matt Dillon, a young man from New Orleans showed up to meet Duncan. We discussed our evening plans and it was decided that we would go to DBA again where we would watch the first parade of this year’s Mardi Gras. As we were packing up, I said something to the effect of "Is this ours?" I caught myself and laughed that I was taking ownership of the equipment by this time. Duncan heard me and said that after that session I had just witnessed, I had a right to claim membership.

We packed up the van with the equipment and I found out that Matt was going to lead us in his car and I was going to drive the van into the French Quarter of New Orleans during a Mardi Gras Parade…think about that, folks. I come from a relatively small town and traffic is not an issue here. Rarely do our streets have thousands of people lining them as you drive around! Nonetheless, off we went across town, then swooped down off I-10 into the area where the parade was to take place and Matt led us directly to DBA. Since I was driving and since Adriana had an injured foot, it only made sense to drop the folks off and for me to go looking for parking. With all the equipment in the van, I needed to find valet parking, but the ones that we had seen when coming into the area were full when I circled back around. That sent me on about a half an hour mission to find a parking space in a safe place that was legal for a large van. Part of the challenge was to avoid running over people who were spilling into the streets with intoxication. I eventually located a corner at Rampart and Touro that was not taken, not marked for "no parking" and across from a public place where it could be seen if someone were to try to break into the van. I jumped out and hoofed it back to DBA as quickly as I could.

By the time I got back around, the parade had begun to pass by DBA and I immediately found Ben because he was standing on the bumper of an SUV filming the parade as it came down the street. Once I got within distance to see the people on the street, I saw Adriana, Duncan and Matt standing there smiling and laughing at the silliness of the floats and costumes in the parade. Most of the themes in the parade had to do with sex or religion or war. The one that stands out to me at the moment was something about "Jieuws for Cheesus"…..with all kinds of play on words such as "The Garden of Edam" and "A Grater Power". Eventually, the famous Mardi Gras beads came into play as they were not so much thrown as slung into the crowd with great velocity. I saw Adriana get hit with a wad of beads before we realized what was happening. After that, we learned that we had to watch for the beads and try to catch them for good luck. I got a good string out of the air, but landed on a poor stranger’s foot when I came down from the catch. When I got a new string of beads, I placed them around her neck for the pain I probably caused her foot. I never did see the Rebirth Band go by again, and the following day’s planned session with them was canceled.

Once the parade had passed by, we decided to eat dinner at Maximo’s again, so Ben and I retrieved the van and moved it to a more secure and closer parking space before joining Duncan, Adriana, and Matt at Maximo’s. Since we didn’t have a reservation we were seated at the counter downstairs across from the open-plan kitchen. We got to watch the food being prepared. At one point, I went upstairs to the men’s room and saw the waiter who had taken care of us the night before. He told me that Jude Law and Sean Penn were eating upstairs. We were supposed to have had a table upstairs, but it didn’t work out and we never did get to see those two. When they left the restaurant, the place went up in applause and shouts, but I couldn’t see what the fuss was about from where I was seated.

In the meantime, Jhelisa joined us as well. A beautiful woman who was born in Mississippi and who lived in the UK for 15 years, she said she had moved back to the States to see "the nervous breakdown of America." When I asked her where she had been born, I told her that I was from North Carolina and that it is the birthplace of Nina Simone. I suggested she do a cover of "Mississippi Goddam" and she said that she had already done a tribute to Nina Simone and that she had done a hard-driving rap version of the song. Way cool…When I last saw her, I understand that she was quite happy to collaborate with 2s2e, so listen for her vocals.



Blogger amy said...

hey ron! stopped in to check in on what's new with you...this post caught my eye as i lived in new orleans in the mid-90's...i used to BE that girl on rebirth's dance floor doing the impossible booty shake- their music makes me channel the ass-shaking. and i used to work for the owner of maximos! so many memories of that incredible city- your descriptions were right on. btw, rebirth is playing at the leaf festival next month and i'm going : )
i hope your mom is o.k.- i couldn't quite gather why she's been in the hospital.
you sound well, glad to heat it.
the garden, of course, looks beautiful!
much love,

4/25/2006 09:46:00 PM  

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