A pandemic, then a hurricane, bring the musicians of New Orleans "to their knees"

When Hurricane Ida swept through New Orleans late last month, it took a piece of history with it. The Karnofsky Tailor Shop and Residen...


When Hurricane Ida swept through New Orleans late last month, it took a piece of history with it. The Karnofsky Tailor Shop and Residence, a decrepit red brick building that had served as a kind of second home for Louis Armstrong during his childhood in the early 1900s, was reduced to ruins.

At the Little Gem Saloon next door, where some of the earliest jazz concerts were performed, a mural paying homage to the pioneer cornet player buddy bolden was also ruined.

Most of the city’s active concert halls fared much better, sustaining minor roof and water damage. But the storm was just the latest in a series of hits to the people and places that make up the jazz scene, in a city that puts its identity on live music.

“We’ve been out of work for over 18 months now,” said Big Sam Williams, trombonist and conductor, in a telephone interview from his home in the Gentilly neighborhood. “It’s a fight and we’re barely making it.”

Doug Trager, who runs the Maple Leaf Bar in the Carrollton neighborhood, said that after 446 days of closure due to Covid-19, “we were just starting over” before Ida struck. Now that the storm has created another setback, he said, “we’ll just try to keep waiting. “

It is now a year and a half since the pandemic first triggered a city-wide moratorium on indoor performances. August 16, the city imposed a warrant demanding that all bar and club patrons be vaccinated or recently tested for Covid-19, appearing to open the door to a new phase of reopening.

But as the Delta variant grew, the city’s two main jazz festivals, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the French Quarter Fest, both already pushed back from their usual spring schedule, were canceled. This meant that, for the second year in a row, musicians had to do without the most active part of their working year, when hordes of tourists arrive for festivals and overflowing club concerts often provide enough work. to artists in the area to pay the rent price for months.

A week and a half after the storm, many players in the city’s live music business say they won’t be quiet even after things get back online.

In interviews, local advocates said zoning laws have long made life difficult for small-venue operators, and that neighborhood clubs have faced unnecessary red tape during the pandemic as the city has at times enforced strict licensing regulations for outdoor entertainment.

“They are counting on the continued presence of culture bearers and musicians, and they are wrong this time,” said Ashlye Keaton, co-founder of the Ella Project, which provides legal assistance and advocates on behalf of New Orleans Artists. “The storm, coupled with the Covid, brought the musicians to their knees. “

While some sites have survived since March 2020 with substantial help from federal grants, including the $ 16 billion grant for shutter site operators program, other small, vulnerable clubs, especially those tucked away in working-class areas of the city, often did not have the capacity or the means to apply. Many have held up in large part thanks to fundraising and all the performances they can safely pull off without angering regulators and neighbors.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city will continue to temporarily enforce permits for outdoor live entertainment events, noting that the mayor has lifted his usual cap on these permits during the pandemic. .

“The Department of Security and Licensing fully supports and works actively with city council partners to enact legislation that balances the desire for outdoor entertainment, supports local artists and venues, and preserves the quality of life for neighbors and residents of each community, ”the statement said.

Preservation Hall, the 60-year-old monument in the well-protected French Quarter, appears to have suffered minimal damage during Hurricane Ida and is expected to reopen once power is restored. Tipitina’s, a downtown concert hall located closer to the water, will need some repairs to its roof.

The New Orleans Jazz Market, a majestic Central City performance center, appears to have held up well, but it was nonetheless forced to significantly postpone its programming – just days after what should have been a triumphant reopening for its 2021 fall season.

“It’s very reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina, and what we went through during that time, and I know a lot of musicians in New Orleans are moved,” said drummer Adonis Rose, artistic director of Jazz Market and frontman of its great resident. group, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. He called the storm a “tragedy, as we were just beginning to see a glimmer of hope.”

Kermit Ruffins, a renowned trumpeter who runs Kermit’s mother-in-law Tremé salon, said in an interview Monday that the electricity had just returned to the neighborhood popular club and that he plans to prepare the place for rock.

During the pandemic, the Ruffins Club served as a gathering place and a sort of makeshift community cafeteria. He moved the concerts outside to the club patio and prepared free meals of red beans and rice for residents of the surrounding Tremé neighborhood and for unemployed musicians.

“I figured if I cooked for myself, I would cook for the neighborhood,” Ruffins said.

Howie Kaplan, the owner of Howlin ‘Wolf, a venue in downtown New Orleans, also began providing meals and other services for musicians at the start of the pandemic. The program was integrated into the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic earlier this year; he restarted it at Howlin ‘Wolf last month, in response to Hurricane Ida.

“We have award-winning chef James Beard on the grill right now, making these fantastic steaks that come from I don’t know where,” Kaplan said in a phone interview, adding that restaurants have come to donate food that they want. ‘they wouldn’t. be able to prepare due to the power outage.

Shortly after Hurricane Ida hit the city, Jordan Hirsch, the editor of the online resource A closer walk, which provides in-depth information on heritage sites in New Orleans, aims to determine how the city’s most vulnerable musical monuments have held up.

When he arrived at the Karnofsky store, on South Rampart Street in the city center, he saw that the building had become a wreck and the nearby Bolden mural had collapsed. But other equally ancient jazz landmarks along the block, the old Eagle Saloon and the Iroquois Theater, had miraculously done. All four structures are listed in the National Historic Register; it is safe to say that no block in the United States today is home to more jazz history.

Cleveland-based developer GBX Group recently bought out most of the addresses on the street and plans to rebuild it into a trading hub that will also trumpet its role in jazz history. After the storm, GBX hired workers to salvage the bricks from the Karnofsky store, said CEO Drew Sparacia, hoping to at least partially rebuild the structure using the original materials.

But Hirsch asked why the city hadn’t done more to demand that the owners of these historic places, which to the outside observer appear to be mostly abandoned, to protect them from the elements.

“Tropical storms and hurricanes were sort of a constant threat to these buildings,” Hirsch said. “People have been sounding the alarm for 30 years. “

Some other sites that survived Hurricane Ida remain deeply threatened, according to conservationists. John McCusker, a jazz historian and photojournalist who has worked to preserve the city’s historic buildings, said Old Bolden House in Central City and the old Dewdrop Inn – a mid-century concert hall, hotel, and community center – were both in relative disrepair.

McCusker lamented that the owners of the sites were not obliged to restore and preserve the buildings.

“We have this richness of these buildings linked to the birth of this music, and the mechanisms of the government have just been clumsy to protect them with the same vigor that they would impose an inappropriate shutter in the French Quarter,” he said. -he declares.



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Newsrust - US Top News: A pandemic, then a hurricane, bring the musicians of New Orleans "to their knees"
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