Riffing on the Tradition: Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams
Today, I love the city. I love music and being a musician. Starting the year with such mild weather, it’s difficult to grumble too much. When I practice, my hands and my instruments warm up more quickly; utility bills will likely be lower; it’s easier to be motivated to go out and hear shows, even my car runs better.
Sure, I know this isn’t the year I’ll get rich. That’s not why I became a professional musician based in New Orleans. But at the same time, I didn’t do it to be poor either. At 42, I’d love to start traveling less. Mostly because of the global recession, that part of my job doesn’t seem to be getting easier. More and more, especially when it’s not too frigid, I fantasize about working in town more, or at least in the continental U.S.
On my apartment porch, I’m writing this and wondering how my fantasy might transpire. Yes, there are some gray skies ahead. Locally, our economy seems better on paper than other parts of the country, but I know people still feel the squeeze. I’m also pretty certain our city’s leadership will continue to take our efforts for granted, and from what I’m observing, our major music festivals are following suit.
Our tourism machine? They'll continue their campaign to attract younger leisure visitors, which is better news for purveyors of “Big Ass Beers” than culture.
You doubt how dumb things might get? Just last month, a local tourism entity was casting a print ad photo. They were looking for a “Mardi Gras Woman,” attractive 30-something men to play a gay couple and “real” (over 40) brass band musicians with uniforms and instruments.
My first job of the year? A convention with a “Tremé and Frenchmen Street” theme. I guess the Mardi Gras themes have finally become passé? Yes, as I made my way backstage, I saw almost all of the F’men characters you might expect “reveling” away in the din of the crowd. Even in the grand ballroom, nestled between a service bar and desert buffet, was “Typewriter Guy.” I like to imagine his poems that evening were appropriately nihilistic.
In spite of all that, I’m not concerned. I know and believe in our true value, and I think it’s just a matter of visualizing our future.
To start, here’s what I’m recommending: Let’s take the money off the table.
While work is slower and the weather’s good, let’s all take a few moments and forget about the “how much?” or even the “how?” There will be time for that soon enough. Let’s riff on and muse over our artistic goals, what we want to do, or not do.
Ask yourself, simply, what does the music sound like or look like that makes you want to stay here? Talk to other musicians you respect, your teachers or mentors. Read a biography about a musician who inspires you. If you have a minute, the most recent issue of Louisiana Cultural Vistas features some Lee Friedlander photos of New Orleans musicians. His work is not fine art, to be sure, but these photos collected from the William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane capture well the dignity of working musicians. Also, this month’s Offbeat has some particularly inspiring “Best of the Beat” profiles.
We have some great allies and we’ll get to know them better in the next weeks of this column.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of Nola Art House Music. Click here for an interview with the artist. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie.