Guardians of the Groove

Now I usually don’t plug fundraisers.  I’m old enough to remember television before cable … hell I’m old enough to remember televisions before COLOR. Which means I’m also old enough to remember when Labor Day weekend in NEw England meant horribly long trips to the beach in hot overfilled cars full of screaming kids followed by long days of volleyball and touch football on the beach, heathy food like hot dogs, fried clams and milkshakes and meeting girls from exotic locations like Chelsea and Revere and New Bedford and, if  you were lucky, Bristol. That’s right, the girls from Bristol WERE hot as a pistol when they did the Bristol Stomp. 

But all this was followed each night by the most excruciating agony in tv history  .. the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Weekend Telethon.  Three days and three nights of Jerry Lewis sweating, crying, pleading and god yes the horror…. singing.  Thank god the tv’s went off at midnite back then. I’m guessing some of those kids prayed to the great god of Steven King that they be called to heaven before they had to endure another weekend with Jerry and his booze swilling, cigarette smoking, pill popping Vegas buddies fawning over them like icons of some obscure religious cult from the depths of New Jersey  ….. I can hear them chanting  “O h Great Gods Passaic, Piscataway and Rahway  …. heal this poor child and make him walk again.  7 come 11, can I get an amen?”

But right now in New Orleans there’s a fundraiser that has a heart.  WWOZ is a local radio station that broadcasts from a small studio in the French Market. But that’s like saying Michael Jordan was a guy who played basketball.  OZ, as the locals call it, is a project of The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, the same fine folks who bring us Jazz Fest, The Louisiana Cajun and Zydeco Festival and the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival. And they support all things cultural in New Orleans …music, economic development, music, education, music, theater …and did I say music?

Because let’s face it folks, music is the voice of God lifting our spirits and musicians are oracles. Divine oracles speaking the language of heaven. Hey, don’t take my word for it.  Somebody else put it better than me when he said “.Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything; It is the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just, and beautiful.”   Yeah you’re right.

Oh that was Plato by the way. You know. Greek. Philosopher. Old.   And not just him.  From St Augustine to Dante, from Descartes to Kant. Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.  Shakespeare and Victor Hugo. It’s the language of the spirit … tt is how we speak to God.  Ok that wasn’t me either, it was Bono. But we’re both Irish so I could have said it.

The point is that when all is said and done, music is how we take the  temperature of an individual or a society. (yeah yeah yeah, Plato again) And in our society, the thermometer comes from New Orleans.  This is where it all started. 

Not everyone has been lucky enough to attend Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest and eat jambalaya, po boys or beignets.  But we’ve all smiled at a musical or sang along with the radio in our car or tapped our feet and clapped along with a marching band.  Every one of those owes a debt to New Orleans and the music that exploded out of Storyville and the French Quarter at the turn of the last century.   

No show tunes without Jelly Roll Morton. No modern guitar gods without the first instrumental solo by young Louis Armstrong. No modern jazz at all withstood Buddy Bolden and King Oliver. No Beatles, no funk, no rap, no soul, no popular music as we know it today without New Orleans. As Dizzy Gillespie said of Louie Armstrong . . . . ”no him, no me”.

And OZ brings all of that to the world.  Streaming live on the Internet you can be anywhere in this wonderful world and hear the sounds of American music at  Blues and Cajun, brass bands and zydeco. Swamp rock, gospel, Celtic, bluegrass ….. all of it right there on the dial ….  I mean url.

Right after Katrina, I was helping with some recovery efforts and Attorney Donna Fraiche (a shareholder at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz here in town who was then a member of  the Louisiana Recovery Authority) said to me, “You know, New Orleans is America’s city”. And she was right. Americas city and Americas music. And the heart of rock and roll, the heart of America is still beating right here in New Orleans.

I ran into Art Neville at the airport last year and I asked him if the city was really coming back. He smiled and said something that he’s been quoted on several times before .. ..  ”Oh yes, we’ll be back.  It may not be the same old New Orleans , it will just be Newer Orleans”. 

You can help build that Newer Orleans.  You can be a Guardian of the Groove.  Send a little money. As that great American philosopher, Pigpen, once said …”It won’t ruin ya.”

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