We did the usual tourist things: the French Quarter, the Garden District, and so on, but what really turned us on was three nights of New Orleans jazz.
The first night we went to Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse on Bourbon Street. Irvin himself was performing with his combo that night and they were amazing. I haven't heard Dixieland Jazz like that since the 50's in New York City, when we used to go down to Nick's in the Village to hear Phil Napoleon and his Dixieland Band. Once, when we were there, someone slipped Phil a dollar or two to play 'Happy Birthday' to me in 'Two-Beat style'. I think I must have been 21. A highlight of my ill-spent youth!
Irvin is an exceptional trumpeter with an amazing technique and a vivid imagination. He made the horn sing, talk, weep and laugh. He also sang a couple of numbers very well. The trombonist was also excellent and sang, too, as did the pianist. Actually, there were two pianists. The first one had a brilliant technique and could handle anything Irvin threw at him. The second pianist was a younger man who could really play 'Stride Piano'. The bass and drums were also top notch. This was the real McCoy. From time to time Irvin would lift his glass (of water) and ask us all to make a toast: 'Jazz is back on Bourbon Street'. At the end he also toasted many of the Jazz greats who had gone before him. He is quite a guy!
The opening act was a female singer who sang with the mike between her teeth. You couldn't understand a word she sang and the voice was definitely C-. Where do these people come from?The next night we went to hear jazz at the Ritz Hotel. Well, that was another story. It was afternoon tea time and the music was too loud to talk through (although most of the people were talking, unlike the night before at the Jazz Playhouse) and it was not good enough for people not to talk while pretending to listen. This was not authentic jazz. One couple actually got up and danced a kind of Fox Trot. Again, a trumpeter, but a mush-mouthed one, who sang in staccato snippets in a nasal whiney voice. The rest of the ensemble should have stayed at home. We left at the first break.
Then, the third night, we went back to Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse to hear Leon 'Kid Chocolate' Brown. He is a very good trumpeter, but was not up to Irvin. His ensemble was good but not great. But they made the bunch at the Ritz look like amateurs!The opening act was also a stride piano player who was great. Some woman in the audience, who had probably been drinking since about 8:00 a.m., kept trying to sing along with him in a raucous voice. Mama mia!!! She went up to him afterwards and bugged the hell out of him, as far as I could tell. He was talking on his cell the whole time.
It was fascinating to hear these three groups on three consecutive nights and find how differently Dixieland Jazz is performed in the city of it's birth. It certainly runs the gamut. I think we were spoiled the first night by the sensational Irvin Mayfield. He is a hard act to follow. He has won several Grammys.
Bourbon Street, where the Jazz Playhouse is located, is a Zoo! From every bar comes the sound of jazz, or faux jazz, amplified to the pain threshold. Ear plugs are in order when walking down the street. You may also get hit by the semi-naked woman on the swing, who sails in and out of a window from one of the clubs. This kind of jazz has nothing to do with what I learned to love in the 50's.
But Irvin and Kid Chocolate are keeping the tradition alive. I loved it!