A Brief Stop in NOLA

Prior to the Templeton Ragtime Festival in late February, I spent a few days in New Orleans. As my regular readers know, when I travel that far or farther to a music festival I try to find additional activities to enhance the trip. It was too early in the season for a bicycle trip, so I had to find another reason.

New Orleans is not too far (relatively speaking) from Starkville, MS, so that became the “additional activity.” Sometime last year, when making an unrelated hotel reservation, I was asked if I would like three free nights in a resort hotel in exchange for attending a two-hour sales presentation for a time share. I did not solicit this, so I felt no shame in accepting, knowing that I would not buy a timeshare. Given the choice of where to attend such a pitch, I picked New Orleans and set the date to tie in with the Templeton. There was a $249 cash payment for attending the meeting plus the free hotel. This just about paid for my plane ticket; however, I had to spring for meals, the hotel tax, transportation and any other expenses. To me it was a good deal so I signed up.

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I flew to NOLA on Sunday, February 18. When I arrived at the baggage claim area at the new Louis Armstrong airport, a jazz quartet was playing. Unfortunately job 1 was retrieving my luggage, so I couldn’t hang around at the circular “bandstand” in the middle of the bag claim area which included six carousels. By the time my bags arrived the gig had ended, so I never found out who was playing. Still, it was, for me, an appropriate welcome.

Monday morning was the sales meeting, but after that my time was my own. My friend Hal Smith had pointed me to an online source for music gigs in the city, so I was able to lay out a rough itinerary, to be refined after I arrived.

I saw that pianist Tom Hook was playing at 6 pm at Mahogany Hall at 125 Chartres (pronounced Charters). I knew of him but had never seen him, so that was my first stop. In case you’re wondering, as I was, this venue was not the inspiration for the tune “Mahogany Hall Stomp;” it was elsewhere. The Hall is not a large space, so the seats/stools are closely packed together. It has a one-drink minimum per set but it does not serve food. The second act there was the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, which, per Tom, has been playing continuously since 1910. Somehow it had escaped my awareness, so I decided to spend the whole evening at Mahogany Hall. But I knew I should not have two (or more) drinks without eating, so I ducked out after Tom’s first set (but not before introducing myself to him), and found a restaurant nearby for dinner and returned to the Hall just before Tuxedo began. By then the house was pretty full so I didn’t have as good a seat as I had for Tom. I managed to get stuck next to some Brits who apparently haven’t developed the manners appropriate for listening to music. Of course, they had to talk louder while the band was playing in order to be heard among themselves.

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Tuxedo opened with a spiritual to honor an unnamed local musician who was killed a week earlier by a drunk driver. Then they launched into “Fidgety Feet” and I thought, “now we’re talking!” Alas, things went downhill from there, with several non-trad numbers, some off-color comments among the band, and other non-essential banter. By the end of the first set I’d had enough and returned to my hotel even though it was not much after 9 o’clock, hoping for better times tomorrow.

Tuesday afternoon I went to a free concert at the New Orleans Jazz Museum. The Arrowhead JB is comprised of employees of the Museum, which is administered by the National Park Service and located in the former US Mint. The NPS’s logo is an arrowhead, hence the name. All five bandmembers have had some musical training, so this was not just a bunch of amateurs who play together occasionally. The one-hour show ran the gamut of styles—an enjoyable time.

The Museum itself is small. I had been there at least once before. The current featured exhibits are the centennial of King Oliver’s first recordings (made in 1923) and a much larger display featuring Fats Domino and his collaborator Dave Bartholomew. Most of this was outside the time frame that interests me, so I gave it only a cursory inspection.

In the evening I had a ticket for the Paradise JB at d.b.a., a club at 618 Frenchmen. I had not been to this venue before. Like Mahogany Hall, it does not serve food, so I ate dinner before arriving. This venue is slightly larger but similar in layout to Mahogany, and has a dance floor. There is also an adjacent room that can accommodate an overflow crowd, although those people can only hear the band, not see it. I had arrived early enough to grab a choice seat which I never left except to order a beer at the bar. The place filled up by the end of the first hour’s set.


The band stuck more to the trad canon than did Tuxedo, but they did throw in some ’50s and ’60s stuff. By now I had come to realize that in New Orleans, this is necessary to please the crowds. There aren’t enough purists like me for any band to survive, save for outfits like Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, the Chicago Cellar Boys, and others that I see on the festival circuit who do quite well with a chronologically restricted repertoire.

I also noticed that audiences in New Orleans seem to have adopted a local version of the adage “What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Translation: their demeanor is, shall I say, somewhat less refined than it likely would be in their hometowns. And since it’s tourists who most heavily populate the music venues in NOLA, they know they’re among people they’ll never see again, so reticence is thrown to the wind. This detracts from the experience of those of us who are there just for the music.

Now about the Paradise band: all five members were quite accomplished on their respective instruments, particularly the trumpeter and banjoist, whose names I did not write down or recognize. They have a male vocalist who also served as emcee. I found him grating at times, like someone who had tried stand-up comedy but didn’t quite make it. But he had the rest of the crowd in the palm of his hand, so I accept being the odd man out.

Paradise’s show ends at 9 pm when another band comes in. They were not announced as a trad band so I called it a day.

Other than Tom Hook, I was not able to see any performers that I knew or knew of, and those I did see I would probably not make a great effort to see again. But live and learn.

Wednesday morning I took a bus to the airport to rent the car I would use to go to the Templeton festival, about which you can read next month.

Bill Hoffman is a travel writer, an avid jazz fan and a supporter of musicians keeping traditional jazz alive in performance. He is the concert booker for the Tri-State Jazz Society in greater Philadelphia. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA. He is the author of Going Dutch: A Visitors Guide to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Unique and Unusual Places in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and The New York Bicycle Touring Guide. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA.

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