The city of New Orleans has a festive personality that does not compare to any other city that I have been to. The buildings could not exist in any other part of the world. The people, tourists included, become part of a vibrant culture that has been defining itself for hundreds of years. The food has a mixture of spices that could only have come together here. It is a city that asks you to pay attention to it-especially through music.
I am grateful that my first time hearing jazz was live. Prior to this trip, I would notice it playing in the background at coffee shops or in elevators but I would rarely pay attention to it. It was a hum that settled in the back of my brain while I thought about which Starbucks drink I wanted to order. It wasn’t till the musicians were on their feet, sweating and performing jazz that I understood why people love this genre so much. Jazz has a story, a vibrancy and a charm that I think can only be understood by watching a live performance. I imagine that so much would be lost if I didn’t get to see how these musicians allowed the music to have an impact on them.
Additionally, to truly experience jazz, I believe it is best to be completely engaged with the performance which means disengaging from your phone. For that reason, I appreciated that Preservation Hall did not let us take photos. I have spent a majority of this trip attempting to capture every moment, therefore, I often forgot to experience the moment myself. For that night, I was released from the burden of capturing the perfect image- instead, I could experience the feeling of jazz. I watched them communicate in between songs to ensure that everyone was on the same page. I would see them glance over their shoulders and tap their feet on the old wood floors to make sure that they were playing at the same time. They would give each member of the band the opportunity to play solo, to let them express to the audience how beautiful each of the instruments sounded. I could pay attention to how the trombone player’s eyes were closed while he played, making it seem as though he could feel the music in his bones. I could feel the music in my bones. I couldn’t help myself from bouncing along to the sound and clapping when I was asked to. We sat cross legged up front, looking up at the band, which allowed us to have an up close experience of the music but I almost wanted to stand in the back so that I could dance along.
I want to talk about the Divine Ladies’ second line parade because it is a distinct Louisiana experience that I don’t think could exist anywhere else but like seeing jazz, it is easier to experience it than to photograph and describe it. Throughout the week, our professor, Andrew, had attempted to explain to us what the second line parade was like last year. He told us about how everyone would be dancing and how lush their costumes were. He described how open the people were to being photographed and how much he looked forward to going. It was an experience that he knew we needed to be a part of, however, the actual experience of the second line parade was more rich and vibrant than Andrew could have ever explained to us. When we arrive, the streets were closed off and a group of around twenty or thirty people were waiting with water coolers at a small intersection. They kept peeking down the street, glancing at their watches and chatting with old friends to kill time. Slowly, I started to hear the music play. I stepped off the sidewalk, into the street and watched as a line of four cars with huge trailers attached to the back began to come toward us. Each trailer was more decorated than the last. While the first car wore t-shirts, the last car wore these beautiful royal costumes. The marching band arrived shortly after and the streets were flooded with a few thousand people. They move up the street for a couple hundred feet before everyone climbs off the trailer and the marching band begins to play. The whole street erupts and soon everyone is dancing with or alongside the Divine Ladies. Despite the heat, everyone was smiling. There was a contagious joy in the air that kept everyone moving, dancing and happy as they made their way along the crowded streets.
I look forward to thinking back on these experiences after the trip both with and without the photographs. I think there is something about New Orleans that deserves to be remembered in a way that is similar to the outline that Michael Ondaatje discusses in his book on famous jazz musician, Buddy Bolden. In the novel, while his friend, Crawley, is searching for him, Ondaatje often talks about Buddy as an indescribable idea. For example, when his friend, Crawley, is searching for him, he is barely able to find even a single image of Buddy and once he does find a print, the film that captured the image is destroyed. This allows Buddy Bolden and his music to be remembered from memories and experiences instead of photographs. It forces the characters to be dependent on their experiences with him. I feel that New Orleans should be the same way because for me, this city offers so much more. This city has an indescribable feeling that makes listening to jazz or exploring the French Quarter the perfect way to end the night. I think it is hard to engage in this kind of experience when I am always searching for a perfect picture. I do hope that my memory will be enough to help me write about this feeling in my book. For my book, I am choosing to write about a place that does not actually exist so that I can bring together my favorite parts of Louisiana. I want this town to have the simple life of Grand Isle but have big band music and second line parades. I don’t necessarily want to carry the burden of capturing New Orleans-instead I want to be able to capture the feeling of Louisiana.