I’ve never been a fan of the “guided tour” of anything.
But with Louisiana swamps I knew I didn’t want to get in over my head. Or even in over my toes. That also goes for Bourbon Street, The French Quarter, merde, the whole New Orleans jazz scene. I am the reason jazz is almost dead. I hate elevators.
In other words, I had never heard good jazz.
But this trip, guided by a jazz great, I would be with the band, a groupie. Really. Not just wearing a “VOLUNTEER” tshirt. My kid, still a minor, was in the band; I had to go.
The entire New Orleans tour was organized by a pro named David Robinson, the person who, enviably, managed to snag the license plate “JAZZ” from our state DMV. He also teaches at George Mason University. Teaches music, (not travel management.) Robinson’s driving passion is to get the Capital Focus Jazz Band’s ten members, aged 14-26, to perform.
Robinson had set up a short gig on a riverboat the evening of the arrival of the 31-member band-and-groupie entourage.
The alligators would wait until tomorrow.
A trio of well-practiced, worn-out looking buffet musicians performed a list of old favorites in the ship’s main dining room while the band ate dinner. A large man on banjo, costumed to the era complete with pork pie hat, was accompanied by a bassist and a guy playing a baby saxophone. At least that’s what he called it. It looked a lot easier to carry ten blocks than my son’s tenor.
The microphone had that pillow-covered sound of dinner theatre.
Then they took a break.
When Capital Focus Jazz Band took over there was no going back. The other musicians went outside to do their time on the upper deck.
Capital Focus rattled the dishes, the sound of the ship’s engine lost.
When the D.C. band’s time was up the boys headed to the upper deck where a mob of Jewish Camp high school kids was doing what boys and girls do when their parents aren’t looking.
When I checked in half an hour later, in the stern seating area, away from the crowd, the daily grind musicians had come to life. They had discovered the Capital Focus kids. Jazz was back.
Seated among the cast-iron heavily-painted white chairs, the guy with the mini-sax was bending over backward playing as though he were being paid . . . which for the moment, I don’t think he was. The pork pie hat disappeared and a happy balding man emerged.
When the baby-sax guy ran out of air, he pointed to Geoffy G., the 4-foot something 13-year-old trumpeter.
“It’s your turn.”
Geoffy did what Geoffy does.
Geoffy G. has been turning heads since he first picked up a trumpet at age 4. He’s what’s called a “phenom.”
His face reddened as he tore up his solo, the man without the pork pie hat slapped his knee in delight. The other kids took turns with solos. Time flew.
Too soon the ship had docked and the captain came on the loudspeaker.
The pork pie hat went back on, the baby sax went into its baby case, the men straightened their bow ties and returned to normal life.
For a moment though, real jazz had made a reappearance.