From 1992 to 2005 I was blessed to be assistant director of the Louisiana Music Commission, working under the excitable and inimitable Bernie Cyrus countered by the grace and wisdom of Chairman Ellis Marsalis. I can’t begin to describe what an amazing time it was. We had many discussions about the fragility of our music legacy, built upon so many older musicians. Despite the fact that in the 1990s we enjoyed another big run at the top of the charts due to the popularity of Louisiana-born pop, country, hiphop, and jazz stars of that decade, the music they played didn’t have the impact or potential longevity of our R&B and funk era, and nobody was more important to that legacy than Allen Toussaint.
If Louisiana music was a sport, Allen was our MVP. Nobody could touch him for his productivity and impact. As a songwriter he was peerless. As a musician he was uniquely gifted with his own distinctive piano style, horn arrangements, and sweet voice. As a writer his soul was a reflection of the Universe. Every song seemed connected to an optimistic spirituality that made saints blush of embarrassment for their inability to be so consistently good-hearted and inspiring.
A Bodhisattva is an enlightened spirit who forgoes Nirvana to share their gift with the material world. I realized many years ago that this was Allen—the Bodhisattva of New Orleans. This factor is one of the most meaningful reasons why I live here: this city, with all its paradoxes and dangers, produced Allen Toussaint.
In his 77th year, Allen’s spirit chose to join the light from which we all come. Our challenge is to endure without him, to remain optimistic about our roles and goals, and to stay connected. I know we can make it. I know that we can.
Thank you Mr. Toussaint.
It’s official. The first new recordings by Bas Clas in more than 20 years will be released on Earth Day, Sunday April 22. The 7 song CD is titled “Big Oak Tree” and features a mix of old and new songs all recorded at Dockside Studio in August 2011 with engineer David Farrell. Featuring an expanded lineup that includes Eric Adcock on keyboards, Dickie Landry on sax, and backing vocals from Leslie Smith and Mike Picou, the tunes range from crunchy rockers to a Cajun-flavored tale of life and loss (from which the title was gleaned) that features Roddie Romero on accordion, David Greely and Mitch Reed on fiddles, and Christine Balfa on triangle. The band will be performing at Festival International du Louisiane in Lafayette on Thursday, April 26 at 6pm and the following night (Fri, Apr 27) at The Wild Salmon, also in Lafayette.
After 4 years of lifeless existence under the direction of Chairwoman Maggie Warwick, the Louisiana Music Commission (LMC) is finally being put out of its misery. As reported in newspapers a few weeks ago, after July 1 the LMC will disappear. The articles quoted Ms. Warwick as saying she “supports eliminating it.” That’s like quoting Nero during the burning of Rome.
I would like to congratulate Ms. Warwick for her vision and talent in destroying the state’s (and nation’s) first agency dedicated exclusively to music. And thanks also to Lynn Ourso, the ostensible “director” of the LMC for directing it right into oblivion.
Though there were 15+ people appointed to serve on the LMC over the past 4 years, evidently none of them had the ability or power to grasp the controls and pull the LMC out of the dive it entered when it was eviscerated by (convicted and jailed former film office director) Mark Smith, then relocated and de-funded during the Blanco years (with the assistance of former Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development Mike Olivier). To those members who tried, really tried to represent the best interests of musicians, I say thank you. To those who colluded with and bought-in to the tired and ineffective leadership of Ms. Warwick and Mr. Ourso–and you know who you are–I say that the proof is in the pudding. And yours turned out to be a runny, smelly failure.
Since 2006, when they finally wrested control of the remnants of the LMC that had been systematically weakened by their team, observing the Warwick-Ourso tenure was like watching an elderly nursing home patient slowly, painfully gasp for breath–for month after month after month. It was a pathetic and absurd situation. And now it’s finally over.
The coroner has declared the patient dead but did not cite the cause. I say it was starvation, deprivation, and neglect compounded by malpractice and out-of-touch stewardship. And there will be no investigations, no funeral, no accurate recapitulation or memorial. This will likely be my last blog on that subject. And for that, I’m sure some will be grateful.
I’m proud of the work Ellis Marsalis, Bernie Cyrus and I did, but we were far from alone. From 1992 to 2006 literally hundreds of people helped us achieve unprecedented levels of support for Louisiana music. Because of our work, thousands of Louisiana musicians appeared on radio and television; tens of thousands of elementary school students statewide experienced living jazz history lessons; sites were saved (though many were lost); and attention to the health and welfare of working musicians was raised to new levels not surpassed until the tragedies of the failed levees of Katrina. You can read about what we did here: LMC Summary Report 1992-2003.
The LMC is dead. And though I spent 25+ years in music, it was always with a focus on environmental and social justice issues, on reducing our impact and helping the needy. Today, that’s what I do full time. I love music. I hope to play again some day. But I have a great job and a mission to bring positive change to the way we live. I am blessed to be where I am today.
Music is vital to our quality of life in Louisiana. Perhaps one day it will benefit from dedicated resources and support equal to what we give other industries such as agriculture, petrochemicals and film. One day. But not today.
The world lost another great light with the passing of Antoinette K-Doe earlier on this beautiful Mardi Gras Day. With the city packed with revelers and many making their annual pilgrimage to the Mother in Law Lounge, the loss of Ms. Antoinette is a poignant reminder of the fragility of the city’s quirky social fabric. A beloved character whose smile and hospitality touched the lives of all who ever met her, Ms. Antoinette was an inspiration, a resilient torch bearer of the soul of New Orleans. It was because of Ms. Antoinette that Ernie K-Doe’s career found a second wind. She took command of his life and revived him physically and spritually, returning him to his adoring fans and sharing with us the delightful, over-the-top wisdom of the Emperor of the Universe that we will celebrate as long as there is a New Orleans. We are grateful for having shared her love, her remarkable stories and her joie de vivre. Thank you Ms. Antoinette.
UPDATE: A wake and viewing will be held today, Friday Feb 27, from 2pm to 7pm at the Mother in Law Lounge. Funeral services will take place Saturday at St. James Methodist Church, 1925 Ursulines Ave at 11am. Visitation will be from 9am to 11am. Following services there will be a jazz procession to historic St. Louis Cemetary #2 on Claiborne Ave where the body of Antoinette will join Ernie K-Doe (Danny Barker is also interred there) in rest. A musical celebration and repast will take place at Rock-n-Bowl from 1:30pm to 6:30pm. At 7pm, guests are invited to join a Remembrance of Antoinette at the Mother in Law Lounge.