Saturday, December 14, 2013

If you have to ask what Jazz is, you will never know - Louis Armstrong

Never , never shy away from a chance to have a random conversation . You never know what joy you can miss having in your life.
At the ASH convention Exhibition Hall , every once in a while we would step out of our booth on little  forays hunting for coffee or tea and maybe little bites of sustenance . The Pfizer Stall offered the best tea, melt in your mouth cup cakes and the handsomest , most gallant guy behind the coffee machine . While Chai was my cup of tea, I would offer to get coffee for my colleagues just to say hullo to Mr Gallant .
Each time I would also run into this really nice guy there called Melwyn who maybe because of the saree always had a special hullo for me . Or maybe it was me and not the saree . Anyway , we exchanged pleasantries each time and he asked how i found New Orleans . I told him I loved it that the airport was named after Louis Armstrong but till I found some really nice , live Jazz I really couldn't say I had found anything . Oh how his face lit up when he heard that .

Putting his face close to my ear he said , Preservation Hall , my girl, that's what you need to find . That's where you need to go if you are looking for great live New Orleans Jazz . It's right there off Bourborn Street somewhere . This old , crumbling place like a barn : you pay  a little something , go sit yourself down and these old men come in one by one and play you the most delightful Jazz you have ever heard .
Something about the way he said this made up my mind for me . I had to find this place ! But then , in the hustle and bustle of the conference , the meetings , the sessions I confess it did slip away inot some recess of my mind – till one night later while my colleague Danielle and I stepped out for dinner and then began walking down the street , yes, Bourborn Street , I said to her , you know what I need to find this place this guy at the conference was telling me about …now Bourborn Street is I guess to New Orleans what Beale Street is to Memphis ; every pub, diner, restaurant has a live band and the music flows out like a hundred tributaries flowing into the river that is the street and as the notes and voices and the horns and the strings collide and mingle , the river of sound swells and ebbs carrying you with it. None of the sources however was the Preservation Hall . If I had time I would have googled it but in a way I am glad I did not for the way we did find it added to the magic and the mystery .
Danielle , practical as always suggested we ask the Cop on the street who was happy to direct  us – Go up five blocks to St Peter’s and then make a right and another right and you got it !! We must have gone further than five blocks but there was no sign of a steeple nor dome and we turned back as the street was quieter and lonelier where we were..maybe it was a dream , maybe it was not to be or maybe who knows what would have (not )happened if I had not chanced to turn back one last time a few minutes after we started walking back and there was a street sign that said St Peters . Maybe the good Lord was showing me he needed no steeple nor dome , He was right there !!
Grinning foolishly I grabbed Danielle by the hand and made that Right turn . We were still going to find that Hall . But I am afraid it was not so easy for as we walked down the dimly lit street there was still no sign of it . Then a couple of young guys who were hanging around the next corner  waiting for a tourist to hire their motorised rickshaws , showed us exactly where the Preservation Hall was – we had walked right past it and no wonder !! It was dimly lit , it was all weathered and its fa├žade almost crumbling and nothing but an old faded board advertising it to the world.
But at the gate was this bright young girl who gave us the show timing and sold us our tickets and we unbelievingly stepped into what seemed another world altogether. 
Dimly lit , the “stage” was already set – the drums , the piano , the chairs for those who would play the trombone, the clarinet, the sax and ….and benches , five maybe six for us to sit on. As it neared ShowTime ( we caught the 9pm one ) it was evident there would be Standing Room Only for most of us but once the music began , who cared. We were I think flying almost as high as the ceiling fan that was rotating slowly above our heads  .

No photographs , no recording,  no beer and no restrooms around here said the young man who introduced the Band and then the Band members walked in and we were mesmerised from the second the first breath was blown into the horn . Like King Louis himself said , the music began to flow not too slow, not too fast ; kind of half-fast ……oh bliss
The best rule of course was the no pictures no recording …we just gave ourselves up to an hour of the best ever – no distractions , no nothing – just them horns and straight and pure ; no mikes either and when there were vocals , the voices were like feelings clothed in gossamer and net.
And of course it was over too soon and plans were made to come the next night dragging whoever would care to join us and once again it was magic …even if it meant waiting in the cold for the tickets - it was after all a Saturday night
If you want to know more then do what I did , check them out on the internet – Preservation Hall Jazz Band . I am glad I did that only after hunting them down listening to them in the real world .


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