Wednesday, November 26, 2008

All that jazz

Upon our arrival in New Orleans, a friend's sister picked us up at the airport and took us to one of their favorite Italian restaurants, Impostatos. It was a kitschy place with lots of photos and football jerseys on the walls. Oh, the owner used to be the largest season ticket holder in the NFL and had used to feed the New Orleans Saints. It was said that Mike Ditka would eat in the place after every game. And after eating the food I could understand why. I had a stuffed pork dish that was excellent. It had me wondering if I would be able to drink after that.

After dinner we went to our hotel in the finance district. We were about 5 blocks from Bourbon. A short walk would do no harm in working off some of the booze on the way back.

Walking onto Bourbon Street off Canal is kinda strange. First you are greeted by a big Hustler sign. As you get half way down the block you feel like you are moving into a different world. The street is blocked off at night so people are moving freely about. Men are holding up signs showing drink specials while others are trying to cajole you into coming into their strip club. As you move further on you notice how many strip clubs on packed into this area. All the big names are there. Rick's, Deja Vu, Scores, Stilletos. You hear the music coming out the bars and notice how they don't have doors. It instantly reminded me of Key West and how everything was wide open.

We moved onto Pat O'Briens. Might as well get this hurricane thing over. We walked through the courtyard and decided to back track into the piano bar. It was more of a sit thing than a piano bar thing. While dueling pianos can be entertaining with the right players, this just seemed more like women taking requests and having some fun.

I didn't mind the women playing the pianos. They were good and entertaining enough to prevent me from getting bored. Plus the booze from dinner was mixing with the rum in the hurricane and I felt just fine to enjoy their pianoing (sure its a word!). What drove me nuts was the guy playing the pizza pan. A guy would come up and dump pennies onto this thing that looked like a pizza pan and try to play along with the music. Like he was the drums or something. It looked like he had some thimbles on his fingers that he would use to knock the bottom of the pan and make the pennies clang about. As he played he would try to dance a bit and make weird faces. That is what annoyed me the most. He acted like he spent years working his craft and should be taken seriously. I just wanted to throw a hurricane glass at him so he would stop.

Another thing happened that made me a bit uncomfortable. Someone requested Dixie and when they played it, half the crowd got up and started dancing along. All of them were from the southern states (as we learned earlier when they started yelling out states for crowd reaction). I had noticed all the waiters were black. I had believe Dixie to be considered offensive to African Americans and was it was rather insulting to play and dance to it. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable watching this. Part of me couldn't believe it was happening. Such a strange feeling.

After leaving Pat O'Briens, I stopped into a place on the corner because there was a band playing some hard rock. No sooner than had I stepped in to listen to some Twisted Sister did a shot girl pounce on me. It was like walking into a strip club with a fistfull of dollars and having the first girl claim you and the money for herself. Only she had watered down booze in test tubes and wanted me to buy them all. I ended up getting a round for the group and the girl before I got a crowbar to pry her off. I was a bit amazed at how my friend was upset that I got her a shot as well. He thought it was ridiculous that she would have me pay for her to drink. Maybe he should have been more concerned about his own girl. She was grinding away on a big breasted shot girl. It was at that moment that I realized his girlfriend and I had something in common. We both liked big breasted girls. This scene would just about repeat itself later in the weekend.

We stayed at the Kozy Korner until the band went on break and moved our way up Bourbon. My friend wanted to see if a certain jazz pianist was playing. So we made our way to Fritzel's European Jazz Pub to drink some more and listen in.

I am not sure what surprised me more about Fritzels. That it claimed to be the first bar in America to server Jagermeister or how damn good the music was. Ok, it was easily the latter. By no means am a jazz afficianado. I figured I would give it a listen and if I didn't like it, I would move to the blues bar next door. But listening to these guys play I just had to keep my butt in the seat. There were only four of them on the little stage. Piano, clarinet, drums and the big bass. Each one playing, knowing when to ease back a bit and let an instrument take the lead. I think that is what made me appreciate what I was listening and seeing. The way the musicians interacted with each other, allowing each one to take the lead while the others sat back and listened. It made for an amazing sound. Add in the visual of them expertly playing the instrument and it could put you in a trance.

We ended back at Fritzels on both Friday and Saturday. There was a different lineup each time. The second night it would be a trumpet, banjo, drums and bass while on Saturday it was the piano, trumpet, drums and bass. The only player that was constant was the bass.

Another thing I noticed with these musicians is that they did not have a set list. Whoever was on the piano/trumpet/clairenet/banjo would discuss what to play, tell the drums and bass the song and they would soon move on. And sound so good. Never thought I would sit around listening to jazz that long but I guess when good musicians get together, I can sit around listening no matter what they might be playing.

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