FOR many Zimbabweans who attended Louis Satchmo Armstrong’s memorable show at the Glamis Stadium in Salisbury in 1961, the tragedy of New Orleans must have a special poignancy. Armstrong was born
in New Orleans; jazz, the music for which he became an icon, was born in New Orleans.
One of the most popular Dixieland tunes is Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans. Armstrong recorded this tune in 1946.
For those of us fortunate enough to have visited New Orleans, the traumatic events of the last few weeks, unleashed by Hurricane Katrina, have a heart-rending quality that is almost unbearable in its intensity.
I visited New Orleans in 1972 during which I paid a pilgrimage-laced visit to Preservation Hall, where the entire history of jazz is told in music, pictures and words. A jazzophile who goes to New Orleans and doesn’t visit the Preservation Hall has to be sort of peculiar.
In the aftermath of the Katrina tragedy I have heard it said that if former president Bill Clinton, who played the saxophone (not too well, they say), had been in the White House, New Orleans would have received more urgent action than it did under George W Bush, whose heart for jazz has not been commented on with any enthusiasm by anyone known to jazz.
There is another Dixieland piece tying New Orleans to the origins of another African-American musical genre: Where The Blues Was Born in New Orleans.
There has been a running debate among jazz historians about the birthplace of jazz – New Orleans or Chicago?
In introducing a piece called Tin Roof Blues at a concert at the Crescendo, Satchmo says the tune was originally done by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings “who originated in Chicago”. The point, if it is not clear yet, was that New Orleans was more appropriate than Chicago if a band was to be taken seriously.
African-Americans are a majority in New Orleans, but as with all cities dominated by their race, Washington DC, for instance, they wield a disproportionately feeble political clout.
New Orleans is unlikely to die. Belatedly, the Texan George W Bush seems to have woken up to the reality that many people, not only in the USA, but around the world – from Bogota to Beijing – would never forgive him if he let New Orleans die.
He too now knows what it would mean to miss New Orleans.