Love Letter

New Orleans Is Music to My Ears

by Jeralyn Gerba

Add this to your playlist.

The quickest way to get to New Orleans? Just follow the funky bassline.

NEW YORK CITY – The other night, while lying on the couch in my living room, I swear I was transported to New Orleans.

My husband had just set up his new audiophile sound system: A Rega RP3 turntable, Leben CS-300 Amplifier, Bellari Pre-Amp, and pair of Rosewood Dynaudio speakers. (Take that, mp3 player.)

Then he put on a Soul Jazz record called New Orleans Funk, The Original Sound of Funk 1960-75. The sound was, as you can imagine from all the fancy listening equipment, crystal clear. The bassline? F-U-N-K-Y.

It started with The Explosions singing about a "Hip Drop"and Gentleman June Gardner telling us "It’s Gonna Rain." All that was followed by a parade of awesomeness from Aaron Neville, Allen Toussaint, The Gaturs, and Dr. John. I could listen to the "Handclapping Song" from The Meters on repeat all night long. But what really got to me this time around was the sound of Professor Longhair singing Big Chief, a song about the Mardi Gras Indians — the elusive tribes of New Orleans who emerge at the end of the season and on March 19th for St. Joseph's Day.

The Indians spend all year and thousands of dollars crafting elaborate, spectacularly colorful costumes from beads, feathers, and sequins — by hand. They make their own parade routes throughout the streets, with the Big Chief singing an inventive call and response in a language you can’t quite decipher but somehow understand, confronting other tribes for a playful musical exchange. I was down in NOLA the weekend before Fat Tuesday and had the great luck to hear Indians singing from my hotel room, though I never got a glimpse of those finely costumed fellows. Maybe next year.

Anyway, where was I? Parades and New Orleans. The two are, of course, intrinsically linked. There are parades for weddings, for Saturday night fish fries, for crawfish boils, for Tuesday afternoons. Anyone with fifty dollars and a trombone or boom box can apply for a parade permit. For one hundred more, you can even get a police escort for your second line. 

Eddie Bo, a pianist who first appears on the New Orleans Funk record with the track "Check Your Bucket" (which, incidentally, was also the name of his short-lived NOLA club) has a great quote that goes, “If you smoke a cigarette, they’ll have a parade for it. Then if you die from the cigarette, they’ll be a parade for that, too.”

Anyplace where you parade your way over to the burial grounds is my kind of place. Until then, it's time to get off the couch and dance.


New Orleans Funk: The Original Sound of Funk, 1960-1975


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