By Edward Anderson of Nola Art House Music
The meeting took place several months ago on a Sunday evening at Nine Roses Vietnamese restaurant on the West Bank. Surprisingly to me, the restaurant was filled to capacity as my wife and I sat down with Sharon Litwin and her guest, a prominent music engineer and philanthropist. As co-founder of NolaVie.com and board member for its partner organization, NOLA Art House Music, Sharon had suggested we meet to discuss the launch of the two organizations.
Wanting us to sample a variety of savory authentic Vietnamese dishes, Sharon in her usual charming British/New Orleans manner, and with a few suggestions from the waitress who addressed her by name, placed an order of way too much food for us to eat at one sitting. As we waited for our appetizers, we launched into conversation about the topic at hand.
It wasn’t long before this prominent engineer/producer, who has worked with some of the biggest and most historic names in popular music and jazz (his name will remain anonymous to protect the innocent) launched into a passionate and engaging explanation of why he was interested in being a part of this project. It went a little something like this…
We as a music community in this city sometimes just do things that make no sense! We have these great music educational programs here that prepare our kids to be these world-caliber musicians, and then we ship many of our best and brightest away to Berklee, Manhattan School, The New School, and we never see them again. There are not the sorts of opportunities here to encourage them to stay. We see them once a year, maybe, at Jazz Fest, or if someone calls them home to do a fundraiser or workshop for NOCCA or something …
He was just getting started. It got juicier.
We have a whole legacy of musicians who have been beat up on. The older musicians … look at what they have. Many of them who’ve made all this history don’t have anything to show for a life in music when they are old. If anything, some just might have a beat-up instrument to pass down to some kid who is going to start the whole process over again. That’s it?
And what about the next generation? We have these clubs that pay the musicians little or nothing and that’s supposed to be OK? What would this city be without its musicians? The musicians get these “door deals” and take all the risk, while the club owners take in liquor sales in the most “drinking” town in America. The young musicians are all too scared to say anything or complain, because they just want to play and if they can’t get a gig then they can’t play.
I assure you those weren’t my words, but I will admit that I managed to slip in a few “amens” during his tirade. I was both shocked and in some way excited to discover that someone who is successful and nationally connected to the point that he has no real reason to care actually saw things in the same way as many of my peers. That is, that the economic model for musicians in New Orleans is flawed and in need of some restructuring.
So that is the beginning point, admitting that there is work to do. The next is having the courage to step out there and try. Hurricane Katrina gave us reason to look into the abyss, and now the abyss is looking back. As we continue to rebuild a better New Orleans, we have to be honest and embrace the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. We surely can’t continue to ignore the things in our city in need of change. The definition of futility, as we all know, is to keep doing things the same way with the expectation of a different result.
Musicians have to start thinking beyond self and the gig. We have to see our talents on a transformational level – and believe that, through cooperation and dialogue, we can create a culture of greater opportunity. Drew Brees and Sean Payton stubbornly proved non-believers in the NFL and the world at large wrong, setting a new precedent in the city. They demonstrated how the combination of talent (OK, the defensive secondary needs a little work), preparation, unselfish team play, guts, and intelligence can truly bring about success and change for all. We musicians need to revisit that word TEAM play in the future. It’s a topic worthy of attention in its own right, and at the core of what we’re trying to accomplish through NOLA Art House Music.
While the mission of NOLA Art House will continue to evolve, it first and foremost will focus on creating an online community of New Orleans’ most creative musicians, where their music, opinions, and careers can be profiled and discussed with intelligence and professionalism. It is a chance for those who have talent but perhaps not a PR team to be seen and heard. It is to be forward-thinking, welcoming to all styles of creative jazz, including those eclectic and technological artists whose outside-the-box approaches haven’t found as comfortable a fit into the local mainstream.
NOLA.com, where NolaVie resides, is New Orleans’ most-visited website, boasting more than 100,000 hits per week. We need your help to get the word out to the musical community, so that we can build an engaged online presence that will be of benefit to us all. With your help, we will create an online home to profile our musicians, their projects, their videos, and music, and, most importantly, their opinions as we try to create a greater consciousness working toward greater opportunities for those in one of the greatest music cities in the world. Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Louis Prima and all the greats got this party started. Now, in the 21st century, it’s our turn.
Edward Anderson writes about jazz every Wednesday at NolaVie.