She just wanted to hear the music.
Dressed in a cap and sweats with a rag over her shoulder, the littlest old lady surfaced from the ‘Employees Only’ section somewhere at the back of the room. She appeared to have just finished, or been in the process of cleaning something. She strolled quietly over to the piano on the stage and took a seat.
We had stumbled upon the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park by chance as we left the French Market and the intense mugginess of the day. The place was completely void of visitors but filled with an abundance of free information on the history of jazz in New Orleans. And it was air-conditioned.
We perused the ‘Jazz Gumbo,’ an interactive platform detailing the medley of instruments that make up a jazz band, and how each sound is relevant. I was able to get a taste of the inner workings of the music. Just as I pressed the button for saxophone, Fats Domino instead replaced the sample music I was hearing. I rounded the corner to see where the powerful sound was coming from, and it was her. The little old lady had sat down to play and a beautiful outpouring of jazz came through her fingertips. She was great.
We took a seat to enjoy this now free concert at the free venue with the free cool air. We like free. She played with such focus that she never even noticed her audience until we clapped at the end. We were irrelevant. She was just playing for the love of the music.
We thanked her for playing and she was embarrassed for having messed up. We assured her that we hadn’t even noticed, because we really hadn’t. She told us that when she tries to play Fats, sometimes she gets him and sometimes she doesn’t, almost like the music either comes to her or not. She said that sometimes she can only remember how to play half of a song and can’t finish the rest. Old age has caught her, but her love of the music is undying. She was excited just to be talking about it. As we got ready to leave, she smiled at us in all of her toothless glory and said: “Y’all should come back on Saturdays. That’s when the big band comes and they really tears it up.”
If only we were going to be here longer than 24 hours.
Great music filled the rest of our day and evening as a live band played while we enjoyed a snack at Café Du Monde, and then later when we hit Bourbon Street to sample the N’awlins night life. A band of about ten or so young men played the best jazz I have truly ever heard live in my life. They played right on the corner of the street to an audience of passersby and some loyal supporters. It was awesome.
Traveling up Bourbon Street can be kind of a sensory overload. There are all kinds of different things going on all over the place, some much crazier than others. Your evening on Bourbon Street can be spent in a drunken stupor sipping hand grenades or fish bowls (local drinks), booty shaking on the dance floor, and engaging in whatever other vices strike your fancy.
Or, you can spend a quiet evening enjoying some of the best jazz or blues around. I was in a classy mood, so of course, I opted out of the booty shaking and instead wandered into Maison Bourbon and took a seat. Dedicated the preservation of jazz, this place was a quiet sanctuary from the crazed behavior taking place outside its walls. The jazz was as sophisticated as the men playing it in their shirts and ties. It was nice to sample different ends of the musical spectrum in the French Quarter. Maybe I’ll try the booty shaking next time.
New Orleans is truly alive with music. It will make you want to dance, sing, and be a musician (or date one) all at the same time. Maybe I’ll find my musician in the days ahead…
She just wanted to hear the music.