I just got back from New Orleans Friday with sore feet (courtesy of a trade show I attended for work) and a full belly (courtesy of NOLA). I love New Orleans and even though I was busy with work most of the time, I still managed to get out for a sumptuous fried oysters and spinach salad, a perfect fried shrimp po’ boy sandwich (the bread was just right), deep brown gumbo, and a sazerac (it was after the trade show).
More than that, I got to take my favorite walk: Down Royal Street, with countless antique shops and art galleries and street musicians. It’s in the French Quarter but it’s peaceful and civilized (in other words, it’s not Bourbon Street). We had to detour where the street was blocked due to a building collapse. Well, you know, the French Quarter is pretty old. Then it was across Esplanade to the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.
Beth and I first discovered this place maybe 20 years ago — we’d go to Snug Harbor to hear Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of the Marsalis jazz family, play in a trio. It was something of a find back then for us out-of-towners, but it’s been found out big time since. It’s not ruined by success, though, far from it. There is music just everywhere. Stop at one place for a bit, cross the street, hear some more. Repeat. And there are people hanging out on benches, talking all kinds of stuff. And everywhere, it’s funky.
If you like straight lines, plumb walls and doors, smooth sidewalks — probably it’s not your place. It’s just different down there. And if I lived anywhere except Chicago, I think I’d live in New Orleans.
But I live in Chicago, and I’m not ready to trade Printers Row for any place on earth just yet. It reached an impossible 70+ sunny degrees Saturday and I can’t tell you exactly what I did all day other than find excuses to take walks. (Beth was out of town, so I was on my own.) I did manage to get some groceries. Mostly just soaked up the sun while doing piddly errands. And I treated myself to some top-notch pasta at Sofi, a great little Italian restaurant just downstairs in our building.
Sunday afternoon, after laundry, the gym and other weekend chores, it was a walk down the street to Jazz Showcase. The Showcase has been operating since 1947, the labor of love of Joe Segal, who turned 88 this past spring. The club has moved several times over the years — lost leases, rent increases and the like have chased Joe and the Showcase around. When it landed most recently in our neighborhood in the historic Dearborn Station, Beth and I pinched our selves. Segal still introduces every show, and is dogged and cantankerous in his belief that jazz music is superior to the likes of pop, hip-hop, you name it. (He makes this clear each time he introduces an act.)
This past weekend it was the Yellowjackets, a band that’s been around in one form or another since the 80s. It’s morphed from jazz fusion to smooth jazz and then to jazz-jazz. The players have changed over time, too, and judging by their Sunday matinee performance, I’d say they’re sounding better than ever.
We live in an age when one day you’re walking the funky, uneven, sultry streets of old New Orleans with the sounds of music leaking out everywhere, and the next you’re dodging traffic, El trains roaring, and find yourself at a table in a venerable old jazz club 1,000 miles away from the funky Marigny.
It can be disorienting — and it often is — but when it comes to New Orleans and Chicago, somehow I feel right at home in both.