Letters: New Orleans Music

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On Monday, we read from your letters. During our program on New Orleans music, many listeners wrote in with their own musical memories from the Big Easy and with their questions and concerns about New Orelans musicians.


On Monday we read from your letters. During our program on New Orleans music, many listeners wrote in with their own musical memories from the Big Easy, and with their questions and concerns about New Orleans' musicians. To answer some of those questions, we are now joined by David Freedman. He's the general manager of WWOZ, a community-based jazz station in New Orleans.

Thanks for being with us, David.

Mr. DAVID FREEDMAN (General Manager, WWOZ): It's great to be here.

NEARY: Now the first e-mail I wanted to read comes from Michael Francis(ph), and he writes, `The New Orleans musicians need health care and a living wage. Many hold two or three jobs just to support their families.' So, David, Michael describes a situation that was already difficult for a lot of musicians and, of course, since the hurricane it has to have gotten worse. What's being done to help these musicians with their health-care needs and the lost income from the hurricane?

Mr. FREEDMAN: I am totally moved by Michael's question. He really gets right to the heart of it. Not only have these musicians now lost many opportunities to hold down jobs, but they've lost their houses. I was talking to the trombonist for the Preservation Hall Band. Four out of seven of those musicians have totally lost their homes, and maybe one or two more. I was at a press conference with the lieutenant governor three days ago. I asked him what plans the state had--he heads up the cultural recreation and tourism area of the state--to bring back musicians and to make sure they have a way to get back, and he said that they'd raised a bunch of money at a benefit in New York and that musicians couldn't stay away from New Orleans because when they got to other places, they just wouldn't be able to live there. I don't think that's much of a plan.

NEARY: And what about their health care? Is there any com...

Mr. FREEDMAN: Yes, there is. The New Orleans Musicians' Clinic has been very effective over the last seven or eight years. WWOZ plays a role as a partner with them, and we have been supporting over a thousand musicians to make sure that they get health care. They've re-established themselves temporarily in Lafayette, Louisiana. If anybody has any questions about health care for musicians or New Orleans Musicians Clinic, they can contact us through wwoz.org. We'll make sure they get the message.

NEARY: Here's an e-mail from Chris Cordona(ph), who has a specific concern. He writes, `Many musicians had to leave their instruments behind. Is there a place where we can donate instruments to these artists who can not only soothe their own souls, but soothe the souls of a nation, especially those of whom lost so much?'

Mr. FREEDMAN: Yes, there is an effort--I just was aware of last night--I can't cite you the Web source, but you can find out. Arlo Guthrie is taking the City of New Orleans from north all the way down to New Orleans and he's collecting musical instruments and he's bringing them to the city. You can find it on the Web somewhere, and that's probably a really great way to do it, because it'll make the message as important as the actual action.

NEARY: Here's another question from Julie Stermer from Campbell, California. She writes, `I've heard rumors that the New Orleans Jazz Fest will be held this year. Does anyone have any details?' What about that?

Mr. FREEDMAN: It's more than a rumor. I've met with the executive director and the president of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. I've received an e-mail from Quint Davis, the producer. There definitely will be a New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this year, and in some ways it will be perhaps one of the most powerful ones simply because there'll be so many people who will want to be a part of it and contribute to it. I'm talking about the musicians. And I just think that this New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this year may be one of the most memorable ones we'll ever see.

NEARY: And before we let you go, I want to read one more e-mail. This is from Jason Glisten from Greenville, North Carolina: `I went to New Orleans about five years ago. I was walking in the downtown area and stopped in the big cathedral there. There was a wedding and the bride and groom were walking outside. They got into a carriage, which proceeded to carry them around the downtown area. The whole time, a huge jazz band followed them, and it seemed like everyone just joined in the party as the bride and groom came past. It was definitely something I'll always remember about my trip to New Orleans.' So, David, are we gonna see that again in New Orleans?

Mr. FREEDMAN: Well, now that is the big, big, big question. The carriages are there, the cathedral's there, the people who can get married in St. Louis Cathedral are there, but will the musicians be there and will the traditions be there? Remember that those--all those people who joined in those second-line parades come from someplace outside of the French Quarter. They primarily lived in the Ninth Ward and other areas that were heavily flooded. All that music comes up through the high schools. The people don't maybe realize that those marching bands are led by band leaders who are actually families that are dynasties that have passed on those incredible rhythms that are associated with New Orleans music, and we don't know if those high schools will return because we don't know if those people will come back. All those thousands and thousands of people that were bused out of the city, will they ever get back? And if they do, will they have a place to come back to, and will there be a system like there was before? We're very worried.

NEARY: Well, David, good luck, and thanks so much for talking with us today.

Mr. FREEDMAN: Thank you.

NEARY: David Freedman is general manager of WWOZ, a community-based radio station in New Orleans.

(Soundbite of jazz band)

NEARY: If you have comments, questions or corrections, the best way to reach us is by e-mail. The address is totn@npr.org. Please tell us where you're writing from and give us some help on how to pronounce your name. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

(Soundbite of jazz band)

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