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Power of Old Media in New Orleans

Opening keynote for the NMC Regional Conference at Tulane is Words and Music, Crafts and Costumes, Ritual and… Radio: The Power of Old Media in New Orleans by Nick Spitzer, of American Routes “the radio program from New Orleans devoted to the sources and symbols of blues and jazz, country and gospel, roots rock and soul, as well as related ethnic, regional, popular and classical styles of the music and musicians that define the landscape of American vernacular culture.”

Spitzer presenting in image and music-

In a conference devoted to the wide and dazzling array of new media in relationship to intimate community life in New Orleans and elsewhere, much of what may be extended in the classroom, broadcast or global networks comes from original human forms of expression. The implications of which are: pre-modern forms of artistic communication still speak to us, old modern forms like radio offer time-tested models of extending oral tradition and traditional aesthetics, and new media at their best often aim to recreate and create anew community experiences that we may feel are lost when the market-drivenrush to new technology values form and efficiency over content.

(note- the audio is being recorded for all keynote sessions and will be posted ASAP to NMC web site).

Opening music Tipitina by Professor Longhair – mix of Jazz, blues in New Orleans “gumbo” style. Showing photos from flood, maps, with version of music in minor key by Allen Toussaint, sets tone. Then a different version by

Now playing Louis Armstrong (1925) photo with overlay of business card of banjo player John A St. Cyr as plasterer. Meaning of word Creole with many meanings, but has to do with creativity, being from other places, but creating something new as a “mix”. Expresssed in glasswork, carpentry, trades with original styles reflecting these cultures.

Fats Domino house has a “crafty” look in a post flood photo- nothing fancy at all a “double shotgun”. “Fats speaks Creole”. More upset about loss of 9th Ward than lost of his home. “I want the city rebuilt right” say the Creoles, they want it built like their own style, not from outside.

In New Orleans, for every great musician are thousands of kids in the streets who wont make the big time, but are part of the rich culture in New Orleans. “Eddie Bo” interview after flood speaking of being a craftsman – all males learned how to build starting at age 5– he learned bricklaying and carpentry. Loves this work as much as music, sense of pride in building. Ends with jazz version of “When the Saints go Marching In”.

Pride in the trades brought home to simple houses adorned with the crafts of these people… “a Cadillac sheen to a shotgun home.”

Spitzer, as native of Connecticut, found attraction to a sense of “Creole-ness” — do not need to be born into it– “to be Creole is to be whole- absorbing all of the mixes of your ancestry- a way to understand to who you are.” New Orleans as place of tradition that was also progressive.

Tootie Montana– the “chief” of the Yellow Pocohantus elaborate architecture of buildings (“unsigned public art”) reflected on Mardi Gras dance outfits. He died speaking to City Council of injustices.

So much knowledge in this area is not in formal museums, but contained in home, family life- the “vernacular Venice of America” of blues and jazz.

Lionel Ferbos, 96 year old jazz trumpet player (oldest musician still actively playing in New Orleans), intense love for cityscape- built metal signs, lights, still in use today – again the complex mix of music craft and trade craft. Work is celebrated with music. Work is sociable too.

Elaborate funeral processions- Second Line, both somber and joyous music– “Pleasure and mourning together, mourning and hope together- metaphor for city itself.”

Saving New Orleans Culture-

Some said Mardi Gras should not have been done in 2006- “not enough resources” Spitzer says that was a “Protestant North American” view- it went off as a great success, gave a revival sense for the work that needed to be done. Does New Orleans need infrastructure the most? “No one came here because of great infrastructure!”

“Music has kept New Orleans in the hearts and minds of the world.”

Close with Allen Toussaint music. Asks us to keep New Orleans in mind, that homeland is important to take care of from the inside out, by facing our cities, keeping ideas of tradition, knowledge, we can be a shining example to the world.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


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