New Orleans is a jazz town, but also a funk town, a brass-band town, a hip-hop town and a jam-band town. It has international jazz musicians and hip-hop superstars, but also a true, subsistence-level street culture. Much of its music is tied to geography and neighborhoods, and crowds.
All that was incontrovertibly true until a week ago Monday. Now the future for brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians, to cite two examples, looks particularly bleak if their neighborhoods are destroyed by flooding, and bleaker still with the prospect of no new tourists coming to town soon to infuse their traditions with new money. Although the full extent of damage is still unknown, there is little doubt that it has been severe – to families, to instruments, to historical records, to clubs, to costumes.
Yet, there is plenty of reason for hope. Louis Edwards, a New Orleans novelist and an associate producer of the Jazz and Heritage Festival, said, “No other city is so equipped to deal with this.” A French Quarter resident, Mr. Edwards was taking refuge last week at his mother’s house in Lake Charles, La.
“Think of the jazz funeral,” he said. “In New Orleans we respond to the concept of following tragedy with joy. That’s a powerful philosophy to have as the underpinning of your culture.”