ELLIS MARSALIS / “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans”
If you’d grown up in New Orleans, as I did, “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” would be as ubiquitous to you as a Christmas Carol. Jazz musicians from New Orleans are virtually obliged to play the tune, consequently native New Orleanians like me hear it so often that it's possible for the melody and lyrics to lose all meaning.
It was only after I moved away from New Orleans that I actually ‘heard’ the song. Something about being 1,800 miles away from home lent “Do You Know What It Means” extra poignancy. I never went out of my way to listen to the song, but I did start looking forward to hearing it.
Now, New Orleans is gone. Not literally, of course. I know that the powers that be will rebuild the city. But New Orleans wasn’t about just infrastructure, highways and buildings. New Orleans, above all, was about people and culture. Watching the evacuation process on television, I can’t help but wonder: if a family is so poor that they couldn’t afford to leave, how will they afford to come back?
Earlier today, I listened to “Do You Know What It Means” and all I could think about were all of the New Orleans families who are going to be spending the coming winter in faraway, snow-covered states like Utah, New Jersey and Idaho. Of course, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with Utah or New Jersey and I certainly don’t intend to insult anyone who calls those states home. But the point is, the poor New Orleans families we’ve all seen on CNN and the Weather Channel didn’t choose any of this. They’re going to have to adjust to bland food, cold weather, antisocial people and stale music. (This is all relative, of course. If someone born and raised in Idaho were forced to live in New Orleans, they’d have to adjust to food that is too spicy, weather that is too hot, and so on.)
Of the numerous versions of "Do You Know What It Means," I chose Ellis Marsalis' version because it is understated and sophisticated, yet evocative. Ellis' playing is never flashy or overstated. He is master of his instrument, but he never goes out of his way to prove it. Ellis' is a style that says what it means. Right now, what his playing says to me is, for a lot of my people who've already had it too hard, life is about to get that much harder. I really do hope I'm wrong, but I think a lot of us are going to be missing New Orleans for the rest of our lives.
—Mtume ya Salaam
Something positively incomparable
Every jazz fan and most music fans in general have heard of the Marsalis family. Although far from the only jazz family in New Orleans, and not even necessarily the leading jazz family, they are however the best known, and the fame of the sons have far ellipsed the father, which Ellis pere says, is the way it should be. But regardless of what should be, there is something positively incomparable about Ellis at his best. I guess, it's sort of like New Orleans... but I won't go there.
I have nothing else to say except: listen.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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This entry was posted on Sunday, September 11th, 2005 at 12:01 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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