In this video, musicians and other buskers of Royal Street fill the French Quarter and other New Orleans neighborhoods with rhythm and melody, following a long local tradition. I caught sight of him one early afternoon as he strode along Royal Street, coffee in hand, horn wrapped around his body. As half of New Orleans can tell you, a sousaphone is a more portable tuba. He was due at a parade, but when I rushed up to talk music, he slowed down.
The ruler of that realm, Jurzak said, is Doreen Ketchens , a clarinet player who has been working the French Quarter since the s. Peter streets, Jurzak said. New Orleans reshaped my thinking. That included 13 blocks through the French Quarter and three blocks leading to Frenchmen Street, where about a dozen music clubs are concentrated. Why Royal? Several of its blocks are closed to cars from 11 a. You get all kinds, especially since YouTube has encouraged more musicians from elsewhere to try their luck here. You might see the dreamy young singer whose every song is marred by her hyperactive drummer.
The Christian puppet show with live accordion music. The bearded quartet whose careful grooming, vintage attire, Gypsy jazz repertoire and Gallic nonchalance all whispered Montmartre, But finding Ketchens was harder.
I mostly gravitated toward traditional jazz players. These musicians follow rules that are largely unwritten. After decades of skirmishing over who can do what in the street and when, the city has imposed limits on volume but requires no permits and sets few time limits. On my third day, wandering near Royal and Frenchmen, I got caught in a sonic riot called Mission Delirium — a San Francisco brass band on a working holiday in New Orleans.
Eighteen musicians playing to win. By the time I arrived, they were well into their set. Widespread dancing. One horn player was rolling around on the pavement while another crawled through shrubs. The four percussionists, as lively as Energizer Bunnies, cavorted and collided. Who knew you could play a reed instrument while doing the limbo?
Who knew a triangle player could swing? Their set would have been enough to make my day. I guessed that they were seasoned band mates, judging by how the five members traded solos and moved from tune to tune. But, no, this lineup had been assembled on the fly, and none of them was raised in Louisiana.
Aeryk Parker, the front man on vocals and sax, had been splitting time between New Orleans and Denver. Former Angeleno Smitti Supab, on stand-up bass, had been in town for six years. Lamar Anderson Clark, another former Angeleno who arrived four years ago, was playing rhythm guitar. Nathaniel Ruiz, on tenor sax, came from Illinois.
You probably know about Louis Armstrong, Beebe told a group of mostly foreign tourists, but Armstrong built on the innovations of King Oliver. And Oliver built on the innovations of Buddy Bolden. Bolden, a cornet player, pioneered improvisation while marching and playing French Quarter clubs in the first years of the 20 th century. He died penniless in an asylum and there are no known recordings of him, leaving jazz hounds to wander the neighborhood and imagine his echoes.
In recent years, Beebe said, one of the most popular acts on the street was a duo, Tanya Huang, a violinist born in Taiwan, and Dorise Blackmon, a guitarist from New Orleans. They split in , but Huang is still a regular at the corner of Royal and St. Louis streets. The name is a nod to local musician Tuba Fats, who died in But at the top of list, Beebe said, is Ketchens.
There was time for just one more walk on Royal. I edged through the knot of people so I could see a tiny, smiling African American woman seated in a lawn chair. Fur hat, box of CDs at her side. She was Doreen Ketchens, joined by her husband, Lawrence, on tuba, a trombone player, guitarist, drummer and a semicircle of six buckets, all rapidly filling with bills.
When the moment arrived, she grabbed her clarinet, furrowed her brow and leaned back and blew. At first I was surprised by how many notes Ketchens could fit into a measure — loud, clean, fleeting notes that knew exactly where they were going. But I never was a club person. I never was a night person. And then we won. About halfway through her set, Ketchens noticed a tall, slender horn player perched on his instrument case. Eliza Jane , Magazine St. International House , Camp St. Chic, modern, two blocks from the French Quarter.
Cornstalk Hotel , Royal St. More history and less luxury. Fourteen rooms in an s French Quarter house. Curio , Royal St. Marigny Brasserie , Frenchmen St. Preservation Hall , St. Peter St.
Fiver minutelong traditional jazz shows nightly between 5 p. All ages. Most tickets are general admission at the door cash only , requiring a wait of 30 minutes or more before the show. No alcohol sold inside. Spotted Cat , Frenchmen St. Jazz nightly, different acts at 2, 6 and 10 p.
Cash only; 21 and older. Louisiana Music Factory , Frenchmen St. CDs, vinyl, sheet music and other merch. Peters St. French Quarter. Please consider subscribing today to support stories like this one. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks. Already a subscriber? Your support makes our work possible. Thank you. Explore California, the West and beyond with the weekly Escapes newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times. Born and raised in California, Christopher Reynolds has written about travel, the outdoors, arts and culture for the Los Angeles Times since Why a cattle drive at a California dude ranch may be the ideal vacation to escape the pandemic.
Volunteer on an organic farm. Day hikers will need permits in these SoCal wilderness areas. The L. Zoo opens today and part of SeaWorld San Diego opens Friday, but coronavirus restrictions and fire-related park closures continue around California.
Hot Property. About Us. Brand Publishing. Times Events. Times News Platforms. Times Store. Facebook Twitter Show more sharing options Share Close extra sharing options. Jason Jurzak, sousaphone commuter, was late for work. He and bandmates came from Italy to busk. Support our journalism Please consider subscribing today to support stories like this one. Enter Email Address. Christopher Reynolds. Follow Us twitter instagram email facebook.