The groove hit us almost before the band did. It rolled off their rendition of “Didn’t He Ramble” and rocked the crowd as the players came to a stop by us in the dark, hampered by the non-motion of the parade before them. A few fellas from the ‘hood were nearby, soaking it up and giving it back with every dance step. They paid the players one of the ultimate compliments at that moment: they made a request. “ ’Casanova’! ” they cried. “Can y’all play ‘Casanova’? “
The band heard the request and shook their heads. The classic ‘80’s soul tune, a part of the repertoire of more than a few black brass bands, thanks to Rebirth's rendition, wasn’t this white band’s cup of tea. The moment had passed, leaving me empty and bothered inside. Granted, the band was probably tired after having walked half the parade route; plus, I’m sure, they already had their set list down to the point where the leader could shout out a number and off they’d go…but I felt like it was, somehow, an opportunity missed.
When the tagline for The Whole Gritty City, a documentary slated for release in 2012, presents the local high school marching bands as being “the front lines in a battle for survival”, that’s a lot to put on the power of music. It was something I never seriously thought about until that moment along the parade route. Jordan Flaherty has said in his book Floodlines that the presence of a brass band can help create an alternate space, “a lawless but communal utopia” that can draw anyone and everyone on the street into its possibilities. I considered that, and then it hit me.
Amid the stops and starts of a trio of Mardi Gras parades, that utopia had, unexpectedly, sneaked up on us all for a brief moment between floats. Sure, these days, the whiter bands stick closer to the traditional jazz and the brass bands like to rock out more, taking on some Marvin Gaye and even Lady Gaga, but the band that night slammed us right between the eyes with a simultaneous trip backwards and forwards in time, showing us why jazz was and is le jazz hot. Didn’t he raaamble…rumbled up from the street with a small growl…he raaAAMbled! That he did, and it made you want to shout…Rambled ‘til the butcher cut him down. Oh, but it made you feel good, even so.
But then the instruments left the players’ lips. There wasn’t going to be “Casanova”, nor any other tune coming from the band for a while when the parade royalty far ahead was being toasted at Gallier Hall. The disappointed fellas wandered off, and so did I, failing to find any utopias in the bits and pieces of parade refuse strewn about. We’d heard the call of truly moving music and had wanted more, but we had to settle for that cherished feeling of having had the ideal in our ears for an all-too-brief time. May we never become too closed, too jaded, to hear that ideal again.
cross-posted at Humid City
cross-posted at Humid City