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My Urbanist’s Guide to New Orleans – Gumbo, Mardi Gras and All Dat Jazz

OK. This is a shameless plug for my New Orleans urbanist’s guide which recently appeared on The Guardian of London’s website. Your humble correspondent was requested to do a post for their website. Came out pretty nice, if I do say so myself.

My Urbanist’s Guide to New Orleans - Gumbo, Mardi Gras and All Dat Jazz

Here is thy humble reporter, Richard Bienvenu, on the banks of the mighty Mississippi.

Here is thy humble reporter, Richard Bienvenu, on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, taking the required ‘selfie’ for The Guardian.

As I report in an excerpt from the piece on The Guardian site:

A joie de vivre is our way of life here. Very different from any other American city, it’s been said that if it were not for New Orleans the United States would be a bunch of free people dying of boredom.

If there were any words that would best describe the attitude of New Orleans it would be “laissez les bon temps rouler” which means let the good times roll. It seems that there’s always something to celebrate, and there is never a lack of something fun to do. With beautiful parks, a world class zoo, great public transportation and year round festivals this place would be paradise if it were not for the sweltering summers.

So go there now to The Guardian and check out what else I say about the good, the great, and the not so good about the city. You know you wanna know more about this urbanist’s guide to New Orleans. It’s a way to be informed and…of course… impress your friends with your NOLA knowledge.

 

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans History, New Orleans Landmarks, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Neighborhoods, New Orleans News.

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The Kinks Complicated Life Provides Soundtrack for a Bicycle Cruise Through New Orleans French Quarter

The New Orleans French Quarter has always been a mecca for unusual characters and visitors from all over the world. Yeah, it’s just a cool place where a lot of quirky things happen. Take this video for instance. It was made mid-2005, in other words right before Hurricane Katrina.

Everyone in the city was pleasantly oblivious to all the meteorological power and elements influencing each other this way and that which would eventually form that hurricane of the century.

The Kinks Complicated Life Provides Soundtrack for a Bicycle Cruise Through New Orleans French Quarter

“Life is hard enough already. I don’t know why we gotta make it so complicated” says the man at the table at the beginning of the piece. Little did anyone know that within a short time Hurricane Katrina would cause massive flooding and everyone’s life in the city would suddenly get really complicated!

The irony of this video is not lost on those who had to endure the destruction and its aftermath. Here the Preservation Hall Jazz Band do their own version of The Kinks song and the lead singer takes us on an unusual one-shot bicycle tour of the New Orleans French Quarter. Interesting camera effects are used to speed up and slow down time all the while the singer keeps up with the tempo.

We as humans do have a tendency to complicate things. But living in New Orleans is pretty easy going, not complicated at all. You just gotta enjoy life.

And we here in the city are still rebuilding, still cleaning up, physically and metaphorically. And with all that things really have never been better here in New Orleans. The resiliency of the city and its people are on display in the New Orleans French Quarter which throughout the centuries has endured several fires, epidemics and threats to its very existence.

You can find out more about the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the WWOZ website.

Posted in New Orleans Art, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Music, New Orleans Videos.

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Blonde Bombshell Claims You Need Tums To Enjoy New Orleans Food

New Orleans food is some of the best in the world from our simple poboy sandwiches to our elegant mix of French Creole cuisine and Cajun cooking. When visitors come to New Orleans to enjoy our exquisite culinary fare, sometimes they just can’t control themselves.

Blonde Bombshell Claims You Need Tums To Enjoy New Orleans Food

Nothin' like a New Orleans fried shrimp poboy. Do you really need Tums to enjoy New Orleans food?

Nothin’ like a New Orleans fried shrimp poboy. Do you really need Tums for this?

Now the Tripping Blonde, a blogger from New York city who travels the world, says you need to pack antacid to make through a visit here. Well, I guess that would be true if you stuffed yourself silly. And I know people come here to do that.

I live here and enjoy the food and I don’t stuff myself silly. At least… not any more… very much. You know it’s all about pacing. And really fried foods, and we got a lot of that but most of our best food is not fried, will just kinda put that lump in your stomach if you eat too much. Top that off with beer and a dessert. Well, that’s just gonna hurt.

Here The Tripping Blonde gives a warning and a little tutorial on a muffaletta sandwich:

While I’m on the topic of sandwiches, I must talk about the muffuletta sandwich.  Be warned, if you don’t like olives, skip this sandwich and stick to the po’boys.  The muffuletta is a variation of an Italian sandwich using a marinated olive salad spread as the dressing.   It’s made using large, round flattened bread topped with sesame seeds  (Sicilian muffuletta bread).  

The sandwich is then stuffed with layers of capiocola, salami, mortadella, emmental cheese and provolone cheese.   It is then topped with the marinated olive salad spread which is what differentiates this sandwich from an ordinary Italian hoagie.  The olive salad is made of green olives, celery, cauliflower, carrots, and giardiniera, seasoned with oregano and garlic, covered in olive oil, and allowed to sit for at least 24 hours for the flavors to blend.

It really is all about pacing yourself, you know. Being wise with your eyes when you wield that knife and fork. Just cuz something looks good doesn’t mean you have to eat it all, and you can split a plate of something with yo’ buddy instead of chowing down on the whole thing. And there is such a thing as a doggie bag.

I love almost all New Orleans food. Me, I don’t take tums, never need it. I know what’s gonna make me feel icky so I avoid eating too much of it.

Posted in New Orleans Food, New Orleans Life.


Quirky New Orleans Celebrations: Deceased Attends Her Own Funeral

New Orleans has been known for its celebrations. You got your Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest and your jazz funerals. Oh yeah, babe, we are known for our jazz funerals, all dat dancin’ in the streets and partyin’ while the hearse rolls with the casket.

Quirky New Orleans Celebrations: Deceased Attends Her Own Funeral

KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Well, does it seem that New Orleans has started another trend? Here on these pages I reported a well-known New Orleans socialite who planned and attended her own elaborate wake where many Crescent City celebrities showed up to pay their respects.

Now we have another lady doing the same thing. And at this one there was dancing. But really not too unusual for New Orleans

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Videos.

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Old New Orleans: Fresh Milk and an Old Restaurant – Vintage Photo

Here is a beautiful photograph of old New Orleans. This is a milk delivery truck in the French Quarter and it is on Iberville Street. You can see the number of the the building behind it, 719.

Old New Orleans: Fresh Milk and an Old Restaurant

Old New Orleans photo - milk cart on Iberville in the French Quarter

Old New Orleans photo – milk cart on Iberville in the French Quarter. FDR and Houdini hung out here.

See the cobblestone street, imagine the racket the truck must have made coming down. It would seem that all the rocking back and forth would’ve curdled the cream on top to that milk but I guess they had all of that figured out back then. Heck, maybe that’s how they made their butter! Or ‘buttah’ as we say here.

Where my mom grew up, where today is between the Carrollton Area and the Interstate 10, there were dairy farms. So New Orleans had no paucity of milk or cream or buttah.

The La Louisiane Restaurant in the photo was also a hotel and saw the likes of FDR, William McKinley, William Randolph Hearst and Harry Houdini among many others. The building was built in 1837 and today it still houses the La Louisiane as a bar and catering venue.

Pretty cool that in finding this photo and researching the building behind the cart I discover an establishment I was not aware of.

Leave a COMMENT. What do you think?

Posted in New Orleans Art, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Food, New Orleans History, New Orleans Life.

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Photographer Frank Relle’s New Orleans Haunted Houses

There is something mysterious about New Orleans that’s difficult to put a finger on. People have tried to do it through music and art but to put it into words just does not seem to do it justice. I think it’s a conglomeration of feelings and pulses and spirits. I’ve traveled to many cities and countries, lived for a while in Spain, yet nothing I’ve seen or experienced can match the mystery of the Crescent City.

Photographer Frank Relle’s New Orleans Haunted Houses

An example of Frank Relle's New Orleans haunted houses.

An example of Frank Relle’s New Orleans haunted houses.

Somehow local artist Frank Relle through his photographs has been able to capture that mysterious something that is New Orleans, that strange and inexplicable essence that permeates everything here.

This excerpt from Huffington Post spells it out more clearly.

“I walked the streets of New Orleans since I was a kid,” Relle writes in his artist statement. “She talked to me on the corner and at the checkout counter. I danced with her down the middle of the street. Her food stimulated and comforted me. I got scared and left her because she lacked mountains and clear water. She lured me back with something I can’t describe. She has been my greatest teacher and my longest lasting lover. The photographs I make are evidence of our all night conversations.”

Unlike the “disaster porn” made popular by the internet in recent years, Relle’s images attempt to pay proper tribute to the catastrophic damage in New Orleans, painting those scenes as just a few moments in the slow erosion of Louisiana’s architecture and spirit over the past century. His series does respectfully extend to the now famous lower 9th ward. “Katrina gave my photographs recognition,” Relle added, “a recognition I desired but it’s always been a strange feeling juxtaposed with all the people and memories she took away.”

It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to New Orleans Relle’s photos are the perfect expression of this saying.

To see more of Frank’s photos go HERE.

Posted in Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Art, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Neighborhoods.


Music Duo Carousel Jams in a Van in New Orleans

Now here is a pretty cool idea. A company called Jam in the Van travels the country recording what they call ‘intimate musical experiences’ in a van they set up with recording equipment and cameras. Here they are in New Orleans doing their thing with a duo called Carousel.

Music Duo Carousel Jams in a Van in New Orleans

This song has a nice sound, a nice beat, something really feel-good and catchy. What a great sound they produce with just a few instruments and vocals. And do you catch all the New Orleans memorabilia the beads and fleur-de- lis in the background? Nice touch.

Posted in New Orleans Life, New Orleans Music, New Orleans Videos.


How to Survive a New Orleans Summer – 9 Hot Tips to Stay Cool!

You know when summer hits New Orleans, well, it can be pretty brutal. It’s funny how places that are closer to the equator than we are can actually be cooler. A few years ago I was in Costa Rica which you know is a lot closer to the center line of the earth than we are here. I had some students from Costa Rica who lived here and went to Loyola, and found that the summers here where much hotter than in their own country.

How to Survive a New Orleans Summer – 9 Hot Tips!

A cool, cool shade in Audubon Park in New Orleans.

A cool, cool shade in Audubon Park in New Orleans.

Costa Rica is small and narrow with ocean breezes coming off the Caribbean and the Pacific. So we never really experienced the hot days that we do here. I was there for the wedding of my nephew and I do remember that there was no breeze that day and although we were on the beach for the ceremony the air was hot and humid and practically everyone was sweating through their clothes.

Still it was nothing like the heat and humidity we have here. In New Orleans it’s a combination of the warm air from the Gulf of Mexico and the wetness from the nearby swamps, and of course humidity coming off the Mississippi River. I don’t know how they tolerated here back before electricity and it’s fans and AC. But then there was not a lot of concrete and blacktop to absorb the sun’s heat. I surmise that just that can raise the temperature and keep it up several degrees.

So here are a couple tips that I’ve come up with to help keep your cool in the Big Easy:

1. Dress in cottons and linens. Wearing anything synthetic is a recipe for being hotter than you need to be. I have a rayon shirt (that I wore in Costa Rica for the wedding) that has that summery look but heck whenever I put it on on go outside it just seems to turn on the sweat glands full force and turns up the order operation to a plus 10. Nice for wearing inside but outside forget about it. Whoever thought that any kind of synthetic fabric would make you cooler… some marketing guy.

2. Wear a hat. And preferably something made of straw, you know one of those ones with a nice brim. A baseball cap helps somewhat but you still get the sun on the face, on the sides of your head and the neck. A straw hat just keeps you cooler.

You can usually get one cheap at a drug store or I’ve even seen them at grocery stores. There are some canvas ones too that people seem to like, but they usually look kinda funky. And, of course, you do want to look good. I’ve seen people with these caps that have a broad brim to protect the face but completely open at the top exposing the head to the sun and the heat. Whoever thought of that…? I don’t get it. You’re trying to keep the sun from broiling your noggin, that’s the point of the hat, and also to protect the face from too much sun. Really, let me tell you, a hat makes a HUGE difference.

3. Try to do your site-seeing or errands or what have you either in the morning or the late afternoons so you are out in the coolest parts of the day. And here’s an obvious tip, walk on the side of the street where there is shade.

4. Stay Hydrated. Carry a bottle of water with you. Not coke or soft drinks or even alcohol. Just plain water that maybe you’ve put some ice cubes in. And here’s another tip: put a little salt in the water just up to the point where you can almost taste it but not quite, like a pinch of salt. Sea salt is better than table salt, Himalayan salt is the best.

5. Eat a light meal in the middle of that day. It’s not a good idea to load up on heavy food while it’s hot. And lighter meals made up of salads and veggies are optimal, with some protein thrown in like cold shrimp or chicken.

6. Find a nice patio to while away the hot hours and drink some cools drinks. The first place I think of to do this is Napoleon House and their patio in the back. So nice with the big fan going and cool plants all around. They have their big windows open out on the street and they get a great air circulation in there. And, of course, well, they got their Pimms Cup which is about as refreshing as you can get.

7. Ride the St. Charles streetcar. Why do I suggest this? There ain’t nothing like riding down the avenue with all the windows open and the great breeze that comes through. Here’s the interesting thing about New Orleans. When the breeze blows it’s cool unlike other places where the breeze is hot. Unless it’s really, really dry here, and that is rare, the breeze feels really nice. So getting that blast of cool air coming through the streetcar window is a real treat. You could ride the Canal Street streetcar which is air conditionined but I don’t think it’s as much fun as the one on St. Charles, because with the windows closed you can’t get the scents and sounds of the city.

8. Get yourself a snowball. The city has many great places to get this sweet, icy treat. Other places call them ‘snowcones’ but we just do them better here. The ice is shaved and there are various versions in the city. The most popular ones are Plum Street snowball, Hansen’s Snowballs on Tchoupitoulas and there are one or two on magazine. Those are the ones I know off the top of my head. But there are many others around the city.

9. One final one that I can think of is carry an umbrella. An umbrella is not just for rain in this climate, it also is handy to protect you from the sun’s rays and its heat. Carrying an umbrella in the sunshine definitely reduces the temperature by a significant amount. Try it and you’ll see.

Yes, you can survive the heat of New Orleans summer if you just take the right precautions, don’t wear yourself out, stay hydrated (the most important) and, most of all, have fun.

 

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Posted in New Orleans Life.

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What’s Cool About New Orleans Summer? – Video

Although summer is consider the off-season in New Orleans because of the heat, there are really a lot of cool things about it that make it my favorite time of year. Yeah, I wish it didn’t get SO hot but there are a lot of great things about it that help to mitigate the heat.

What’s Cool About New Orleans Summer? – Video

Here’s a video made by Tulane University interviewing some folks about why they like New Orleans in the summer. They have some good ideas, and some that even I did not think of. Have a look.

Posted in New Orleans Life, New Orleans Videos.


Hurricanes? We Don’t Need No Stinking Hurricanes, Señor! Not in New Orleans

OK, OK so now we are officially into the hurricane season here in New Orleans and we hear that it’s going to be a slow season of it what with that watchamacallit weather system, that old El Niño swishing and swashing and buckling and moving things around.

Hurricanes? We Don’t Need No Stinking Hurricanes, Señor! Not in New Orleans

Largest pump in the world, the 17th Street Canal pumping station is supposed to keep New Orleans from flooding again. We'll see...

Largest pump in the world, the 17th Street Canal pumping station is supposed to keep New Orleans from flooding again. We’ll see…

Well, that’s fine by me. But you know it only takes one nice little storm to mess things up. And let’s hope that this year we don’t get any, and the year after that and so on into infinity.

But, heck, dat ain’t gonna happen, cher. No way, no how. You know that old mother nature has got us in its bullseye and just can’t wait to wallop us with another one.

We don’t need another Hurricane Katrina, ever.
Heck, if you look at the history of this place major hurricanes are par for the course, I mean hurricanes are our middle name, like New ‘Hurricane’ Orleans might suit us better.

Do you think that if our city’s founding fathers could’ve seen a map of all the hurricanes that have slung their way across the Gulf of Mexico and up our rear end over the eaons they would have founded a city here?

I mean just in the last 200 years when they started to record all of this stuff the lines of hurricanes is so thick on the map that it looks like some kid just scribbled it on there with a big crayon completely obscuring the city.

Yeah, you right. We here are sitting ducks and those old majestic storms just love to visit us every few years or so and punch through the swamps and forests and neighborhoods and people’s lives.

If Bienville could have seen that map he might have said, well, why don’t we just move the city couple hundred miles this way or that. But, of course, that would not be practical because, well, we are here because of the river. And some would argue we are here in spite of the river. Ha, ha.

So we put up our levees and flood walls, construct the world’s largest pump at the head of the 17th Street Canal hoping against hope that we will manage to make it through the next one. That’s if we can really trust the job the Corps of Engineers have supposedly done. I mean the reason we flooded the last time was because of them.

Let’s hope that they at least learned from their mistakes. But heck, it’s an agency of the federal government, that’ve spent billions upon billions of dollars. Has ANY federal agency EVER learned from their mistakes?

Ready At Our Place
Most folks here nowadays scoff at the notion of evacuating again. When I was growing up we NEVER evacuated. After the storm passed everyone was out on the streets cleaning up the next morning putting their lives back in order.

At our house we got food, we good provisions, we got water and we got a nice little Honda generator that gives us sufficient electricity to run the fridge, fans, computer and TV. What more do we need?

Now if I lived below New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish evacuation would be my middle name. Ain’t no way I’m gonna stay down dere, babe, even for a little Category Oner.

So, yeah, we don’t need no stinking hurricanes, although I know it is something Mother Nature needs to do to restore and renew. Let’s hope that the Little Child (El Niño) manages to stave one off for another year, at least. You know, if we just had little bitty hurricanes rather than the big ones, that would be OK.

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Posted in Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans History, New Orleans Life.

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How to Make a French 75 – New Orleans Mixologist at French 75 Bar Sets Us Straight – Video

Well, you learn something new everyday, now don’t ya. Here I am thinking that a French 75 is made with gin. But, here in this video the mixologist at French 75 bar in New Orleans French Quarter set me straight.

How to Make a French 75 – New Orleans Mixologist at French 75 Bar Sets Us Straight – Video

Chris Hannah at New Orleans bar French 75 makes us a cool, sparkling version of this great, refreshing drink. An authentic one is NOT made with gin. It’s made with… well, just watch the video to find out. You may be surprised. I know I was.

And I figure this guy knows what he’s talking about. I mean he commands the bar at French 75 so he must be THE expert on how to make one.

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Posted in New Orleans Food, New Orleans Recipes, New Orleans Restaurants, New Orleans Videos.

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Great New Orleans Bars: Fan Your Flame at French 75 at Arnaud’s – Video

Some New Orleans bars are famous the world over like Pat O’Brien’s. But there are a lot smaller and more quaint cozy bars that harken back to old world charm and grace. One such place for me is French 75 at Arnaud’s Restaurant. This video gives you a feel of it but really can’t do the place justice. You gotta actually experience it yourself.

Great New Orleans Bars: Fan Your Flame at French 75 at Arnaud’s – Video

Class, elegance and a guy behind the bar who we’ll refer to as a mixologist rather than a bartender, this place is the epitome of cool. Yessiree!!

You can go here before a night on the town, after a night on the town or just make it THE night on the town. You can order almost anything off the Arnaud’s menu here.

And you know, really, dress nice. A lot of visitors walk around in shorts and sweats and tee shirts and the like. But heck, you’re in New Orleans. Indulge in the sensual elegance of the place and you’ll feel great when you dress appropriately.

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Posted in New Orleans Food, New Orleans Restaurants, New Orleans Videos.

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Have You Ever Been to New Orleans? – Updated for 2014 – Poem

I got inspired by that poem I found written in the early 1800s and posted here a few days ago. I figured it needed an updated version. So as your humble humble correspondent I thought I would try my hand in doing that.

New Orleans Mardi Gras: Street costumers in th...

New Orleans Mardi Gras: Street costumers in the French Quarter, wearing elaborate flower costumes in the traditional local Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have You Ever Been to New Orleans? – Updated for 2014 – Poem

by Richard Bienvenu

Have You Ever been to New Orleans
the town like a planet
where the wild winds blow off the Mississippi
and the swamps have the air of the spirits that walk in the night.

The northern coast of the ancient Caribbean
with the mix of the wildness
of the French Spaniards Africans Italians
Mullatoes, Quadroons and Negroes the Germans and such.
The Irish thrown in for good measure
thousands of them died building canals,
mosquitoes so big that a mess of them can carry you away
and did in the early days of the yellow fever and malaria.

The water in the streets and the neo-classical style
of the ancient walls
a pared down vision of Paris
and the tall tall buildings that oil built
and the river carrying acres and acres of silt
out to the Gulf of Mexico and thrown offshore
while our marshes, swamps and bayous suffer
and disappear one football field at a time
lost forevermore.

Will the people have the way and the wherewithal
to stop the land from being torn asunder?
And there in the distance you can hear
the thunder and crash of the stalwart storms
that fly in from the mighty gulf
ravaging the coast, man and beast
ripping out by its roots the old oak tree.

And the sultry summer nights
filled with ghosts and dew
and the old Sazerac to pass the time
as the hours tick by, filled with guests and candles
flickering lights and angles in the old dark square.

The Quarter-Master runs his hands
through the long lacy moss and the beads
from here to there hither and thither
tossed to the longing hands of a child.

Here we are for a time, wrested civilization from the wild.
Wild in the streets locals and visitors
raising a glass to the dead as the bands wail on
with visions of Africa Europe and somewhere
a far flung universe dances in your head.
It seeps and oozes an invisible fog and syrup
like that of the sugar cane traps and enraptures all. All all.

It’s the feelings of the thing that is the wayward stream of light,
it takes flight it takes flight into the heart and soul
and grabs you like an overcooked onion
with gumbo and sausage and remoulade and stuff.

This is your plight to be lost and caught up on the feelings of this town.
No explanation for it, and when you try to explain it you’ll end up with naught
for by that time you’ll have been caught caught caught
by the swamps and the bayous and land of the strange
because that’s where we live and it never never
will change.

Posted in New Orleans Life.


The Mills Brothers Sing Basin Street Blues – So Smooth! – Video

OK, well I couldn’t let this go without this version of Basin Street blues by the wonderful Mills Brothers at the Boston Pops in the ’80s.

The Mills Brothers Sing Basin Street Blues – So Smooth!

In this video they mimic the sounds of trumpet and trombone so well that if you had your eyes closed when listening to it you would be hard pressed to tell they were done by the human voice. These guys were the epitome of cool.

Basin Street Blues
by Spencer Williams

No won’t you come along with me
Down the Mississippi
We’ll take trip to the land of dreams
Floatin’ down the river down to New Orleans

And the band’ll be there to meet us
Oh, friends to greet us
That’s where the light and the dark folks meet
A heaven on earth, they call it Basin Street

Basin street is the street
Where the elite always meet
Out in New Orleans, the land of dreams
You’ll never know how nice it seems

Or just how much it really means
And I’d rather be, yes, siree
New Orleans the land of dreams
Where I can lose my Basin Street blues

Now ain’t you glad you came with me
We went down the Mississippi
We took a trip to the land of dreams
We floated down the river
Down to New Orleans

Basin Street, that’s the street
Where the elite always meet
Down in New Orleans, the land of dreams
And you’ll never know how nice it seems

Or just how much it really means
I’d rather be, yes, siree
New Orleans the land of dreams
Where I can lose my Basin Street blues

 

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Basin Street Blues – Louis Armstrong Lets it Rip – Video

One of the iconic songs of New Orleans jazz music is Basin Street blues. Written in 1926 by Spencer Williams it has become of the most recorded songs about New Orleans. And it’s still being recorded today. Willie Nelson did a version as did Dr. John.

Basin Street Blues – Louis Armstrong Lets it Rip

Here is the famous Satchmo doing his version and you’ll notice he throws in a little scat. I understand that scat singing came about when the singer forgot the lyrics were and just kinda made up syllable sounds to match the music.

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Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Music, New Orleans Videos.




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