Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thank you, Wardell

When people ask me when I became interested in the music of New Orleans I always go back to my teenage years in Brooklyn when I listened to AM radio and bought the 45rpm singles that appealed to me the most as cutouts at a three for a dollar store on 42nd street in Times Square. The litany is familiar -- the Dixie Cups, Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner; an irrisistible single called "Barefootin" by Robert Parker. I had no idea and didn't find out until years later that what all my favorite records had in common is that they were recorded in New Orleans. Oddly, it was only after I had written several articles about New Orleans arranger Wardell Quezergue that I realized all the songs that grabbed my teenage attention so forcefully were arranged by him. Sadly I never got a chance to thank Wardell for that influence on my life. But it's a big part of the reason I was at Corpus Christi-Epiphany Catholic church in New Orleans last Monday for Wardell's funeral mass and second line. The crowd outside the church was not especially large but it was made up almost completely of prominent figures in the New Orleans music industry -- musicians, writers, promoters, all people who marveled at Wardell's singular genius. The gathering was somber but joyous, a collection of people whose faith in each other was something like a family. I talked with some of the people there over the past week and wrote a story about the day which will appear in the next issue of OffBeat. There's no way I can fully express what it means to share such an experience. I only know I am profoundly grateful to all the people who were there for sharing the moment togther and making me feel included in it. Wardell's greatness was occluded during his life but hopefully will be accorded its rightful place in history.

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