Heart of New Orleans: Part 4

Heart of NOLA Segment 4

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - New Orleans is a place that where you expect to hear music in the streets both day and night.

The city is where jazz was born more than a hundred years ago.

Jazz clarinetist Tim Laughlin is one of the keepers of traditional jazz.

"I always say the clarinet found me," says Laughlin. "I had a good friend that played down the street and he was more of a legit player and I used to go watch him play. I was fascinated by the instrument and the sound of it."

When he got his first clarinet, Laughlin says he began playing along with the recordings made by Pete Fountain and other jazz legends.

"Pete was an influence and influence is really important because you choose them. He says, hey, I have a horn. I want you to try. I said, sure. I played the horn that night and I said, 'Pete, this is a great horn. Was this one of yours?' He goes, 'Yeah, that was my horn'. After Lawrence Welk, I made my first 10 albums with it. I call her Old Betsy. And I said, 'But it plays like a dream,' and he says, 'Well, now it's yours.'"

He can play melodies if the early Jazz greats, but Laughlin is putting his own mark on what he calls traditional New Orleans Jazz with a growling repertoire of original songs.

Laughlin and his jazz band play one of those original tunes at the Palm Court Cafe in the French Quarter. It's a melody and a sound that seems perfect for New Orleans.

"So this music was originally dance music. It wasn't concert music like it is today. And it wasn't until Louis Armstrong played with King Oliver that people started to hear solos," says Laughlin. "He was the first great soloists and still probably the greatest. And he changed music."

The unmistakeable gravelly voice of Louis Armstrong discussing his philosophy of life. It was a life that began in 1901 in his grandmother's house soon Jane Alley in New Orleans. The house and street were replaced in the 1960's by a new police station and city court. But, it was an arrest by New Orleans police that sparked the beginning of one of the greatest musical and entertainment careers in American history. Twelve-year-old Louis Armstrong got in trouble for firing a pistol into the air on New Year's Eve. He ended up in the Colored Waifs Home where he learned to play this cornet.

"Armstrong confirmed that this was the instrument that he learned to play on it. And he knew for that it was it because it had notches that he had put in the mouthpieces to help his get kind of a grip on the mouthpiece," says Gary Lambousy.

The cornet and other Armstrong memorabilia are housed in the Louisiana State Museum at the Old U.S. Mint.

"We have a number of his letters. He often signs them, 'Red beans and ricely yours," says Lambousy.

Armstrong's young career blossomed. He played jazz in local clubs and on paddle wheelers that cruised the Mississippi River.

At the age of 21, he left New Orleans for good, played in Chicago, made movies in Hollywood and finally bought a house in Queens, New York with his fourth wife Lucille.

"He thought it was a mansion and it's really not a mansion. It's kind of an Archie Bunker in kind of typical working class home here in the working class neighborhood," says Ricky Riccardi.

Armstorng lived here until he died in 1971. He's buried in Queens. The house, all of the original furnishings and Armstrong's amazing collection of music, manuscripts and photographs were all donated to the public.

"Armstrong was very aware of his importance and he knew that his rags to riches story was interesting and he knew that people, you know, found it fascinating. So he was always about documenting his life," says Riccardi.

Armstrong loved his neighborhood. He could watch the kids play from the window of his den. He would sit on his steps and teach kids how to play the horn. Neighbors could hear Louis practicing his trumpet. But Louis Armstrong never forgot the city where he learned to play.

"Every night his concerts would always feature a segment or he would say, 'We're going to take a little trip to my hometown of New Orleans.'So he exuded New Orleans in everything he did," says Riccardi.

Armstrong's musicianship was genius. He was a world-renowned entertainer.

"I've always loved and always lived a normal life which I appreciate very much and I've always loved everybody. Still do," said Armstrong.

These school kids are part of that musical tradition that started a century ago. That is now being passed on to a new generation.

"But I could start off with the proper learning in the marching band to pass them on the brass bands," says Derrick Tabb.

Derrick Tabb, a drummer in Rebirth Brass Band helped found Roots of Music, an afterschool program for low-income children. It began in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when funds were cut for elementary and junior high music programs.

"So I wanted to start a program and be like a feeder system to the high schools teaching kids properly how to play the instrument and then getting them into the next level. And this program done saved way more lives that I could ever save because of the amount of kids that it touched. Do we understand that? Yes sir," says Tabb.

"New kids, this is Mr. Chris. He started out in this program the first day of the program. He came back to help y'all. He went to high school. He went to college and played music all the way through. Can anybody tell me what the 'R' is for? Respect. Who do you respect? Everybody," says Tabb to his students.

Five days a week these students are bussed to the partially vacated school in Treme where they get help with homework, a hot meal, and then get classroom instruction in music.

"We kind of see to it that we're using music as a tool," says Anne Messner. "We want to help kids learn how to be positive, productive individuals. And what you do first is find something that connects with the kids in the city you live in."

Once a week the young musicians take to the streets of the Treme neighborhood. They march for a couple of mile practicing their steps, keeping their lines straight and playing their instruments. It's a routine that has earned them national recognition, college scholarships and a chance for a brighter future.

"It's the sort of thing you want to see kids doing with their free time. You know you want to see them with a group of other kids embodying like talent and discipline and leadership. All the things that you want and they're just out there in the streets and people are smiling," says Messner.

"Everybody wants to party and a brass band is a party from beginning to end. We always say from the womb to the tomb," says Tabb.

It's the enthusiasm and talent of the musicians that's reflected in the music of New Orleans from street celebrations to jazz cafes.

"It's all about joy. It's all about sadness. All the emotions. We're very emotional people. And I think that's why New Orleans is the perfect place for the birthplace of jazz," says Laughlin.

It is the sound of the heartbeat of New Orleans.

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