My friend E-Rokk was down from Kalamazoo, Michigan visiting his children in North Little Rock, Arkansas, so I decided to drive over there to meet him and take them to lunch. I headed west on I-40, listening to recordings of three George Antheil operas (Venus in Africa, Volpone and The Brothers) which I had downloaded from an online website.
At Forrest City, I headed over to Highway 70 where there was a flea market, and while I didn’t find any Abraham and His Sons or Ike Noble and the Uptights records, I did find a stash of Black gospel 45s, some of them from Wynne and Marianna, Arkansas, and a few on the Designer and Messenger labels out of Memphis.
I decided to stay on Highway 70 through Brinkley (the flea markets there were rather disappointing), and when I got to North Little Rock, E-Rokk gave me directions to where he was staying and I went and met him there. Since his girlfriend had to work, we took the kids with us and headed to a pizza place I had found on my iPhone called ZaZa’s Fresh Salads and Wood-Fired Pizzas on Kavanaugh Boulevard in Little Rock. The restaurant featured salads and pizzas cooked in a brick oven, as well as gelato, espresso and cappucino. We all enjoyed our pizzas, got some gelato for dessert, and then headed downtown to President Clinton Avenue to Andina Coffee Roasters where I bought some pounds of coffee to take home.
The kids were intirgued by an African drummer who was playing a djembe in front of the River Market, and then they wanted to run into a playground along the riverfront, so we walked over there, and then across the river bridge over to North Little Rock and back.
I had to get back to Memphis, so after it began to get dark, I dropped them back off at the apartment in North Little Rock and headed back toward Memphis. At West Memphis, I had seen a Huddle House and so I decided to eat dinner there, but, when I got there, I found that it was newly built and had not opened yet. So, now wanting breakfast, I settled for the Iron Skillet truckstop in West Memphis, and found that the breakfast there was really quite good.
I got a fairly late start out of Memphis, heading for the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference in New Orleans, and I stopped for a lunch at Back Yard Burger in Batesville, Mississippi. Fighting sleepiness as I headed down I-55, I pulled off at Jazz & Java in Madison for a breve latte, and then I continued further south into Louisiana.
Parking in the familiar lot in the French Quarter next to what had been Tower Records, I walked over to Louisiana Music Factory on Decatur Street to look at some compact discs. The store sold nearly any CD made of Louisiana music, and I ended up buying about $50 worth of discs. I then decided to go around to the Westin Hotel and get checked into my room, but I soon found that there was no parking affiliated with the hotel, so the rates were outrageous, and there would be no in or out privileges. In effect, hotel guests were deprived of the use of their cars while in New Orleans, unless they wanted to pay over and over again each time they took their car out of the garage. All the same, the lobby was above the parking garage on the eleventh floor, and with large glass windows looking eastward over the French Quarter and toward Algiers Point, it was a dramatic and striking entrance to a most unusual hotel. As I checked in, the speakers in the hotel lobby were playing George Antheil’s Symphony for Five Instruments, which I also found surprising, as Antheil, a relatively obscure American composer, happens to be one of my favorites.
My room was high on the 14th floor, and had a similar view of the Quarter as did the lobby. Although the restaurant off the lobby was crowded, I feared that it would be too expensive, so I decided to walk around the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat dinner. My original plan had been to drive to someplace outside the tourist area, perhaps Ted’s Frostop which I had heard so much about, but the parking debacle prevented that, so I walked down Peters Street, past the Jax Brewery buildings, which were now largely vacant. There was an amber glow in the air as I passed Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, with the lovely palm trees swaying in the breeze, and people were out, enjoying the cool, moist evening, sitting on porches, sitting on balconies, sitting on steps and talking; not as many musical sounds on this evening, more voices and cars, the sky now purple, blue and finally grey as I rounded the corner onto Bourbon by the Clover Grill, which I recalled from some novel I had read about New Orleans. Their signs bragged of burgers, but in the novel people had gone there for breakfast, so I made a mental note to head back there on some morning before I left the city.
Bourbon Street seemed tamer than I remembered it before Katrina- there were a few sex clubs, but many more normal music clubs and regular bars, one on a corner where a young Black drummer was in the middle of a funky solo that spilled out into the street. I had been aiming for the Embers Steakhouse, but, when I arrived I noticed the high prices on the menu, and, worse, the lack of any crowd of clientele, which had me worried about the food quality. So I kept walking, and finally ended up at Star Steak & Lobster, which was a truly tiny restaurant fairly close to my hotel. Altogether, the prices weren’t that bad and the food was decent, although the portions were small and I had to contend with a house musician who was alternately singing or playing saxophone accompanied by a pre-programmed box-not the music experience one would want to have in New Orleans.
The Quarter seemed strangely devoid of street music, compared to what I recalled from pre-Katrina days. Back then, it seemed common to come upon a brass band playing in Jackson Square, or maybe that’s just how my memories are of it. Snug Harbor was a little too far to walk to, and the name of the group playing there didn’t particularly sound like a straight-ahead jazz group, so I opted for the French Market instead, and the Cafe du Monde, where I sat outside enjoying beignets and a cup of cafe au lait with chicory, the quintessential New Orleans experience.
Back at my hotel, I learned that the pool was on the rooftop, so I rode up there, but I really couldn’t enjoy it, as I got lightheaded about being so far up on the roof with just some glass balcony railings rather than a sturdy concrete wall. Instead I headed back down to my room, opened the windows to let the lights of the French Quarter shine in, used my laptop as a CD player, and enjoyed some of the albums I had purchased at Louisiana Music Factory. Finally, I fell asleep in the overstuffed, luxurious bed, with the windows still open to the lights of the Vieux Carre.