A musician’s take on the Big Easy
by Mariano Cobo Iturbe, Contributing Blogger and Resident Musician
It’s eight o’clock in the morning. The weather is a bit grey and gloomy. I’ve landed in New Orleans and I’m at the footstep of one of the city’s most emblematic neighborhoods: the French Quarter. I expect that before me lies what’s going to be an experience every musician and music aficionado must live.
As I start my journey I’m immediately captivated by the architecture of the place. The houses are old, made of Wood, each with their own long balcony. It’s a unique sort of style I’ve never before encountered. After a brisk walk I find myself at one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States and standing before two musicians playing popular songs on brass instruments. When one of them breaks into song I almost thought I was listening to the great Louis Armstrong himself. Soon after he smiles at me to go take a picture with him, without hesitation I give him his well-deserved tip. I find him hugely talented, and I find it strange he is playing in the street.
I move on a few more blocks and hear the dizzying solo of a clarinet. When I find where it’s coming from I see a parking spot. Passers-by crowd near hypnotized by the music. Cars can barely squeeze by, but it’s no matter. Music is the heart and soul of this city, and the drivers know that. I‘m struck by the raw talent of the family’s youngest member and the dexterity with which he plays the drums is incredible.
I hop on the street car to go to go for lunch at the renowned Willie Mae’s Scotch House to try some of the traditional food from the area, and I’m blown away by the truly succulent red beans. I’m so marveled by the neighborhood that I think I should come back to keep enjoying atmosphere so unique to this world.
I decide to visit the famous piano bar at Pat O’Briens where two musicians on two huge pianos take turns performing any song the crowd requests. It’s amazing. As if they are human karaoke machines. They know everything. I can’t help but scribble “Piano Man” on a napkin and pass it to one of them. He plays it as the whole crowd sings along to the tune.
It has been a magnificent experience. All I want to do is stick my head in each and every bar on the street where they’re playing any and every kind on music your heart could desire. As I come to an intersection the music melds and creates an atmosphere that is simultaneously disconcerting and spectacular. Never had I experienced anything quite like it.
I finish my visit with a feeling of desire to return, of wanting to share my experience, of wanting to transmit to my colleagues in the music world what I saw and express to them how lucky I feel to have experienced it.