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January 22, 2007

Dischord in the Musician's Village

New Orleans natives Harrick Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis were in town recently checking in on the Musicians' Village, the high-profile, low-income housing complex they founded post-Katrina in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. The project has come under fire recently for turning away many musicians because of poor credit, and apparently many musicians haven't even bothered to apply for residence because they expect to be denied. As Katy Reckdahl reported in her "Sour Note" story in the Times-Picayune, only one-fourth of those approved for residence in the Musicians' Village so far are actually musicians:

"The bass drummer for the Lazy Six, Terence Andrews, got a rejection letter on the same day as his trombonist cousin. "Everybody I know got denied," he said. That includes first cousin Glen Joseph Andrews, trumpeter for the Lazy Six and for the Rebirth Brass Band, whom bandmates call "the poster child for the Musicians Village," because -- despite the rejection -- he's pictured playing his horn next to Habitat's online donation form for the project."

Connick and Marsalis attempted to do some damage control in a recent Gambit Weekly interview -- but not without a heaping of tough love. In a story titled, "Change that Tune," Marsalis offered the following:

Musicians have to understand that if you want to live a
cash-and-carry existence and hide in the system, the system
allows for that. We've all done it -- get paid in cash -- I
personally remember times when I was a younger man,
25 or 30 years ago, if you got paid in cash you just put it
in your pocket. But I didn't own a home. I didn't have a family.
I didn't have a job. I didn't have an extended career. The system
allowed me to do that. But the moment you own a home, you
are now in the system ... and if you don't understand that there
has to be a change in mentality, you won't own the home very long."

No doubt the task of organizing jazz musicians is a herculean one. Last spring, while working with Preservation Hall's New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Reflief Fund, I came to appreciate just how far outside "the system" most musicians lived -- many of them didn't even know their own social security number by heart, let alone have a savings account. So I share the sentiments of the "Sour Note" story -- I'm not sure you can expect a musician to restrict their skills of improvisation to the stage.

Posted by cjoyce at January 22, 2007 12:31 PM


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