What is your ethnicity? Actually, the word was mispronounced by Sgt. Genovese – of the 8th precinct, N.O.P.D. - when he asked me this question, as he ran a check on me in order to, apparently, see if he could bring me in for something else, or other than riding a bicycle up the wrong way of Royal Street. Sgt. Genovese and I love each other now; I'll be much better acquainted with Chartres Street for this. Back to the question; I'm still caught off-guard by the opportunity to answer this. There is only one thing for sure that I can say: that I was raised by Creoles.
In Danny Barker's posthumous volume: Buddy Bolden and the Last Days of Storyville, there is a fascinatingly polyrhythmic chapter entitled, Creole Songs. The story snakes an entertaining path thru various points in the author's life; offering a unique answer to the question: Was Danny Barker a Creole?
I will “drop the curser” on just a few winds that this great tale takes – along with lessons from the Xavier Lectures. Danny Barker begins:
I have heard many tales and theories that jazz music came from the slaves on the southern plantations, but when I was a small boy in the Creole section of New Orleans, I heard folks singing whole songs from top to bottom in French and Patois, just like you hear Bing Crosby singing
Blue Skies or
I Got Rhythm.
I got Patois.
Danny had Multi-culturalism.
The first school I attended was a private school supervised by Mr. Nelson Medard and it was called Medard School. In New Orleans he was considered and respected as a very brilliant gentleman. The school was located at his home. He and his two daughters taught the children and his two sons worked for the Federal Government and were reputed to have high positions with the diplomatic service.
Mr. Medard spoke quite a few languages and a dozen or so foreign kids attended his school. When he used the rattan on them it was funny to hear them bawling in their native language.
Mr. Barker notes that Creole life of New Orleans has always seemed... on the border.
And always... as Danny would tell the younger musician: “You keep up that good front.”
When you attended Medard's school that was something special. Parents boasted that their children went there because you received special training but a lot of people thought his methods were too severe. My relatives gave my mother hell for sending me there and I was taken out and sent to a public school called Marigny School, which was considered the roughest in the city and was located back of the tracks.
Mr. Medard was an interpreter for the United States Government and a lot of important people would come to his home and sit out under a tree in his yard with brief cases full of papers and seriously listen to him as he read these papers to them. It was always “Mr. Medard, Sir,” and I have never seen anyone smoke and enjoy a cigar like he did.
Here is how Danny wraps this up in transition for his next scene.
During recess one day I walked past the tree in the yard and heard him say, “The people in this city do not speak the real French language, it is a bastard tongue they speak.”
A few years back, Albert Nicholas recorded four Creole songs for Circle Records. James P. Johnson, who played piano on the date, after hearing my accompaniment to Nick's clarinet solo, joined in with me perfectly and, laughing, said, “You cats from New Orleans aint nothing but a bunch of West Indians.”
And here with the Xavier students; here come the Indians!
A Creole life... “It was a close relationship.”
Lastly, you can use your own ears as to where Danny's Creole Path took him – at least by June 12th, 1947. I've included one of the Creole songs, Mo Pas Lemme Ca, on My Music on My Page
Peace & Pops,
Maison Musique, New Orleans
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Teasing Nick, I said, “Pops, tell them about that big snake they caught in New Orleans that time.”