Twenty four hours after Doreen Ketchens played, the streets of the French Quarter were flooded when 8-10 inches of rain fell in a three hour period. I was in the midst of it at Satchmo Summerfest, when the festival was canceled as torrential rain, thunder and lightning tore through New Orleans, the streets flooded, and the city’s pumping stations could not drain the water fast enough. Story to follow.The remnants of Harvey are heading toward southwest Louisiana and New Orleans. Doreen’s version of “The Sun Gonna Shine On My Back Door Someday” (link below) may be a fateful and wishful foreshadowing for southwest Louisiana, and are certainly so for coastal Texas all the way inland to Houston, America’s fourth largest city and flood prone. Scary.
August 4, 2017
Corner of Royal and St. Peter Street
New Orleans, LA
You can hear some of the finest music in New Orleans right on the streets of the French Quarter. Free. Fabulous. Soulful. Traditional to Funky.
Once you’re under its spell, you’ll gladly reach into your pocket and drop some green into the tip bucket. You’ll be rewarded by a hearty ‘Thank you’ or a grateful nod as a musician is in the midst of singing or playing a tune that stopped you in your tracks. New Orleans has a music heritage as rich as any cream sauce you’ll get at the dozens of restaurants that serve to die for food every day.
In a city with scores of bars and clubs devoted to music, this is not heresy, it’s a fact.
Doreen Ketchens, whose spot on the corner of Royal and St. Peter Street is her permanent bandstand. Doreen’s Jazz New Orleans Band has played there so long and so successfully that it’s inviolable territory to any other act if she’s there.
Like many other New Orleans bands, Doreen’s band is made up of family. Husband Lawrence plays sousaphone and trombone and of late, teenage daughter Dorian Ketchens-Dixon sits in on drums.
Try to square this up, Since 1987, this stout woman rocking out in her camp chair in the street (literally) has played for four presidents, in every continent except Australia, and in concerts sponsored by the Jazz At The Lincoln Center and the U.S. Department of State.
She’s played before audiences of thousands. I’ve watched her play to a street audience of a dozen and I’m telling you, she still brings it with the pride, force, and heritage into which she was born in the Tremé neighborhood a few blocks away. Her energy is palpable. The size of the audience makes no difference to the volume of her voice and clarinet and her commitment to serenade the street with the vibrant music of her heritage.
It’s surreal. Cars roll past her band on Royal and St. Peter Streets, customers enter and exit Rouse’s Market ten feet behind her, destination-oriented tourists walk past and I feel like I’ve got a better seat than I’d have if I were watching her in Economy Hall at Jazz Fest.
Doreen’s made over two dozen CDs. Doreen’s Jazz Volume XX gives you an idea of her range, traditional jazz, Dixieland, gospel, popular, a good helping of Louis Armstrong covers, all of it stamped with her vocal styling that set her apart from other vocalists in New Orleans (and that’s saying something). She’s developed a touch of Armstrong gravel with a unique pitch that you can hear a block away. The signature sustained high notes she pipes from her clarinet make me hold my breath.
If you can’t make your way down to Royal Street, this gives you a good idea of what you’re missing.
Admirers chat after songs, many pose for photos and, more importantly, drop folding money in the tip jar - notice the three different labels on the jars! As culturally entertaining as the scene is, it's a main source of income for Doreen and other musicians who busk in the streets here and on Frenchmen Street, a fifteen minute walk away.
Sales are usually brisk here. CD sales are musician's bread and butter; Husband Lawrence Ketchens on tuba and daughter Dorian Ketchens-Dixon on drums. Doreen and Lawrence bring the culture and music of New Orleans to classrooms across America and the world as they travel.
"Saint James Infirmary" Listen to the clarinet at the 2:30 mark.
As sweet and gracefully swinging version of "The Sun Gonna Shine On My Back Door Someday" that you're gonna hear.
The corner of Royal and St. Peter Streets - note that one lane of the street is marked off for musicians to set up and play...ever see that anywhere else? Several bands play in that space, Doreen's Jazz New Orleans, one of its most widely known acts, has a lock on that space any time they want it.
And when rain threatens, Doreen's band, Doreen's Jazz New Orleans, moves under the porch across the street, in an intense version of "Home of the Rising Sun," complete with her signature solos.
Hours later, a flash flood would cancel Satchmo Summerfest and flood the streets.
Photos and Videos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.