A City That Breathes Music

It has been two weeks since Jasper Slijderink and me, Stan Vreeken, arrived in New Orleans. We are both musicians. Besides having our own band (The Big Hunger) we are part of Tijdelijke Samenscholing (Temporary Gathering), the theatre group with whom we work on a new play about New Orleans and its music. Stepping out of Louis Armstrong Airport, the air was humid. It was blazing hot and not long after we picked up our bags a heavy summer rain gave us a big, wet and warm welcome.

In the last days the air has cooled down a little and we’ve seen numerous bands and musicians, both good and bad. In Frenchmen Street we’ve seen brass-bands booming their horns into an overcrowded street, we’ve heard ragtime pianists display their nostalgia for the ‘Roaring 20’s’, we’ve been harassed by street-musicians with less teeth in their mouths then strings on their battered guitars, and we’ve been surprised by crafty singer-songwriters, hidden in dimly lit porches or on street corners, trying to get the drunken passersby to stop and listen. Throughout the whole city small bars and restaurants are scattered around, offering a huge variety of live-acts.

Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentelmen

Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentelmen @ Maple Leaf Bar

The city breathes music, its air is smelling like gasoline, sweat, alcohol and, at night, a sweet hint of jasmine. We’ve been touring the whole city on our bikes. Avoiding the cracks and potholes in the asphalt that we share with rows of big American cars and trucks, we’ve driven as far as Maple Leaf Bar, roughly an hour from our home in Holy Cross. Every Monday Jon Cleary plays the Maple Leaf. Jon and his band, The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, are among the best bands the city has to offer. Jon is one of the few pianists in town who still masters the iconic, but vanishing, piano-style that was made famous by the likes of Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Professor Longhair and Dr. John. Last week Jon invited us to come over to his house in the Bywater. There, he gave us a short masterclass on how to play New Orleans Style on piano, and a lecture on the (social) history of New Orleans Jazz and funk. The day before, we had met with his guitarist, Big D, whose size does more than justice to his nickname. After I played him two of my new songs, Big D invited us to come over to his studio in Florida. Somewhere in October we will make the three and a half hour drive to record three songs with some of the best musicians in the Southern States. As Dr. John already sung in the opening sequence of ‘The Princess and The Frog’: “Dreams do come true in New Orleans”.

Jasper taking piano lessons with local piano legend Tom McDermott

Jasper taking piano lessons with local piano legend Tom McDermott

Besides meeting new musicians daily, we talk a lot with the locals on the street. Most times these conversations start with handing out a cigarette, and most times our partner in dialogue is of African-American descent. We’ve noticed that the young (caucasian) artistic elite in the city is much harder to approach then the everyday-man on the street. These conversations offer the most interesting pieces of information. With people like Monty, O.G. George and Tattoo we spoke openly about poverty, alcohol, drugs, Katrina, crime and other social issues that, besides music, are so evident in this city. New Orleans is not only the place where jazz and funk were born, it is also the city with one of the highest murder rates in the U.S. Throughout the day the streets are charming, and the neighborhoods are a welcoming array of colorful little houses and cosy little cafe’s. At night those same streets turn dark and more threatening in their abandonment. Especially for the weaker of heart, I am definitely one them, the ride home can be anxious and long. A striking example, for instance, is when we were waiting for Dr. John to start his show. We were smoking a cigarette outside of The Joy Theater that is situated on Canal Street, one of the main arteries of New Orleans traffic. Not more than 15 feet from where we were standing two young men (barely 18 years old) stopped in front of a traffic sign, speaking loudly to each other. I observed them for a short while and then I saw something that shook me to the bone. Attached to their belts I saw two guns dangling from their blue jeans, the red traffic lights reflected in the silver barrels. They carried their pieces in plain sight, for everyone to see and shiver. I realized, even though I knew it, that most people here must have guns, hidden in the dashboard cups of their cars, and this realization troubles me.

Waiting for Big D, who arrived 1.5 hour late.

Waiting for Big D, who arrived 1.5 hour late.

Two weeks after our arrival my infatuation with New Orleans is still far from over. But as it seems to go with all relationships, I slowly learn that there are less pleasant sides behind the inviting facade of The Big Easy. I look forward to the next five weeks, to the arrival of Michiel Bakker and Carole van Ditzhuyzen – the actors and founders of Tijdelijke Samenscholing, to meet up with more locals and to hear more music. Hopefully my relationship with the city will only change for the better, and I will come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of this historical city, in all her complexities.

Rotterdam 2040

Introduction and film screening
Thursday September 18th, 8pm
Hosted by PARSE
134 Carondelet Street


The brand new Deltaworkers international residency program introduces itself to the city of New Orleans on the 18th of September, kindly hosted by PARSE. After a short introduction about the residency and the artists that will join in the coming months, Deltaworkers directors Maaike Gouwenberg and Joris Lindhout would like to show where they come from by screening the feature length film Rotterdam 2040 from artist Gyz La Rivière. Artist Timmy van Zoelen and musicians Stan Vreeken and Jasper Slijderink are the first in town and will be there to meet y’all.

Rotterdam 2040
Deltaworkers’ home town Rotterdam is comparable with New Orleans in many ways. They are both big crescent cities with a large working class population, poor in comparison to the national average and located in a river delta.
Rotterdam 2040 is a film about the city’s future, departing from the principle of Gyz La Rivière that you can not look ahead without considering your past. At high speed, La Rivière reconstructs the history of Rotterdam from the time before the W.O II bombings until now, and expands the developments to the year 2040 (100 years after the bombing and the 700th anniversary of the city).
for more info: rotterdam2040.com

Gyz La Rivière
Gyz La Rivière (1976, Rotterdam) is one of the two HuMobisten and also works as a solo artist. He mainly does performances, makes videos and installations. Besides being an artist he does a lot of design projects. Art started playing a role in his life when he started skateboarding in 1987.La Rivière’s work is about being restless, bored and saturated. He gets his inspiration out of the enormous daily amounts of images, infographics, logos and icons that reach our perception through our mediatic culture.

Gyz La Rivière studied fashion design at the Willem de Kooning Academy. In 2000 he graduated as the first ever student without a collection. In 2002 he was awarded the Rotterdam Maaskant Prize. In 2009 he directed the film 12 – a film about the Fret Click. In 2011 he received ‘The Praise of Folly’ Honorary Pin from the Comité Erasmus and in early 2013 he won the Dolf Henkes Prize for iconic Rotterdam-based artists. Recently he published 13 minuten, his ninth publication.

Deltaworkers has landed in New Orleans!

Deltaworkers announces first residents

Deltaworkers is proud to introduce its first residents coming from the Netherlands, Finland and the U.S. Our residents will work in New Orleans on the research and production of new projects.

Deltaworkers residency

The deltaworkers residency

Deltaworkers is an international multidisciplinary residency program run by artist/curator Joris lindhout and curator Maaike Gouwenberg, both from the Netherlands. Since their first visit to the city in 2010 they have been working on establishing a cultural exchange program between the North American South and Europe. Deltaworkers focusses on cultural production work with an international character, builds on existing connections between the Netherlands and New Orleans, and forms new connections with institutions in New Orleans, the surrounding region, and other European countries. Our first international partners and supporters are the Mondriaan Fund, Productiehuis Rotterdam, the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, and Taike.

This fall we host our first guests in Chateau Curioso, photographer Maria Levitsky’s beautifully restored mansion in Holy Cross. From September 10th until December 16th the following artists will stay in New Orleans through the Deltaworkers program: artist Timmy van Zoelen (NL), who is working on an eco-scifi film staged in the swamps; Tijdelijke Samenscholing (NL) -a theater and music collective- looking into the origins of Jazz, and at how music is experienced in public space; artist Jeremiah Day (US/NL) will present a performative event in which he shares his research into the possibilities for a monument for the Lowndes County Freedom Organisation; and artist Dafna Maimon (FIN) will create a new performance connected to the film industry in New Orleans.

During Deltaworkers’ 2014 program, there will be several film screenings, presentations and public moments during which the artists share their findings.

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The first event takes place on September 18 and forms an introduction to the place where we come from: the Dutch delta, specifically the city of Rotterdam. We’ll screen Rotterdam based artist Gyz La Riviere’s film ‘Rotterdam 2040’.