This article is copyright 2006 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in STYLE Weekly, March 22, 2006. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.

 

The Forgotten City

by Antonio J. García

 

I’ve just returned from New Orleans, where I enjoyed aspects of that beautiful city amid the most horrific destruction I’ve ever personally witnessed. It is a contrast residents call “surreal.” I saw firsthand how damaged and abandoned many parts of my hometown are: houses off their foundations ... cut in half ... without roofs … with cars sitting in the middle of them.

In the neighborhoods severely hit by floodwaters, what I did not see was any visible government aid for reconstruction. Yes, inarguably, much debris has been removed. But had I not known when Katrina had hit, I would have thought it was the week before. Minus the water, many neighborhoods look virtually exactly as they did in September. Six months from now, they may still look the same.

I saw no armed forces, no National Guard, no large earthmovers, no bands of workers of any sort. I saw only a few homeowners and neighbors, still wearing masks and pulling flooded items out of their moldy homes that bore a waterline some 5 feet to 12 feet above the foundation. I saw some residents living in FEMA trailers on their lots. But mostly, I saw neighborhoods with no residents at all. Walking the streets, I heard mostly silence: no hammers, chainsaws, buzz saws, or earth-diggers. Where is the progress? Where is the full force of the American will and know-how? Where is the full faith and credit of the federal, state and local government agencies? The citizens are angry, ready to vote a lot of local, state and national officials out of office.

The city will exist, virtually no matter what. Its locale and port are invaluable to every U.S. citizen. When the city and its port are not functioning, the financial cost of countless consumer products rises across America. And if the coastal wetlands are not properly managed, the future cost of gas and oil for Americans could exceed anything experienced to date.

The question is in what format will New Orleans exist? I am not an engineer or an expert, but I have studied and spoken to some who are in order to form my own opinions. Decisions must be made: This stasis must end.

First, the city will exist within a smaller footprint. No politician wants to choose and then inform neighborhoods (of all races) that their homes will not be rebuilt so that their lots will become future runoffs for the drainage of excess water, but the reality of the situation is clear. The financially strapped city will not be able to afford to provide utilities, police, hospitals, fire protection and more to neighborhoods of just a few scattered residents.

In order to achieve this consolidation, the federal government must buy these homes as soon as possible at a fair price from the current owners, who are now struggling to live — often out of state — while continuing to pay a mortgage on a doomed house.

Second, the decades-long erosion of the coastal wetlands of south Louisiana must be reversed. Environmentalists have long known that the human-engineered path of the Mississippi River was depriving the southernmost parts of the state of badly needed river silt that would have otherwise naturally replenished coastal erosion from hurricanes and oil and gas development. Now the city has paid the ultimate price. Acres of coastal wetlands are disappearing at an incredible rate, depriving New Orleans of the natural barrier that had long protected it. At the same time, the shrinking polar ice caps are raising the water levels in the Gulf of Mexico. The notion that New Orleans could someday resemble Venice is not outlandish.

In order to reverse this, Louisiana must take expensive steps to redirect river silt back into the coastal wetlands. Yet this solution is far less expensive than erecting never-ending man-made barriers around the city. Funding this initiative does not have to be a mere handout. One of the reasons that Louisiana has been such a poor state is that it receives only a fraction of the revenue from the oil and gas it provides the country — less than other states receive. A stroke of the pen could bring Louisiana the funding to protect its wetlands and assist in New Orleans’ restoration.

Holding Mardi Gras this year was a stroke of genius. Knowing that the media would again be focusing on New Orleans as the six-month anniversary of Katrina arrived, a delegation of some 30 U.S. senators and congressmen then made their own trek to the city in the days immediately following Mardi Gras, lest they be accused of forgetting about the Crescent City.

I am convinced this visit would never have happened had Mardi Gras not pushed New Orleans back onto the national radar. Early indications are that most members of the visiting delegation were as shocked as I am that so little has been done to rehabilitate the damaged portions of the city.

So what is one to do?

First, contact your congressional representatives. Inform them that you want Congress to allocate more of Louisiana’s oil and gas revenues to Louisiana.

Second, inform them that you realize that the future of New Orleans affects your future, the cost of your goods and of your fuel, and that you support the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Third, identify a charity you might support regarding Katrina relief efforts.

Fourth, make plans to visit New Orleans! The French Quarter and many other areas abound with music, food and enchanting scenes. The aquarium, D-Day Museum and so much more are open. The symphony has performances remaining this season. The Garden District is beautiful, and the riverfront remains a magnet of activity. The city and its businesses need your tourist dollars.

As I listened to the stories of my many friends who had evacuated New Orleans and then returned, I was struck by how welcoming their neighbors across the United States had been in receiving them. And then I realized: Not only can Americans be so gracious, many of them also recall how welcoming New Orleanians have always been to them when visiting. The City That Care Forgot is well-remembered by many. Please ask that our elected officials do the same.

Antonio García is director of jazz studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own garciamusic.com, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.

Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.

Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."

About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”

Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/educator...one of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.

The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <www.garciamusic.com>.

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