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- Good Morning Music – Oct. 2nd: The Loose Marbles – New Orleans Street Band;
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Nor is the entertainment in the Quarter of a more discerning caliber—cover bands, churning out Sweet Home Alabama ad nauseam.
FABULOUS Scale Dollhouse Miniature Bag of Loose Marbles #HCX92 | eBay
But just a block south of the Bourbon Street bacchanal, one stumbles across an odd specimen of jazz and heritage. A six-piece Dixieland jazz band has set up in a loose semi-circle in the entryway of a Royal Street art gallery, banging away at the smash hits of the prohibition era, and a growing crowd is gathering to watch them play. A strange alchemy occurs among passersby, as drunken bemusement gives way to total rapture. From their unamplified, old-world instrumentation to their shabby, jazz-age fashion sense—the tuba player is wearing suspenders —the band looks like it could have wandered out of a history book.
The crowd responds with an enthusiastic shower of tips. Kiowa and Barnabus have strikingly parallel upbringings. Alynda had never played an instrument before ending up in New Orleans, where she found a washboard in the garbage and began showing up at proto-Dead Man Street Orchestra sessions held by the railroad tracks. Shortly after Kiowa and Barnabus began hooking up with the Marbles, Alynda followed suit, teaching herself the banjo and eventually assuming vocal duties, replacing the recently-ousted Meschiya Lake. Singing with the Marbles was heady stuff for a scrawny, 20 year-old punk girl.
I have to figure out how to play with them and not go crazy. If all else fails, Todd has suggested, Michael can often be found, in the late mornings, outside the Community Coffee Shop at Royal and St. He shows up a half-hour late on his brightly-polished cruiser, wearing, as per usual, a well-pressed Brooks Brothers suit and natty, tortoise-shell specs—looking, for all the world, like the Mayor of Royal Street.
Despite his gregarious public persona, Michael is disconcertingly standoffish about the prospect of bring interviewed. But once he starts talking, Michael is absolutely unstoppable. For the next two hours, on the sunny corner of Royal and St. Louis, he holds forth on everything from the books of Hunter S. I suspect, at first, that Michael is putting me on; he answers my questions obliquely, and peppers his narrative with innumerable diversions and embellishments.
But as I acclimate to his jazz-inflected cadence, a colorful but credible life-story begins to emerge. A friend in Harrisburg offered, out of the blue, to sell him an old clarinet that had been collecting dust in her attic. Michael—who at the age of 26 had never seriously played an instrument—decided to give it a shot, and asked his mother to buy him the clarinet for Christmas.
She agreed, but had her purse snatched shortly thereafter and lost all the clarinet cash. While the pre-Katrina street life was lively enough, there was little in the way of traditional jazz, he says, outside of the touristy club circuit.
He lived for several months in an allegedly haunted apartment in the Quarter, working with his girlfriend on a graphic novel that he says drew heavily on the ideas of Raymond Chandler. Ben had been immersed in traditional jazz for virtually his entire life. However burnt-out on jazz he might have been at the time, his newfound partnership with Michael had a revitalizing effect; soon the two were playing all over New York, busking frequently in Washington Square Park and playing swing dances at the Telephone Bar in the East Village. Soon the Marbles were in full swing, having incorporated into their ranks not only the train-hopping Dead Man Street Orchestra contingent but also an ever-mutating menagerie of New Orleans musicians, as well as a couple of swing dancers from California named Chance Bushman and Amy Johnson.
Only Michael and Ben remained an absolute constant in the group. As their role as bandleaders solidified, they began having to choose between would-be players.