Monday, April 27, 2009

Blogging Tales Of the Cocktail 2009: Jazz, Cocktails, and Storyville

Despite my best efforts to disgrace not only myself, but also the entire collaborative blog project of Tales of the Cocktail last year, I was inexplicably asked back this year. This article is therefore a simulcast with this "Tales Blog" as it is known. To see this article in a different context and so, so much more get yourself here.

Jazz, Cocktails, and Storyville is the title of an intriguing seminar to be held at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, fronted by moderator David Wondrich and featuring the stylings of Allen Katz, Phil Greene, and Chris McMillan. I spoke with Monsieur Wondrich recently (OK, about a two weeks ago…what like you’ve never procrastinated anything in your life?) and asked him what Jazz, Cocktails, and Storyville was all about. He was quick to inform me that it is about jazz, cocktails, and Storyville.

This is why we do the interviews folks.

(annoying aside distracting from this article’s utter lack of substance: I once attempted to write the word “won’t” in a text message, and upon writing “w-o-n,” the predictive text on the phone guessed I was attempting to spell “Wondrich,” causing me to seriously re-evaluate my life.)

To get only slightly more specific, the seminar will explore the intersection of cocktail culture with “the sporting life.” By sporting life, we are not referring to fox hunts or polo, but rather the brothels, pool halls, card halls, dance halls, jazz and ragtime music, and all things scandalous that thrived in the once legally sanctioned Red Light District of New Orleans, AKA Storyville.

Sidney Story, a New Orleans Alderman, in 1897 successfully passed legislation through the New Orleans City Council that legalized prostitution in a specific district of town lying two blocks from the French Quarter (Basin Street is often referred to as the district’s “gateway”). The legislation was inspired by the Red Light Districts of the Netherlands, and motivated by a desire to regulate prostitution, and in so doing preserve property values in other parts of town. The result was a unique niche in American history, and most likely a lot of memorable nights in old New Orleans.

Storyville, as it came to be known in reference to its creator, proved to be the perfect environment for the too-risqué-for-decent-society Ragtime music, as well as the oh-my-lord-that’s-the-work-of-an-even-greater-devil Jazz. And apparently the denizens of Storyville figured since they were all going to hell for their sins, might as well enjoy some fine cocktails on the trip. Voila. There you have it. Jazz, Cocktails, and Storyville.

The musicians to emerge from, or at least dabble in, the Sporting Clubs of Storyville included Jelly Roll Morton, The Storyville Honkytonks, The Half Way House Orchestra, King Oliver’s Band, The New Orleans Owls, and the legendary but never recorded String Beans. Also associated with Storyville is Louis Armstrong, who legend has it delivered coal to the Sporting Clubs, and while there figured he might as well stick around and become a legend.

As for the cocktails of Storyville, most famous would be the Ramos Gin Fizz - invented nine years before the inception of Storyville but nonetheless all the rage during its thriving years – the Jack Rose, and Moran’s Parlor Punch. While much can change between now and July, these drinks are the leading candidates to be served at the seminar. No decision yet as to how the Ramos Gin Fizzes will be shaken, but I’m rooting for a John Henry-esque competition between a lineup of shaker boys and a single Bon Jour handheld frother. Think of how memorable that would be should the shaker boys, like John Henry, beat the machine only to die in victory…

Music will be played from the era to accompany our chats and sips. However, there will be no prostitution at the seminar. Apparently some time around 1917 the feds stepped in and made it illegal again. The good people of New Orleans fought this intrusion from The Man, thus once again proving that New Orleans is only begrudgingly part of the United States, which is of course one of the many reasons we love it so. In the 1940s most of the structures of Storyville were razed in order to build housing projects – those bastions of human suffering and poverty – thus indicating the forms of crime and corruption preferred by The Man, which of course is one of the many reasons we loathe him so.

So join us for Jazz, Cocktails, and Storyville…and stick it to The Man.

For further reading on the subject, seek out the book, “Stomp and Swerve,” written by some guy named David Wondrich…no relation I’m certain.

Jazz, Cocktails, and Storyville is all the rage on Friday, July 10, 2009, from 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM, in the Queen Anne Ballroom at the Hotel Monteleone. Buy tickets here.

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