The evening of the kids' performance at the competition was to be the fulfillment of a dream that Dick Brunelle had for years, that of taking a group of his jazz choir kids onto the streets of the French Quarter and just having them perform at the drop of a hat, as he imagined people did there. It wasn't quite what he expected.
With boom box and piano accompaniment tape in hand, we joined the crowds at the Jazz Festival in the French Quarter and discovered that trying to keep 28 people together in a crowd of drunks was well nigh impossible. Bourbon Street, we discovered, had become quite sleazy and was one t-shirt/junk souvenir shop after another, with a club or two thrown in, many of them playing what sounded to me more like rock than jazz.
The streets, in places, reeked of vomit and from the smell, the crunch of the crowd and the overall feel of the place, one of the girls started feeling ill and wanted to return to the hotel. But we pushed on and actually found a fairly empty spot on the street, where the kids decided to do Birdland. The show choir from Alabama was also there and helped form a circle so the kids could get started.
They did their whole number, some more embarrassed than others (Comment from Jeff afterwards: I've done some embarrassing things in my life--and this is one of them!) The Alabama group then put on one of their tapes, a rap number, and did some of their own dancing. It was all kind of silly, but fun and memorable, and it was nice for the interaction between the two groups.
By now some people were getting disgruntled at all this stifling "togetherness," especially Jeff, who longed to get into a club and listen to some jazz. Dick seemed to be feeling a little unhappy that it wasn't all going well. We left Bourbon Street to go to Royal Street, which was a little less sleazy and Dick suggested that Walt and I take Jeff and David and whoever else wanted to go to a club and just go off quietly on our own. But just at that time, we met Darrell Johnson. Johnson was standing on a corner and started doing a tap dance for us as we passed by. The kids crowded around him and someone encouraged Mara to dance with him. Soon Mara and Patrick were both dancing.
At the conclusion of the dance, Johnson said he was going to "sing a song for y'all" and launched into a Louis Jordan song. Louis Jordan happened to be Jeff's favorite singer in the world, so Jeff started singing with him, with the choir singing the verse. This turned into about a 15 minute jam session and was by far the highlight of the whole trip.
At the conclusion of the singing and dancing with Johnson, the kids decided that since he had performed for them, they would perform for him. Out came the boom box, Johnson blew his police whistle to direct traffic so that it wouldn't run the kids down, and they went through about four of their numbers, drawing an audience and collecting more money for Johnson.
As the fourth number was ending, a police officer came up to ask if anyone had a license. That pretty effectively ended the show, but it was truly one of those moments that just "happen," that can't be planned, and that help erase any discomfort or inconvenience that has gone on before or might come after. It was a night we will all long remember
By now it was getting late, we were all on a high and we decided that jazz in any club would be anticlimactic, so we just headed back to the hotel, stepping over the bodies on the ground and trying not to notice the foul odor or pile of excrement on the streets.