Monthly Archives: July 2013


image: William Claxton, Jazzlife

Visiting New Orleans was like being in Dixieland Jazz heaven, if such a place existed. Lots of wonderful food and music everywhere. Striptease clubs had replaced many of the famous old jazz joints, but they had jazz musicians in the pit bands. We owed much of the success of our New Orleans visit to the young jazz musicologist, Richard Allen, who, when he wasn’t teaching jazz history at Tulane University, would take Joe and me around “‘Orlans” and introduce us to just about every celebrity in the New Orleans jazz scene. We met almost every member of the three important marching bands: the Tuxedo Brass Band, the Eureka Brass Band and the George Williams Brass Band. We photographed two funerals and one Creole club celebration. When a member of a band or lodge dies, his fellow band members and friends accompany the coffin from the funeral home or church to the cemetery while the band plays a dirge (a slow and solemn piece of music). After the burial ceremonies, the bands break into a joyful tune, and everyone dances and sings along with the marching bands as they head through the French Quarter to a clubhouse, where a party ensues. The young tough guys of the city who can’t play instruments add to the gala march by dancing and swinging colorful parasols and umbrellas. They are known as the “Second Liners.”

By William Claxton. Excerpt from the book ‘William Claxton. Jazzlife’



REBIRTH: New Orleans is a documentary film following the transformation of New Orleans’ public school system after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

In the aftermath of the 2005 storm, Louisiana chose a radical approach: it took over New Orleans schools and decided not to rebuild the old system. Instead, New Orleans would rely on charter schools, public schools run by private operators. Produced by Learning Matters and drawing from over 7 years of footage, the film follows several charter schools, the efforts of charismatic superintendent Paul Vallas, and civic leaders like Leslie Jacobs and Aesha Rasheed as all work to provide educational opportunities for the children of New Orleans.

Featuring an incredible soundtrack by New Orleans’ own Wynton Marsalis, REBIRTH: New Orleans weaves stories of students, teachers, parents, education leaders, activists and critics into a human saga of what happens when a city’s education system is turned upside down.  At a time when public education and school reform have become hot-button topics nationwide, this film cuts through the hype to present a nuanced view of this important story.

RACE is a cautionary tale about how not to go about rebuilding a city post-disaster, and challenges the mythology of post-racialism in the age of President Obama. Against the backdrop of a devastated city, a largely displaced citizenry, and an increasingly divided community, this documentary film charts the unlikely 2006 re-election of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin by a completely different electorate than had first put him in office.

Funded by white conservatives, Nagin first ran in 2002 as the business candidate. Largely unpopular within most of the New Orleans African-American community, Nagin was elected to office with 86% of the white vote and 38% of the African-American vote, and had been expected to cruise to re-election. But then Katrina hit.

Following the destruction wrought by the failure of the federal levees and the forced exodus from the city, it became apparent that New Orleans might have lost its African-American majority for the first time in 30 years. Nagin was abandoned by his white base, and an unprecedented number of candidates emerged to challenge him, many of whom were white. Emerging as the frontrunner was Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, the son of a civil rights pioneer and the last white mayor of New Orleans. With the displacement of so many voters, Nagin faced the fight of his political life.

But on May 22, 2006 and against all expectations, Nagin won re-election with 83% of the African-American vote and 21% of the white vote, a near reversal of his base. This local election captured national attention and came to constitute a post-Katrina civil rights protest, but one in which many participants had mixed feelings. RACE tracks what happened and why during a pivotal political moment for a city in crisis.

New Orleans, Louisiana is the murder capital of the United States. For the last decade, statistics have shown murder rates four to six times higher than the national average. Eighty percent of the victims are black males, mostly in their teenage years. This is the city’s greatest neglected crisis with profound implications for the issues of violence and crime most American cities face. New Orleans government, law enforcement, community leaders, and well-intentioned citizens cannot agree on a prognosis or a solution to this situation. Wherever a disagreement is escalating into violence, an execution is being planned, or a victim is taking his last breath, it is more than likely a youth is witnessing or carrying out these actions.

Shell Shocked attempts to bridge the gap of this disconnect by hearing the ideas, opinions, and testimonies from activists, community leaders, police, city officials, youth program directors, family and friends of victims, and the children who live in these violent circumstances. We are looking for positive solutions to an extremely negative situation.


MAP Architects:

The studio is an architectural platform based in Copenhagen, active internationally, engaged mostly with projects in challenging environments. Our designs span through various scales and spheres of action, often challenging the status-quo through inventiveness and a cross-disciplinary approach. Collaborative work with engineers and the scientific community, like our collaboration with UNESCO’s water resilience department, or NASA, is part of every project we undertake. From master plans in flood prone areas, to efficient design in arctic regions, from dessertification or abandoned infrastructure, our methodology aims to turn hazards into assets. We truly believe that what exists is only a small part of what is possible, and we design driven by this principle.

Modern day New Orleans was a city that defied the odds. Built on a mosquito-infested swamp surrounded by water, it sits in a bowl 2.5m below sea-level. Its very existence seemed proof of the triumph of engineering over nature.

But on the 29 August 2005 the city took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina and overnight turned into a Venice from hell. In the chaos that followed the worst natural disaster in American history, a forensic investigation has begun to find out what went wrong and why. Scientists are now confronting the real possibility that New Orleans may be the first of many cities to face extinction.

Professor Ivor Van Heerden of Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Centre used computer modelling to simulate hurricane paths across New Orleans. He had been appointed by the state to discover why New Orleans flooded so catastrophically and had his own unique methods of gathering data. By collecting eye-witness testimonies from residents and the stopped clocks from their flooded homes, Van Heerden pieced together a timeline of the levee breaches. He also took samples from the breach sites for analysis.

His results were shocking. He believed they showed that there was a design fault in the levees. “The old system that led to the design and the building of them, the funding, the decision making process, didn’t work. We’ve got to change that and part of that is going to be for the federal government and the engineers corps to step up to the plate and say we screwed up.”

Over the years the levees and dams stopped annual floods from the Mississippi River. As a result sediments that were brought down by the river to replenish the land were prevented from reaching their natural destination. Gradually Louisiana started to lose its coast. Today it has the highest rate of coastal land loss in North America. Every 20 minutes an area the size of Wembley stadium is swallowed up by the sea.

Shea Penland, a coastal geologist at the University of New Orleans, knows every inlet, every cove and every stretch of marsh that surrounds the city. He also knows that Louisiana’s wetlands, thought of as wasteland for years, are in fact critical to the survival of the city. Providing protection against storm surges, these wetlands are a natural defence against the onslaught of hurricanes. As he says: “The first line of defence isn’t the levee in your backyard, the first line of defence is that marsh in your back yard and we’re learning what that means.”

After the disaster, he chartered a seaplane to investigate the overnight loss to Louisiana’s precious wetlands. What he discovered sounded like the death knoll for the city. In just one night, Louisiana had lost three-quarters of the wetland that it usually loses in one year. Without this protection, New Orleans is a sitting duck against future storms.

And the problems don’t just stop there. The city itself is sinking. Since 1878 it has dropped by 4.5m, one of the highest rates of subsidence in the entire United States. Once again it’s mainly human intervention that is to blame. According to Professor Harry Roberts, a geologist at the Louisiana State University: “It’s been accelerated by man’s efforts to keep the water out of the city. When you pump the water out of those kinds of soils they start to collapse and even more importantly the organic material oxidises and goes away so you’ve taken out one component of the soil, and all that adds up to subsidence.”