When Chicago trumpeter Maurice Brown moved to Louisiana four years ago, he dreamed of becoming a star in the mythic birthplace of jazz: New Orleans.
He quickly achieved that goal, but after fleeing the city at 2 a.m. Sunday he believes he has lost all but his life.
"It’s all gone — I saw on TV where my whole neighborhood is flooded out," said Brown, speaking by phone as a friend drove him to his parents’ house in Harvey, Ill.
Hurricane Katrina has not only taken lives and destroyed home and possessions, but also has placed in peril the world’s most famous jazz city, where international tourists clamor to hear brass bands and where jazz stars such as Nicholas Payton and Ellis Marsalis nightly ignite the music that Louis Armstrong made famous.
From the portraits of Jelly Roll Morton and the great Satchmo that greet visitors at Louis Armstrong International Airport to the street musicians who riff "When the Saints Go Marching In" day and night on raucous Bourbon Street, New Orleans has been indelibly tied to music and revelry for more than a century.
"Great jazz and great food are so deeply imbedded into the culture of New Orleans, you just can’t imagine the city without them," says author Timuel Black, whose book "Bridges of Memory" traces the great migration of Southern blacks to Chicago.
"Jazz goes from one generation to another in New Orleans, passed down from musician to musician," he added, pointing to New Orleans’ most famous jazz dynasty, the Marsalises (pianist Ellis is father to trumpeter Wynton, saxophonist Branford, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason).
But the city’s cultural identity has been threatened by Hurricane Katrina, the floodwaters silencing world-famous clubs such as Preservation Hall, in the French Quarter, and Snug Harbor, just outside it. The dozens of New Orleans clubs featuring jazz, blues, rock, funk — as well as the restaurants that cater to music lovers — have long made the French Quarter and the emerging entertainment district on nearby Frenchmen Street tourist draws.
The city’s thriving cultural scene and its storied musical history drew Brown there.
After performing Saturday night at Tipitina’s, one of New Orleans’ fabled clubs, Brown and the rest of the room were evacuated.
Though Brown said he’s grateful that he got out in time, he grieves for what he has left behind.
"My whole recording studio, tons of music, a lot of original scores that I can’t ever get back, maybe 50 or 60 tunes I spent years working on — all gone," said Brown.
He estimates the losses, which are uninsured, at $50,000.
Still, Brown realizes he’s one of the lucky ones.
"But I’m not sure if I’m ever going to live in New Orleans again — I’m going to build a new foundation for my life," he said.