Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alphabe - Thursday - "D" is for Dixieland Jazz - October 14, 2010

Alphabe - Thursday - "D" is for Dixieland Jazz - October 14, 2010


I'm writing this on Tuesday because, at 7AM Thursday morning, I depart San
Francisco for the "city that care forgot".  Friday night, the Charity Hospital School
of Nursing "Class of 9-10-65" ( our graduation date ) will gather for its 45 year reunion.
We started out with about 150 students in September of 1962 and ended up with only
about 75 remaining three years later.  Nursing school back then was rough.  You had to
live in the dorm until the final six months of your senior year when you could get a special
dispensation to marry, with the director's approval.  The hospital was run by the
Daughters of Charity who, back then, wore the old religious habits with the white
caps that made them look as though they were about to become airborne any minute.

As freshmen students, we had difficult classes, heavy in the sciences - anatomy and
physiology, chemistry, microbiology.  There were three mandatory ( monitored ) study
halls a day - two in the evening.  We had to be in by 8PM on week nights and by
12:30PM on weekends and sign in and out under the watchful eyes of stern
housemothers. Any infraction meant being campused for the weekend and having
to sign in every hour on the hour, from 8AM until 8PM, in full uniform.  If we survived
that first years, things got a little easier.  We were even allowed to work on our days
off in the areas where we had completed our nursing education - for the immense
sum of a dollar an hour. 

The hospital wasn't air conditioned and, until the summer we became seniors, neither
was our dormitory.  I don't really know how I survived.  My home in Georgia wasn't
air conditioned, either! 

There were some brights things, though, about life at Charity, the largest hospital in the
world under one roof ( something like a thousand beds, if I remember correctly )..  We
were student nurses with two medical schools - both LSU and Tulane - so there were
plenty of dates and many of our classmates married medical students or young doctors. 
New Orleans was a fun place, where you could drink legally at eighteen, get raw oysters
for a dollar a dozen back then and, in crawfish season, those little darlings were three
pounds for a dollar. 

And, of course, besides zydeco music about which I've already blogged, there was
Dixieland jazz.  For those of you who live elsewhere in the world, Dixieland, or, Dixie, is
a term used for the Southeastern part of the United States.

Dixieland jazz, born in New Orleans, early in the 20th century, is the oldest form of jazz.
According to Wikipedia, "The style combined earlier brass band marches, French
Quadrilles, ragtime and blues with collective, polyphonic improvisation. While
instrumentation and size of bands can be very flexible, the "standard" band consists
of a "front line" of trumpet (or cornet), trombone, and clarinet, with a "rhythm section"
of at least two of the following instruments: guitar or banjo, string bass or tuba, piano,
and drums". 

I was weaned on Dixieland jazz.  It was a favorite of my mother's and I can't remember a
time that I didn't love it and dance around to it.  I wonder if that is what got my brother
interested in playing the drums - which he did all through middle school, high school
and the Georgia Tech marching band.

I would enjoy weekends and going out in the French Quarter where you could hear jazz
wafting out of every other door.  Pete Fountain and Al Hirt both had clubs and there was
always Preservation Hall - a famous jazz hall, dating from the 60's, where one could sit
on wooden benches, stuffed in like sardines and hear some of the greatest New Orleans
jazz. - for about ten dollars.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs almost every
night and some of their musicians tour almost 150 nights a year.  I was thrilled, once, to
hear/see them at Stern Grove in San Francisco!

The original "Dukes of Dixieland"

Louis Arnstrong singing "The Basin Street Blues"

Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, singing, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?"

I guess I do know what it means to miss that city where I spent six important years of my
life.  It was so important to me that I even flew there from Boston to be married by a dear
priest friend, Monsignor Gerard Poche ( although he was not a monsignor back then ).
He had been our nursing school Newman Club chaplain though I didn't really remember
that.  I got to know him when he ws my patient at Mercy Hospital and we stayed friends
forever after.  When Shawn was born, his father and I flew to New Orleans in a small
plane Ed rented so  Jerry could baptize Shawn!  Both men will be in our thoughts on

Sometime, in the next five days, if I'm lucky, I may even get to see a jazz funeral.  Talk
about a send off.  The band plays and anyone walking down the street just joins right
in the procession. 

Funeral scene from James Bond movie, "Live and Let Die"

I'm taking part in Jenny Matlock's Alphabe - Thursday.  Be there or be square!

Note:  I'll be away from the 14th to about 1AM the 20th - please forgive me if I'm
delinguent with reading comments and replying - I may even get behind on my
blog posts as I celebrate with my nursing school classmates of almost half
a century ago!  I'll report in if I find time.  Otherwise, I'll update everyone when
I return to San Francisco.  You'll be in my thoughts, though.


  1. Oh, Carmen, this is beyond wonderful. I was thinking of Preservation Hall when I found out you were on your way back to New Orleans. And Pete Fountain and Al Hirt, of course, because they were popular when I was young. But I, too, was weaned on Dixieland and, I must admit, Swing music because my musician father admired Glenn Miller almost as much as he loved Louis Armstrong. Even my youngest brother, born when I was 21, was weaned on Dixieland. The first musician he learned to recognize was Louis Armstrong, and he was only two years old.
    I played "Basin Street Blues" because I couldn't resist. (I actually saw Louis Armstrong in concert when I was a teenager.) Will listen to the rest after I've had my breakfast.
    Fabulous post. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  2. I love Dixieland Jazz. I've never been to New Orleans, but I hope to visit some day. La

  3. I love jazz, mainly latin jazz, I can't deny my roots, my soul, my Latin America.

    Regards and than for the music.


    [Barcelona Daily Photo]

  4. You literally took me back to those years that I lived in NO. I love that city and had many wonderful memories!

    What a fantastic post, enjoy your time there, and will see back when you come home.

  5. I'm not a big jazz fan, but I'm happy for you.

  6. I'm looking forward to hearing about your reunion. Have a great time!

  7. Thanks for posting these photos and videos, it reminds me so much of the years I lived in NO> Hope you are having fun!! I envy you...

  8. What a lovely story! I am not surprised so many girls dropped out. Those were difficult conditions not only to study in but in which to try grow as a person.

    I love jazz. I often think I was born in the wrong era and place! We had a rich jazz history in South Africa too that was linked to many displaced communities.

  9. Carmen, I'm very happy that you will be with your nursing classmates, celebrating and enjoying and having fun! :)

    I didn't realize that you're a New Orleans girl! :) We have a New Orleans restaurant over here in Fort Bonifacio Global City, and they are always playing good ole New Orleans music and people get up and dance.. :)