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A Note on the Treme and Its Music Claude Treme created the oldest faubourg (suburb) in New Orleans around 1812. Originally the home of many skilled artisan gens de couleur libre (Treepeople of color), the area still has some of the most distinctive and elegant architecture in the city. Its geographical boundaries seem to be a matter of opinion. In Backbeat:Earl Palmer's Story, Tony Scherman cites a 1980 architectural study as indicating that "the Treme extends from North Rampart to North Broad Streets, and from Canal Street to St. Bernard Avenue," but he goes on to say, "Most people ... consider it much smaller: the thirty block area extending on one side from Rampart to North Claiborne, on the other from Orleans to Esplanade."15 Austin Leslie, interviewed for the Treme Oral History Project,said, "The Treme is from Lafitte to Esplanade, down Claiborne, and North Rampart to St.Peter." Norman Smith, another interviewee for that project, indicated the neighborhood runs "from Galvez to Burgundy, from Lafitte to St. Bernard. In later years, the boundaries have been extended to Elysian Fields."16 What most people would regard as the area's economic decline during the last century coincided with a cultural richness and identity, particularly in the amount of music that emanated from the Treme and the appreciative enthusiasm that supported it. Recollecting the mid-1950s,Ernest "Doc" Watson recalled, "I would seethe older guys playing on the street. . . . That music was very popular in the Treme section—the people would do these little street dances, and so forth. Whenever we played in the Treme section, Little Millett would wait until around midnight, and start calling those old Dixieland numbers. Youhad to play that stuff down there."17 Milton Batiste, recalling working in "the Sixth Ward," remembered, "They had plenty of nightclubs there: the High Hat, the Caldonia and the other dance halls.... This was the very epitome of where blues and jazz actually was born."18 William Smith explains that the love of music helped create a strong sense of community in the neighborhood: "It's like—this is a high crime city, usually I lock my car when I go anywhere. But I can go in the Treme and leave it unlocked, with the tuba on the seat, and my horn on the hood, and they're not going to touch it. Becausethat would stop the band from playing."19 65 Older residentslook backto a time of order and cultural stability,when goats pulled little carts to the icehouse to keep the beer cold, where disagreements were resolved byfisticuffson Nanny Goat Square rather than by shootings, and Sunday afternoonswere spent making music for the sheer fun of the thing. As Norman Smith recalled, I lived on North Robertson—we had a unique neighborhood, and many of the peoplewere very talented. My earliest memories of music in Treme took place right in my backyard. The music was very unique—there were lots of traditional hymns. There were not many singers around then, but a lot of people who played instruments. Some of the Batiste family lived on St. Philip Street. The family was very musically inclined, and on a Sunday after church, when everybody had cooked their dinner and what have you, they would get in the backyard, and they'd make a big crock of Sangria, and they would put up a card table.Some people would play cards, and the Batiste family would get out their makeshift instruments and play music. There was the washboard, the comb and paper. My mother had a beautiful porcelain-topped table,and the guy that was supposed to be the drummer was playing on the tablewith two forks. One day we were having somuch fun in the yard, and the adults were drinkingthe Sangria and the Eagle beer.My mother looked down, and all round the corner of the table the forks had chipped the porcelain off. She broke the party up that day.20 Chef AustinLeslie,a long-term Treme resident, was for many years the proprietor of ChezHelenerestaurant at 932 North Claiborne.Trade and the neighborhood went down together. In 1996, he was running the New Orleans restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark. After a couple of years, he returned to the States and went to work in Oakland, California. Fortunately for New Orleans, that didn't work out, and in November 2002, he was back, using his considerable culinary skills atJacques Imo's on Oak Street. It seemed to...


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