DISPATCH FROM NEW ORLEANS
After Katrina, the Jazzman Plays On
Monday, January 30, 2006
NEW ORLEANS -- Peter Badie is in the kitchen, rummaging around in a drawer for a spoon. This isn't his kitchen. His kitchen was filled with 10 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina and likely awaits the wrecking ball. The 80-year-old jazz musician is homeless and temporarily living in a spare bedroom of a Creole cottage here in the Faubourg Marigny section of town. This is Sue Hall's kitchen.
"Sue Hall, where is that big pan?" Badie calls out.
"Peter, it's where you left it," says the voice from the other room.
Horns and clarinets drift from speakers above. Badie catches sight of his black sunglasses on the counter. He snatches them up and slips them into his shirt pocket, mindful of being a neat houseguest. "Sue Hall, I've got some fish cakes out here."
The hurricane has forced all sorts of unexpected arrangements, and Badie and Hall are just one unlikely Odd Couple living in the aftermath. Badie is an accomplished acoustic bass player who has toured with Lionel Hampton. Hall booked bands at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. When she heard that Badie lost his home in the Lower Ninth Ward, she offered him a place to stay.
Hall has red hair and pearly skin. She was born in Kankakee, Ill. Chili pepper lights hang in her kitchen; Southern folk art and pink flamingos abound. In the middle of this bright whimsy is Badie, an austere modern jazzman, as cool as midnight itself, dealing with his homelessness, anger and unsure future.
This is life in New Orleans now: tenuous, with strange forgings and new beginnings. No one is saying how long the arrangement will last.
Badie -- known as "Chuck" -- has a salt-and-pepper soul patch. He is a widower and devout Catholic. His routine is simple. He rises mid-morning, says his prayers and then emerges from his borrowed room and makes a pot of grits. He is immensely proud, almost to the point of defiance. He recently returned a $4,000 check that the musicians union sent him by mistake.
At Hall's kitchen table, he reads the New Orleans Times-Picayune from cover to cover. "They say New Orleans will be back," Badie says. "Not for me it won't. I'm 80 years old."
Badie was born in 1925 in the Black Pearl section of Uptown in New Orleans. His father was a jazz saxophonist with the Eureka and Olympia brass bands. Badie didn't pick up music until he got out of the Navy in 1945 and used the GI Bill to enroll at the Grunewald School of Music in New Orleans, a beacon of progressivism in a city cleaved by race. "Whites were on the first floor and blacks were on the second floor; to me, that's integrated," Badie says.
Zoot Sims, Dizzy Gillespie -- Badie played with the best of them. Along with other black musicians, he helped found the A.F.O. (All For One) record label in 1961. But musicians were paid so little that Badie worked as a lunch waiter at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter for 15 years, making $500 a week, five times what he earned playing music.
Before the hurricane, he had a standing gig at the Palm Court, and he rolled up in style: punctual, a pressed shirt and a 1979 black Cadillac roomy enough to carry his bass in the back seat. He lived alone at his house on North Johnson Street. Other musicians die in rental apartments, but Badie had his house.