Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Impressive Panel

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem deserves credit for putting together the best panel on post-Katrina New Orleans at a jazz event I have yet attended, and I have suffered through many. Typically, they degenerate into a spectacle of Bush Derangement Syndrome, which does not help anyone. However, in a drastic departure from tradition, the Jazz Museum actually presented a panel with some philosophical balance as part of their Jazz for Curious Listeners educational series.

To be sure, there was plenty of Bush bashing, most vociferously from Stanley Crouch. Giving some programming balance was Anthony Napoli of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Mr. Napoli was not there to defend the Bush administration, but to speak of the Institute’s efforts in New Orleans. Yet, he did mention the Republican roots of his organization’s co-founder, Lewis Lehrman, the philanthropist and gubernatorial candidate who lost a close, hard-fought race against Cuomo in 1982.

In fact, the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s efforts in New Orleans have been considerable. They have worked with two charter schools, one in Algiers, the other near Tulane, restocking their libraries and helping arrange funding for their history departments. They have started special Saturday academies for supplemental instruction in American history, and by extension the basic knowledge students need as college prep. The Institute is even planning to open a special high school in New Orleans focusing on U.S. history. These are all real, tangible efforts on behalf of the city. You would think the Mayor would be interested in their efforts, or at least be willing to meet with them, but evidently not (you can support their efforts here). It is why moderator Loren Schoenberg concluded the panel saying words to the effect that regardless of their politics, everyone on the panel cared about the people of New Orleans. Very refreshing.

In addition to talk, there was also music, from panelist Jonathan Batiste. A New Orleans native, Batiste broke up the discussion with periodic musical selections, including a NOLA flavored “Green Chimneys.” He also doubled on melodic at one point, swinging it hard. (Melodicas seem to be in vogue lately, I’m hearing them much more often.) It was another good programming decision, as music is a major reason why so many care about the city’s fate.