WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A year after Hurricane Katrina ran its ruinous course over New Orleans, all America is aware of the botch that state, local and federal government made of rescue and rehabilitation efforts. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, "Uncle Sam has spent some five times more on Katrina relief than any other natural disaster in the past 50 years." The city remains only about half-populated. A lot more needs to be done, and if it is not accomplished soon important commercial and cultural losses may follow that could be irreparable for the home of American jazz.
In terms of large-scale commerce, private corporations such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot have stepped in, making contributions of billions of dollars that have been especially helpful to residential revival. Now in the realm of culture help is on the way. This coming week in New York City, the venerable Society of Singers (SOS), supported by Manhattan's own Alex Donner Productions, is hosting "A Night in New Orleans," an evening of jazz and New Orleans culture for the benefit of New Orleans musicians displaced by the hurricane. The riches of Madonna and Britney Spears notwithstanding, musicians are for the most part people who live on the margins financially. Many in New Orleans have lost their homes and livelihoods and been displaced across the country. The longer they are away from their New Orleans gigs, the more likely it is that authentic New Orleans jazz will wither and expire, to be heard on CDs but no longer the vibrant force it has been on the streets of this famous city.
Consequently this effort led by SOS's Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of the Duke, and Alex Donner, head of one of the great swing/society bands of the country, is beyond timely. It is exigent. And it is being done right. SOS has been assisting financially strapped musicians since its founding in 1984 by the widow of Henry Mancini. The organization knows how to verify the authentic needs of those it helps and their commitment to music. As to the high style of the evening, Miss Ellington knows a thing or two about that. She is one of Broadway's accomplished choreographers. And she will be ably assisted by band leader Donner and by Kate Edmonds, an archaeologist of the social scene who is ensuring that the evening features authentic New Orleans decor, food and even Mardi Gras masks.