Jazz Stories, a wonderfully funny, nostalgic and zany collection of short stories like only Professor Arturo aka Arthur Pfister can write, is currently in production and should be out in late August. It was out of print for several years and is now back by popular demand through DVille Press. An adept poet, Pfister rightfully refers to his stories as "piction" -- a combination of poetry and fiction, and the riffs and rhythm of jazz music are audible as the reader is immersed in the sights, sounds and characters of his native city New Orleans. No one writing today captures New Orleans neighborhoods and their inhabitants with the same zest and imagination as the Professor!
About the author:
Arthur Pfister IS the voice of Treme and the New Orleans that birthed jazz! His stories in this wonderful collection are each in its own right part of that rhythm -- funny, edgy, poignant and brilliant just as he, the city's native son, is. This book and his earlier collection of poetry, My Name Is New Orleans, are sure to become classics. We are fortunate that despite Professor Arturo moving to Connecticut after Hurricane Katrina, the voices that inspire his prolific writing are still rooted in his formative years in the Crescent City.
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A REVIEW OF
From Katrina to Connecticut
By: Willmarine B. Hurst
“For a wide-eyed, short pants, shirtless, barefoot child, her red brick-framed garden was a laboratory of ages-old, wizened woman wisdom. It was mysterious, magical and majestic. It was a wonderful world.”
From “Mama Rachel’s Garden.”
The “Professor” has done it again! If you liked Arthur Pfister’s (aka Professor Arturo) previously published book, “My Name is New Orleans: 40 years of Poetry and Other Jazz,” then this quirky, mind-tickling book of Jazz Stories will have you up in stitches, rolling on the floor with laughter and remembering when. Of course, it will help if you can follow the flow of his syncopated style of writing, his long, drawn-out sentence structure and his verbose verbiage. Pfister is a master of word manipulation and rhyming schematics. It will also help if you’re a “Baby Boomer” who can recall the words, places and dialogue of a bygone era of New Orleans.
Jazz Stories takes you on a wild ride through the streets of New Orleans, in some now defunct bars and restaurants and in the homes of some shady and not-so-shady characters. Jazz Stories is about lost love, found love and lost and found again. It’s about illicit and forbidden love in his story, “The Tree, a New Orleans tale of Forbidden Love;” which chronicles the friendship and eventual love affair between a white woman and a black man. And it tells of the “Graveyard Love” of a good woman and a no-good man who kills her and then takes his own life after she caught him cheating on her. It’s about oyster bars and steak houses. The book speaks of music, night life, juke joints and poetry corners.
Pfister goes on some wild excursions through the city during a hurricane night in his tale of the travels of “A Big, Red, Chicken-Eatin’ Man” to Prout’s bar, Scotty’s, Blunt’s, Club 77, the Desert Sands and ending up at Gloria’s Living Room for a night of drinking, merriment and poetry—all while the winds and rains of “Hurricane Gilinthia, a relatively light, category 1-level storm was lumbering across the Gulf.”
As with his previous book, Pfister takes liberty with names, places and a variety of familiar scenarios and streets of New Orleans. Though the book is fictional (and in some instances, “piction” i.e. fiction + poetry = piction), he still references some past celebs of yester year. In one particular story, Pfister writes, “He flicked on the dial. Ed “Screamin” Teamer, Larry McKinley, Poppa Stoppa, Shelly Pope or somebody would be jammin’ sumthin’ on some station on such a night as this…” Those were really old-school radio disc jockeys who are no longer with us.
The stories are not just in old New Orleans, as he references the event which led him to write this book—Hurricane Katrina. Pfister explained in his notes how he came to end up in
Connecticut saying, “For me, as an artist and New Orleanian, Katrina was a much-needed, welcome cleansing,…” He also says that his first few days in Stamford was “culturally constrained,” as there were no “traditional verbal exchanges of the linguistics of social pleasantries” to which he was accustomed. To be sure, he definitely would not be hearing any, “Who dat?” “How ya moma ‘em?,” and “Yeah, ya right” on the streets of Stamford. So, being “culturally constrained” would definitely be an adjustment for an outspoken, culturally-engrained New Orleanian.
Jazz Stories makes for very interesting readings. Each story has its own unique setting. When reading the book, it gets difficult to tell if this is actually truth or fiction, though he clearly dispels the former. He does, however, mention many things that are not fiction, such as a reference to the Mardi Gras Indians in “Sew, Sew, Sew (to Momma and the Mardi Gras Indians),” and his spin on Handa Wanda (from Cinderella as told by Jacob and Wilheim Grimm).
There is also a very lovely, whimsical story entitled “Mama Rachel’s Garden” where he lists a plethora of beautiful flowers and plants that have all but disappeared from gardens around the city, post Hurricane Katrina. “Mama Rachael’s yard was a gathering place for caterpillars, snakes, spiders, scorpions, daddy longlegs; those large, papery multi-colored flowers (I think they was hibiscus); vivid and vibrantly painted ladybugs, rose bushes, Easter lilies, hydrangeas, camellias…” Pfister says that the garden was also a “patchwork of food stuff. There were snapbeans, and squash, tomatoes, collard greens and orkee, plums, pecawns, peppers, onions, garlic and cucumbers.” Today, we now see a lot of “edible school gardens” and a return to home gardening post the pandemic; however, none as elaborate and fruitful as Mama Rachael’s Garden.
Pfister takes the reader’s mind on a sort of lazy river ride down memory lane to places that only a few baby boomers can now recall. His use of words and phrases are unique to that time period and also a colloquialism of expressions of old New Orleans. But for all the non-New Orleanians and youngsters, Pfister has placed a “glossary” in the back of the book—which will be much needed. I’m sure not everyone knows what a “chineyball tree” is, or that a “Pitty Party” is not really a party and a “Quardroon ball” is not a round toy. And of course, you will have to know what he is talking about when he mentions the Gallo, Lincoln and Carver Theaters; or Dooky Chase restaurant—which is still standing and serving the tourists and New Orleanians, alike. And just who were the “Gown Men.” Check them out in the glossary. You would also have to know that Falstaff, Regal, Jax and Dixie are not royalty or places, but they are defunct beer breweries that controlled 80 percent of the New Orleans market.
Thirty years after Falstaff brewery closed, it has been turned into apartment condos. However, the iconic FALSTAFF sign and weather ball can still be seen, lighting up the nights, in the heart of mid-city. And in 2017, New Orleans Saints and Pelican owners Tom and Gayle Benson purchased the Dixie brewery. In 2020, after the death of Tom Benson, Gayle Benson renamed Dixie Beer because of the public outcry to the association of its name with the Confederacy. She says that she chose the Faubourg Brewery ‘as a tribute to the diverse neighborhoods of New Orleans’ and moved its location to the New Orleans East.
This book is jazzed up with stories, sayings, idioms, and expressions which paints a nostalgic mural of the city from a previous lifetime. It is NOT for young children. Pfister did an excellent job in creating, recalling and infusing his poetry, stories into this work of art. In 2020, DVillePress published a second edition of the book minus the subtitle, but with all the same interesting and fun-loving stories.
Though he has been away from the city for some time now, Pfister knows what it means to miss New Orleans.’ Once again, because of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ loss is some others’ gain—in this case, it is Connecticut’s.
Willmarine B. Hurst is a freelance writer and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org