Robert was born and Raised in New Orleans grew up in the Lower 9th ward Started playing Music when he was 12 yrs. old. he is from a Family of Musicians that goes back to the 1870′s.His Great Great Great Grandmother Sang in the French Opera House in New Orleans.Robert’s father Sidney Snow has been playing Music since 1957 in New Orleans.His Uncle Ron also since that Time.Robert has Played with Many New Orleans Greats Including Danny Barker,Dave Bartholomew,Ernie K Doe,Johmmy Adams,The New Orleans Jazz Vipers,The Palmetto Bug Stompers,The New Orleans Cottonmouth Kings,Linnzi Zasorski,King James and The Specialmen,The Loose Marbles,Meschiya Lake,Glen David Andrews ,The Lastie Family,Hot Club of New Orleans,The Melatauns and many others.He is a sought after Sideman with many Bands.He Has performed all over the world Including Montreal,Toured England,Scotland and Wales,Paris France,Moscow Russi with the Heritage Hall Jazz Band.He has performed at the Lincoln Center 2 times and the Grand Reopening of the Deyoung Museum in San Francisco.He is Co Leader of the Palmetto Bug Stompers.He comtinues to work on Frenchmen Street and all over the State of Louisiana.

PLAYING UNDER THE RADAR

01 December 2006 — by Katy Reckdahl
  Share on Tumblr

 

In September 2005, the New Orleans Jazz Vipers were one of the first jazz bands back on the streets of New Orleans. It was a month after the hurricane and almost no music venues were open yet, so the band played outdoors, near the corner of Decatur and Gov. Nicholls streets, outside Angeli on Decatur.

“Then the Angeli people invited us in,” says Viper bassist Robert Snow. The band would play Tuesday nights at Angeli for nearly a year—until the city of New Orleans put a stop to it. Angelidoesn’t have a live-music permit. Because of the city’s zoning process, it would be nearly impossible for the café to get a live-music permit, even for the acoustic, traditional jazz of the Jazz Vipers. That despite the fact that the late-night café is located in the noisy French Quarter on a particularly raucous strip of Decatur, within clear earshot of the jukeboxes and sound systems at Molly’s, the Abbey, and Margaritaville.

Snow is steamed. “I think that the city should not be asking for permits, period. Anyone trying to help musicians should be left alone,” he says. Residential neighborhoods are different, says Snow, a born-and-raised New Orleanian whose father, Sidney Snow, is a well-known jazz guitarist and bandleader. He understands that the city needs to enforce reasonable time restrictions and limits in some of this city’s more bucolic neighborhoods. But he feels this city’s own acoustic music—jazz—belongs in Vieux Carre venues. “You’re talking about the French Quarter,” says Snow. “The problem is that some new people have moved into the Quarter from somewhere else and then started complaining about the noise. Well, they should move to South Dakota. Because the Quarter has always had music.”

By the same token, jazz musicians have always had the Quarter. The gig at Angeli wasn’t the highest-paying gig in town, but once the Jazz Vipers passed the tip jar and sold some CDs, each of the band’s six or seven members typically walked out the door with $60 or $70. In all, Angeli’s seven-nights-a-week of jazz employed 20 to 30 musicians a week, Snow estimates. The gig helped them to pay bills during tough times.

Viper guitarist John Rodli thinks back to September 2005. Angeli “was a pretty special place, especially in the beginning,” says Rodli, as people returned to New Orleans and found themselves clinging to jazz, the music of a torn-apart city. During those times, permit enforcement wasn’t a worry. “Live music was the last thing the city was concerned with,” he says.

The Vipers also scored a steady Wednesday gig at a lounge in the Bywater that had, pre-storm, only hired musicians on Thursdays. Earlier this fall, city enforcement shut down that gig too, along with the bar’s weekend gigs.

The Vipers have replaced their Tuesday-night gig with another venue that they’d prefer not to name at this point because it may not have a music permit either. The extra money is an especial relief to Rodli, whose girlfriend is expecting their first child in March. Or it had been a relief. Just before press time, a Vipers gig was scrapped there too because the club got wind of a threatened permit sweep by the city.

The loss of these few gigs has hit the city’s musicians hard. That’s because the city’s devastated tourism industry has left jazz musicians with few of the more lucrative convention gigs that helped them make ends meet. Now, local gigs supported by locals are the only way they’re surviving. The next time the city debates how best to save its culture, says Snow, it should consider curtailing permit enforcement. “We don’t want no help from the city,” he says. “We’ll never see any part of that big million-dollar Irvin Mayfield [national jazz park] deal. Just get out of the way and let us play.”

After Katrina, jazz musicians seemed welcome almost everywhere. Loyal music nightclubs began offering more music as a show of support to musicians. Other longtime local establishments, like Angeli, opened their doors to music for the first time. Brand-new clubs such as Ray’s Boom Boom Room on Frenchmen Street put their focus on live music. Charitable groups like the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic and the New Orleans Musicians’ Hurricane Relief Fund were paying musicians $100 a night just to play.

“We’re trying to make sure that all of our musicians stay working and that nobody leaves,” says Beth Fisher, the communications director for the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic. “At first, we were paying musicians who were playing in Jackson Square and almost anybody who was working, playing their instrument anywhere,” The clinic’s first gig fund, which offered immediate help to all musicians, eventually morphed into a second gig fund, which helped non-profit agencies to hire musicians. Now the clinic has shifted to a third gig fund that funds four traditional clubs in the city—Snug Harbor, Ray’s Boom Boom Room, Palm Court, and Preservation Hall—in an effort to help traditional jazz musicians, particularly those over age 55, “because they can’t work two and three jobs like the younger musicians can,” says Fisher. She’s not aware that the clinic paid anyone for a non-permitted gig, but musicians say that some of the early gigs that the clinic supported, many of which continue today, are technically illegal. “We’ve all been doing what I call ‘below the radar’ gigs,” says one older jazz musician, who admits to at least two of those gigs each week.

This same musician says that he’s rattled by the citations at Angeli and at the Bywater club, mostly because it may indicate a move toward stricter enforcement, which could doom other gigs—“wholesome, positive gigs,” he says—that, he believes help to keep musicians like him busy, sane, and financially above water.

The tone of the arts portion of the city’s Master Plan, enacted in October 2002, isn’t optimistic about music joints in any part of town. It reads: “While the New Orleans music scene has traditionally depended on neighborhood venues (e.g. Tipitina’s, Maple Leaf, Carrollton Station, Funky Butt) as a place for local musicians to develop their talents and gain audiences, attendant noise, parking, and garbage concerns have made some of these venues generally less welcome in neighborhoods.”

Yet club and coffeehouse owners hosting these “below the radar” gigs say that they’ve heard no complaints. In fact, they say, their neighbors have embraced the music, as long as it’s acoustic and ends by 10 p.m. Those criteria have nothing to do with the law, says Edward Horan, zoning administrator for the city’s Department of Safety and Permits. Basically, a place is either allowed to have live music or it’s not. Restaurants and coffeehouses are prohibited from having live music unless they are specifically granted a permit for that.

Frenchmen Street is an exception to this, ever since a new “arts overlay” began to allow music at restaurants as long as the band is three pieces or less and plays only unamplified, acoustic music. The overlay also requires a few more things: that there be no permanent stage, that the restaurant’s full menu be offered during the entire performance, and that the music wraps up by 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and by 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Ray’s Boom Boom Room has been featuring music since May, but he hasn’t yet complied with all of the overlay’s criteria. The club also was missing a state alcohol license, which forced owner Elray “Ray Ray” Holmes to close the Boom Boom Room’s doors for about a week in early November. Now that he’s ironed out his licenses with the state, Holmes says, he’s focused on getting his city permits in line. And while he intends to do everything necessary for compliance, he’s still not sure that his district should have such strict rules. “I think Frenchmen Street is making a name for itself. I call it the jazz district; it is where the locals want to go,” says Holmes, who describes his bookings as “local, homegrown music” like brass bands and jazz acts. He doesn’t understand, however, the necessity of the overlay’s limits on band members, amplification, and permanent stages. “They just need to waive all of that; it really doesn’t make sense if no one is complaining,” he says.

Horan, the zoning administrator, says that under the club’s current zoning, Holmes also must meet the city’s definition of “restaurant,” which means that 51 percent of his sales must come from his menu. “He needs to push food,” says Horan, who has urged Holmes to apply instead for a conditional-use permit, which is what the Spotted Cat, d.b.a. and Café Rose Nicaud have done in order to offer live music on Frenchmen Street as legitimate bars, not simply restaurants.

The difference between the Quarter and the Marigny is that Holmes can actually apply for a new designation in the Marigny. That wouldn’t be possible across Esplanade Avenue. “The Marigny embraced and created something that they could support and foster. And the Quarter residents have restricted entertainment to Bourbon Street.” Beyond Bourbon Street, the Quarter does have another legal entertainment district, on the first three blocks of Decatur Street—this allows the House of Blues to operate. Any live-music establishments outside of these districts are technically illegal, unless they’re long-running clubs that have asked to be “grandfathered” into legality. The requests are not rubberstamped—a current court case challenges the length of time a club has to feature live music before it can be considered eligible for grandfathering. Some well-known venues have not even requested grandfathering, Palm Court among them.

These closely guarded entertainment districts are hard-won victories for French Quarter residents, who have spent years fighting against “commercial encroachment” like loud bars, bed-and-breakfasts, and T-shirt shops. In 1994, a group of Quarter residents formed French Quarter Citizens for Preservation of Residential Quality, which focuses on “quality-of-life” issues in the Vieux Carre. In 1999, the group’s co-president Dr. Carol Greve wrote a letter to members citing noise as “the most pressing problem for residents.” One of the group’s members spent two weeks walking around the Quarter and created a detailed map that included problem venues like bars. “As you read these figures, remember that the French Quarter is only 78 blocks,” wrote Greve. “There are 143 bars-clubs. Of these, 76 have live entertainment. These figures do not include hotels.”

Greve say that those same concerns exist today, even if a proposed club wants to offer only acoustic music. “Acoustical jazz would be great because it wouldn’t disturb neighbors,” she says. But her organization opposes live music of any sort if it’s performed outside the two defined entertainment districts. As a result, it was her organization that complained about Angeli. “This is such a difficult issue because we’re so sympathetic to musicians,” says Greve. “And we haven’t done anything about some places, like a restaurant that brings in a jazz combo on Sundays.”

Greve says that her group has discussed creating a distinction between acoustic jazz and the booming, overamplified music often heard on Bourbon Street today. “Because there’s definitely a difference,” she says. “But so far that’s not been done. At this point, if someone gets a live entertainment license for a nice jazz combo, the next owner can come in and do anything. Once you get live entertainment, you get live entertainment.”

The tension about live entertainment is particularly pronounced regarding Rampart Street, which has a musical history that dates back at least a century. Here’s how the New Orleans Master Plan describes it: “The Rampart Street corridor, historically associated with African American arts and entertainment, contained many music clubs and gathering places for musicians. The area of the famed Storyville red-light district, along with the Tango Belt below Basin Street, formed an entertainment district with numerous saloons and cabarets.”

Most of Storyville was demolished in the late 1930s to make way for the Iberville public housing project. The rest of Rampart will not re-live its history either, since, according to the report: “Bourbon Street-style entertainment with its alcohol orientation, amplified music, and commonplace littering is found unacceptable by residents.” Instead, the report recommends that Rampart Street be revitalized as a “mixed-use arts and cultural district steeped in African American and jazz history.”

Which begs the question: can you have a district “steeped in jazz history” without allowing actual live jazz? The answer: not if residents oppose it. One study recommended that live music be permitted on the first several blocks of Rampart Street. Residents did not agree nor did their councilwoman, so Horan and his department uphold their wishes. “The neighborhood association does not want to legalize live music in the French Quarter, the birthplace of jazz,” he says.

Greve’s concerns about live-music clubs extend even to Rampart Street, typically considered a dingy stepchild of the Quarter, the street where prostitutes, hard liquor, and used condoms have long been an everyday part of the scenery.

“Our fear,” she wrote in 1999, “is that Burgundy and the side streets leading up to Rampart will become residential dead zones.” That same year, the organization went to the city council with a 300-person petition opposed to the Funky Butt’s proposed re-zoning as an entertainment district. That opposition continues. The Funky Butt, once located at 714 N. Rampart St., was a hot jazz spot from 1996 until the summer of 2005, when it closed. Attempts post-Katrina to re-open it as a live-music venue were not supported by former city Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson. Her replacement, newly elected Councilman James Carter, has not adopted a position on the issue.

Jordan Hirsch, administrator for the New Orleans Musicians’ Relief Fund, calls the restrictions “ridiculous.” He sees them as symptoms of a bigger problem: that New Orleans has not decided how the arts fit into the city’s rebuilding process. “As a result,” he says, “the city is falling back on what was in place pre-Katrina. But that’s not equal to the task right now.”

Hirsch thinks that the city should ease up on permit enforcement for jazz gigs as long as they have the support of the community and are generating jobs for musicians. “If someone can find musicians who are in town, put together a band and play in post-Katrina New Orleans, I say God bless them,” he says.

Horan, who has worked with the city’s zoning since 2000, says that any changes like that would have to come through the city council. Whenever French Quarter residents or any other residents have wanted to make changes, says Horan, they did so by exerting pressure on the council. Musicians could do the same thing. “But there isn’t an organized musicians’ community that can exert political influence to make these kind of changes,” he says. “And often laws get written by he who yells loudest.”

www.frenchmenstreetmusic.com

http://www.facebook.com/robert.d.snow.7