Interview with Jazz Vocalist John Boutte

New Orleans has long been known for its music and festivals and is often referred to as the “most unique” city in the United States. Unfortunately, this distinctive city has also experienced more than its fair share of disasters in the past few years. At the Edmonton FolkFest this year, New Orleans native John Boutté played for his first time at Edmonton’s festival, and I had the chance to talk with him about his music as well as his interesting birthplace.

“New Orleans is such a beautiful musical city, we’ve got jazz of course, but we also dance the bamboula, we have the French Opera House, we have Spanish influence, classical music, marching band music and gospel of course. So the whole amalgamation of these sounds is just kind of like a backdrop, it’s like the highway, you can always hear it passing,” Boutté spoke fondly of his hometown during an interview at the FolkFest.

In the past five years, New Orleans has been hit hard by many disasters. The 2005 hurricane season was particularly difficult for the city with Hurricane Katrina striking the city in August and Hurricane Rita postponing restoration of the city when it hit in September of the same year. More recently, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico affected the city when oil washed up on wildlife refuges and seafood grounds on the Louisiana coast.

However through all these disasters, the people of New Orleans still keep coming back home, “I think we have no other choice,” explains Boutté, “there’s no room for us anywhere else, where are we going to go? I don’t think that anybody from New Orleans wants to live in Kansas, I mean Kansas is okay, but New Orleans is the centre of the universe... for me.” After Katrina John Boutté was one of the first musicians to come back. “The Katrina event, I’d like to call it ... it just really made me appreciate what we had, because sometimes you have things but you don’t appreciate it until it’s almost gone.”

In the case of two of the worst disasters that New Orleans has experienced over the past five years, people have been blaming the government. “I think that we always like to point the finger at the government, but we are the government. We’re the ones who put them in office.” John Boutté also explained to me that he has a “large scepticism” towards larger organizations like the government or the church. “Katrina was a ‘SNAFU’, people out there know what that means, that’s a ‘situation normal all f***ed up.’” Even though he says he is sceptical of large organizations such as religion, one event that effected Boutté’s music was singing in the church choir while he was in the military. “I was trying to improve my social status from ‘very poor’ to just ‘slightly poor.’ And it really opened up my repertoire to more gospel music.” he told me as his explanation for why he had joined the military. “It’s not for everyone though, especially not for people who just want to shoot somebody.”John Boutté has been playing music since he was quite young, starting with the cornet when he was eight years old. When asked what made him want to become musical he replied laughingly, “It’s like asking me why am I black, I can’t help it! I was born with this feeling to make music ever since I was a kid.” One story he remembers was that when he was a kid, he would sing the same songs over and over and over again, just to annoy his siblings. “It would drive my sisters and brothers up the wall,” he explained to me, “and I realized, ‘Wow! There’s something to this, I’ve got power in this voice!’”

I too have been playing music since I was around his age, and after every interview at the FolkFest this summer I asked for some words of advice. I did the same with John Boutté because I definitely wanted to hear what he might have to say. John spent a day with Stevie Wonder when he was younger, and so he gave me some advice that Stevie had given him years earlier. “He said these two words that were very befuddling at first. He said ‘patience’ and ‘determination.’” And those are two words that I will remember in the years ahead as I explore the world of music and as I continue playing my own music.

more in Music Feature     |     posted Sep 12th, 2010 at 11:36am     

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