Saturday, August 28, 2010

Katrina & the sousaphone ...

'I love the horn ... and I want my city to survive'

12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, August 28, 2010
Leigh Munsil
Faced with rising floodwaters, Mark Smith's first thought was to save his tuba.

As Mark Smith headed for the Superdome in 2005, he carried his sousaphone past National Guard vehicles. "I didn't know what to do; I didn't know how to get out of the water. So I grabbed my sack and my tuba," the lifelong jazz musician said. "Let me tell you something – when I'm without this horn, I ain't nothing."

Smith was walking toward the Superdome carrying his sousaphone, a tuba used by marching bands, as National Guard vehicles drove by – an eerie juxtaposition that was captured on film.

Every morning, Smith is in front of Café Du Monde in the French Quarter with trumpeter Hack Bartholomew. Five years later, Smith, who now has a new horn, is still a familiar sight in New Orleans' Jackson Square. He performs seven days a week in front of popular tourist spots, including Café Du Monde and St. Louis Cathedral.

"I'm 53 years old, and I live for the culture of the music," he said. "New Orleans is a city that never sleeps. It's a city that always parties, because they call it 'The Big Easy.' If you take away this music, New Orleans is not going to be the same."
The French Quarter was one of the few areas of the city unaffected by flooding, so it feels about the same as it did before, Smith said.

"We're really trying to build the city back up and we're trying to get up on our feet," he said. "But we've been having some hard times, because we had the oil spill and we had [Hurricane] Gustav come through here, and we had to leave. We had to leave again."
The people of New Orleans have changed since the hurricane, Smith said.

"When Katrina came, people in this city lost everything," he said. "Half the people in this city don't have any more love and any more morals, and they don't care for each other anymore."
Smith decided to stick to music after another job didn't pan out. He has been living with friends, working on getting his own place.

"It's hard. It's really, really hard," he said. "I'm living a day at a time and I'm putting it in the hands of the Lord."

But as long as he can play the tuba, Smith says he'll be all right.

"This is my life. This is what I do for a living. I love the horn," he said. "I love my music, I want the group to continue on, and I want my city to survive."
Leigh Munsil