In the spirit of Sister Gertrude Morgan

Two points about this: when I first wrote this, in June, 2014 it was post number 666; but then I decided it was lame to post this overly eager letter to some young researcher I met, even a Yale-educated musicologist. I had it on “private” or “draft” for two months. Last week I traded voice mail with a NoLA muse about doing a Bay Area show, which got me thinking about Gertrude again. Not sure why it prints the copy over the right hand column; operator error not supernatural.
For a minute I was all over New Orleans. Back in 2003 that is. And I passed on the chance to party with Steve and Eric Cohen in March. The Shrimp Po’ Boy I had last night in San Jose was as close to perfection as I could hope to imagine or pray for. Louisiana Bistro, on Market Street, a few blocks from the Museum, chef Dee Green, from Bogalusa, LA. (And Scott had blackened catfish, Michael a small plate of gumbo, Terry the beef ribs, bon temps roulez all around — and here I am tempted to put a little smiley emoticon).

Maybe all this had me thinking about the grad student I met a whiles ago, at Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto. Her name is E_ and she said she was just about to travel to New Orleans to do field work on Sister Gertrude Morgan. Here is my note to her, that I had archived in the meanwhile:

Ms. E_.
Nice meeting you. Good luck in NoLa.
To reiterate my question: I was the manager for a New Orleans-affiliated jazz sax player named John Ellis, or John Axson Ellis. During that tenure, I clipped and sent him the New York Times coverage of a show of work by Sister Gertrude Morgan; I believe it was the one at the Folk Museum , and the article was written by Michael Kimmelman (a name that means more to me now than it did then, as I reconstruct the story). John was raised in rural North Carolina , was mentored in New Orleans , and is now based in Brooklyn . His grandfather and maybe his father were Christian Missionaries. I thought he would like the article and be able to catch the exhibit (whereas myself, based out here, could only read about it and file “Gertrude Morgan” on my long list of things to someday catch up on). I never heard from him if he saw the show, or even read the article, as we parted ways shortly thereafter, as it happened.
A short period of time later, however, I noticed that Ropeadope Records, based in New York and Philadelphia , had put out a Gertrude Morgan cd, the King Britt remix. As Ropeadope Records and its founder Andy Hurwitz are key players in the scene that John’s jazz typifies, and he and John know each other very well , I at the very least felt affirmed in my instinct that Sister Gertrude’s sound and story and visuals might be relevant to people like John and his cohorts.
By the way, the eminent jazz historian and writer Nat Hentoff once reviewed very favorably an early John Ellis recording and especially lauded a track and performance of John’s that was based on a folk melody John says his grandmother taught him called “John Brown’s Gun”. Hentoff  noted and seemed intrigued by the blurring and cross-fertilization of folklore and jazz. Also, and excuse me if this too tangential, I did find the citation of a New York Times write-up on John Ellis that covers the same ground:
The other names I dropped perhaps too quickly and gratuitously at Coupa today, Elaine, were: Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Howard Finster, Dexter Romweber of Flat Duo Jets, “Athens GA: Inside Out ”, Lamar Sorrento, Jon Langford of the Mekons.
I own three or four smallish Finsters, and a large Sudduth mud-and-paint-on-board. I actually represent one local painter currently and no musicians although the bulk of my work over the last 20 years has been music.
If you have any questions about New Orleans music I would enjoy being a resource too you. I am still a novice, but for my blind spots I might know who else to refer you to. The most handy people I know would be Scott Aiges, Glenn Hartman, Les Blank, Scott Billington, Lee Frank, Adam Shipley, Malcolm Welbourne. I know a couple gallery owners who specialize in outsider art if that helps. Also, and this may be too far afield, I recommend Jessica Yu’s film on Henry Darger. Jessica was my classmate at Gunn High in Palo Alto. And Les Blank “Always for Pleasure” on New Orleans music culture.
I would be curious if the thread about Andy Hurwitz supposedly finding Gertrude’s record in a bin somewhere and then wanting to reissue it is true, or more to the point if people like his curation of culture fit in with your thesis on GM’s importance. I believe he is reachable at (917) 744-XXXX or at his website if his view and story make him a potential informant. Obviously people whose work was contemporaneous with Gertrude or worked with her directly would be more important.
As I said, I would be interested in reading a book by you on this topic if it gets that far and or attending a reading. Meanwhile, you have me dipping into Gertrude’s water a little bit via the internet…
“Make it funky”.
Mark Weiss
Earthwise Productions of Palo Alto
“Plastic Alto” blog
PO Box 60786
Palo Alto , CA 94306
(650) 305-xxxx
earwopa@yahoo.com
This link summarizes some of my New Orleans music experiences:
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About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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