What makes a scene?

What makes a scene? Is it the people, the places, the GPS coordinates?

This question has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Before Hurricane Katrina, there was a lively and growing free jazz/improvisational/out/whatever-you-want-to-call-it scene in New Orleans. I have been wondering if that scene will return, which has made me question the real essence of that scene.

There are, of course, some strong personalities on that scene. Musicians are a big part of it, but there are also some listeners that are ever present, and they seem to be as integral a part of the scene as the musicians. There are also a couple of business people (producers, club managers and the like) that really help the scene to exist and thrive. All of these people are essential for the scene’s well being.

Scenes are often defined, or at least described, by the places they inhabit. Often it is a particular club, or a neighborhood, or an area of the city. The pre-Katrina New Orleans progressive jazz scene centered around Frenchmen Street, although it was not the only scene to live in that neighborhood. A few clubs played host to the scene. Can the scene return if those clubs don’t? Can those clubs return if the scene doesn’t?

How much did New Orleans itself have to do with the music and art that happened there? (Don’t be put off by me speaking of New Orleans in the past tense, because I believe that music and art will happen there again, but they aren’t happening there right now.) There is a vibe in New Orleans that can permeate a scene, and usually does. There is an emotional space that can only be reached by a good afternoon run in with a meter maid, and likewise a great shrimp poboy.

The people of that scene are now scattered. I think many will return, just as some won’t. A few of the cats are in Lafayette, and they may have transplanted a mini-scene. Others have been spotted in California, Chicago, and even Wyoming. If (or when, as I prefer to think) we all get back in the same place, will our scene still be there? It is possible that our experiences will have made us all better artists and listeners, and it is also possible that the momentum of the scene will be gone, and we’ll have to start over like everything else in the city.

I know this is all questions and no answers, but we can’t find the answers until we have identified the questions. What do we have to do to make sure our city, and our scene, survive?

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