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Historians work to account for New Orleans jazz artifacts

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Washington/New Orleans (dpa) - As the flood waters recede from New Orleans and the city takes up the sad task of counting the dead, historians are trying to account for musical treasures and contemplating whether New Orleans will regain its place as America?s pre-eminent city for jazz.

Museum directors are still struggling to calculate the extent of losses. One of the biggest concerns is the state of the collection that was housed at the Old U.S. Mint in the French Quarter. The building's roof was torn off when Hurricane Katrina lashed the city on August 29. The collection includes musical instruments, film, prosters and photographs, news reports said.

But there also was some good news for New Orleans jazz fans when it was announced Sunday that the legendary Preservation Hall in the French Quarter was not affected by the flood. The Association of American Museums said at its website that the 255-year-old building around the corner from Bourbon Street and three blocks from the Mississippi River suffered no serious damage.

Other historic locations that sustained damage in the storm and the ensuing flood that resulted from levee and floodwall breaks include the Louis Armstrong House, the archives of the Jean Lafitte Museum and the National Cemetery, final resting place for soldiers who served in the Civil War.

"History is literally drowning," Chris Lee of the rock band Supagroup told the Dallas Morning News last week. New Orleans has been "a musician's paradise", he said, but he worries that the vibrant scene might be gone if musicians start to leave.

New Orleans, the 23rd largest U.S. city, is one of the most colourful cities in North America. It was founded in 1718, making it one of the oldest cities in the United States. Its rich history dates back to the arrival of French and Spanish emigrants, and it's widely known for its African, Cajun and Creole influences.

But the image conjured up in the minds of most Americans when they think of New Orleans is one of a carefree party city renowned for its jazz music scene. Music venues line the city's famous Bourbon Street and two huge annual events - Mardi Gras (Carnival) and the Jazz and Heritage Festival - normally draw thousands to the city. Centuries- old objects belonging to New Orleans' musical culture might have been lost forever in the disaster.

There is some hope, however, that some items can be saved or relocated. Specialists from the museum division of the U.S. National Park Service have been sent to the city equipped with safety glasses, gloves, masks and waterproof boots.

They are working as quickly as possible to locate items because the longer items such as instruments, pages of music and furniture remain under the flood waters, the more difficult it will be to restore them.

Preservation Hall, originally built as a private home, was converted in 1961 to a "temple" for worshippers of New Orleans jazz and for veterans of jazz music who filled the building with music night after night. Displayed on the walls are cherished photographs of some of the greats, including Armstrong and Gillespie.

Also relatively unscathed by the hurricane was the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, according to its curator, Bruce Raeburn. The archive contains a large collection related to the development of jazz. In addition, some 40,000 objects at the New Orleans Museum of Art were saved by employees who refused to leave the museum during the storm.

Flood waters also ravaged many small clubs and bars that host Mardi Gras celebrants and regularly feature musicians playing New Orleans style jazz. For weeks to come, there'll be no music from these favourite Big Easy locales, an almost unbearable loss for local people, tourists and the musicians themselves.

Jazz singer and pianist Harry Connick Jr. said it has been especially difficult to come to terms with the damage done to so many places that played a significant role in his musical upbringing.

Connick, who was born and raised in New Orleans, developed his music in jazz bands and at clubs in the French Quarter. In an interview last week on the "Today" show, Connick said the damage was unbelievable.

"Everything that I have professionally, and so much of what I have personally, is because of this great, fair city," Connick said. "And to see it being drowned like this is almost unbearable."

Another famous musician who made his home in the city is also concerned about its future.

"I'm worried about all the people in New Orleans," said American blues legend Fats Domino, 77, who had to be rescued from his flooded apartment. Domino, best known for his 1950s hits "Ain't That a Shame" and "Blueberry Hill", lost all his belongings in the storm and as of Friday had no idea where he was going next, he told the Washington Post.

But New Orleans native Allen Toussaint, who said he lost many of his instruments when his home was flooded, was optimistic about the future of the cultural art form most closely associated with New Orleans.

"The music scene is just on an intermission," Toussaint told National Public Radio on Sunday. "I don't think it will hurt it at all. I think we will be quite fine on the other side." Dpa cr go gj pr

051454 GMT Sep 05

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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