We first found Marla Dixon — a personal trainer, musician and WWOZ fan in Toronto — through a google search for “WWOZ” and “blog.” We were looking for fans and members who support the station from afar. What we found was an inspiring young woman who’s put a lot of time, thought and effort into the city and its music. And she’s determined to do even more in the future.
When did you first come to New Orleans? How did you discover WWOZ?
My first trip to New Orleans was to the French Quarter Festival, in April of 2005. I've been back twice since then, but I didn't really discover WWOZ until my second trip in 2006. After Katrina, I had been to fundraising events for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic back here in Toronto, so while I was down for the French Quarter Fest I thought I'd take a stroll down Prytania and see what this clinic was all about. I introduced myself to the perpetually busy nurse-practitioner Catherine Lasperches and hatched an idea to come down for a few weeks in 2007. It was during my research of the clinic that I discovered WWOZ, and I'm so glad that I did!
When and where do you listen ? What do you like about listening online?
I listen online at home, when I'm working – it makes sitting in front of the computer bearable!
The best thing about listening online? The music, of course! Why not ask me about the worst thing? I'll tell you: listening to the club & concert listings! I'd love to "get out there and listen to some live, local music," but the commute is a bit much. We have some great music here in Toronto and some very, very talented musicians . . . but only New Orleans can do New Orleans, and I know you know what I mean.
What's an example of music you discovered through WWOZ?
It would have to be some of the more current music being released. I already have a love of the traditional New Orleans jazz and tune in to hear artists like Jacques Gauthé, Michael White or Gregg Stafford, so when I can hear recordings that I don't already have, I get happy. Brass bands like the Dirty Dozen, Tremé, Soul Rebels and Hot8 I already dig too . . . so, while I tune in for these artists and their respective genres, when I hear new recordings or a track from someone I haven't been exposed to yet, it's exciting. How else would I know what is out there when I can't get to the club to hear them live?
Where do you live? What drew you to New Orleans?
I live in Toronto, Ontario, in Canada, where I am a fitness consultant and personal trainer. In what can be direct opposition to my health and wellness career, I play music in a couple of bands around town. I try to find a balance between lifestyles.
My only connection to New Orleans, initially, was the music. Here in Toronto, I began frequenting Grossman's Tavern to listen to The Happy Pals, a New Orleans jazz band, then led by the late trumpeter Cliff Bastien. I had been looking for music like that my entire life, but growing up in Southern Ontario, had only found it on random used CDs – it was listening to Cliff that made me pick up the trumpet and start playing music. Once Cliff passed away and Patrick Tevlin took over the band, I headed down to the FQF to see what all of the mighty fuss was about and ended up playing with Toronto's Magnolia Brass Band a few times.
After Katrina, I wanted to go down and support the city by attending the French Quarter Festival, but it was so much more interesting this time to listen to the tunes, talk to the people and, not being wealthy with money, figure out how else I could help with the recovery efforts of the city — by using my training in health and fitness.
You used your blog — marladixon.wordpress.com — to raise money for a volunteer trip to New Orleans. How did it work?
The blog was an effective aid in my fundraising efforts to take the trip. I held parties at local clubs with music and took donations. The blog was a reference for upcoming events, and explaining to people what I was doing and how their attendance at the parties would help! I handed out a load of flyers at different clubs, so people could stuff them in their pockets, and then look up the event when they found the website crumpled up in their pockets on laundry day. I also linked to the blog when announcing the events on band websites (like FrankieFoo.com, or HappyPals.ca , or on music calendars, like Toronto Jazz), which, again, just gave people that extra incentive to come out and party . . . in case their consciences were acting up, you see.
What kind of work were you raising money to do at New Orleans Musicians Clinic?
My first evening of this recent trip, I met a friend of a friend outside of a restaurant on Decatur. My friend introduced us and explained to him that I was a Fitness Consultant and the reason for my trip, to which he replied, "Oh good! Because you just know that the musicians around here are just dying to get into shape!"
He kind of missed the point, but I had been expecting that reaction. I have very little interest in fitness for cosmetic purposes. I'm more concerned with people spending money hand over fist for drugs to treat conditions and diseases that are not only largely preventable, but quite often reversible — like high blood pressure or diabetes. If, as a musician or music-lover, you can reconcile your crazy hours, your proximity to booze, smokes and drugs, your access to healthful foods, and squeeze in a minimum of physical activity, you don't have to succumb to a lot of the ailments that people (not just musicians), are being hampered with. The best part is that dancing counts. It is free and it counts!
So, I found a lot of the same skeptical attitude at the clinic. However, I also found a lot of people who were genuinely excited that I was there to help out. I had a lot of great conversations and training sessions with patrons of the clinic. Overall, I am encouraged at the results that I saw, and am eager to come down again and set up some accessible programming for as many people as I can in New Orleans. It isn't right that only the wealthy have access to the support that they need. It isn't right that people are spending so much money for drugs to treat illnesses that they don't even need to have. I guess I'm a bit passionate about that.
Do you have plans to visit the city again any time soon?
I told some of my clients down there that I would be back, hopefully for an extended stay, by this autumn. Well, that hasn't worked out just yet, but maybe I'll find the means to come down and do a little more leg work (read: find some work and listen to a load of live, local music).
Ultimately, I want to make myself available to help New Orleans residents stay independent and healthy. I hope it doesn't sound trite, and I have this conversation with my own family members all the time, but I believe you need strong individuals to build strong communities. I'd like to help keep good people healthy, so that they can continue to take care of themselves and their neighbourhoods.
Much love & booty-shakin' from Toronto, Marla.