Tag Archives: Hurricane Katrina

“BIG EASY BIG BANDS: DAWN AND RISE OF THE JAZZ ORCHESTRA,” by EDDY DETERMEYER

A successful book on jazz has to be accurate, unbiased, and deep.  The writer shouldn’t twist evidence to fit an ideology; (s)he has to base conclusions on solid research; ideally, the book has to contain something new.

Eddy Determeyer’s new book on New Orleans “big bands” is successful in these ways.  I knew his work from his 2009 RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS: JIMMIE LUNCEFORD AND THE HARLEM EXPRESS — a beautifully thorough and lively study of that band and its somewhat elusive leader — so I was eager to read BIG EASY BIG BANDS.

BIG EASY BIG BANDS

It’s a fascinating book because it focuses on an aspect of New Orleans jazz and dance music that we knew existed but that apparently never received such loving attention — “orchestras,” groups larger than five or six pieces, relying on written arrangements — from the teens to the present day.

Determeyer’s scope is broad: in this book, one finds Louis Armstrong and Joe Robichaux, Champion Jack Dupree, Aaron Bell, Benny Powell, Ornette Coleman, Papa Celestin, Wallace Davenport, Sam Lee, Ed Blackwell, Dooky Chase, “Mr. Google Eyes,” Papa Jack Laine, and many others.

That a number of those names are less familiar is the point of the book, and testimony to the hard work behind it.  For one thing, Determeyer has shown by his research that there was a vital musical tradition in New Orleans running parallel to the one that most of us acknowledge: street musicians, small improvising bands, larger marching aggregations.  But — so runs the accepted myth — the “big bands” came out of Kansas City, New York, and Chicago, leaving New Orleans as a kind of improvisers’ Eden, both pure and somewhat behind the curve.

Determeyer’s research, from Congo Square to hard bop, shows that there was much more going on: picnics at Milneburg, steamboats and minstrel shows, Sam Morgan’s band, the excursion boats — with Fate Marable in charge (including drummer Monk Hazel’s account of a cutting contest between Emmett Hardy and young Louis (where Louis is reputed to have said, “You is the king!).

One of the strengths of Determeyer’s book is that the reader glides happily from one vivid anecdote to another: Huey Long saws off one leg of a three thousand dollar Steinway grand so that it can get into a club; Joe Robichaux, forty years later, is nearly done in by the erotic / financial insistence of a Japanese prostitute.  Cap’n John Handy sits in with his younger namesake, John Handy, and they have a good time.

It’s a thoroughly entertaining and informative book — stretching from the 1700s in New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina — with a number of surprising photographs, an index, and clear links to research sources.

You can purchase a copy at the Determeyer’s webstore — BIG EASY BIG BANDS is surprisingly affordable.  It will entertain and enlighten . . . what more could we ask?

May your happiness increase.

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TRADITION IS A TEMPLE (in New Orleans)

Tradition is a Temple — a music documentary — asks for your help to show what never left New Orleans.  Its filmmakers call for pledges to “crowd-fund” post-production on this musician owned-documentary on New Orleans music culture.

Tradition is a Temple highlights the dynamic resilience of New Orleans musicians, acclimated to hard times and dedicated to their city, the way of life, and the music. The artists discuss how, as children, they were inspired to pursue music, the trials of jazz today, and how the traditional sounds of the streets will survive.
 
The non-fiction film aims to show that Katrina, the economic downturn, and the BP oil spill can’t quiet this small, buoyant, and totally unique American sub-culture. After all, children still dance along with brass bands on Sunday afternoon Second Line parades as they have for generations.
 
Filming began in 2006, when director Darren Hoffman was a film-school-graduate-turned-music-student attempting to capture the nuts and bolts of New Orleans music by video taping his drum lessons with prominent local musicians. After several years and hundreds of DV tapes, Hoffman’s “video project” had slowly grown to include intimate interviews with his teachers, multi-camera studio recordings, and live concert footage. That wasn’t all, Hoffman’s passion for the music had evolved into a commitment to his teachers; he gave all of the featured musicians a majority share in the film.
 
“I don’t know if any of the artists actually believe that there will be any profits coming back to them.” Darren admitted, “Unfortunately, a lot of guys are used to getting the short end of the stick when they sign contracts… Either that or they don’t think anyone wants to watch a movie about jazz.”
 
The filmmakers are raising money in order to complete the costly post-production process through online “crowd funding”.  On sites like Kickstarter.com and IndieGoGo.com artists, filmmakers, musicians and designers can raise significant amounts of money from hundreds of donors, each pledging small amounts of money. Tradition is a Temple offers pre-orders for the DVD and Soundtrack as just a few of the many rewards in exchange for pledging toward their campaign, which continues until Feb. 3, 2011.
 
“With a little luck,” Hoffman added, “we’ll be able to prove to [the artists in the film] that we’re legit, and to the world that jazz music still has resonance in American culture.”

http://traditionisatemple.com/
Featuring: Shannon Powell, Jason Marsalis, Lucien Barbarin, Roland Guerin, Steve Masakowski, Ed Petersen, Topsy Chapman, The Treme Brass Band, The Baby Boyz Brass Band, and spoken word performer Chuck Perkins.
Writer/Director: Darren Hoffman
Producers: Darren Hoffman, Patrick Stafford, and Kristen McEntyre.
Executive Producer: Darren Hoffman
Director of Photography: James Laxton
Sound: Steve Reynolds and Kevin Schneider
Editor: Darren Hoffman

JAZZ VIDEO DOCUMENTARIES (February 2010)

I just received an email from Lauren Kesner O’Brien, the founder of a “video magazine,” (a site that shares new video documentaries on a variety of subjects) called www.telegraph21.com, — telling me that this week the site will be offering documentaries on jazz.  In particular, she told me about THE SOUND AFTER THE STORM, a film focusing on Dr. Michael White and Lillian Boutte and their experiences in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  You can see an eight-minute segment from the documentary here: http://www.telegraph21.com/video/the-sound-after-the-storm.  I’m glad to see new documentary filmmakers turning their lenses on jazz: it never gets enough attention!

BLISS ANTICIPATED, SHORT NOTICE!

From Nick Balaban:

“Hey everybody,

Here’s a day-brightener….

On Tuesday, May 26th, the great New Orleans pianist Tom McDermott will once again honor us with his bedazzling ivronics in our living room! This time, he’ll be playing with the illustrious Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet! AND if that wasn’t enough, our friend Brian Robinson proprietor of Fort Greene’s Gnarly Vines, has generously offered to donate some environmentally friendly boxed VINO. Yes, you heard that correctly. Time to get over any preconceived notions you may have of boxed wine. “Drink out of the box.”® Brian will be serving From the Tank Red and White – high quality, organically produced wines from the Cotes du Rhone as well as a classic Rose from the Comptoir de Magdala in the Cotes de Provence. All three of these wines come in 3 liter bag-in-a-box packages which represent an 80% reduction in carbon emissions when you factor in the amount of fuel required to manufacture, transport and recycle glass. (Jump on the sustainability bandwagon and be the first on your block to serve boxed wines!)

To be part of this true story, you need only to show up. (You’d be NUTS not to as anyone who’s been to these events knows…) As always, we will be passing the hat on behalf of these astounding artists…

Tuesday, May 26 – Two sets 7 and 9 p.m. Show up early, as seating will be limited.

135 Eastern Parkway, #10F (Eastern Parkway stop on the 2/3. Opposite the Brooklyn Museum)

If you never got to make it to any of our post-Katrina New Orleans Diaspora Concert Series, you can get a taste at http://www.nickbalaban.com.

Can’t wait to see you all!

Love,

Nick & Maura”

“RIGHT ON IT!”

My title comes from the musicians’ expression for starting a song without an introduction, rather than easing their way in with a four-bar piano passage or eight bars of hi-hat cymbal from the drums.  And it’s the way that clarinetist Evan Christopher began the first song at the September 15 Sidney Bechet Society concert at Symphony Space.  Evan brought a cross-cultural version of his new group, “Django A La Creole,” with guitarists Pete Smith and Matt Munisteri, string bassist Sebastien Giradot, and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso.  This little band loosely followed the post-Stephane Grappelly instrumentation of Django Reinhardt’s Quintette of the Hot Club of France.  But Evan had more in mind that simply producing another version of Gypsy jazz: he is interested in the cross-currents between New Orleans jazz (with its Creole roots, drawing on Spanish, French, and Cuban rhythms) and Django’s music.

We attended the early show — for jazz musicians, a 6:15 concert is quite early.  Jazz players take a bit of time to warm up, even when their instruments are checked, tuned, oiled, and aligned backstage.  That warming up is not a matter of valves and reeds, but of comfort, individual and collective.  Artists have to be balanced midway between tension and relaxation; they have to get the feel of the hall, of the audience, of the lights, of their fellow players.  This is rarely accomplished on the first selection.  There wasn’t a note out of place in the opening performances, but the band took its time to be truly inspiring.  And the group grew more inventive, more playful, with each succeeding song.

Evan is someone to watch.  He has characterized himself as a New Orleans clarinet player, someone who knows and loves the tradition.  But that doesn’t mean he offers pastiches of what his forebears have already played.  A completely assured instrumentalist, he takes risks; his soaring lines dance.  So, as a matter of fact, does he; he never keeps still.  If you could only see him (as in a silent film) you would guess that he was putting his heart into his music and having a fine time doing so.  Unlike some other players, he is also comfortable when talking about the music, and last night he offered witty, engaging commentary on the proceedings.

Witty, dancing versions of “Flee As A Bird – High Society” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Mamanita” opened the program, making it clear to listeners that there would be genre crossing from funeral music to street parade anthems to Creole – Spanish jazz.  Pete Smith, who seemed to have broken his foot (it was in a cast) turned in ringing single-string solos with some of Django’s declamatory fervor.
Evan turned the stage over to Jon-Erik, announcing his feature as “a romantic ballad.”  That was a fine joke, since the song was called “Funky Butt” when Buddy Bolden played it, cosmeticized into “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say” for Morton’s Victor recording.  Two of the Ear Regulars (or Earregulars, depending on whether you’re Reform or Conservative) heated things up immensely.  Matt Munisteri, who always comes to a gig ready to play, was in wonderfully intense form.  I think of his work as No Note Left Unbent, and he dug deep.  For his part, Jon-Erik was vividly inspired, working hard behind his plunger mute, rendering this naughty song as a quiet, growling lullaby full of ascending runs and vocalized cries, protesting and cajoling.  It was an Oscar-winning performance without words and without a script.  The first set closed with a train-inspired “Farewell Blues,” Matt harking back to Django’s “Mystery Pacific,” in a performance that merged a Basie small group, the Hot Club Quintette, and a Wellman Braud solo from Giradot.  An intermission followed: we needed one.

The second half of the concert focused primarily on the magical jazz recorded in 1939 when Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor (the bassist), then members of the Duke Ellington band touring Europe, met up with Django Reinhardt.  I heard the original 78s for the first time around 1970 and they are still thrilling recordings.  On the moody “Low Cotton,” the thoughtful, lowdown “Solid Old Man,” and a romping “I Know That You Know,” the band outdid itself.  And Evan, telling the story about Django meeting the Ellingtonians, was as happy as he could be. (He has adopted some of Ed Hall’s nearly violent lyricism in the 1939 numbers, to great effect.)   The concert closed with a truly joyous romp on “Hindustan,” with the musicians changing key on every chorus, alternating between C and Eb, something they had done on their Arbors CD, BLUE ROOF BLUES, a classic recording.  (I learned some days later that they had done the title song, a Kellso composition about what Katrina and the U.S. government had done to New Orleans, at the second concert.  I’m sorry that I missed it, but urge readers of this blog to check out the CD.)

It was a thrilling evening of impassioned jazz.

Photographs copyright 2008 by Lorna Sass.