“Treme” Third Season Finale Loaded With Tons O’ Great Players

Has there EVER been a television drama that has given as much respect to musicians as HBO’s “Treme,” in terms of screen time, playing time, and genuine appreciation for musical art, not to mention insights into the day-to-day reality of working musicians?

I think not.

Sunday’s third-season finale, a prelude to the truncated Season “3.5,” wrapped up — or pointed in the direction of wrapping up — a ton of story strands.

In one, fiddle player and singer Annie (Lucia Micareli) sees her band’s debut CD released and enjoys a rather too speedy rocket ride to a national stage, with her manager planning a launch party in New York City. The script even works in a reference to New Orleans’ long-running music monthly: “This ain’t about Offbeat, darling,” he says. “It’s about Rolling Stone and the New York Times.”

At the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street, site of a benefit concert, and elsewhere, Tons of great NOLA players play and/or get speaking lines, including trumpeters Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, and Shamarr Allen; funk/R&B bass master George Porter Jr. (the Meters), keyboardist Ivan Neville, drummer Johnny Vidacovich, guitarist Little Freddie King and, in an intimate duo, singer John Boutte and pianist Tom McDermott.

At one point. four-trombone band Bonerama and series mainstay Antoine Batiste  (Wendell Pierce), a trombonist, are joined by TroyTrombone Shorty” Andrews and Big Sam. “Trombones rule the world,” Antoine says. Indeed. For extra measure, singer-songwriter Jill Sobule (Not from NOLA) joins the low-brass confab for “When My Ship Comes In.”

For fans of New Orleans music & culture “Treme,” while imperfect, is the ship that finally came in, an antidote to other TV series set in the Crescent City. I’ll be sad to see its voyage come to an end.

PLANET JAZZ: Irvin Mayfield, Last Night on “Treme”; Inside-Jazz Story to Read Before You Die; JJA’s Jazz Blogging Webinars

Planet Jazz: Notes From All Over

Nice seeing New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield get some speaking lines on last night’s “Treme.” Great, too, seeing some Mayfield performance footage shot at his Jazz Playhouse club inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street.

Lionel Ferbos, the century-old trad jazz trumpeter, was also seen and heard playing and talking, at the long-running Palm Court Jazz Cafe, in the episode. Ferbos, one of the oldest living links to early jazz, started playing at age 15, in 1926.

“Lionel Ferbos is 101 and he’s playing gigs. He’s walking up on stage, getting his trumpet out and playing,” Mayfield told the Times-Picayune. “He comes out of the water of Jelly Roll Morton, who he heard himself, Louis Armstrong, who he heard himself, Freddie Keppard, who he heard himself. Paul Barbarin, Danny Barker – these are people he heard. In his trumpet sound, you hear all that.”

The episode touches on the much-publicized drive to create a National Jazz Center in New Orleans. The developers of the $716 million project, announced in May 2006, enlisted Mayfield’s support. The project subsequently collapsed.

“Though the National Jazz Center and other subsequent efforts to establish some kind of civic institution to recognize New Orleans’ greatest export have fallen short, Mayfield is confident that such a project will some day get done,” Dave Walker wrote in the Times-Picayune.

” ‘It is just crazy that we have so much history but we don’t have symbols recognizing all that creative achievement,’ he said. ‘We’ve created this music that everybody else around the world is in awe of.’

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Remember “Ten Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die,” a feature (initially published sans byline) published last week in the Village Voice?

Several jazz writers justifiably complained about the piece’s incompleteness, as it covered just 17 years of jazz history (1956-73) and its, uh, obviousness; we really needed another litany of the jazz canon? It didn’t seem to meet the usual, or, at least, former, high standards for a publication that once set a high standard for jazz coverage.

As a sort of (unstated) concession to the criticism, the next day the Voice published another piece, “Ten (More) Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die,” by Matthew Kassel and Alex W. Rodriguez. This time, the (different) writers offered recommendations culled from about a century of jazz history.

Writing for NPR’s “A Jazz Supreme” blog, Patrick Jarenwattanon filled in some background on how the original ill–fated story came to be:

“The piece itself was simply repurposed from another publication owned by the same media company, and its author wasn’t even credited (it’s a fellow named Joseph Lapin, by the way). It was published by a media entity that used to run Gary Giddins’ column, and Francis Davis essays, and the Jazz Consumers Guide, and the year-end critics poll, and much other current jazz coverage. Underlying all this is the fact that two well-respected music editors, Rob Harvilla and Maura Johnston, have left the Voice in recent years.”

For those outside the jazzosphere, maybe this is all too meta?

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The Jazz Journalists Association continued its webinar series on the art of jazz blogging with a Nov. 13 program featuring Angelika Beener, Veronica Grandison, Alex Rodriguez, and Jonathan Wertheim.

The latest installment, focused on “up-and-coming” jazz bloggers, is archived on YouTube, here.  On the way are two more blogging webinars, slated for Nov. 20 and Dec. 4. Register

JJA members soon will unveil their Top 10 picks for 2012, surveying the year’s best jazz — look for the lists at the organization’s site.

HBO’s “Treme” Actually Gets New Orleans Music/Culture Right?

The more I hear about forthcoming HBO series “Treme,” the more I’m encouraged that producer David Simon (“The Wire,” “Homicide”) is going to get it right, in terms of artfully and accurately capturing the homegrown music and idiosyncratic culture at the heart of what makes New Orleans the only city of its kind in the world.

There are some good signs that Simon will do so, as related in jazz journalist Larry Blumenfeld‘s recent Wall Street Journal piece on the series, which takes its name from the neighborhood thought to be the oldest African-American neighborhood in the U.S.:

  1. Irrepressible trumpeter, barbecue maker and raconteur Kermit Ruffins, as New Orleans as New Orleans gets, is playing himself, and reportedly will get substantial screen time in the series, which focuses heavily on Mardi Gras Indian tribes and brass bands.
  2. Eric Overmyer, Simon’s longtime associate and a co-creator of “Treme,” for more than two decades has resided part-time in New Orleans.
  3. The writing staff includes NOLA-based author Tom Piazza, whose short book Why New Orleans Matters was an essential post-Katrina read, and New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Lolis Eric Elie, co-producer of a 2008 documentary on Treme.
  4. Wendell Pierce (“The Wire”), who plays a trombonist, is native to NOLA’s Pontchartrain Park neighborhood.
  5. Underappreciated jazz and funk saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. is an advisor on the series. So is pianist and music scenester Davis Rogan. Rogan is working closely with actor Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn), who portrays a local music devotee and DJ.
  6. Elvis Costello, a huge supporter of NOLA music (he teamed with pianist/composer Allen Toussaint for 2006’s The River in Reverse, and the two collaborated for a terrific performance at Jazz Fest) plays himself.

“It’s easy to get it terribly wrong, and terribly hard to get it right,” Simon told Blumenfeld.  “‘This won’t be ‘The Wire’ with a better soundtrack. It’s a completely different animal.”

I’m holding Simon to his pledge of authenticity. For the rest of the WSJ piece, click here.

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The series’ first 10-episode season will debut in April, according to a Nov. 8 report in the Times-Picayune.

“That this decidedly oddball project – set among the quirky denizens of a floodwall-failed city, it fits no recognizable TV genre – is proceeding at all counts as a small miracle,” Dave Walker wrote in the T-P.

Stay tuned.

(photo, above, left to right: Zahn, Ruffins, Pierce).

Jazz Grammy Winners

Jazz generally gets little or zilch air time during the actual Grammy telecast, but it’s always nice to see legitimate artists grab a little attention from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS).

So, herewith, the jazz winners (including one, Cassandra Wilson’s Loverly, that wound up on my Top 10 last year):

  • best contemporary jazz album: Randy Brecker, Randy in Brasil

(MAMA Foundation)

  • best jazz vocal album: Cassandra Wilson, Loverly (Blue Note)
  • best jazz instrumental solo: Terence Blanchard, “Be-Bop,” from Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival Records)
  • best jazz instrumental album, individual or group: Chick Corea and Gary Burton, The New Crystal Silence (Concord Records)
  • best large jazz ensemble album: Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard (Planet Arts Recordings)
  • best Latin jazz album: Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Song For Chico (Zoho)
  • best pop instrumental album: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jingle All the Way (Rounder)

NY Times Critic Ben Ratliff Talks To Readers

Want to ask a question of a New York Times music critic, actually get a response, and perhaps see the exchange published?

Now's the time.
 
Ben Ratliff, who writes about jazz, rock and pop for the Times, and penned
last year's acclaimed The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music, a collection
of interviews with jazz greats, this week is making a point of responding
to readers' questions.
 
Below is the announcement of the feature, and an initial q&a.
 
Ratliff offers a quite sound response to a question regarding the relatively small
audience for jazz. To that, I would add:
 
1)The if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods truth: If the average music listener/consumer
doesn't read or hear about jazz (or, for that matter, blues or world music or
altcountry), then how does he or she know that that music exists? There is often
 -- but not always -- a direct correlation between the music that gets the most
hype, and the Billboard charts. This is related to the below:
 
2)FAR too many music "critics" spend the bulk of their time/energy
chasing celebrity culture, rather than writing actual music. Case in point:
The acres of forests giving their lives this week for oodles of stories on
the allegedly new and improved "American Idol." What's that abomination
of a "reality" show have to do with music that matters?
Nothing.
 
Related to the above is an irony: The folks who continue to be loyal to
newspapers, in print, are generally older readers. Within that group are
those who cite arts and entertainment coverage as a primary reason for
continuing to purchase newspapers. Many of those older readers have
little use for coverage of '"American Idol" and the likes of Miley Cyrus
and the Jonas Brothers, etc. 
 
Here's the irony: The younger audiences (Teens? Tweens?) who are interested
in that kind of stuff have already abandoned print papers for online sources, so
they're not being served when that coverage appears in print. And the readers
still loyal to print newspapers are simply annoyed when papers emphasize
teen/pop celebrity coverage at the expense of arts/music of substance. So -- to 
clarify -- they're catering to an audience that's already gone and in the process
pissing off regular readers. 
 
Smart thinking, huh? 
 
Here's the link to the ask-the-readers feature. And below is the announcement
published in the Times:
 
January 12, 2009 
Talk to the Newsroom: 
Ben Ratliff, Jazz and Pop Critic 
 
Ben Ratliff, music critic, is answering questions from readers Jan. 12-16, 
2009. Questions may be e-mailed to askthetimes@nytimes.com. 
 
Mr. Ratliff has been a jazz and pop critic at the New York Times since 1996. 
 
Born in New York City in 1968, he grew up in London and Rockland County, 
N.Y., and studied Classics at Columbia University. He is the author of 
"Jazz: A Critic¹s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings" (2002), 
"Coltrane: The Story of a Sound" (2007) and "The Jazz Ear: Conversations 
Over Music" (2008). 
 
Among hundreds of reviews, reported stories and obituaries in these pages, 
he has written about Duke Ellington, Slick Rick, Shirley Caesar, Dorival 
Caymmi, Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, Johnny Paycheck, Cat Power, Slayer, 
Donald Lambert, the Stooges, Tito Puente, Miley Cyrus, Prince, Gal Costa, Bo 
Diddley, Bebo Valdes, the Texas A&M University Marching Storm, community 
singing in East Lansing, Mich., the praise-rock house bands at the High 
Desert Church in Victorville, Calif., and much else. 
 
These discussions will continue in coming weeks with other Times editors and 
reporters. 
 
Why Isn't Jazz Audience Bigger? 
 
Q. Why isn't there more of an audience for "straight-ahead" jazz? Or put in 
a different way, how come established jazz artists who have been active 
since the '50s or early '60s are given only niche status (or no visibility 
at all) by the media? Do you feel the media plays a role/responsibiltiy 
regarding the public awareness of such artists as Freddie Hubbard, Barry 
Harris, Cedar Walton, for example? Why is it that the general (U.S.) public 
have no awareness or appreciation of this genre? 
-- Paul Loubriel 
 
A. Paul: This is a big question. I'll try to hit some parts of it but I 
probably won't answer it to your satisfaction. 
 
In the last 60 years, people almost completely stopped dancing to jazz, and 
far fewer people grew up with pianos in the house. I think that has a lot to 
do with why jazz is no longer the popular vernacular art it used to be. When 
you dance to music (in all ways -- partner dancing, stepping, headbanging -- 
just reacting to music with your body) or when you play it, then you own it. 
A lot of people born since 1960 don't feel that they own jazz. 
 
Absolutely, the media plays a role in why the average person doesn't know 
who Cedar Walton is. But I think the mainstream media -- obviously we're not 
talking about jazz magazines like Downbeat, which has Benny Golson on the 
cover this month (a good example of the kind of artist you're talking about) 
-- doesn't, by definition, deal with the kind of art that post-bop mainstream 
jazz has become, which is an art of tradition and very slow refinements. 
 
Mainstream publications, generally, want to run music stories about what's 
new or radically different, or about trends. (This could get into a larger 
issue about the shallowness of the general perception of "news.") With 
classical music, they put a lot of stock in premieres or big, notable new 
compositions. In jazz there are few premieres and few big, notable new 
compositions. One has to sniff out what's interesting, however it presents 
itself: it could be a one-night gig attended by 15 people or a sold-out run. 
 
As for the general public, they're not buying albums as much anymore, and as 
much as jazz is a recordings medium at all, it's still an album art. 
 
I believe that jazz needs more jazz clubs (with small cover charges), 
because it's still a social music. The way to know about Cedar Walton in 
2009 is to go see him at the Village Vanguard. 
 
By the way, I see that The Times has mentioned Cedar Walton 247 times, in 
reviews and articles and listings, since 1980. Not too bad.