• 'Treme,' Ep. 14: Christmas Blues

    May 16, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce, left) leads a rehearsal with his Soul Apostles, featuring guitarist June Yamagishi. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    Unlike the previous installment, episode four of Treme's second season has few major plot twists. That leaves a lot of time to look at the lives of "average" working musicians — both on and especially off stage.

    The Antoine Batiste-as-bandleader storyline is seemingly engineered for this very purpose. He needs a teaching job to afford middle-class creature comforts: gifts for his kids, jewelry for his girlfriend. In the meantime, he's also herding cats: auditioning new band members (Sonny), dealing with their departures (Raymond leaves for Dumpstaphunk) and busy schedules (his guitarist can't work on Christmas), organizing sideshows (c'mon, you all thought he was going after the hot women for another reason), calling rehearsals, writing arrangements, dealing with band members who won't read his arrangements, lining up gigs with surly bar owners who may be ex-wives. That's a lot to deal with, and none of it is paid.

    Meanwhile, there's also Davis trying to deal with the frustrations of the studio and the record business, Delmond developing new repertoire which might actually reach the mainstream, and Annie brushing up with fame and professional artist management. Even when we hear that — spoiler alert — Hot 8 Brass Band snare drummer Dinerral Shavers is shot and killed, we're told his bandleader Bennie Pete reacts with a mixture of grief and "How am I going to find a substitute for Thursday" worry. These are the relatively invisible, insider-y things that go into music-making in public. And kudos to Treme, this episode in particular, for telling those stories.

    To talk about some of the music itself, and whatever else comes to mind, I'm again joined over email by New Orleans native Josh Jackson of WBGO. As you may know, we do this every week.

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  • 'Treme,' Ep. 13: All Politics Is Local

    May 9, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    Steve Earle as Harley performs with Jamie Bernstein in episode 13 (season two, episode three) of Treme. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    Spoiler alert: There are three break-ins during the latest episode of Treme. There's the looting that happened at Janette's old place, the bust of Sonny's apartment and, of course, the sexual assault on LaDonna. (What a performance from Khandi Alexander!)

    It seems like the writers behind the show are attempting to weave the surge of (violent) crime in late-2006 New Orleans into the fabric of the show's narrative. But this episode in particular seems to concentrate on impact of such things on the financially unstable people, especially freelancers and small business owners, who work in service industries — a huge part of the New Orleans economy. Janette won't get anywhere fast with her crazy chef boss. LaDonna can't run her bar. Sonny can't work without an instrument; the life of the musician is further highlighted when Antoine won't even interview for a steady teaching job. And the Nelson Hidalgo storyline highlights how the rich get richer, while subcontractors like Riley (and Chief Lambreaux, for that matter) see relatively little trickle down.

    With me once again to make the commentary much more palatable is Josh Jackson of WBGO. Here's our weekly e-mail discussion of the music of this episode.

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  • Instruments Of Change: Music Of The Freedom Riders, 50 Years Later

    May 4, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sees off a group of Freedom Riders as they board a bus for Jackson, Miss., on May 24, 1961. (Image Credit: Paul Schutzer/Life)

    Exactly 50 years ago today, 13 "Freedom Riders" — seven black and six white — rode public buses into the Deep South. Their mission: to test a brand-new federal law prohibiting segregation in public bus terminals.

    When the riders reached Alabama, the center for racial havoc and injustice during the modern civil rights era, all hell broke loose. One bus was destroyed by a mob and bomb, almost killing the passengers. The riders in the second bus were beaten by another mob in Birmingham.

    Drummer Art Blakey and many other jazz musicians were acutely aware of what was happening, and their dream of social justice resulted in one of the most creative periods in jazz history. Here, we honor a few of the musicians who wielded their instruments in the pursuit of social harmony and change.

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