WBGO Blog
  • 'Treme,' Episode 7: Civil Dysfunction Meets Civil Disobedience

    May 24, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    Wendell Pierce slide-synchs along with actual New Orleans musicians at the airport. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes, than to own the whole state of Ohio.
    --Lafcadio Hearn, 1879

    Hearn's quotation, voiced by John Goodman's Creighton Bernette, rings eerily true in the post-Katrina New Orleans of Treme. Episode seven of the first season gives us two dead bodies, police brutality, closed businesses and the double dealing of an election season. And yet, the unique artistic spirit that defines New Orleans persists, on the backs of those determined to honor its traditions in spite of the natural and man-made disasters.

    To talk about some of those artistic expressions (HBO's full playlist here), I'm joined once again by Josh Jackson of WBGO.

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  • Saluting Hank Jones, Jazz's Great Gentleman (Part One Of Two)

    May 18, 2010. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

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    Hank Jones performs at the 2009 Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards in New York, N.Y. (Image Credit: Fran Kaufman)

    Twice, the late Hank Jones was profiled in The New Yorker: by Whitney Balliett in 1996 and Gary Giddins in 2007. Read them in reverse chronological order, from Giddins' "Hank Jones can be said to have had the most impressive second act in jazz history" to Balliett's "Jones's solos think."

    His voice is energetic in a 2005 interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. Hank says that hymns were a foundation of his piano playing -- hymns and piano rolls. James P. Johnson, Fats Waller (who died in 1944, just before Jones came to New York), and then Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson were influences and mentors.

    Hank then absorbed the new music of Dizzy Gillespie and his generation of modernists. Hank referred to that style as "you should pardon the expression 'bebop'" during a talk at the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival. At some point Hank also spent a year in Buffalo, N.Y.; that's where he first saw Mary Lou Williams play. And he drove a Chrysler, I do believe. I picture it as having fins and a deep dashboard, but that's my imagination taking over.

    Any chance I could get to hear him -- including at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola with Joe Lovano last year -- I would try to. The 2008 Montreal Jazz Festival presented him in an extraordinary duo concert with Brad Mehldau; it seemed as though they were dancing with one another.

    I may have first seen him in Ain't Misbehavin' on Broadway in 1979, and perhaps a few years later at Bradley's. In 1998, we recorded Hank Jones at the Gilmore Festival in Kalamazoo, Mich. for my program JazzSet. He played music by Mary Lou, Thad Jones (his brother), Oliver Nelson, Sonny Rollins, and standards like "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and "On Green Dolphin Street."

    "Hank is kind of like the musical equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the most senior officer that you can possibly be around," said his drummer at the time, Dennis Mackrell. Bassist John Clayton pointed out, "He's really famous for his touch." Hank had just turned 80, and joked that, "It reminds me of something Eubie Blake said when he just turned 101: 'If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken care of myself.'" Hank Jones loved to introduce a song with an old joke, charmingly told.

    After a show, Hank had a way of seeing you and making sure that he spoke with you. He always said something warm, something self-deprecating, some thoughtful answer to a question about what he had played or why. Hank was reserved but generous at the same time.

    In Kalamazoo, I asked him a possibly exasperating question about his perspective at 80. He told me, "Well Becca, you hope that you've done something worthwhile ... you hope that you've been able to make some meaningful contributions to the art form. What else can you do? If you do whatever you can on a daily basis, then the rest takes care of itself."

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  • 'Treme,' Episode 6: Straight Ahead, Striving For Tone

    May 17, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    John Goodman's Creighton Bernette (left) and Steve Zahn's Davis McAlary: kindred spirits, in a twisted sense. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/Skip Bolen/HBO)

    Pot for potholes
    Hos for schools
    Always for pleasure
    Break all the rules
    --Davis

    Episode six of Treme begins and ends with outlandish political satire. Davis McAlary's self-amused campaign for city council launches, and launches the show, in earnest, parading down a wide avenue in a flatbed pickup truck blaring music, giving away CDs, and slapping strippers on their butts. Meanwhile, the whole Bernette family dresses as sperm as the Krewe du Vieux parade courses past, its highlight a giant float of then-mayor Ray Nagin in bed nursing an outsized nocturnal emission.

    It must be with a bit of a wink that the writers of Treme made John Goodman's Creighton wary of Zahn's Davis; they seem like kindred spirits as New Orleans apologists with loony streaks. Their aims aren't the same; the Krewe du Vieux simply lampoons major political figures, while Davis' council run is at least half-serious. But they're certainly more akin than Creighton wants to let on to. Davis' platform can't possibly win (especially if he wants to legalize illegal drug sales, as we learned from season three of The Wire), but it can act as a gadfly, speaking out on topics other candidates won't touch with absurd humor. If anger is occasionally a proper response to injustice (a la Creighton's "f--- you, you f----- f--s"), humor has just as much potential as a community statement.

    Enough of that. Josh Jackson of WBGO joins me again via email to talk about the episode's music (full playlist here), and whatever else comes to mind.

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