'Treme,' Ep. 15: Finding Your Voice
If you've ever been to the funeral of a beloved musician, you know there's a lot of positivity under the somber tone. It's one of the few times a busy musical community manages to come together and remember the contributions of their late compatriot. And in the New Orleans of Treme, funerals have often been healing and regenerative: There's catharsis in walking in that second line.
But Hot 8 Brass Band snare drummer Dinerral Shavers was murdered senselessly. And the grief was more intense, more palpably real than previous funerals we've seen from this show. That's where we start with our weekly recap of the music — and more — of Treme.
Patrick Jarenwattananon: Nice to see so many musicians turn up for Dinerral Shavers' funeral scene. That moment where everyone holds up their instruments in salute gave me the willies a little bit. Like Annie says, "I felt like I was part of something." And you know the Hot 8 Brass Band, normally much more of a partygoing ensemble, was going to do the funeral gig for their slain snare drummer.
Josh Jackson: Trombonist Glen David Andrews is the first to raise an instrument. He was also one of the last people to see Dinerral Shavers before he was murdered. The church organist plays "Old Rugged Cross." The Hot 8 is there. They exit with "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." The actual Shavers family is present. Uncle Lionel Batiste of the Treme Brass Band is there, with many other musicians making cameos.
Actors and extras are on hand to remind us that this is fiction. Barely. My friend David Kunian went to the real one:
Dinerral's funeral was one of the few times I realized that I and We were in hell. I knew it was temporary, but i remember looking at the puddles on the ground outside the church on S. Robertson St. and
thinking that if there is hell, this is it. Even the second liners with
perpetual Heinekens who always smile weren't smiling that day.
In an earlier post, I talked about Hot 8 Brass Band being a part of the Dec. 31, 2005 broadcast of Toast of the Nation from NPR. I met Dinerral Shavers outside of Tipitina's that evening. He was an excellent drummer – and one of the good guys. I just listened to an aircheck of that show, and it brought back a flood of memories. Dinerral's snare rolls into this Hot 8 original, "Seriously":
PJ: The gigs at LaDonna's bar don't seem to be doing much for her lingering trauma — but there are suddenly a whole bunch. Walter "Wolfman" Washington leads the first band playing. What's he all about? I remember catching his guitar work in keyboardist Joe Krown's blues trio at Jazz Fest last year ...
JJ: Yes, he's in a band with Joe Krown and drummer Russell Batiste, and they are funky. Check out their live recording from The Maple Leaf bar or their recent recording, Triple Threat. Wolfman is a modern blues guitarist in New Orleans, and he's worked with some of the city's great R&B singers — Lee Dorsey, Irma Thomas and Johnny Adams. He still leads his own band, the Roadmasters. His earlier recordings are worth finding, especially Blue Moon Risin' with the JB Horns. Wolfman plays "Steal Away" and "Shake Your Booty" at Gigi's.
PJ: Of course, there are the Soul Apostles, beginning to shape up. (Despite being "a nine piece band with 54 f- - - - - - - pieces," as Antoine complains.) Wanda Rouzan is sounding great. And Wendell Pierce as Antoine — I'll admit I was skeptical at first, but I'm coming around to his singing a little bit.
JJ: Wanda Rouzan sings "The Dark End of The Street," a Muscle Shoals showcase for one of those "deep-fried" soul singers, James Carr. Clarence Carter also recorded that song at the legendary Alabama studio for Atlantic Records. Incidentally, Antoine follows Rouzan with "Slip Away," a huge hit for Carter. He is a master of these songs — soulful tales of infidelity and temptation that are still very popular in southern R&B clubs.
Wendell Pierce is very good at delivering that music in an authentic, down-home way. Not an easy thing to fake. Incidentally, a good deejay will tell you the next song in this epic cheating narrative would be Clarence Carter's "I Got Caught Making Love." Too bad we didn't get to hear that one. Busted!
PJ: In fact, we have a number of musicians suddenly compelled to find their singing voices this season. Annie learns that making a name for herself in the music business means writing, and probably singing original songs. Of course, she isn't as natural at it as she is at everything else she's attempted.
JJ: Along the riverfront, Harley plays "Tennessee Blues" on his guitar and tells Annie that singing isn't enough. "If you want to reach for that brass ring, you've got to write them." The freewheelin' Annie gets very excited when she pens her first song, until Harley tells her she just rewrote Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." When she complains about how hard it is to write something, Harley says, "It's why the world is full of players." It's much easier to perform someone else's music than it is to make original statements.
PJ: Davis still harbors dreams of laying down some raps, much to producer Don Bartholomew's dismay. As we see from the slam poetry scene, much better rhymers are a dime a dozen in town. But local rappers/bounce artists like the well-named Ballzack will only have so much value in selling to the outside world.
Now, a co-sign from a fellow like Mannie Fresh, an important producer in the history of New Orleans label Cash Money Records, could take it up a notch. Intriguingly, Mannie is a behind-the-scenes guy turned solo vocal talent in his own right.
JJ: Ballzack is definitely a local phenomenon — and he has likely moved more records in New Orleans than Honore de Balzac has sold books. Don B recorded tracks for Cash Money Records, then he started his own Bang'n Records to showcase some of the city's hip-hop talent. He's the son of the trumpeter and producer Dave Bartholomew, who has made more hit records than anyone in New Orleans.
Mannie Fresh made some classic New Orleans rap records with Hot Boys and Big Tymers. He's now doing his own thing with the support of a major label, Def Jam South. After that conversation with Mannie and Aunt Mimi, I was thinking the same thing as Davis: "What?"
PJ: And Delmond, fresh off a listening jag of old music (including early blues singer Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down"), impulsively starts singing "Milenberg Joys" — an old standard I know we've heard before in the show. I gather we're supposed to register the juxtaposition of that very virtuosic, 21st century jazz preceding it, and this singable old tune which his band falls into.
JJ: There is definitely a dichotomy of "feel" when you put those two songs next to each other in a set. "Milenburg Joys" is not your typical fare on any given night in a New York jazz club. No one plays that style in a "modern" jazz club. Janette is the only person dancing, and she's on Delmond's guest list. When do we get a stinging New York Times review?
On a side note, I hope they keep showing Delmond's record collection. I saw George Benson and Cannonball Adderley sleeves in there.
PJ: Curiously, Delmond is becoming his father in some ways. These days, he's headed toward masking Indian, listening to old jazz and blues all the time and defending New Orleans at every turn. Of course, now his father, Chief Lambreaux, is finally getting fed up with the bureaucracy of rebuilding and threatening to leave the city.
JJ: Delmond is planning to mask on Mardi Gras Day. His father should be very proud, even if he doesn't say it. It's already January, so they both have a lot of sewing to do.
Chief Albert Lambreaux's Road Home assistance claim was denied, even though he's been "home" for a while now. Cattin' with Coltrane and Quinichette is the background music. Paul Quinichette takes the tenor saxophone solo in the first scene, then John Coltrane when we return.
PJ: I'm continually amazed at how many parades New Orleans supports. Outpouring of joy: parade. Outpouring of grief: parade. Outpouring of anger: parade. The "stop the violence" parade seems like a particularly important one, though. And we have Rebirth Brass Band scoring it all.
JJ: Rebirth is playing "Jesus on the Main Line." The next line is "Tell him what you want." And it was obvious what people wanted — to feel safe in their own city. The separate murders of Dinerral Shavers (late December 2006) and filmmaker Helen Hill (early 2007) brought the arts community together in a way that transcended racial lines. These were two individuals who came from two very different life experiences, yet both were killed senselessly.
Baty Landis, owner of a coffeehouse-with-music-program called Sound Café, created a group called Silence Is Violence with musician Helen Gillet and writer Ken Foster. They organized a march on City Hall, one that had a huge turnout. Thousands of people directed their anger at the mayor, the district attorney, the police and the perpetrators.
I've been reading John Swenson's New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, out June 2. There's a whole chapter dedicated to the story behind the rally. Swenson includes some powerful words from Reverend John Rafael Jr. that day. "We have come to declare a city that could not be drowned in the waters of a storm will not be drowned in the blood of its citizens." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.