Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Atlantis Recommended by NPR

Staff Picks: The Best Music Books Of 2011
by NPR Staff

Best Music Of 2011
December 28, 2011
How does the saying go? "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Overquoted, tossed off and attributed to the likes of Elvis Costello, Steve Martin and Frank Zappa, there might be some truth to those damning words, whose author remains unknown. After all, what makes music so powerful? It's the music, of course, not necessarily words about it.

But sometimes dancing about architecture is the best way to make sense of something that doesn't inherently make sense. Words can provide context and illuminate the unknown, and in 2011, our favorite books about music were mostly revealing biographies and wide-spanning analyses. Chosen by the NPR Music staff (and one of NPR's music librarians), these books are interpretations of a rich history written by the people who made the music and those who it affected.

Honorable Mentions:

New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans by John Swenson
Keystone Korner: Portrait of Jazz Club by Kathy Sloane
Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice by Tad Hershorn
I Listen to the Wind That Obliterates My Traces: Music in Vernacular Photographs 1880-1955 by Steve Roden

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Glen David Andrews drops a dime on crime

This extraordinary story is not an exaggeration. New Orleans criminals routinely assassinate witnesses to crimes. The city's musicians have corageously stood up to these criminals and spoken out repeatedly against them. I wrote about this in my book New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans. Glen David Andrews is one of the central characters in the book. Here's the story from today's New Orleans Times-Picayune:

New Orleans musician saved from robbers by barking dog
Published: Wednesday, December 21, 2011, 9:31 PM
By Naomi Martin The Times-Picayune

Had it not been for the presence of his cousin's pit bull, local musician Glen David Andrews would have been one of the victims robbed at gunpoint outside a Capital One, one of three such armed robberies Monday morning, outside banks in Mid-City, Broadmoor and Gentilly.

View full sizeTimes-Picayune archiveLocal musician Glen David Andrews called 911 when he realized a robbery was in progress. 'I saw them rob hard-working people of everything but they won't get away with this...STAND UP PEOPLE,' he wrote later on his Facebook page.
It was 8:45 a.m. Monday when Andrews, his cousin and Blue, a large and rambunctious pit bull, piled into an SUV to go to the Capital One at Canal Street and South Carrollton Avenue.

Andrews, a trombone player, said he was planning to deposit $3,500 from the weekend's work to divide among his six band members.

Around 8:50 a.m., they pulled up to the bank's entrance on the corner where about six people, some with deposit slips in their hands, were waiting for the bank to open. Andrews said two people in the group were young men -- maybe 20 or 21 -- wearing black hooded sweatshirts, standing apart from each other.

As Andrews got out of the passenger side to join the group, Blue began to bark, loudly and incessantly.

A man, walking up to join the bank customers, joked to Andrews: "Hey man, you can't shut your dog up?"

Suddenly, one of the hooded men turned over his shoulder, looked Andrews in the eye and nodded toward the SUV.

The man's voice was calm: "You better leave right now with that dog. We 'bout to rob the bank."

Andrews turned immediately and got back in the SUV's passenger seat, telling his cousin, whose name is also Glen Andrews and is a musician as well, what he just heard. His cousin drove away, calmly.

"Man, I've lived in the hood all my life. When he told me that, I looked at his outfit and I look at the other guy's outfit, I looked at his gestures and by the grace of God I was able to internalize all that in a second to get out of there," Andrews said Wednesday.

While driving away from the bank, Andrews and his cousin saw the hooded men pull bandanas over their faces and force the crowd into a huddle to rob them at gunpoint. It took only seconds. Andrews dialed 911 from his cell phone.

View full sizeNew Orleans Police DepartmentA sketch of a suspect wanted by New Orleans police for armed robbery in connection with an incident outside the Capital One branch at 4141 Canal St. on Monday.
A detective later told Andrews that one of the robbery victims was an Iraqi war veteran. Andrews' anger boiled as he recalled recent acts of violence in the city including the killing of a toddler in the B.W. Cooper housing complex. First a 2-year-old girl shot to death, then this? he said.

The bank robberies on Monday occurred in the span of about an hour. New Orleans police believe all three incidents are related, said 3rd District Commander Henry Dean, whose territory includes Mid-City and Gentilly. On Wednesday police released a composite sketch of one of the suspects.

Tuesday night, Andrews vented his frustrations on his Facebook page.

"I saw them rob hard-working people of everything but they won't get away with this...STAND UP PEOPLE," he wrote.

As a well-known musician, Andrews wanted to reach a broad audience with his message that speaking up about crime can help authorities quell it.

But, he acknowledged, he now fears being targeted in retaliation for speaking up about what happened.

"There's a good chance I might get killed now walking down the street," Andrews said. Many of his family members warned him against speaking publicly about the incident.

"The right thing to do,'' he said, "might cost me my life."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nicholas Peyton on the death of Jazz

This isn't the first time anyone has ever come up with this idea but Peyton does a good job of expressing it. I would take one issue with his many premises, however. Louis Armstrong did not bow and scrape so Miles Davis could turn his back. That's buying into the very mythology Peyton is attacking. Louis Armstrong created American popular music as we know it in all its aspects. If he loved his audience that was show biz just as much as what Lady Gaga does today. Armstrong was in fact a powerful force in the Civil Rights movement who used that power brilliantly and judiciously. Davis, by comparison, sold out, not that I think anything less of him because the music speaks for itself and he was truly great in his own right. I say BY COMPARISON. Armstrong did far more for African Americans than Miles Davis did, not that it's a contest or anything, it just pisses me off to see Armstrong still used as a straw man to illustrate how cool Miles was. You didn't hear that shit from Miles, although he did say a bunch of things to confound people who thought they knew who he was. By the end of his life, when he finally started explaining himself, Miles claimed he wasn't turning his back on his audience anyway. He said he was facing his band members. I will proudly continue to listen to Armstrong, Miles Davis and Nicholas Peyton and I don't care what they call it, it's all cool to me.

On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore . . . .
Posted on November 27, 2011 by Nicholas Peyton

Jazz died in 1959.

There maybe cool individuals who say they play Jazz, but ain’t shit cool about Jazz as a whole.

Jazz died when cool stopped being hip.

Jazz was a limited idea to begin with.

Jazz is a label that was forced upon the musicians.

The musicians should’ve never accepted that idea.

Jazz ain’t shit.

Jazz is incestuous.

Jazz separated itself from American popular music.

Big mistake.

The music never recovered.

Ornette tried to save Jazz from itself by taking the music back to its New Orleanian roots, but his efforts were too esoteric.

Jazz died in 1959, that’s why Ornette tried to “Free Jazz” in 1960.

Jazz is only cool if you don’t actually play it for a living.

Jazz musicians have accepted the idea that it’s OK to be poor.

John Coltrane is a bad cat, but Jazz stopped being cool in 1959.

The very fact that so many people are holding on to this idea of what Jazz is supposed to be is exactly what makes it not cool.

People are holding on to an idea that died long ago.

Jazz, like the Buddha, is dead.

Let it go, people, let it go.

Paul Whiteman was the King of Jazz and someday all kings must fall.

Jazz ain’t cool, it’s cold, like necrophilia.

Stop fucking the dead and embrace the living.

Jazz worries way too much about itself for it to be cool.

Jazz died in 1959.

The number one Jazz record is Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue.

Dave Brubeck’s Time Out was released in 1959.

1959 was the coolest year in Jazz.

Jazz is haunted by its own hungry ghosts.

Let it die.

You can be martyrs for an idea that died over a half a century if y’all want.

Jazz has proven itself to be limited, and therefore, not cool.

Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt from looking back.

Jazz is dead.

Miles ahead.

Some may say that I’m no longer the same dude who recorded the album with Doc Cheatham.

Correct: I’m not the same dude I was 14 years ago.

Isn’t that the point?

Our whole purpose on this planet is to evolve.

The Golden Age of Jazz is gone.

Let it go.

Too many necrophiliacs in Jazz.

You’re making my case for me.

Some people may say we are defined by our limitations.

I don’t believe in limitations, but yes, if you believe you are limited that will define you.

Definitions are retrospective.

And if you find yourself getting mad, it’s probably because you know Jazz is dead.

Why get upset if what I’m saying doesn’t ring true?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t play Jazz.

I play Postmodern New Orleans music.

Louis Armstrong and Danny Barker play Traditional New Orleans Music.

Ellis Marsalis and James Black play Modern New Orleans music.

Kidd Jordan and Clyde Kerr play Avant-garde New Orleans music.

Donald Harrison plays Neoclassical New Orleans music.

I play Postmodern New Orleans music.

I am a part of a lineage.

I am a part of a blood line.

My ancestors didn’t play Jazz, they played Traditional, Modern and Avant-garde New Orleans Music.

I don’t play Jazz.

I don’t let others define who I am.

I am a Postmodern New Orleans musician.

I create music for the heart and the head, for the beauty and the booty.

The man who lets others define him is a dead man.

With all due respect to the masters, they were victims of a colonialist mentality.

Blacks have been conditioned for centuries to be grateful for whatever crumbs thrown to them.

As a postmodern musician, it’s my duty to do better than my predecessors.

To question, reexamine and redefine what it is that we do.

They accepted it because they had to.

Because my ancestors opened the door for me, I don’t have to accept it.

Louis bowed and scraped so Miles could turn his back.

It’s called evolution.

It’s the colonialist mentality that glorifies being treated like a slave.

There is nothing romantic about poor, scuffling Jazz musicians.

Fuck that idea.

It’s not cool.

Jazz is a lie.

America is a lie.

Playing Jazz is like running on a treadmill: you may break a sweat, but ultimately you ain’t going nowhere.

Some people may say we are limited.

I say, we are as limited as we think.

I am not limited.

Jazz is a marketing ploy that serves an elite few.

The elite make all the money while they tell the true artists it’s cool to be broke.

Occupy Jazz!

I am not speaking of so-called Jazz’s improvisational aspects.

Improvisation by its very nature can never be passé, but mindsets are invariably deadly.

Not knowing is the most you can ever know.

It’s only when you don’t know that “everything” is possible.

Jazz has nothing to do with music or being cool.

It’s a marketing idea.

A glaring example of what’s wrong with Jazz is how people fight over it.

People are too afraid to let go of a name that is killing the spirit of the music.

Life is bigger than music, unless you love and/or play Jazz.

The art, or lack thereof, is just a reflection.

Miles Davis personified cool and he hated Jazz.

What is Jazz anyway?

Life isn’t linear, it’s concentric.

When you’re truly creating you don’t have time to think about what to call it.

Who thinks of what they’ll name the baby while they’re fucking?

Playing Jazz is like using the rear-view mirror to drive your car on the freeway.

If you think Jazz is a style of music, you’ll never begin to understand.

It’s ultimately on the musicians.

People are fickle and follow the pack.

Not enough artists willing to soldier for their shit.

People follow trends and brands.

So do musicians, sadly.

Jazz is a brand.

Jazz ain’t music, it’s marketing, and bad marketing at that.

It has never been, nor will it ever be, music.

Here lies Jazz (1916 – 1959).

Too many musicians and not enough artists.

I believe music to be more of a medium than a brand.

Silence is music, too.

You can’t practice art.

In order for it to be true, one must live it.

Existence is not contingent upon thought.

It’s where you choose to put silence that makes sound music.

Sound and silence equals music.

Sometimes when I’m soloing, I don’t play shit.

I just move blocks of silence around.

The notes are an afterthought.

Silence is what makes music sexy.

Silence is cool.

- Nicholas Payton

Friday, November 25, 2011

Coco Robicheaux passes away

Coco Robicheaux the "mayor of Frenchmen Street" died Friday night after suffering a heart attack at the Apple Barrel bar. He epitomized the spirit of Frenchmen Street.

Here's Keith Spera's report in the Times-Picayune:

Hoodoo bluesman Coco Robicheaux apparently suffered a medical emergency while at the Apple Barrel bar on Frenchmen Street early Friday evening. He was taken away by ambulance.

Robicheaux was not performing at the time; he frequents the Apple Barrel on his off-nights.

Known for an especially gravelly voice, a swamp-blues guitar style and a fascination with subjects of a spiritual and/or mystical nature, the 64-year-old Robicheaux, an Ascension Parish native, has released several albums over the past two decades. He is a mainstay of the Frenchmen Street entertainment district, a familiar figure both on- and off-stage. He is also a regular on the schedule of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Robicheaux made a memorable appearance during the opening scene of the second episode of the first-season of the HBO series “Treme.” In a fictionalized incident, he sacrifices a rooster in the studio of community radio station WWOZ-FM.

He is also a visual artist, sculptor and painter. He created the bronze bust of Professor Longhair that stands near the entrance of Tipitina's.

According to a bartender at the Apple Barrel, Robicheaux was rushed to Tulane Medical Center after collapsing Friday evening. His condition is unknown.

New Atlantis reviewed in Jazz Times

The outstanding jazz writer Bill Milkowski wrote a wonderful review of my book New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans and Keith Spera's book in the new Jazz Times. Just for the record, though much of the book is based on material originally researched for OffBeat pieces it is a complete rewrite of that information with a lot of new material.

Here's a link, followed by the text of the review.

Keith Spera
Groove Interrupted: Loss, Renewal And The Music Of New Orleans
John Swenson
New Atlantis: Musicians Battle For The Survival Of New Orleans
Bill Milkowski reviews two new books about music in post-Katrina New Orleans
By Bill Milkowski

Those who have spent any significant amount of time in New Orleans can attest to the fact that the real musical treasures are found off the beaten path. Keith Spera and John Swenson are both savvy writers who have infiltrated the inner circle of the Crescent City’s musical culture. Each has assembled a collection of intriguing essays that reveal secrets that exist well beyond Bourbon Street.

New Orleans native Spera, a longstanding music writer for The Times-Picayune who was also part of the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina coverage team, focuses on tales of musicians confronting the challenges of trying to continue to make music in a post-Katrina environment. He covers those displaced New Orleanians forced to seek refuge in Houston, Austin, Nashville and other points around the country in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (known around New Orleans as “the Federal flood”). His profile of the cantankerous, Slidell-based blues guitarist-singer-fiddler Gatemouth Brown, who succumbed to lung cancer shortly after Katrina hit, is particularly moving, as is his eloquent recounting of Aaron Neville’s escape from his beloved hometown in the face of Katrina, his subsequent mourning over the loss of his wife to lung cancer in 2006 and triumphant return to New Orleans in 2008.

A hilarious chapter titled “Fats Domino’s Excellent Adventure” reveals the eccentricities of a bona fide hometown hero on his first trip to New York in decades to perform at a post-Katrina benefit concert. A chapter on trumpeter Terence Blanchard recounts the realization of his magnum opus, A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina). Other post-Katrina profiles on two New Orleans legends (clarinetist Pete Fountain and legendary songwriter-pianist Allen Toussaint), New Orleans Jazz & Heritage producer/director Quint Davis and the reclusive former Box Tops frontman Alex Chilton (who rode out Katrina in his Treme home) are all rendered with uncanny empathy and an eye for N’awlins detail that only a local could summon up.

While Swenson is a native New Yorker, he has for the past 20 years split his time between residences in Brooklyn and the Bywater. A former editor at Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy and currently a contributing editor to New Orleans’ Offbeat magazine, he has chronicled the lives and music of Crescent City legends as well as up-and-coming young talents. New Atlantis compiles some of his best post-Katrina essays that appeared in Offbeat.

Like Spera, he has a deep reverence for the New Orleans music tradition as well as an insider’s understanding of the local music scene. His pieces cover an astonishingly eclectic range, from insightful treatises on the brass band tradition, the legacy of Louis Armstrong and the mysterious culture of the Mardi Gras Indians to illuminating profiles on Voice of the Wetlands activist and blues guitarist Tab Benoit, New Orleans legend Mac (Dr. John) Rebennack, 400-pound bluesman Big Al Carson (a mainstay at the Funky Pirate on Bourbon Street), trad jazz clarinetist Dr. Michael White, ragtime piano specialist and James Booker interpreter Tom McDermott, and renegade-genius record producer Mark Bingham.

Swenson also writes with passion and clarity about the passing of legendary guitarist Snooks Eaglin, about his own return to the Crescent City after evacuating prior to Katrina, and about the return of the spirit of laissez le bon ton roulet with the first post-Katrina Mardi Gras in 2006. He ends the collection with a thoughtful piece that neatly segues from how the Saints’ Super Bowl victory in 2010 uplifted New Orleanians to how the enormity of the BP oil spill in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy just six weeks later provided yet another challenge to the long-suffering but resilient residents of that troubled metropolis. He gives the final word on this troubling matter to his New Orleans mentor, Dr. John: “This is my home. This is my roots. This is sacred land, and when y’all start playing around with some sacred land, somethin’ bad gonna happen.”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Notes from New Atlantis Book tour 2011

The 2011 book tour in support of New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, is over for now. Something may come up over the next month but the major events wrapped up with our participation in the National Press Club's Book Fair in Washington D.C. last week. It was a really good way to finish up because the Book Fair really offers hope to those of us us who are still interested in communicating via real paragraphs made up of real sentences containing real words that strive to actually tell a story rather than provide simple social imperatives or instant narcissistic gratification. Of course Twitter, Facebook and Text world (TFT) are incredibly powerful political tools in the right hands, but they can be just as powerful in the wrong hands, especially if content is reduced to simple dog-like commands. I don't wish for their demise, just for a balancing of technological advance with content, and the concentration necessary to keep a reader's attention in place long enough to follow a narrative.

It was great to see some 90 authors signing books for hundreds of readers at the Book Fair. Even better was the chance to interact personally with so many of those readers and potential readers, telling them the story of all the heroic musicians from New Orleans who returned to their stricken city and, against all odds, not only restored their culture but helped with the rebuilding process and created a viable economic engine to drive the city's recovery. It's an ongoing story which I hope to be able to continue to tell. Strangely, some of the biggest resistance I've met along the way is from the editorial hierarchy in New Orleans itself, which seems to be less interested in drawing attention to the small victories of local musicians than basking in the star power of visiting celebrity dignitaries.

I learned a lot in the course of promoting the book. Though it came out in June, we had pre-release copies available at Jazz Fest and the response from that audience was almost astonishing. The New Orleans story resonates profoundly outside of the city. The kind of identification fans of this music have with the hardy souls who continue to play it taps an emotional well that is almost nonexistent elsewhere in millennial America. I was more than a little surprised when people bought the book the first weekend then returned to the signing during the second weekend with tears in their eyes.

The actual release was less stirring but Jesse Paige at the Blue Nile was extremely generous in allowing us to use the upstairs room for our release party and we had a terrific time. Wings from McHardy's, red beans from Captain Sal's and 100 pounds of crawfish prepared by chef Eddie with the assistance of Mr. Massachusetts Mac and Mr. Bronx Brendan provided ample eats for our own party and for a weekend of musicians and staff at the BN. I chose the weekend of the final Radiators shows for the event which was probably a miscalculation because of the disconnect between Frenchmen Street and Uptown. Rads fans, it turned out, had their own crawfish boil, although a few of them did show up at both events (many thanks). The New York book release party was more successful. Many, many friends and colleagues showed up for a Brooklyn barbecue that preceded a terrific free performance from Dr. John at Prospect Park. The great Ned Sublette was on hand to help us celebrate.

Even better was the help we got in Brooklyn from Gerry and Joanna from the Observatory at Proteus Gowanus. They allowed me to present a series of readings/lectures/performances showcasing themes from the book and featuring a great night with Blake Leyh, musical supervisor for the HBO series Treme. This program, New Atlantis 2020, allowed us to highlight some of the most important messages contained in the book and project the narrative forward. As I say this is an ongoing story and we will revive the New Atlantis 2020 series in our 2012 campaign.

By far the most gratifying episodes of the book tour were our collaborations with the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. Tab Benoit, Rueben Williams and Cyril Neville in particular really come through in the book with an important message about how the ongoing eco-catastophe occuring along the Gulf Coast is threatening not just southern Louisiana and New Orleans but the whole country. Readings before VOW performances in Fairfield, Connecticut and New York City provided a great platform for the book's message. But the greatest moments were at the Voice of the Wetlands Festival in Houma. You don't have to look far from the site of the festival to see the Gulf waters encroaching on the land. This kind of disaster politicizes everyone involved and it was incredibly heartening to see people of all political affiliations, and the many families at the festival all uniting against the despoilers who would ruin their homes for short term profit.

Against the backdrop of Occupy Wall Street and the growing paradigm shift away from blaming American workers for the country's economic problems and focusing attention on the wealth disparity between the greedy profiteers who would sacrifice Houma, New Orleans and whatever else stands in their way and the 99 per cent it feels like New Atlantis is part of a broad movement to take America back from the oligarchs. We plan to continue to focus on these ideas in 2012.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Atlantis signing Tuesday at National Press Club Book Fair

I will be wrapping up my 2011 book tour in support of New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans this Tuesday with an appearance at the National Press Club Book Fair & Authors’ Night in Washington D.C. This time promoting the book has been one of the most gratifying episodes in my career. I will post my impressions of the experience later this week and offer a preview of what's in store for 2012.

Lauded as a philanthropic event, the Book Fair is a fundraiser for the National Press Club’s Journalism Institute, a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to providing research and training to journalists in a rapidly changing industry, and scholarships to minority journalism students.

On the literary front, the Book Fair is a unique forum for authors to gain national exposure and personal contact with book buyers, fans, pundits, and journalists. One of the capital’s premier literary events, the annual fair draws more than 90 of the nation’s top authors to the historic Press Club, and attracts substantial media coverage. Authors who have participated in the past include: Rep. Barbara Lee, Eugene Robinson, Annie Proulx, Justice Antonin Scalia, Larry King, Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill, David Pogue, Richard Wolffe, Kinky Friedman, Pamela Newkirk, C. David Heymann, Jeff Sharlet, Tom Ridge, Leslie Sanchez, James Reston, Jr., and Deborah Tannen.

We are excited to announce that our Book Fair committee will be working once again with The SEED Foundation, which helps prepare underserved students for college success at high-performing public boarding schools in the District and Maryland. The Book Fair is helping to develop the school library at the Foundation’s new Maryland Campus.

The event is scheduled to begin promptly at 5:30 p.m. and will end at 8:30 p.m. There will be a private reception for National Press Club board members and authors and their guests from 4:15 - 5:15 p.m.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kidd Jordan and Hamid Drake to record at Piety Street

Terrific news about two of our greatest improvisors, drummer Hamid Drake and saxophonist Kidd Jordan, as they plan to record at Piety Street in New Orleans. Drake is also in town to perform Nov. 19 at the art installation at 1027 Piety Street, "The Music Box," put together by local artists under the auspices of New Orleans Airlift. Here's a release about the recording I received from a great supporter of improvisors and innovators in the music world, Benjamin Lyons:

NEW ORLEANS, LA (October 18, 2011) – Valid Records announces today it will record an historic duet concert by saxophonist Edward “Kidd” Jordan and drummer Hamid Drake at Piety Street Recording Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 8 pm. Jordan, one of the least recorded jazz musicians of his global stature, has not made a studio recording in New Orleans since the mid 1980’s. This recording will reunite him with his frequent collaborator Hamid Drake for their first recording since 2005’s award-winning trio recording PALM OF SOUL (Aum Fidelity.)

Edward “Kidd” Jordan's multi-faceted legacy is among of the most influential and enduring in the history of improvised music. An integral part of the seminal musical tapestry of New Orleans, he is the patriarch of one of the city's most respected musical families and his parallel careers as a performer and educator span the past six decades. Now 76, he has worked most of his life outside the mainstream spotlight, tirelessly sustaining the jazz continuum through both his teaching and his cutting edge performances all around the globe with like-minded improvisers.
Hamid Drake is widely regarded as the leading drummer in improvised music. His musical education began in Chicago under the tutelage of saxophonist Fred Anderson and extended well beyond the world of jazz through associations with the Mandingo Griot Society, Alan Rudolph, Don Cherry, and many of the major figures in reggae. Drake brings North and West African, Caribbean, and funk impulses to the creation of freely improvised music with a wide range of world jazz figures such as David Murray, Peter Brötzmann, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Bill Laswell, Herbie Hancock, William Parker, and Ken Vandermark. He has been recorded on close to 200 cds and is in constant worldwide demand as a concert performer.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

New Orleans-Havana connection rekindled

A potentially vibrant new economic opportunity for New Orleans and the U.S. surfaced today with news that ravel restrictions between New Orleans and Havana have been cleared by the Cuban government. New Orleans and Havana have a long tradition of interaction that has had a profound impact on American culture. Reviving that link could be the beginning of a new era for the Gulf-Caribbean connection. Here is the story from today's New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Cuba clears New Orleans airport for takeoffs
Published: Thursday, October 13, 2011, 10:00 AM
By Rebecca Mowbray, The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune

The Cuban government has agreed to receive direct flights from New Orleans for the first time in more than 50 years, opening the door for travel companies from anywhere in the country to apply for permits to make flight plans originating from New Orleans.

In March, U.S. Customs and Border Protection approved an application from Louis Armstrong International Airport and seven other air fields to serve as a gateway to Cuba.

But after the door was opened on the U.S. side, efforts to gain permission from the Cuban side for flights seemed to be moving slowly. In August, two officials from the airport and two from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration -- Aimee Quirk, adviser to the mayor for economic development, and Richard Cortizas, then executive counsel to the mayor, now acting city attorney -- traveled to Cuba to make the case for why the Caribbean island nation should receive flights from New Orleans.

Airport officials just received a letter from Cuban officials approving New Orleans as one of a handful of U.S. cities able to offer flights.

"The administration and airport management worked hard on creating an opportunity for private sector (companies) to provide flights from Armstrong International Airport to Cuba, " Armstrong Airport's director of aviation, Iftikhar Ahmad, said in a news release. "We hope that private sector will benefit from this opportunity."

Quirk said the delegation emphasized during the one-day trip the Cuban population in New Orleans, the cultural ties between New Orleans and Cuba, and academic ties through the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. They also promoted the idea that New Orleans, as a leisure travel destination, has lower airfares than other business-oriented airports vying for certification.

Quirk said the approval for flights not only creates the opportunity for New Orleanians to travel to Cuba, but also for people elsewhere in the country to fly to Cuba through New Orleans. Armstrong International could increase its passenger counts because of the certification for a limited number of U.S. airports, and local tourism companies could make a pitch for travelers to spend a few days enjoying music in New Orleans before departing for Havana. Tour companies from elsewhere in the country could also build itineraries through New Orleans.

"That's one of the allures here, " she said.

The city administration has targeted efforts to rebuild international air service from New Orleans.

Before the Cuban Revolution, New Orleans was Cuba's largest trading partner in the United States. It has long been believed that if the Cuba were to open to U.S. tourism, Louisiana would stand to benefit because cruise companies would likely plan itineraries from New Orleans to Havana and local companies would find new export markets in Cuba.

In January, the Obama administration relaxed restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba, but it left the long-standing embargo in place. The new rules allow travel for cultural, academic or religious purposes; allow Americans to send money to ordinary citizens in Cuba; and allow for charter flights from more American cities.

In the past, only Los Angeles, Miami and New York were allowed to offer flights to Cuba. But in March, the Obama administration said New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Tampa and San Juan, Puerto Rico, could also offer flights, bringing the total to 11 cities from which flights to Cuba could depart.

Airport spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut said airport and city officials made the application to try to open doors for local companies. Any U.S. company seeking to operate flights now must obtain permission from the Department of Permits and Flight Planning Institute Civil Aeronautics of Cuba.

It's just a matter of "a service provider stepping forward and providing that service, whether it's a charter or tour operator or airline, " Wilcut said. Major airlines frequently have charter operations on the side.

At least two local companies could be poised to jump in.

The Metairie company Super Saver Travel Agency Inc., which does business as Cuba Travel-USA, is already on the U.S. government's list of approved Cuba service providers, and it requested that the airport pursue certification for flights. Super Saver could not be reached for comment.

The New Orleans tour company Destination Management Inc. is also approved by the U.S. Department of Treasury as Cuba service provider.

"It's a new and emerging market, " Wilcut said.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Osborne, Denson get Sticky Fingers

Anders Osborne, named the best guitarist in New Orleans by Offbeat magazine, will team up with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe to perform The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers album in its entirety on tour this fall. The New Orleans-based Osborne, whose Alligator debut CD American Patchwork has been hailed as the best of his career, will play guitar and share the Sticky Fingers vocals. Denson is a genre-bending saxophone player and singer who first came t o prominence playing in Lenny Kravitz's band. The performances on this tour -- a song by song interpretation of the classic Stones album -- promise to be a tour-de-force of masterful musicianship and mind-blowing showmanship.

The tour will begin in Los Angeles on October 13 and stretch through the beginning of November. In addition to playing with Denson's Tiny Universe, Osborne and his band will open many of the dates on the tour, performing songs from American Patchwork. The album, released in 2010, was celebrated by fans and critics alike. Paste said the CD was "mind-bogglingly great." Offbeat called it, "The living definition of great art."

Live, Osborne is a force to behold. His wildly energetic, physical live performances find him ripping notes out of his guitar, forcing out riveting steel-on-steel slide solos, pouring his entire soul into his vocals. His ability to ignite an audience is legendary. Past gigs include repeated appearances at The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, stops at Bonnaroo, The High Sierra Festival, The Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, The Hollowbaloo Music & Arts Festival in Honolulu, and even an appearance at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He has toured North America and Europe extensively, and has performed with moe., Galactic, The Meters, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal and Little Feat, among many others.

Osborne is revered for his jaw-dropping guitar playing. His piercing slide-work and fluid finger picking (oftentimes happening simultaneously) are simply unmatched. His use of Open D tuning (a rare choice for a guitar virtuoso) gives his fretwork a signature sound and feel. His influences range from Ry Cooder and Robert Johnson to the great horn players like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Always an in-demand guitarist, Osborne has appeared on a host of recordings by Keb Mo, Tab Benoit, Mike Zito and others. Recently, Anders lent his guitar talents to Dark Water, Galactic's first single from their new Ya-Ka-May CD.

Since his recording debut in 1989, he has written virtually all of his own material and contributed memorable songs to a wide variety of artists. Two tunes co-written by Osborne appear on blues great Keb Mo's Grammy-winning 1999 release Slow Down. Country superstar Tim McGraw scored a #1 hit with Anders' song Watch The Wind Blow By. Osborne's compositions have been covered by artists as diverse as Brad Paisley, Tab Benoit, Edwin McCain, Jonny Lang and Kim Carnes. His song What's Going On Here appeared in the 1996 feature film Fled, and Osborne, along with Ivan Neville, wrote and recorded the title track for the Kate Hudson film Earthbound.

Leading the Tiny Universe, Denson brings new sounds and styles to everything he touches. NPR Music called him, "a drop-dead talent who can howl with the best jazzbos and even groove with the jam-band crowd. There's a spiritual center to it all that finds some surprising links to Bob Marley." While developing a following overseas, Denson joined Fred Wesley's band, touring and recording with him on multiple releases. This led to five straight-ahead jazz albums by Denson on Minor Music. In 1993, Denson joined DJ Greyboy in creating Greyboy Records and released the legendary acid jazz staple Freestylin'. Out of that collaboration, Denson formed The Greyboy Allstars. Denson next put more emphasis on vocals and added some funk, R&B and hip hop elements. It turned out to be a winning combination, which set his new group Karl Denson's Tiny Univers e on their current path.


10/13 - House Of Blues - Los Angeles, CA

10/14 - Belly Up - Solana Beach, CA

10/19 - Humboldt Brews - Arcata, CA (Anders opening)

10/20 - Moe's Alley - Santa Cruz, CA (Anders opening)

10/21-22 - The Independent - San Francisco, CA (Anders opening)

10/23 - Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. - Chico, CA (Anders opening)

10/28 - Boulder Theater - Boulder, CO (Anders opening)

10/29 - Town Park - Telluride, CO (Anders opening)

10/31 - Fillmore Auditorium - Denver, CO (Anders opening)

11/02 - Emerson Theatre - Bozeman, MT (Anders opening)

11/03 - Wilma Theatre - Missoula, MT (Anders opening)

11/04 - Neumos - Seattle, WA (Anders opening)

11/05 - Wonder Ballroom - Portland, OR (Anders opening)

11/09 - The Georgia Theatre - Athens, GA (Anders opening)

11/12 - The Orange Peel - Asheville, NC (Anders opening)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Beatles wouldn't play for Tea Party supporters

1965 Contract Disclosed That Beatles Refused to Play in Front of Segregated Audience
September 15, 2011 – LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A historic 1965 Beatles contract divulged that the Beatles were staunch civil rights supporters. The Beatles requested in the contract that they would not perform in front of a segregated audience at the Cow Theater in Daly City, California. The signed contract by Beatles manager Brian Epstein will be auctioned at Nate D. Sanders’ Tuesday September 20, 2011 auction.

In 1964, the Beatles made headlines when they initially refused to perform at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida because the concert was slated to be segregated. The Beatles performed only after city officials allowed the stadium to be integrated.

The contract between the Beatles management company Nems Enterprises, Inc. and legendary Bay Area concert promoter Paul Catalana was signed on March 24, 1965. It called for at least 150 uniformed police officers for protection and for “$40,000 guaranteed against 65% of the gross box office receipts over $77,000.” The August 31, 1965 concert at the Cow Theater was part of the Beatles’ third major United States tour.

Thank you, Wardell

When people ask me when I became interested in the music of New Orleans I always go back to my teenage years in Brooklyn when I listened to AM radio and bought the 45rpm singles that appealed to me the most as cutouts at a three for a dollar store on 42nd street in Times Square. The litany is familiar -- the Dixie Cups, Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner; an irrisistible single called "Barefootin" by Robert Parker. I had no idea and didn't find out until years later that what all my favorite records had in common is that they were recorded in New Orleans. Oddly, it was only after I had written several articles about New Orleans arranger Wardell Quezergue that I realized all the songs that grabbed my teenage attention so forcefully were arranged by him. Sadly I never got a chance to thank Wardell for that influence on my life. But it's a big part of the reason I was at Corpus Christi-Epiphany Catholic church in New Orleans last Monday for Wardell's funeral mass and second line. The crowd outside the church was not especially large but it was made up almost completely of prominent figures in the New Orleans music industry -- musicians, writers, promoters, all people who marveled at Wardell's singular genius. The gathering was somber but joyous, a collection of people whose faith in each other was something like a family. I talked with some of the people there over the past week and wrote a story about the day which will appear in the next issue of OffBeat. There's no way I can fully express what it means to share such an experience. I only know I am profoundly grateful to all the people who were there for sharing the moment togther and making me feel included in it. Wardell's greatness was occluded during his life but hopefully will be accorded its rightful place in history.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ogden reading with Helen Gillet

Last night's reading from New Atlantis accompanied by one of the book's stars, Helen Gillet, was a truly magic evening. Helen played music from her new recording, Running With the Bells, accompanied by saxophonist/flautist Tim Green and drummer Doug Garrison. The music was by turns earthy, ethereal, spiritually sustaining, challenging and peaceful. The audience at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art listened carefully, then remained silent in rapt attention as I read passages from the book about Helen while she sat next to me, commenting occasionally on the text. We finished with a quote about how her experiences working with the Silence Is Violence community group helped her as an improvisor, and I used that as a jumping off point to begin the interview portion of the program with her. After we completed the interview Helen's band returned for another set and I signed books and talked with some of the wonderful people in attendance at the event. Just another example of the grace we all experience in this glorious city of New Orleans as it rebuilds itself in an image not born of greedy developers and political chiselers but of artists and artisans, people who find meaning in their work and are always looking to help each other reach a better place. Helen and I will join up again September 19th at the Observatory at Proteus Gowanus in Brooklyn, New York, where she will perform, I'll read and talk with her and then I'll DJ a New Orleans dance party.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New Atlantis on SIRIUS Radio 10 AM Sunday

The program scheduled for last Sunday on Dave Marsh's SIRIUS radio show was cancelled due to hurricane Irene and moved to Sunday, September 4 at 10 AM. I'll be Dave's guest as we play music related to New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans and Dave and I talk about the city's aesthetic revival. That's on SIRIUS Channel 30, "The Loft" station; Dave's show is called "Kick Out the Jams with Dave Marsh."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

SIRIUS Radio show postponed due to Hurricane Irene

Sorry to say I will not be on Dave Marsh's SIRIUS radio show tomorrow at 10 am due to the approaching hurricane.
I will be at Bluestockings Cafe (172 Allen St.) Monday night at 7pm for the first extended reading from New Atlantis: Musicians Batle for the Survival of New Orleans.
Thanks to the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars for letting me introduce them with short readings from the book last Wednesday in Fairfield, Connecticut and Thursday in Manhattan. I met a lot of nice people who wanted signed copies of the book or just to chat and I hope those who received cards from me stay in touch. And what a band! All leaders of their own groups, these gentlemen play together as a unit with grace and purpose. A true All-Star aggregation indeed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Philadelphia Folk Fest exceeds expectations

If someone had told me that all three days at the Philadelphia Folk Festival would feature violent, tornadic thunderstorms and incessant downpours I may well have given it a pass. But the 50th anniversary of this event was an extraordinary weekend of music and fellowship. After attending hundreds of outdoor festivals over the last 40 something years I had forgotten what it felt like to among such a large group of people who'd gathered not for hedonistic purposes but in hope for and service of a better world. The music was inspirational and democratic. Although I heard many demonstrations of instrumental excellence from the likes of Jorma Kaukonen, the Campbell Brothers, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, David Bromberg, the Battlefield Band and Levon Helm's group, I was just as pleased to hear the amateur musicians who brought goodwill and a healthy attitude to the music they played. Most of all I heard the work of some of America's greatest songwriters played with real purpose. One of the most emotional moments in the festival for me came when a crowd sitting in a driving rainstorm sat under their umbrellas and sang along to the only real National Anthem this country ever deserved, Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," performed by a group of children whose parents were longtime festival goers. The moment repeated a theme that ran through the entire weekend. I kept seeing families who'd come to share this music together -- young people with their toddlers bouncing along beside them; older folks with their teenage kids, who usually were carrying some sort of acoustic instrument; and in a couple of instances three generations of family members who'd come together for the party. This was a case of people who'd been coming to this festival, some for many, many years, bringing their children and grandchildren along to carry on the tradition.
Trombone Shorty once again demonstrated his extraordinary ability to read a crowd and instictively understand what it wanted. The Folk Festers danced to Shorty's funk and applauded his and his band's instrumental prowess but their greatest response was to strong melody and excellent songwriting. For the first time in all the Trombone Shorty shows I've seen the showstopper here was "Show Me Something Beautiful." The crowd loved the song and stood on its collective feet to let Shorty know it. Then when the band kicked into the big finale, "Saints" was not the table setter but the main course. The chorus of voices from the audience singing along to the famous refrain gave me goosebumps. I know some people might regard this cynically, with the jaundiced eye of those who've dealt with too many Bourbon Street tourists looking for cliches, but this crowd response was a pure and heartfelt reaction to a song whose words had real meaning to them.
The festival also managed to shine a spotlight on what is a very strong local folk music scene in Pennsylvania. I was particularly impressed with two local groups, the Celtic-influenced quartet RUNA, which kicked off a spectacular Sunday afternoon set at the Camp Stage during one of the festival's few dry moments; and The Angel Band, which features the wonderful vocalist Alison Paige, who has a side band called AlyCat. Paige sounded like Tracy Nelson belting out a soulful blues during a jam sessions with David Bromberg backing her up. Bromberg, who accomplished the nearly impossible feat of following Trombone Shorty with his big band, was in classic form playing material from his great new album "Use Me" (see my review of this record in Stereophile magazine).
Tom Paxton held the crowd in the palm of his hand as he sang the best song about 9/11 I've heard from anyone and a song about the old days in Greenwich Village at the legendary Sheridan Square watering hole The Lion's Head. I always wanted to have one of my book covers framed on the wall of that venerable pub, where I drank with friends like Morthland, Tosches, Altman and Lester. New Atlantis would have been an appropriate candidate but sadly the Lion's Head is no more. I will, however, console myself with Paxton's observation about nostlagia: "It's OK to look back as long as you don't stare."
The star of the festival from my perspective was 80-year-old David Amram, who participated in a tribute to Phil Ochs, held a spellbinding workshop recalling his days playing with Jack Kerouac, led a lengthy World Music jam, performed his own jazz set which made me realize he influenced Mose Allison rather than the other way around, and finished off the festival by sitting with Levon Helm's outstanding band, which included Larry Campbell on guitar, Steve Bernstein on trumpet and Howard Johnson on tuba. Amram's double pennywhistle solo on "The Weight" at the close of the night was the perfect grace note for the festival.
Amram's best quote: "When they're telling you that the policemen and the firemen are the enemies, going after the Archie Bunkers, you know they've overplayed their hand."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dave Malone of the Radiators back in action

I spoke to Dave Malone of the Radiators last month and he told me he had been able to put down his guitar for a couple of weeks for the first time in decades. But after freshening his batteries following the grueling six months of final Radiators shows Malone said he would reveal his plans to get back on the road some time in August. True to his word, Malone's fall schedule came out on the HeatGen list yesterday. As promised, it includes duo gigs with his brother Tommy, in a full band called the Malone Sharks, a couple of gigs with Bonerama and several other configurations.
> 1) Sept 16 San Fran area.... The Malone Brothers (Dave and Tommy)
> acoustic duo house from Jon Hart (Tommys' Birthday)
> 2) Sept 17 San Francisco...The Boom Boom Room...The
> MaloneSharks..Dave and Tommy,Mitch Stein and a bass player and drummer
> 3) Sept 28 NOLA Harvest the Music Lafayette Park Bonerama w/
> special guest Dave Malone
> 4) Oct 5 NYC The Canal Room Benefit for New Orleans
> Musicians Clinic with Dave Malone,Camile Baudoin, Ivan Neville,
> Tony Hall, Adam Deitch
> 5) Oct 7 Houma,La Voice of the Wetlands Festival Tab
> Benoit and Anders Osborne w/special guest Dave Malone
> 6) Oct 8 Gretna.La Gretna Fest Tommy Malone and the
> Mystik Drone (Johnny Ray Allen, Carlo Nuccio, David Torkanowski) w/
> special guest Dave Malone
> 7) weekend of Oct 28,29,30 NOLA Voodoo Fest Bonerama w/
> special guest Dave Malone

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Atlantis on WWNO tonight!

Tune in to WWNO at 6:30 Central time tonight to hear my interview with host Susan Larson regarding New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans. The interview is part of Larson's show "The Reading Life." To listen online:

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Real Davis article

My profile on Davis Rogan in the current issue of OffBeat magazine left out a lot of detail that I think is essential to the piece. Fortunately a longer version ran on the magazine's website, This is the more complete version:

Déjà Davis Rogan
01 August 2011 — by John Swenson

Davis Rogan. Photo by Aubrey Edwards.
It’s a Tuesday night at the Hi Ho Lounge and Alison Fensterstock sits at the bar waiting for contestants to solve her latest series of music trivia challenges. Her husband, DJ Lefty Parker, is behind the bar announcing the questions and serving drinks. Things are moving along smoothly until the middle of the second round, when Davis Rogan bursts through the door, arms flailing and head turning vigorously as he surveys the scene before he hurls himself into the middle of the activity. At a beefy, long limbed 6’4,” Davis shakes things up when he enters a room. “What have I missed?” he asks as he slides up to the bar, picks up an answer sheet and waves it ceremoniously, simultaneously ordering a tumbler of Maker’s Mark and a Miller High Life.

The category is “Jacksons.” Lefty reads the question: “Who is the weirdest living member of the Jackson family?” Davis shouts out delightedly, “La Toya!”

The groans and muttering from contestants fill the air; after all, a $20 bar tab is at stake. Others quietly write down the answer. Having made what can only be described on his own terms as an entirely successful entrance, Davis is immensely pleased with himself.

Fensterstock just smiles.

“It’s interesting to watch Davis versus trivia,” she later notes. “It adds to the fun.”

Adding to the fun is a life’s mission for Rogan, even if his definition of amusement doesn’t always find a willing audience. But the Hi Ho is home turf for Davis these days. The club is where the Brassy Knoll, one of the featured bands in the HBO series Treme, plays its gigs. Davis is the keyboardist in the band, which is fashioned after his notorious 1990s aggregation All That. And another Davis is also the leader of the band in the person of Steve Zahn, the actor who plays Davis in the series.

Let me explain.

There are in fact two guys named Davis—Davis Rogan, or as he now calls himself “The Real Davis,” and Davis McAlary, the Treme character based on Rogan. That Davis is so well played by Steve Zahn that a number of New Orleanians who will never be Davis Rogan fans prefer the fictionalized TV version of Davis, a man whose unpredictable behavior is nevertheless always subject to potential revision and improvement.

This is the strange case of a man who lives his life in the penumbra of another man who is creating an alternative version of his life on television. Both men are walking through these lives in the same city a mere five years apart, often interacting with some of the same people. When it’s the actual person living his life under the camera’s scrutiny, this is popularly called “Reality TV.” When there’s a second version of the man living a fictional recreation of that life, complications of many forms ensue. Indeed, the question “What is reality?” becomes central to the identity of Davis. Perhaps we can call this “Déjà vu TV.”

The trivia episode is a characteristic Davis anecdote. All over New Orleans, people have encountered the Davis genius for disrupting events of any kind. Some find his social high wire act deeply unsettling. Others think it’s funny in a Three Stooges-at-the-black-tie-dinner kind of way. He’s seen his reputation enjoy a dramatic turn for the better since Treme’s first season began in April 2010. The show’s musical supervisor Blake Leyh agreed to produce an album for him and the result, The Real Davis, is the best thing Rogan has ever recorded, a game-changing moment in his career that presents him in his best light as a songwriter and surrounds him with top local musicians. The Real Davis is a terrific springboard for live performances, and Rogan is suddenly more in demand to play local gigs than he’s ever been.

When the trivia contest was over, Davis and I left the Hi Ho and climbed into his 1995 Toyota Camry station wagon, a virtual duplicate of the 1989 Toyota station wagon memorialized in the 2005 album The Once and Future DJ. As we careen across St. Claude Avenue heading towards his Treme home, Davis flips on music. It’s opera and he’s got it cranked to the max.

“Recitar!” the singer intones. “Vestila giubba.” Davis is listening to the apotheosis of bad clown stories, Pagliacci. “Listen to those bitches sing” he yells. Davis pulls his car to a dead stop in the middle of the intersection of Gov. Nichols and North Robertson, grooving to the music. Several of his neighbors get out of their car to check out what Davis is up to now, laughing and shaking their heads as they greet him.

Davis lives on the second floor of a dilapidated house in Treme. The Rebirth Brass Band used to use the ground floor as a rehearsal space. After climbing up a long, vertiginous stairway you find that Davis lives in a man cave of almost unimaginable disarray. You get the sense from these rooms that Davis cares nothing about any of his possessions, which are thrown haphazardly all over the place, except his musical instruments and playback equipment, which are all meticulously maintained and readily accessible. While eating a plate of crawfish etouffee with his fingers because there are no utensils anywhere in sight, Davis suddenly turns morose.

“Can you fathom the depths of my inanity?” he asks.

I took an instant liking to Davis the first time I heard All That back in the 1990s. He was funny and smart and had the creative musical vision that the past was also part of the future. All That collected some of the city’s best players under one umbrella, a cornucopia that encompassed both Kirk Joseph and Matt Perrine on sousaphones. Of course the band was doomed but at least Davis got as far as scoring a contract with Rounder records and actually documenting this moment in history. Then I got to know him and liked him even better because I like iconoclasts, satirists, cynics and clowns, especially when they’re loyal drinking buddies. When Davis calls, you know you’re in for it: “I’ve got ten pounds of boiled shrimp and a case of Tecate and I’ll be at your house in 15 minutes.” At moments like that a simple “no” doesn’t work. Davis arrives and your kitchen table becomes a freak symposium. Shit will be shot, music will be played and the afternoon will slowly descend into evening. And as the evening progresses, sometimes things can go wrong. Davis has been known to act out and has been tossed from more than a few drinking establishments in the city for transgressions ranging from dropping trou to mouthing off a bit too vociferously. But it’s some kind of measure of his genius that in a city notorious for bad behavior, he manages to stand out.

One doesn’t get to be the kind of larger than life figure Davis has become overnight. The traits that lead to such notoriety usually display themselves at an early age. Born in 1967, Davis soon learned that having a good sense of humor could be very useful. At the integrated public school he attended, McDonogh 15, he discovered that making his classmates laugh was an effective deterrent to getting beaten up by them. He played trombone in the school band under the direction of the legendary Walter Payton. The band actually performed at Jazz Fest, but Davis recalls that his parents didn’t encourage him to be a musician. Rogan’s father, a mechanical engineer, worked for the offshore drilling industry. “His job included supervision of what would now be called the blowout preventer,” Davis notes. “I’m sure the Deepwater Horizon disaster wouldn’t have occurred if he’d been working on that one.” Rogan’s mother Ama was a homemaker, a professional puppeteer and an aspiring writer.

Photo by Aubrey Edwards.
Davis was the second oldest of four children, two girls and two boys. “I always wanted to be a guitar player,” Davis says, “but my parents thought it was tacky. Same with the saxophone. We didn’t have a piano, but I walked to the church and practiced on the piano there two times a day. I was brought up on Joyce and Hemingway. I think they wanted me to be a writer. It was such a dreadful disappointment to them that I didn’t become a novelist.”

Davis speaks in awestruck tones of his mother, who died when he was a teenager. One of his defining musical memories is inextricably tied up with his memory of her.

“In 1978 when I was old enough to cross Broadway, they had a sale at Mushroom Records that if you brought in three records, they would give you one. I brought one of my mom’s Stan Getz records, one of her Gerry Mulligan records and one of my mom’s Chet Baker records, and I traded them in for a copy of Sticky Fingers. When my mom found out, she gave me a spanking. So my memory of mid-‘70s Rolling Stones was of a zaftig brunette beating the piss out of me.”

Davis credits his mother’s influence for his habit of telling people things they don’t want to hear, a discipline he has mastered skillfully.

“Maybe when I was young and I said to someone something like, ‘Good Lord, you’re fat,’ or, ‘Hey, you’re old.’ Maybe my mom taught me never to lose that.”

Ama Rogan died suddenly in 1984 after suffering a brain aneurism. The event changed his life and may well have left him with a huge emotional chip on his shoulder.

“It’s a little rough for me to celebrate Father’s Day,” Rogan admits, “because my mother died on Father’s Day, which is a unique way to eliminate both Hallmark holidays. I’ve carried that for a while. Maybe that’s why I was such a dick.”

Davis dealt with his loss by getting as far away from home as he could, enrolling at Reed College in Oregon, where he supported himself selling pot to his fellow students. He ostensibly majored in literary criticism, but his real education took place on the college radio station KRRC, where he honed skills he’d nurtured throughout his teenage years. He listened to WWOZ and WTUL and imagined his own voice coming over the airwaves. By his senior year of high school, he had become a DJ on WTUL.

Upon his return to New Orleans, Davis struck up a friendship with members of the Rebirth Brass Band. He became tight with Kermit Ruffins, playing piano in his band and performing with him in what sounds from Rogan’s description like a comedy team, which makes sense if you consider that performance for Davis back then was as much about comedy as it was music. He took himself most seriously as a DJ, and became notorious on ‘OZ for playing New Orleans bounce at a time when it was essentially banned from the station’s playlist. When Bunny Matthews profiled Davis for an OffBeat cover in 2002 Rogan still openly disparaged his talents as a vocalist and musician at the expense of his prowess as a radio personality.

Such self-effacement obscured the fact that Rogan had done great work with All That, starting with 1997’s Eponymous Debut and continuing through the Rounder Records release Whop Bam Boom and the band’s final recording, a live album recorded at the Mermaid Lounge in 2001. Davis was eventually fired from All That in what he describes as a coup instituted by drummer Derrick Freeman. He still holds a grudge against Freeman, a fact which became a minor plot point in season two of Treme. But Davis also recognized that he was falling apart himself at the time. “All That went though several lineups, and at the end the newest members conspired to kick me out of the band,” Rogan recalls. “But I was sad and I couldn’t really play. My insouciance was mysteriously misplaced.”

All the while, Rogan was also teaching music at the kindergarten and grade school level. Watching him lead groups of young kids at events like French Quarter Fest offered an important insight to Rogan’s personality. Instead of teaching the kids songs from the rote curriculum, Davis brought his own songbook of New Orleans folk songs, Coasters material and Fats Domino classics. He taught these little kids about their musical legacy as New Orleanians, and they responded to Rogan fanatically, year after year. When he finally quit his teaching job to work full time on Treme, his students delivered a petition bearing 50 hand-scrawled signatures begging Davis not to leave them.

“His work with the kids really tells you something about Davis,” says Rogan’s bassist, Dr. Jimbo Walsh. “He’s genuine with the children, and they really respond to that. It’s a wonderful thing to see in action. He is a kid himself—that’s part of it—but he’s a teacher. He’s professional about it, he’s in charge, but he listens to them and takes them seriously. One time we were at the Jazz Festival playing at the Kids’ Tent, and the group was little kids from the inner city. At one point, this little 6-year-old kid gets the idea that we’re losing the crowd and he goes up to Davis, pulls on his shirt and says, ‘Mr. Rogan, we got play ‘Charlie Brown’ right now!’”

Davis met Walsh at a low point in his life. “All That went south and I was a densely problematic singer/songwriter who Jimbo agreed to play bass for and drive me around because I was incapacitated,” Rogan recalls. “He started working with me in the dark hours. I had lost my girl friend and All That’s record deal.”

Walsh had been working in trumpeter Michael Ray’s band before joining forces with Davis; he remembers liking Rogan the first time he met him.

“I was sitting at a café uptown and he came walking in,” says Walsh. “I was sitting with some jazz musicians and he said, ‘I play funk because you can get more girls that way.’ I thought he was funny. I love jazz, but I’m not precious about it. I had been with Michael Ray for a long time, and he had just moved back to Philadelphia. All That was in a state of collapse and we started hanging out. We came to the conclusion that I was the only musician in New Orleans who hadn’t played with All That.

“I thought he was a very good songwriter, a real classic American songwriter in the Lieber-Stoller way of working with traditional forms but doing things to make each song unique. And in terms of lyric writing, he has an incredible way of turning a phrase. I also thought he was a pretty good piano player in the New Orleans tradition, so I joined his band.”

With Jimbo’s help, Davis put together a strong album’s worth of songs that became The Once and Future DJ, an album that was almost lost in the federal flood of ‘05 before a safety copy was discovered, allowing it to become one of the first post-Katrina New Orleans recordings. The songs were filled with funny stories and journalistic detail cataloging Rogan’s experiences living in Treme, dealing with girlfriends and interacting with his students. Davis matched his carefree, mocking spirit as a songwriter with the ingrained understanding of the foundations of New Orleans music that is the birthright of a fifth-generation Crescent City resident. Two songs in particular stood out—“Hurricane,” an almost miraculously prescient account of a local who refused to leave the city during a hurricane; and “I Quit,” a riotous string of invective hurled at WWOZ, mightily enabled by a deeply excoriating rap from Cheeky Blakk.

I wrote about The Once and Future DJ in the first issue of OffBeat released after the flood. David Simon, who was still working on The Wire at the time, read the review and recognized Davis as the perfect character to build his developing idea about a New Orleans series around. Rogan was in France taking advantage of an artist’s exchange program offered by the French government after Katrina when Simon tracked him down.

“I was in the Loire Valley and I get this email saying, ‘I work for David Simon and he wants to talk to you about this upcoming HBO show he’s going to do.’ I thought he was going to ask me something about some musician, but he called me and said, ‘I read this article and I have an idea for the main character of my next HBO series and it’s you. I want to meet you and talk with you about this.’

“So I came back to New Orleans and I made him take me to Bayona and drink $300 bottles of wine.”

Over the course of many meetings, Simon collected Rogan’s story and filed away the details for future use. Davis himself had no idea where this was all leading, but the process itself excited him.

“David Simon was like, ‘You’re Davis. I want to base a character on you. I need your input to get New Orleans. I’m trying to research. Can you make a leap of faith and share your knowledge with me? We’re going to try to build a relationship.’ The part about Kermit not knowing who Elvis Costello was came from Kermit not knowing who the Rolling Stones were. Basically, I gave him my stories and started sharing my stories and background. It was a little bit painful because obviously New Orleanians as musicians have a long history of getting screwed, so I had to put that aside and work with this guy and hope that in the end he would choose to do the right thing. Which, in the end, he did.

“Me and Kermit and Donald Harrison, we all got placed in season five of The Wire,” says Davis. “In Episode One of Season Five of The Wire, these journalists are gathered in a bar talking about work and my song is playing on the jukebox. My song on a jukebox in Baltimore. That is what we call fiction.”

Davis also considered his frequent meetings with Simon a kind of payment for services rendered.

“We would go to dinner at Clancy’s or Bayona or Herbsaint and have the $300 wine, so in that sense I wasn’t giving a donation. From the ‘This is pie in the sky and I’m buying you lunch,’ to ‘This is going to happen and I’ve got something for you,’ there was definitely some rough ground about what my deal was going to be. Around Christmas 2008, I was wondering if I needed to hire a lawyer. There was a definite period where it was in the works, but it might not happen. I was getting these calls: ‘My name is so and so and I’m an actor in New York. I’ve read the script, and can you give me some pointers?’ Another guy texted me: ‘I’ve been waiting all my life to play you, man.’ I emailed him back and said, ‘I’m currently under the delusion that I’m a contender for the role, so any advice I would give you would be wrong’.”

In the end, Rogan did read for the part of Davis, but he understands what a coup it was to cast Steve Zahn in the role.

“He’s a great actor,” says Rogan. “In terms of capturing my verbosity and the manic energy, that speaks volumes to the capacity of the writing team and the casting. But Steve Zahn ain’t no musician. He’s so fucking white. In one scene, he’s about to do a version of ‘Sex Machine’ and he turns to Kirk Joseph and says, ‘Bring your bot-sy to this one.’ I had to explain to Steve Zahn who Bootsy Collins was. There’s an arc starting with me explaining to Kermit who the Rolling Stones are and ending with me explaining to Steve Zahn who Bootsy Collins is.”

When the scene Rogan refers to appears in the final episode, Zahn’s Davis is clearly enacting the lame white guy he feels he’s perceived to be. Mispronouncing Bootsy’s name would be in character, but since this is an ironic comment on a character that is already an ironic comment on a real person, it’s easy to see how this might blow Davis Rogan’s mind.

“We have to specify,” notes Blake Leyh. “Are we talking about Steve Zahn, Davis McAlary, Davis Rogan the actor, or Davis Rogan the guy? The character is self satirizing. For me to try to deconstruct the levels beyond that—that’s the fun of watching that stuff. When you and I try to discuss this, we literally get lost in a sort of hall of mirrors. It’s hard for Davis to navigate through that hall of mirrors himself sometimes.”

After viewing the final episode, Davis adjusted his opinion.

“Watching Steve perform ‘Liza Jane’ and ‘Sex Machine,’—I mean watching on the TV not doing the scenes with him—I see from the camera’s view what a hilarious character actor he is,” says Rogan. “In a way, it’s a brilliant move on the part of the producers having McAlary be a so-so performer which makes me, not much of an actor, look irritated at him on screen. I also realize that Zahn the actor excels in realms where I am an absolute novice. There’s no way I could do those splits!”

Part of David Simon’s genius is his ability to work effectively with a personality as strong-willed as Rogan. Simon did it by being a genuine friend, hanging out with him but making no promises, and finding creative ways to incorporate him into the production. In Season One of Treme, Davis was a script consultant, piano teacher and part-time scriptwriter, co-writing Episode Eight with David Mills.

“I bitched and moaned and kicked at the fucking door,” he admits, “until I became a writer.”

It didn’t take long for Davis to make a crucial contribution in the writer’s room.

“I was a junior cub understudy writer,” says Rogan. “I was half an hour late to the meeting. I was terrified, clueless and hung over, which was probably good because it got me to shut the fuck up. What they were thinking about was that Creighton would commit suicide and how to account for all these straws that pushed him to it. He’s an English teacher and they’re saying, ‘What book is he teaching? Is there something by Lafcadio Hearn? We need a book.’ Suddenly the cartoon light bulb went on over my head. I had Alex McMurray’s freshman lit copy of The Awakening [which ends with Edna committing suicide by walking into the Gulf of Mexico] with his notes in the margins. I blurted out, ‘Holy shit, you guys gotta use Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.’ I forwarded the final four chapters to the principal guys.”

In the weeks before the first season of Treme aired, Davis Rogan was caught in a maelstrom of gossip related to his role in the show. Friends found it hard to believe his claims about how much of it was based on him. Detractors traded horror stories about his behavior on the set. Everybody claimed to have inside information about what was going on: Davis had been thrown off the set and banned from the show; Davis was contractually required to stay at least 200 feet away from Steve Zahn.

I ran into Davis one day at Johnny White’s and told him the alarming rumors. Davis laughed it off, saying, “Watch the show and see if I was banned.” Today he can look back with satisfaction and say, “The people who were saying that stuff were people who had drunk the Hater-ade. Obviously because I had been banned from this or that event or fired from this or that place, they had to extrapolate that. Small-minded people have a right to be small-minded, bless their little hearts.”

The proof, of course, was right there on your TV set. Episode One began with Davis running out of his house to join a second line and went on to include so many references to his real life it began to seem like some kind of personal revenge fantasy that he’d scripted himself. Zahn played Davis as a Shakespearian fool whose antic disposition provided much needed comic relief to a relentlessly tragic story.

Treme did more for the musicians’ community in New Orleans than any single event in recent memory, and arguably no musician benefited more than Davis Rogan. Though a few people might have still harbored grudges from past offenses, Davis was able to rehabilitate his reputation as a live performer, finance and record a representative solo album, and quit his teaching job to become a full time musician once again. Blake Leyh agreed to produce The Real Davis as soon as Rogan brought it up.

“It just made sense,” says Leyh. “I could see right away that Davis benefits from an outsider’s perspective. I think I understand quite well his work and what he’s doing, and I have a great respect and appreciation for it. But I’m also not like a fan, so I’m not going to ever shy away from telling him what I really think. I also think I might have a better sense of what someone outside of New Orleans will think of the work and add that perspective to it.”

Leyh sent Davis 30 songs to listen to and asked him to consider doing cover versions.

“’Just listen to them with an open mind,’ I told him. ‘Think what it would mean if you covered this song. It will allow you to view your own work in a more critical perspective and think about what is it that makes Davis’ work Davis’ work. Also it’s a signifier for people outside of the immediate circle that you do know about other things in the world.’ So we end up with ‘Rivers of Babylon’ and Alex Chilton’s ’13.’

“One thing that I encouraged Davis to do more of is face fear. Not all the time, but take five minutes and ask yourself if the sarcasm and the monolithic cynicism about the universe, part of that might be the result of covering something up. What if you were to tip your hand a little bit? Show a little more of a side of you that I know exists when you’re not thumbing your nose at the world. What would that look like if Davis did that? I was interested to know. It’s one thing when you’re 25 to have a punk attitude, a sarcastic attitude, but as you get older that can wear kind of thin. I would encourage him in the future to think about that too. I think he’s a brilliant guy who has a lot of really good ideas, and I think it would be interesting for him to perform a work at some point that would be more sincere. So I think his cover of the Alex Chilton song is that. When you hear that you think it is kind of interesting to hear that side of Davis.

“I would also push him. That was the flip side. Although I was encouraging him to show a more vulnerable side, I was also encouraging him to go for it. People don’t think of Davis sitting down and saying, ‘Should I really say this?’ But there were moments and I said, ‘Yes. Don’t even bother to go and check with people to see if they’re going to be offended, just say it.’ Someone does need to be saying these things. Someone does need to be the trickster. New Orleans is such a small town and everyone knows everyone. As much as it has a reputation of everyone partying and being crazy, I also see how cautious everyone is. It’s nice to see someone not being too cautious. Davis’ work is not cautious in that way.”

Davis took on a more mature glow in the aftermath of Season One. Though his satiric instincts remained solid, he seemed to appreciate the fact that not all institutions existed simply to be made fun of.

“In the past, I might have been introduced to celebrities and just blown them off,” he says. “But when I met Anthony Bourdain and said, ‘I’m Davis Rogan and I write songs for the show,’ he knew who I was and we actually had something real to talk about. I realized for the first time in my life that I was a member of a team.”

By the time Season Two began production, Rogan was no longer part of the writing staff. Simon hired him specifically to write songs for the Brassy Knoll, and Rogan put together an album’s worth of material for the season.

“This season, David said, ‘You’re going to write songs.’ He tells me what he wants and I write it for him. David basically moved me from one shop to another, and now I’m master of my realm.”

Simon would tell Davis he wanted a song about a specific subject, or perhaps ask for a set of topical lyrics to an existent song. He’d already done this in Season One, asking Davis to fashion new lyrics to Smiley Lewis’ “Shame Shame Shame” criticizing George W. Bush.

When asked about that process, Davis insists that it was Simon who wrote the new lyrics to “Shame Shame Shame.”

“I sent him a set of lyrics,” Davis explained, “and they were inadequate and he rewrote it. But I set the spike for him.”

For Season Two, Simon asked Rogan to write a song about The Road Home Program.

“He said, ‘The Road Home was a disappointing for a lot of people’,” Davis recalls. “’I want you to create a song for DJ Davis and the Brassy Knoll with that title. Davis is trying to recreate All That. It’s a mix of funk and brass and jazz plus it’s going to have a bounce flavor’.”

So Rogan sat down, wrote the song and sent it to Leyh, who told him it needed a hook. Davis took the tune to Don B., Dave Bartholomew’s son, for re-grooving. Davis actually met Don B. through Simon.

“I got a call from David Simon during the Saints playoff run’ 05,” says Rogan. “He calls and says, ‘Meet me at the Roosevelt.’ We’re at the Blue Room and Allen Toussaint is doing this tribute to Dave Bartholomew. There I met Dave Bartholomew’s son, who said, ‘Man, put me on the show.’ So that’s Don B. Don B is one of first bounce guys. Dave Bartholomew, the songs he wrote broke the color barrier, moved it from race music and R&B into pop music. It turns out that Don B, who is his youngest son, is my age. Don B did all the stuff with Cash Money before they got signed. The Bartholomews, they’re just genetically inclined to make hit records.”

I went with Davis to Don B’s studio, where Davis figured “The Road Home” would be fashioned with a hook. The studio was a small room in the back of an empty house outfitted with a computer and a keyboard. Don B’s son was there, along with rapper Altonio Jackson, who Don B had suggested for the part of Lil Calliope in the Brassy Knoll. Jackson sat quietly on the floor studying the script while Davis began to party. He’d brought a six-pack, a bottle of Jameson’s and some killer weed, which he offered around. Davis played the track and said that Blake wanted it punched up and given a hook. He showed Jackson the lyrics to the song.

“I’ll write something based on this,” Jackson said, then sat down and began composing on a yellow pad. The room began to fill with people, blunts were rolled and smoke hung thickly in the air. Don B sat at the keyboard with his earphones on, silently pounding away as he sculpted new parts for “The Road Home.” Davis bantered, drank and smoked, explaining his ideas for the song and generally carrying on.

He kept reciting the chorus:

“Funny how you’re calling it the road home

You left my people in the street now they’re all alone

You wrap them up in red tape and fuck with their head

You might as well use duct tape and shoot ‘em dead”

Jackson showed me the pad he’d been writing on. “You want to see what I came up with?”

Just like that, he’d fashioned a lengthy narrative about his life that seems to have nothing to do with what Davis has written. Meanwhile, Davis explained that Don B and Jackson were doing more than he needed. “It’s just a demo,” he said. “We just need to punch it up.”

Don B said, “We want it to be so good that they’ll have no choice but to use this version.”

After considerable jousting back and forth, Davis came to a compromise. “Okay, do whatever you want to it, but you have to keep this part in.” He ripped the chorus from his note pad and handed it to Jackson.

After another half hour of work on a very good track that was moving further and further from what Davis brought in, Jackson did his rap and then said, “I understand everything about it except this part,” holding up the piece of paper with the words to Rogan’s chorus on it.

The whole scene appeared chaotic, but Davis was unflappable in this midst of it all. I later realize that this whole episode anticipates what actually will occur in the show because in addition to the developing versions of “The Road Home,” we see in Season Two that the new material Jackson is writing will be the basis of “The True,” Lil Calliope’s joint that eclipses Davis McAlary’s songs for the Brassy Knoll.

Later, when I told Davis I thought Don B and Jackson were trying to write their own song, Davis explained what happened.

“The misunderstanding we had was about what you submit to the producers,” says Davis. “There are times when you want to give the producers a rough sketch, a frame they can hang their trimmings on. Other times you’re taking a song to a completed recording because it’s going to be placed in the background somewhere. In the third case, you’re making a demo which the producers give you notes on, then you modify the tune based on what they want, then you make a final demo, write out lyric sheets and chord charts and horn lines which you distribute to the musicians and the actors. Don B’s a rap producer. He doesn’t think in terms of demo; he thinks of final, finished, Bangin’ product [the name of his company is Bang-N-Records]. In the end, I took Don’s ProTools files over to Jimbo’s home studio where we put in a guitar hook, but I sure as hell used Don’s beats.”

Rogan’s ability to function amid the seeming chaos of this studio scene is part of the reason why he’s so valuable to the series in this context as a songwriter.

“I think there’s a path that the songwriter has to take,” he says. “The path of the scriptwriter from determination to realization is a well-defined path, but the path of a songwriter in this context is territory that is currently being charted as it happens. So there’s steps and missteps to it which are all part of that process.”

Blake Leyh reflected on the difficulty of separating the songwriting process itself from the actual narrative of the show.

“In the middle of all of it, it’s difficult to break out the significance,” he says. “You’re telling a story about the difficulty of writing a song and in order to tell that story, you have to write a song. So the process you go through of writing the song informs the storytelling and vice versa. It’s all one big bundle. When you have all of these personalities involved, like Davis and Altonio and me and David Simon and Don B and Steve Earle and Wendell, it does turn into this rolling carnival of insanity. It’s hard for me to be analytical about it. The conflict you see on the screen is the exact same conflict we had in trying to do that stuff. It’s even more so with the Soul Apostles. All those arguments about ‘Are we talking about horn pitch or concert pitch?’ ‘Do we have the right charts, motherfucker?’”

Rogan was presented with some unusual challenges in coming up with material for the Brassy Knoll, including being asked to write material that was deliberately lame.

“At one point I was told to write something so painfully white and so overintellectualized that it became obvious that the black guy should be put in the band,” he explains.

But Rogan admits he had difficulty writing down to Davis McAlary’s character.

“I bring what I bring,” he concluded, “and Steve Zahn’s interpretation of the script will deliver that. One time we were making a demo and I was saying, ‘I was trying to not get it right.’ Jimbo said, ‘Why don’t you do the best that you can and Steve’s going to hear that and he’s going to deliver the terrified Caucasian incompetence.”

It’s clear that The Real Davis is unhappy with the fact that Davis McAlary is such a poor musician. As much as he can separate himself from the caricature Zahn is playing, Rogan still seems to feel that he is diminished by Zahn’s portrayal of him.

“Davis can’t sing, Davis can’t play and Davis is not a convincing front man,” Rogan explains. “This smarts on two levels, because A: when I started out with Kermit at Little People’s Place in 1991, those criticisms were probably true. But B, it’s also a bit of a drag because if I’m portrayed as a sucky performer, then how can I get people in a room to show them that I’m not? David Simon warned me when I insisted that the character’s name remain Davis that they might have the guy crawling through sewers fucking alligators. What I was not prepared for was having Davis portrayed as an unconvincing front man.”

Zahn has been careful to keep his distance from Davis. The 200 feet rule is ridiculous because Rogan is a member of McAlary’s band, but Zahn has never discussed how to play the part with Rogan. Rogan sometimes seems amused with McAlary, who he refers to as “Mini-Me,” but when the Brassy Knoll is rehearsing and McAlary ruins the groove with a distorted guitar solo, it’s Rogan who jumps up from the piano, waving his hand for McAlary to stop playing. And at the Hi Ho when Lil Calliope ignores McAlary’s instructions and starts into ”The True,” Zahn stands shocked in the middle of the stage while The Real Davis gleefully joins the chorus.

As Season Two ends, Rogan finds himself exacting a unique kind of scripted revenge on his alter ego. Davis McAlary’s fate with the Brassy Knoll echoes Davis Rogan’s ouster from All That when he is essentially forced out of the group. This time though, The Real Davis is still in the band.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

NOLA Half Notes

Satchmo 4-ever
Much fun at Satchmo Summerfest. The addition of tents to shield listeners from intense sun and thunderstorms was a great move. The tents were large enough to accomodate the crowds. Nice to see tourists from all over the world come to salute the American legend Louis Armstrong in the city of his birth. His music is as vibrant today as it was more than 80 years ago when he started recording; it still resonates in the city's young musicians today.

Play That Fast Thing One More Time
$1000 Car played an impromptu early evening gig at the Kingpin Saturday. People stopped in for a drink on their way to White Linen Night and were surpised by such rocking gems as "Security Guard" and the Nick Lowe-esque "From the Eyes Up," a classic from the great songwriter Jake Flack. D.C. Harbold brought a hellacious "Little Sister" to the mix, reminding us that Clockwork Elvis brings a scheduled gig to the Pin later this month. Will pizza be delivered?

Sixteenth notes: Davis Rogan reminds European tourists at the Spotted Cat that coins are no longer considered money "Back in the USA" (bar gold)... Bizarre and beautiful moment of Satchmofest: the Armstrong set played on calliope by the mad genius of the Natchez steamboat... very cool to sign books alongside Michael Patrick Welch in the doorway of 600 Frenchmen on Friday night. spooky resonance of last season's Treme, huh? No cabbages, though... everybody's favorite spot during Satchmofest was Snug Harbor. Great music, but that AC was quite a treat.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

OffBeat's Press Club Awards

From publisher Jan Ramsey:

Congratulations to our staff for its fine performance at this year's Press Club Awards! We took top honors in three categories this year, and I'm very proud!.

OffBeat Consulting Editor John Swenson won a Press Club Award for "Best Critical Review" of Anders' Osborne's CD American Patchwork (Judges said: "The essence of the subject is captured in this review. An engaging story beautifully written.")

OffBeat won-for the third straight year-"Best Email Update" for the Weekly Beat. (Judges' comments: "Nicely done, lots of information. Easy to navigate. Important way to engage readers and broaden audience. Well executed.")

Elsa Hahne, our Art Director/Photographer/Writer and general great person won "Best Portrait Photography" for our September cover of Susan Spicer, kickin' up her heels. (JUDGE'S COMMENT: Clever use of photoshopped art with Susan Spicer and the wire whip--very creative concept." Hey judgie, that wasn't photoshopped!!)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review of New Atlantis in Financial Times


July 23, 2011 1:01 am
The New Atlantis
Review by Mike Hobart
John Swenson places musicians at the heart of the reconstruction
of New Orleans
When Hurricane Katrina swept away New Orleans’ levees in 2005, it left behind a
wasteland of wrecked lives and sodden properties. The rebuilding was left to
ravaged communities facing gangland violence and official apathy.
Beyond the tourist traps, entire communities coalesced around music, from marching
bands to the clandestine Mardis Gras Indians, and Swenson’s graphic account places
musicians at the heart of the city’s reconstruction. The musicians drifted back, rebuilt
their homes and began performing, remaking the city’s musical scene.
The eloquent central narrative beautifully evokes New Orleans, alongside interviews
with those who, like the Neville Brothers and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, lived through
the deluge, scraped out the sludge and faced down the National Guard. The book ends
with the New Orleans Saints winning 2010’s Superbowl, the prestigious Jazz Fest in full
swing – and the city’s future still in the balance.
The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, by John
Swenson, OUP, RRP £17.99, 304 pages

New Atlantis on The Nation's summer reading list

The Nation Readers' Summer Books List | The Nation

The Nation Readers' Summer Books List
The Nation
July 15, 2011

Thanks to the almost 1,000 Nation readers who took the time to send us their summer reading choices. We're reading each submission carefully and getting great tips in the process. This is our first Nation Reader's Summer Reading List. Watch this space for future editions coming soon.

Kathleen Rippey, Willits, CA
New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans by John Swenson
An excellent and well-written book about how the musicians and culture of the area continue to struggle to survive the effects of the Federal flood of 2005, the BP oil spill of 2010 and the ongoing corruption and apathy in the "City that care forgot." A great companion read if you're a fan of the HBO series, Treme.

The Nation
July 15, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frank Foster passes

Sad to hear of the passing of the great tenor saxophonist Frank Foster. He was one of my favorite players, especially in the "two Franks" Basie band with Frank Wess and the wonderful working collaboration with Elvin Jones.

Review of New Atlantis in Times Picayune

'The New Atlantis' chronicles N.O. musicians' struggle to keep culture afloat after Katrina
Published: Tuesday, July 26, 2011, 10:35 AM Updated: Tuesday, July 26, 2011, 10:39 AM
By Alison Fensterstock, The Times-Picayune
Offbeat magazine contributing editor John Swenson’s new book deals with our musical world that was in danger of being lost to floodwaters. Released at Jazz Fest 2011, “The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle For The Survival of New Orleans” focuses on the five years between Hurricane Katrina and the BP Gulf oil spill.

'The New Atlantis' opens with the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars'€™ pre-Katrina recording session --€” ominous in retrospect --€” and ends with the same musicians whipsawed and shaken by the oil spill.
Those events, along with the Saints’ Super Bowl win, create a ready-made narrative arc, framing the action in a story that is deep rather than broad in focus and intensely urgent.

Consistent characters emerge, paralleling selections from long Offbeat pieces Swenson wrote during the time the book covers. Troy Andrews comes of age as a formidable musical force. Glen David Andrews moves from triumph to setback to redemption, struggling with personal demons as well as his ravaged city, and Dr. John looms over it all, a code-talking, newly politicized lightning rod.

They struggle in the uncertain post-storm economy to re-establish their homes and livelihoods, to rebuild the cultural climate that nurtured their growth as performers, and in some cases, to get the attention of political powers-that-be. Swenson’s recountings are intimate, intelligent and passionate, and most importantly, come from deep in the heart of the battle the title announces.

Swenson, who since 1967 has been an editor at Rolling Stone, Creem and Crawdaddy, as well as reporting on music for Reuters and UPI, is New Orleans’ elder statesman of music journalism. When he moved to New Orleans (he splits his time now between Brooklyn and Bywater) in the early ‘80s, he shifted the focus of his writing toward Louisiana sounds, he said, because they simply were more interesting and vital than anything on the mainstream charts.

He also is immersed in the scene — he’s out in the clubs and hanging around in studios. The musicians are subjects, but they’re also his friends, neighbors, drinking buddies and dinner guests.

In “New Atlantis,” his allegiance to the music — and to New Orleans itself — resonates with vividly descriptive language that gives readers the sense that they’re right alongside Swenson, a cold bottle of High Life sweating in their hands, trumpet ringing in the air and sweet olive scenting the humid Bywater breeze.

Swenson’s concern for the future of the music culture is as personal as it is journalistic – probably more so – and reading him, you can’t help but care, too.

The book opens with the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars’ pre-Katrina recording session — ominous in retrospect — and ends with the same musicians whipsawed and shaken by the oil spill.

Swenson closees the book with a quotation from Dr. John, encouraged by President Obama’s election but guarded from years of disappointment at the government’s treatment of the Gulf Coast: “Either something’s gonna happen, or it ain’t. If it don’t happen, the future is weak. If something happens, it could be wonderful, a renaissance of spirituality this planet has always needed. I don’t have no expectation. I have only belief in what is a possibility.”

It would be hard, after reading Swenson’s chronicles, not to share that belief.