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.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

New Atlantis 2020 tonight at Observatory

Inaugural Event of the New Atlantis 2020 Series with Special Musical Guest Andy J. Forest
A Lecture, Performance, and Party hosted by John Swenson, author of New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans
Date: Saturday, July 23rd
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5
Night One of the New Atlantis 2020 Series
•• Books will be available for sale and signing

“In New Orleans, it was the culture of the city—its musicians, its second-liners and Mardi Gras Indians, its chefs and trumpeters and sissy bounce rappers—who asserted for the future more than any political leadership or economic imperative. It was the refusal of the artists to let go of the idea of New Orleans that saved the city. NEW ATLANTIS tells this remarkable story and does so clearly, with considerable detail and affection.”
—David Simon, Producer of HBO’s Treme

New Orleans is under siege from a lethal combination of natural and man-made disasters. The effects of the flood following hurricane Katrina in 2005 are still being felt throughout New Orleans, while the rapid destruction of the south Louisiana wetlands that protect the city from hurricane surges brings the threat of future inundations.

Musicians have been in the forefront of efforts to educate the public about how to combat this threat even before Katrina; they have also led the economic recovery of New Orleans after the flood by returning quickly to restore the city’s cultural identity. Award winning author John Swenson’s book New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans (Oxford University Press) details the struggle musicians have undertaken to rebuild New Orleans and speak out for its future.

Tonight, join us for the inaugural event of the new Observatory series New Atlantis 2020; this series, curated and moderated by John Swenson, will feature live performances, readings and discussions that will explore the relationship between the musicians of New Orleans and the rebuilding of the city after Katrina. Tonight’s event will will begin with a lavishly illustrated introductory lecture by Swenson, introducing us to the key themes and characters of the book. Next, award-winning New Orleans based musician and songwriter Andy J. Forest–who figures prominently in the book–will perform live at Observatory on guitar and harmonica. Following this performance, Swenson will moderate a Q and A with the musician, after which he will DJ a rich variety of New Orleans music while we enjoy some beer and wine.

John Swenson has been writing about popular music since 1967. He edited the award-winning website for Knit Media and has worked as an editor at Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, Circus, Rock World, OffBeat magazine and been published in virtually every popular music magazine of note over that time. He was a syndicated music columnist for more than 20 years at United Press International and Reuters. Swenson has written 14 published books including biographies of Bill Haley, the Who, Stevie Wonder and the Eagles and co-edited the original Rolling Stone Record Guide with Dave Marsh. He is also the editor of The Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album Guide. In another role Swenson is a veteran sports writer who covered the New York Rangers for 30 years, writing pieces for outlets from Rolling Stone to the Associated Press. Swenson is also a veteran horseracing columnist and handicapper who covered the New York racing scene as a columnist for the New York Post and the New Orleans Fair Grounds meet for The Daily Racing Form. His profile on jockey Steve Cauthen, “Rise To Stardom, Fall From Grace” in Spur magazine was nominated for an Eclipse Award.

Swenson’s account of musicians returning to New Orleans after Katrina, The Bands Played On, appeared in Da Capo’s Best Music Writing 2007. His Every Accordionist a King won the 2008 Best Entertainment Feature award from the Press Club of New Orleans. Swenson’s latest book, New Atlantis chronicles how musicians battled to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Joe Lee Wilson passes

Saddened to hear about the passing of the great singer Joe Lee Wilson, one of the mainstays of the New York loft jazz scene of the 1970s. His album Living High Off Nickels and Dimes is a classic.

Today we just received the news that our dear friend, fellow musician & dearly beloved brother just made the transition. (Sun Rise: December 22,1935- Sunset: July 17, 2011)
After battling with debilitating health issues Joe Lee Wilson passed away in Brighton, England around 2:30pm (euro time) / 8:30am (est-usa). Joe Lee leaves his wife Jill & daughter Naima & many family members & friends. We in the Spirit of Life Ensemble are honored to have worked with this truly gifted & remarkable human being and musician. "Jazz Ain't Nothin' But Soul" . We appreciate his friendship, musical knowledge and all the beautiful memories.We will deeply miss him as with all that knew and loved him. We offer our heartfelt condolence to the family.
This concert is a celebration of life!!!
On Friday July 22, 2011(7pm to 11pm) we SoLE pay tribute to Joe Lee Wilson @ the Priory Jazz Club - 223 West Market Street- Newark, N.J 07103

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Swenson wins 2011 Press Club award

This year’s Excellence in Journalism Awards banquet presented by the Press Club of New Orleans took place Saturday, July 16 at the Harrah’s Casino Theater. New Atlantis author John Swenson won the award for Best Critical Review for his review of Anders Osborne’s American Patchwork in OffBeat magazine.

I'm always surprised and humbled when I am honored with an award such as this. One never thinks in these terms in the middle of writing about a work that offers so much inspiration. It is a marvel to inhabit the same world as a genius like Anders.

Here's the text of the review:

Anders Osborne
American Patchwork
01 May 2010 — by John Swenson
The rock era is pushing 60 and anyone who’s been listening carefully will have to admit that enthusiasm for contemporary releases can never include any believable claims of originality. That’s okay because much of the best rock is artful theft anyway. There remains plenty of room for personal expression, however, and there’s always a place for great songwriting.

Which brings us to Anders Osborne. His gifts as a guitar player are significant, and if one is led to make comparisons to Duane Allman, that’s hardly a negative. There are only so many notes that can be phrased so many different ways. But the human voice is something else; no two are the same. When that unique voice is used in service of personal expression so emotionally intense it feels like an explosion, you’ve really got something special.

American Patchwork is the album Osborne fans have been waiting for since Ash Wednesday Blues. The record is a triumph in several ways— as a coherent musical statement, as an account of one man’s struggle to transcend his own existential problems, as a tale of New Orleans loss and recovery, as a rumination on the entropic inevitability of death and a possible redemption by love. The back story is that it’s an album about recovery from substance abuse, but to leave it at that is like saying John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was an album about primal therapy.

Osborne contrasts electric and acoustic modes artfully to express the roller coaster of emotions he takes us through on American Patchwork. The record begins with the ominous buzzing of multi-layered guitars that lead us “On the Road to Charlie Parker,” a hair-raising metaphor for genius cut down at the knees by heroin. Osborne keeps it terse and focused, adding to the drama by not overplaying it. He steps aside on track two to comment almost dispassionately on his condition as he sings the tuneful chorus of “Echoes of My Sins,” a song delivered here as a crunching electric shuffle but which sounds as if it could easily be sung as a straight pop melody.

Osborne contrasts his horror with the first of the redemptive tracks on the album, the simple reggae love song “Got Your Heart.” But Osborne is always an emotional recidivist, and we’re immediately plunged into the nightmare of “Killing Each Other.” The bad vibes continue as Osborne contemplates a desultory escape on “Acapulco,” a song about Mexico that Kenny Chesney will never record, then he offers a heartbroken tribute to a fallen friend on the remarkable hymn “Standing With Angels.” The line “You’re done raging against the light” sums up the condition Osborne is writing about with remarkable eloquence. In this chapter of Osborne’s life, there is a decidedly happy ending, expressed in the simple love songs that end the album, “Meet Me in New Mexico” and “Call On Me.”

Can one man’s search for salvation discover a redemptive path for a ruined city, an imperiled country, a world perpetually on the brink of disaster? Anders Osborne is not posing that question, but after living with American Patchwork for weeks now I can’t stop asking it myself. The album describes a process—the writer of these songs is balancing the baggage of what can’t be changed against the possibilities that lie ahead, all by wrestling with his emotions in the here and now. His personal experiences become universal observations in these songs, and the listener, by living vicariously through them, can confront his own demons. That’s not an original process, but it’s the living definition of great art.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New Atlantis on The Mic tomorrow

Stu Levitan's interview with me about New Atlantis will air tomorrow of Madison, Wisconsin's The Mic:



Musically, culturally and socially, New Orleans is one of the great cities of the world. Katrina and the federal flood that followed left it battered, but not beaten. An extended conversation with award-winning music journalist John Swenson, about his entertaining and important new book, New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans. [Oxford Univ. Press] {Music from Nine Lives: A Musical Adaptation, by Colman DeKay and Paul Sanchez, based on the book by Dan Baum}

Murdoch as Moloch

See what happens when scandal baron Rupert Murdoch's last name is substituted for Moloch in Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"

Friday, July 15, 2011

Shorty vs. Prince in Montreal

Here's the text of my recent piece on OffBeat's website on New Orleans artists at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. For a more complete presentation check out

Shorty vs. Prince in Montreal
01 July 2011 — by John Swenson The Montreal International Jazz Festival offers a broad palette of styles covering disparate jazz formats, and, like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and most other “jazz” festivals in North America, adds a significant dose of popular music acts to boost attendance.

Last year, the festival staged a mock Mardi Gras parade that ran for a mile in the center of town. The event looked more like something you’d see in Disneyland than on St. Charles Avenue until the float bearing the Soul Rebels cruised down St. Catherine Street. The Rebels’ spontaneity and second line insouciance pumped a rippling surge of electricity through the procession, and when the Rebels’ float reached the Place Des-Artes, the band hit the main stage to jump start Trombone Shorty’s set with a wild jam session.

This year Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue and the Soul Rebels were back at the Montreal Jazz Fest along with Galactic. The Soul Rebels headlined the same stage where they supported Shorty last year and showed themselves up to the task. The band faced a formidable challenge from Prince, who stole all the headlines the days before with two astonishing four-hour shows at the Metropolis Theater. Using a larger-than-life format with multiple encores based on the classic funk marathons invented by James Brown and perfected by Parliament/Funkadelic, Prince and his outstanding band played much of his most familiar work, plying his trademark brand of high-stepping Minneapolis funk along with feedback-dripping rock guitar pyrotechnics, fusion jazz, the sexiest version of “The Look of Love” ever conceived, and a paint-peeling performance from saxophonist Maceo Parker that served notice to all those grieving fans of the late-lamented Clarence Clemons that the Big Man wasn’t the only saxophonist on planet Earth.

When Prince decides to leave his mark, you know it. During “Controversy” he had the crowd chanting, “Montreal… Montreal.” During an extended vamp, he hijacked a sea of winking cell phones for his own purposes: “Call somebody! Call somebody right now! Call your boss. Tell him you ain’t comin’ into work until Tuesday because this party’s going ‘til then.”

The Soul Rebels don’t have a front man with the charisma of Prince, but they brought the funk with every bit as much heat, and when it comes to employing extended vamps and song themes linking fiery solos and breakdowns, even Prince’s tightly-rehearsed outfit has to take notice. The bands on the big outdoor stage get a pair of hour-long sets. In their first, the Rebels came out, played a fanfare, kicked into Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” and kept going, pausing only three times during their relentless performance.

The following night Galactic charted a less expansive course, playing tightly focused sets that minimized jamming in favor of deep, disciplined grooves and terse songs. Corey Henry, a consistent presence in the band’s live shows for over a year, was featured on trombone and rapped a bit behind Living Colour singer Corey Glover, who fronted the band with authority. Glover’s version of “Heart of Steel” matched the definitive performance Irma Thomas gave to this great song on Ya-Ma-May.

The Soul Rebels and Galactic rely on their ensemble strengths rather than any one featured member, but Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue can match Prince on both counts—a band whose strength and coherence is second to none, and a front man who appears destined for singular greatness. Prince partied for hours, but in his set at the Metropolitan Shorty delivered every bit as much passion in a little over an hour, a short set because he was on a bill with Bootsy Collins.

Over the course of the past year, Shorty has worked more and more of the material from Backatown into the act. Now the record, which was great on its own terms, sounds like a terrific blueprint for a knock ‘em dead live act. With each show, Shorty seems to grow in stature and poise, and the band moves with him; Pete Murano’s guitar playing is a crucial feature of the show. Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” was a revelation for Shorty’s smooth, sexy vocal and Murano’s gorgeously framed guitar solo.

Then came the moment of truth: “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” One of Louis Armstrong’s most famous vehicles, this is a song that every New Orleans trumpeter has to come face-to-face with, and few can do much to keep from being occluded by Armstrong’s massive shadow. Shorty has turned this into his personal vehicle with a version that plays to every one of his and his band’s strengths, from the cleverly turned arrangement with its inventively phrased instrumental introduction, to Shorty’s confident, easy swaying vocal. It’s right there when Shorty combines old and new, bringing a smile of recognition to the old schoolers and a hip nod of the head from the millennials, who were blown away when Shorty followed with his 20-chorus-long held note solo. Shorty could probably do this circular breathing exercise all night, but he styles like he’s gasping for breath on the last turn, then falls to the stage on his back to wild applause before getting back up and going right into the last verse.

The set closed with a killer rendition of “Show Me Something Beautiful” with a sly nod in the coda to Chicago’s barnburner “25 or 6 to 4″ and Murano’s brilliant Terry Kath-via-Jimi Hendrix guitar solo.

Shorty began his encore with a version of “Saints” that sounded like a jump blues tune with a second line beat, but he shifted into “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” which grabbed the crowd by its collective throat. By the time they hit the chorus, everyone in the place was screaming “You! You! You!” and I was wondering what version they were hooking this to. Solomon Burke? Unlikely. The Stones? Definitely not. The Grateful Dead? Maybe at another venue. The Blues Brothers? Of course. They’ve all see the movie. Then, just as suddenly, everybody shifted instruments, members of Bootsy’s band were on stage and Shorty was playing drums to “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker.”

On the same stage where Prince had thrown the gauntlet two nights before, Trombone Shorty accepted the challenge and prevailed. The screams of delight after all this was over eclipsed even the reception for Prince.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Trombone Shorty album due out

Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews follows his Grammy nominated ‘Backatown’ CD with ‘For True,’ to be released Sept 13 on Verve Forecast. ‘For True’ features Andrews' band, Orleans Avenue, as well as a string of legendary performers with whom he recently shared the stage, including Jeff Beck, Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz, Ledisi, Warren Haynes, Ivan and Cyril Neville, The Rebirth Brass Band and more. Troy wrote or co-wrote all 14 tracks on the new album including co-writes with Ledisi, Kid Rock, the legendary Lamont Dozier and more. The CD was produced and engineered by Ben Ellman (except “The Craziest Thing” produced by George Drakoulias).

The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has earned unanimous raves on 5 continents in the past year alone with his patented high energy “SUPAFUNKROCK” sound. He was praised in the media from Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly to NPR and the New York Times following the 2010 release of 'Backatown', which spent 10 weeks at #1 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Chart and still reigns in the top 10 over a year after its release. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue have been everywhere since, performing on The Late Show With David Letterman, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Austin City Limits and more. Troy has made additional appearances on Good Morning America, Tavis Smiley, NFL Kickoff (joining Dave Matthews Band), ESPN and a recurring role on the hit HBO series Tremé, on which he played himself.

In December 2010 Andrews brought an all-star lineup from NOLA to New York as musical director for the landmark 'Red Hot + New Orleans' concert event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Broad based respect for Andrews' virtuosity and versatility is exemplified by a list of performances at events as varied as Bonnaroo, and Jam Cruise to Japan's Fuji Rock Fest, Australia's Byron Bay Blues Festival, the prestigious Montreux, Newport, and Playboy (at Hollywood Bowl) Jazz Festivals, Philadelphia Folk Festival, San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and a Reggae Festival in Germany in addition to festivals as far flung as Brazil and Singapore plus tour dates with Jeff Beck and Dave Matthews Band.

Andrews has built his reputation on "blistering, bold, exuberant and cutting edge" (USA Today) live performances and is currently on tour with Orleans Avenue. Full tour schedule here:

Full track listing for ‘FOR TRUE’ -

1. Buckjump (Feat. Rebirth Brass Band - Horns; 5th Ward Weebie - Vocals; Ben
Ellman & Charlie Smith - Percussion)
2. Encore (Feat. Warren Haynes - Guitar; co-write w/Lamont Dozier)
3. For True
4. Do to Me (Feat. Jeff Beck - Guitar)
5. Lagniappe Part 1 (Feat. Stanton Moore - Drums)
6. The Craziest Thing
7. Dumaine St.
8. Mrs. Orleans (Feat. Kid Rock - Vocals; Robert Mercurio - Bass)
9. Nervis (Feat. Ivan Neville - Vocals and Clavinet; Cyril Neville - Vocals)
10. Roses (Feat. Lenny Kravitz - Bass)
11. Big 12 (Feat. Ben Ellman - Harmonica)
12. Unc
13. Then There Was You (Feat. Ledisi - Vocals)
14. Lagniappe Part 2 (Feat. Stanton Moore - Drums)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Atlantis on WBGO last night

Here's a link to the Josh Jackson interview from last night. It tells the New Atlantis story extremely well:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Atlantis on WBGO this evening

WBGO radio host Josh Jackson and I will be talking about New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans tonight during his show, "The Checkout," from 6:30 -7:30 eastern time. That's WBGO, Jazz '88, 88.3 FM Newark. Listen online at: