Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Treme: Music Soothes the Soul Part II

In the next episode of HBO’s musically opulent series, Treme, set in New Orleans three months after hurricane Katrina, we’ll meet the prodigious talent of Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty, playing himself as one of many struggling musicians trying to get back on their feet.

Past the brightly-colored turn of the century French styled colonial houses, around the bend from the fantastical designs of Mardi Gras, is an area local New Orleanians refer to as Backatown, an area that includes the historic Treme neighborhood. Andrews is one of the gems to come from this area, a 24-year-old charismatic singer, trombonist, and trumpeter with sounds that exhibit a raw physical power belying his nickname. His album, of the same name, is due out on April 20, featuring an eclectic mixing bowl of rock, R&B, hip-hop, and jazz that he affectionately refers to as a “Supafunkrock.”

Where Y'At?

Andrews has backed up everyone from Harry Connick Jr., to Dr. John, to Green Day. Wynton Marsalis is “his biggest fan,” Lenny Kravitz has called him a “genius,” and Allen Touissant has said, “Don’t get me wrong, we got it going on here in New Orleans, he’s just better.” The album (Verve Forecast) produced by Galactic’s Ben Ellman features guest heavyweights Lenny Kravitz, Marc Broussard, and Allen Touissant.

Andrews who stands at over six feet was given his nickname when as a kid, he became so overcome with emotion watching a second-line parade, he grabbed his trombone and joined in though his arms weren’t long enough to reach all the positions of the slide. Before he and his neighborhood friends could afford instruments they’d go to the parades armed with a cardboard box as a snare drum or a bass drum and a big wheel as a tuba. He became a bandleader by the age of six. He made his debut at Lincoln Center and played in Lenny Kravitz’s band for over a year and a half—around the same time that Katrina struck.

He made it out just hours before hurricane and levee disaster. He was on tour with Kravitz, but had come back in time to get many of his family members out in time for the storm. He’s seen his musically fertile neighborhood, a place he calls the “most influential thing in my life,” change after the storm—gentrification, displaced residents from the storm, musicians leaving for brighter lights in New York—but he returns often and sees the residents struggle to keep the culture alive.

“We still have people that hang out under the Interstate,” says Andrews. “They get their wine, they play their Indian music—they’re the Kings of Treme, just playing on bottles. But they are getting old and once that’s over it might be a different Treme.

Originally published on and on April 10, 2010

HBO revisits the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with a new series

This Sunday at 10pm on HBO, David Simon and co-creator Eric Overmyer’s, Treme will give viewers a trip to New Orleans that most haven’t seen past the beads, the booze, the boobs, and Mardi Gras floats. The storyline takes place three months after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal levee system failure, following an assortment of city residents as people use the weight of the area’s rich music and culture as affirmations amidst a government that has failed them.

The title derives from the neighborhood Treme, one of the oldest black neighborhoods in New Orleans and hailed as one of the birthplaces of jazz. There are the same crisscrossing storylines, rugged authenticity, insider’s viewpoint, regional dialogue, and the expectations that the audience will “get it” that made The Wire, alternately the “best show on television” and the most difficult to understand. In Treme, amidst circumstances like homelessness, government neglect, dead or missing family and friends, and being displaced, residents are determined to regain their footing, and that footing is a funky, dazzling dance infused with brass band music.

Viewers will recognize some faces from Simon’s critically acclaimed series, The Wire, including Wendell Pierce (who played the affable Bunk), and Clarke Peters, (the genius detective Lester Freamon)—both are accomplished musicians in real life. Pierce, a Julliard graduate, plays Antoine Batiste, a musician taking any gigs that will pay, including the seedy tourist traps and strip clubs on Bourbon Street. Clarke Peters plays the Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief, Albert Lamreaux, rendered homeless by the storm but determined to continue a tradition dating to when enslaved Africans were allowed to congregate in Congo Square and perform their homeland’s traditional songs and dances. The Mardi Gras Indians mask in Indian attire for parades, in part as homage to escaping enslaved Africans who were harbored by Native Americans.

Donald Harrison Jr., is a consultant for the show, a jazz saxophonist who has played with greats like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Don Pullen, and is a Mardi Gras Indian chief in real life. He is the head of the Congo Nation, an Afro New Orleans cultural group. Each member creates ornate costumes each year for the parades that can happen throughout the year.

“Some people are honoring the Native Americans, some are honoring a day of freedom,” says Harrison. “You transcend to another state with the dances and music. When you have people who have been oppressed, they need those periods.”

Here Keith Frazier, a New Orleans musician involved with the series speaks about New Orleans after the storm and being involved with the series. Frazier is a bass player and cofounder of the Rebirth Brass Bandwith his brother Phillip and Kermit Ruffins.

-”We are playing ourselves in the series. Most of the band members went to school in Treme. In our scene we are negotiating a price for a second line procession that we had in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina.”

-”Right after the hurricane I evacuated to Dallas. My band members were scattered—some in Houston, Baton Rouge, New York City, Baltimore, but we were still able to get together and make gigs happen.”

-”In New Orleans, Tipitina’s and the House of Blues were closed. But we still played at the Maple Leaf. We have a standing gig there on Tuesday nights. They stayed open after the storm, they used kerosene lamps because they didn’t have any electricity. We just continued playing music, that was one way for us to relieve the tension of everything else that was going on.”

-”I still live in Fort Worth, Texas. Some members came back, others are in Houston, Atlanta, because right now housing is not affordable to be a musician in New Orleans. Some people found the schools were better for their kids where they evacuated.Before the storm there were maybe 6 small ballrooms where you could play music, there’s probably only one left, the New Orleans Music Hall.”

-”A lot of people come to New Orleans and never experience that part of the city. They go to Bourbon Street or the Essence festival and they’re like, ‘Second lining..what’s that?’ I hope the series makes them want to investigate it and check it out for themselves.”

-”The Mardi Gras Indians use hand drums and tambourines—a lot of that comes from Haiti– African, Haitian culture. We went to Africa and they did a program and the guys were dressed as Mardi Gras Indians and we went to Cuba and saw the same thing, you can see where it came from Africa through the Caribbean to here.”

-”A lot of people in New Orleans feel like everything else has been commercialized we want to keep that for ourselves. They think this is something that belongs to me I don’t really want to share with anyone–if you want to come and enjoy it with me that’s fine. I think a lot of people in New Orleans feel like this is the last piece of Africa we have here and we don’t want to give it away. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

Treme premieres this Sunday at 10pm on HBO

By Ericka Blount Danois--reprinted from