Saturday, August 14, 2010

R.I.P. Abbey Lincoln (August 6, 1930 - August 14, 2010)

A special blog post this week for the late, great Abbey Lincoln!!

Here's just some of her classic albums that each of you should own:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"treh-MAY" - Episode #10: "I'll Fly Away"

(All photos/general information can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

Two detectives are meeting with Toni (Melissa Leo) at her home to discuss the disappearance of her husband Creighton (John Goodman). A man fitting Creighton's description was described by a fellow ferry' passenger who gave him a cigarette. But since Creighton's jeep was not on the ferry--and he quit smoking years prior--it probably wasn't him, Toni thought out loud. They promised to return if they heard any news.

Unfortunately, they did indeed return to house with news that Creighton's body was found floating in the Mississippi River. As the two detectives left, we immediately hear a loud "NO" and crying from an emotionally devastated daughter Sofia.

Lt. Colson walks with Toni over to Creighton's empty car, still parked where he'd left it. He tells Toni to do a search of the vehicle and for Sofia's sake, grab anything that might suggest that his death was anything but accidental. As an emotional Toni rummages through Creighton's car, she opens the glove box and finds Creighton's wallet. In that wallet, she pulls out a note:

"I Love You, Cray."

Overcome with grief, Toni drives off soon after.

Toni's colleague at the law firm takes on many of her cases while she makes arrangements for Creighton's funeral. Although his will requests a second line parade, Toni instead opts for cremation and a small ceremony instead. When her colleague insists that Sofia would love to see a second line parade, Toni's anger over Creighton's suicide comes out: "Can't dance for them when they quit," she responds.

Davis (Steve Zahn) and Janette (Kim Dickens), as most of New Orleans, are shocked over news of Creighton's death in the morning paper. "This town," Janette says after having already made up her mind to leave for New York City since her restaurant has closed. Davis is on a mission to convince Janette not to leave New Orleans. His mission began earlier that morning when he arrived at Janette's house with a plate of beignets and the one and only John Boutté who serenades her with the Sam Cooke classic, "Bring It On Home To Me". They make many stops around the city, take a nap by the Mississippi River, catch the Soul Rebels Brass Brand and John Mooney perform "Drink A Little Poison (4 U Die)" at the Maple Leaf Bar, and end the night together at The Columns Hotel.

Meanwhile, Toni puts her energy back into her case load, going over every detail with her colleague as she will take over during Toni's time of bereavement. One of the essential cases for her has been the search for Daymo's body. She insists that her colleague convince LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) to perform a new autopsy on Daymo in light of possible evidence that suggests that he was probably murdered. LaDonna is firm in her refusal of a private autopsy--she says that regardless of what comes from it, it's still a horrible situation.

Trombone Shorty asks Antoine to meet him at a sushi restaurant because he has a conflict of gigs. He offers Antoine a gig to play with the great Allen Toussaint--the pay is $1,000 per man.

Rehearsal for Antoine and the other band members seems to go well and then shortly after, he asks to sit in on a poker game using the pay from his gig as an "IOU." When they warn him about going up against the great Irma Thomas, he laughs at that notion and continues to stay in the game. At the end of the gig, when the band members are getting their pay in cash, Antoine has to surrender most of his earnings to the rest of the band--the bulk of it going to Irma Thomas!! When he returns home to Desiree with what is left of his earnings, she complained and he made up a lie (the right thing to do) about his "paltry" pay for the gig.

Davis decides to put out a full-length CD since his four song epistle has done so well. He asks his mother to loan him the money. She instead decides to match what he's already earned and tells him to get a job in order to come up with the rest. This leaves Davis now choice but to beg his old boss at WWOZ for his deejay gig promising to adhere to the rules set by the station. Looks like DJ Davis McClary is back!

During his set, Davis puts on "My Indian Red," by Danny Barker & the Baby Dodds Trio in honor of St. Joseph's Day and he dedicates it to all of the Mardi Gras Indians out there who are sewing their costumes and are getting ready to look "pretty" for the big day.

That's exactly the scene at Poke's Tavern as Albert (Clarke Peters), his son Delmond (Rob Brown), his daughter Davina, and Albert's gang continue to work hard on the finishing touches of their costumes for St. Joseph's Day.

After fighting with Sonny over wanting to play with other people, Annie returns to gather more of things after he threw her out earlier. He said that he made a mistake and wants Annie to come back home, but when she did, she discovered that Sonny already had company--a girl that he met at Mardi Gras was lying naked in their bed. "Nice tattoos," Annie says to the girl and then storms out the house--hopefully for the last time! When Davis returns to his apartment, he finds Annie waiting outside, seeking a place to stay. "What did I do right?" he asks with joy. Looks like Davis has a new roommate.

Toni, Jacques (Janette's former sous chef), Antoine and a host of others pay their final respects to Daymo at the now restored family crypt. The emotions cause LaDonna to recall the morning of Hurricane Katrina and how she and her family continuously tried to contact Daymo.

Daymo, who worked at Janette's restaurant, Desautel's, gets a call from Jacques to remove the meat from the freezer locker. As he jumps in his car and rushes over to the restaurant, he gets pulled over by the police. He pleads with the officer to release him, but because of the warrant, the officer insists that he has to take him him--hurricane or no hurricane.

We ultimately see how the others reacted prior to the devastation of the storm: Desiree yelling at Antoine to hurry up as he tries to take classic vinyls with him before leaving; Creighton, Toni and Sofia staying in a hotel watching the news; Albert and Davina boarding up their home while Davina talks to Delmond who's watching The Weather Channel in New York City urging them to leave.

As Daymo's funeral comes to an end, you immediately hear the sounds of the Treme Brass Band as they sing and play "I'll Fly Away" for his second line parade. To see LaDonna strutting and dancing to honor her brother's memory was beyond moving.

"treh-MAY" - Episode #9: "Wish Someone Would Care"

(All photos/general information can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

Creighton (John Goodman) gives his class an assignment to read Kate Chopin's The Awakening, a novel that is perhaps one of the earliest examples of literary feminism. But Creighton as a professor urges his students to dig deeper than that, for as he explains, it's more about the search for "truth" and "peace." When his freshmen students asked about how they'll be graded for the course, based on his response, Creighton's mind has gone to an entirely different place: "Everyone of us will be tested and everyone one of us will be found lacking."

His mind has been in a different place for a long while. With the pressure of finishing his novel on the 1927 Flood looming and him not feeling able to turn out quality pages for his editor, he like so many people (especially New Orleaneans) are distracted by post-Katrina and the city's slow recovery. Instead, he continues to posts his rage (and ultimately, the insurmountable rage of a city) on YouTube. Instead of this serving as a cathartic release, it only drags Creighton deeper into a depression where he seeks solace in drinking.

The next morning, Creighton is wide awake and will head off to teach his freshmen lecture. His daughter Sofia begs him to take her to school, but he tells her that she must listen to her mother, Toni (Melissa Leo), and not ditch her first period class. Just as Toni and Sofia get ready to leave, Creighton gives Toni a very passionate kiss. And then he tells Sofia how beautiful she looks today. And as they both jump in the car, Creighton tells his wife to "kick a little ass."

Creighton continues with his lecture on Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Some students express to him how they find it depressing. He explains that not only there isn't "an end," but how it is more of her "embracing spiritual freedom." As Creighton utters these words, he looks at his students and sees nothing but a sea of blank and confused faces. This prompts him to dismiss class a bit early, telling them to go out and enjoy the day. And soon enough, he takes his own advice.

First, he grabs a hearty sampling with includes a shrimp po'boy (YUM!) at Liuzza's, waits on line for hot beignets at Cafe Du Monde on Decatur Street, and wanders over to Frenchmen Street and catches Annie (Lucia Micarelli) performing (with a new piano man) "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" and drops a $20 into Annie's violin case and says to her, "Always for pleasure."

Creighton then boards the Canal Street Ferry (also known as the Algiers Ferry) and bums a cigarette from another passenger. He walks over to the front of the boat, stares out and then flicks his cigarette into the Mississippi River. The other passenger watches him for a while and when he turns around, he (along with the rest of us) notices that Creighton is no where to be found. Hours go by and Creighton's empty jeep is the last car in the parking lot.

"treh-MAY" - Episode #8: "All On a Mardi Gras Day"

(All photos/general information can be found @ or Wikipedia.)


This sign expresses one of the many sentiments felt by the people of New Orleans during the first Carnival since Hurricane Katrina. And everyone has their own traditions prior to the celebration:

LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) and her mom decide to light a candle at the cathedral for Daymo's safe return (LaDonna still hasn't told her about his death).

Sonny and Annie (Michiel Huisman and Lucia Micarelli) perform outside of the cathedral in Jackson Square and they comfort an emotional former New Orleanean who lost his home and some of his neighbors during Katrina and decided to come home for Mardi Gras.

Davis (Steve Zahn) and Janette (Kim Dickens) both enjoy "king cake" for breakfast. Antoine (Wendell Pierce), Desiree and their daughter Honoré also partake of the delicious king cake, but Antoine is lucky enough to find the "Baby Jesus" in his piece. Traditionally, it is said that the one who finds the "Baby Jesus" must buy more king cake for the next Carnival. It is also said that one is entitled to certain "privileges" after finding one, but as we already know, Desiree is not having that!

As the Carnival parade officially begins, Creighton (John Goodman), Toni (Melissa Leo) and their daughter Sofia are all dressed in feather boas and masks in various shades of blue as a family. As they're leaving, Creighton pushes play (and repeat) on his stereo for a song he considers to be an anthem, "Go To The Mardi Gras," by the late, great Professor Longhair. If you haven't heard it, here's the perfect word to describe it: INFECTIOUS!! Check it out for yourself right here:

Creighton's spirits dropped down as the parade marched on--disappointed by the low turnout, he decides to leave the parade early and head for home. This leaves Toni and Sophia confused as they have never known Creighton to leave a Mardi Gras celebration early before.

The spirit of Professor Longhair's wonderful song has travelled throughout the whole of New Orleans.

Davis, dressed up as pirate (and slave trader) Jean Lafitte (a fact that was unbeknown to Davis) for Carnival. He once again runs into Annie, dressed in a similar costume, whom he affectionately refers to as his "pirate wench" and they spend the entire day together sifting through the madness and delightful mayhem that is Carnival. Meanwhile, where's Sonny? Well, shortly before Annie left, he decided that he wanted to spend Mardi Gras on his own, telling her how the Rebirth Brass Band's "Do Whatcha Wanna" should be her mantra. "F**kin A**hole," she mutters after he leaves suspecting that Sonny just wants an excuse to do drugs.

Although Delmond (Rob Brown) is upset to learn that his father, Albert (Clarke Peters), will have to spend Mardi Gras in jail for hitting an officer (see Episode #7) while having lunch at The Praline Connection, this "straight no chaser" jazz trumpeter does manage to loosen up when he's greeted by some, well let's say "blessed" women who greet him outside of his hotel in the French Quarter to get him to drop beads down on them. And of course he does! Soon after Delmond meets a lovely girl at a party and they run into another group of Mardi Gras Indians on their way to Delmond's gig with Big Sam at Le Bons Temps Roule. For him, this was the perfect day.

LaDonna's family comes in from Baton Rouge for the celebration and she continues to keep Daymo's death a secret throughout Carnival. While at the parade, Riley, her former contractor, accosts her because the police arrested him over her civil suit against him for not repairing her roof. "F**K YOU" he continues to shout at her and Antoine immediately steps in her defense and shouts the same words back at Riley.

As the celebration winds down, LaDonna's getting ready to close her bar and lounge, Gigi's Place, for the night. With "Tell It Like It Is" playing in the background, and Antoine massaging LaDonna's overly tense shoulders, the mood was all but set. After she ignored an incoming call from her current husband, Antoine, her ex-husband, gave LaDonna a long, intense kiss.

Mardi Gras comes to an end and LaDonna must now make funeral arrangements for Daymo at the Majestic Mortuary.

"treh-MAY" - Episode #7: "Smoke My Peace Pipe"

(All photos/general information can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

After Toni (Melissa Leo) offered new evidence to prove that OPP did indeed have David "Daymo" Brooks in custody during the storm, Judge Gatling (Tim Reid) orders the Department of Corrections to produce him within 72 hours. Judge Gatling gave Daymo's mother and his sister LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) a long overdue apology on behalf of both the state's screw-up and the ADA attorney's excuse of blaming this egregious error solely on the chaos of post-Katrina.

Toni and LaDonna's search for Daymo began almost immediately after the judge's ruling. They have no luck in finding him in the OPP prisoners' files. Toni reluctantly asks for the list of inmates who died while in custody. No luck in finding Daymo's name listed in there either, but LaDonna immediately recognizes her cousin's name on the list, who is very much alive. Toni suggests that Daymo may have used their cousin's name because he's doesn't have a police record and that she and LaDonna must go to the morgue immediately.

The "morgue" consists of long, climate-controlled trucks filled with dead bodies. Toni and LaDonna slowly enter one of the trucks and they stop in front of one of the many body bags lying around. When the bag is unzipped, it is indeed Daymo. His face is somewhat deformed and twisted with purplish bruises now covering his grey, lifeless form. This moment left me numb and I continued to pause the moment and just stare at his face.

Overcome with grief, LaDonna rushes out of the truck. Toni not only provides the officer with his true identity but also shares her outrage on how they've kept this person for five months under the wrong name. Immediately after, it cuts back to an emotional LaDonna just staring at all of the makeshift morgues around her--just lines of huge trucks filled with countless bodies since Katrina. You then ask yourself, "Like Daymo, how many others out there are lost in the system?"

Toni also learns from the officer that the cause of Daymo's death was a blow to the side of his head, possibly caused from a fall--suicide? REALLY? I ain't buying it!! And neither does Toni or LaDonna. However, LaDonna decides to keep the news of Daymo's death to herself until after Carnival, especially since her mother isn't in the best of health.

Albert (Clarke Peters) still continues the fight to reopen the projects so that people can come home, especially in time for Mardi Gras. He breaks into the housing complex and reopens the houses for his people. What's brilliant is that not only does he call the police, he also makes sure to call a TV crew at the same time to document the moment and hopefully put some pressure on the government to reopen the houses. "5,000 housing units shut down when the people want to come back," says Albert to reporters. They're not leaving!!! And when the "squatters" in the complex put out banners to also state that they are indeed home, Albert feels like a real stance against the Federal government, who shut down the houses, has been made.

Days into the protest, Albert is greeted by Sergeant Thompson, from the "Community Relations Division," to try and talk Albert into vacating before he's arrested for trespassing. Sergeant Thompson also throws out a rather "odd" statement": that the voters have not expressed a desire to open up the housing projects. Doesn't he mean the GOVERNMENT, aka the POLITICIANS who have most of the OPP in their back pockets? They're the ones who choose to keep the houses shut down. "Thank you for your visit, Sergeant...and come again!!" Albert is home, too!

The next day, the police arrive without fail and decide to arrest the squatters and Albert for criminal trespassing. He leaves the door open so that the officers will enter without the use of force. But they stormed in there anyway, cursing at him and demanding that he drop to his knees. Albert refuses to bow down before any man. One of the officers draws the blinds (clearly to avoid the cameras) and the other hits him with his nightstick. Albert hits back in self defense and they all jump on him, beating him for "resisting arrest." ALL OFF CAMERA!!

"treh-MAY" - Episode #6: "Shallow Water, Oh Mama"

(All photos/general information can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

Creighton (John Goodman) heads to the airport to meet his literary agent who travelled all the way from New York with very important news. It’s taken him nearly seven years to finish his novel about the 1927 Flood so it is only natural for him to be just a tad nervous about her visit. However we soon learn that his publisher would like Creighton to transform his “colorful” YouTube broadcasts, a newly discovered platform for sharing his outrage over President Bush and the New Orleans government's slow (almost non-existent) response to the devastation of Katrina, into a literary work—especially since Katrina is so “hot” right now (her sentiments). He’s very adamant about finishing his current novel ONLY and insists that he does just that. Creighton promises to turn in pages within 4-6 weeks, but it’s the aftermath of Katrina that has his attention at the moment, not the 1927 flood. He instead continues to use the Internet to deliver additional messages of rage over the government’s inaction. Creighton's rage is gradually turning into depression and self-despair.

He does manage to find some joy in the upcoming Krewe du Vieux parade, a politically biting celebration in which he, Toni (Melissa Leo) and their daughter Sofia dress up as "sperm," flying tails and all, and proudly march behind an "excited" Mayor Ray Nagin float entitled "Nagin's Wet Dream." And here's the kicker...the theme of the parade: C'EST LEVEE!!!

Toni heads to Texas to dig for more clues regarding Daymo's whereabouts. She arrives at the home of a former NOPD officer to question him about what exactly occurred over five months ago, the day that Katrina hit. He explains how he stopped Daymo for running a red light and then discovered an outstanding warrant in the system and told him that he had to be brought in. When Toni showed the ex-cop Daymo's picture, he couldn't give her a positive ID, quickly noting how Daymo "resembles" most of the people he's arrested. She ran through the questions once more and then realized that if he stopped Daymo for running a traffic light, there should be a record of it somewhere. Toni eventually tracked down the ex-cop's old squad car (pretending to pick it up) and found the citation which is the proof that Toni needs to show that Daymo was indeed arrested on that very day.

Albert (Clarke Peters) continues the fight to have the projects reopened so that people can come back home--especially for Mardi Gras. When an aide from Councilman Singleton's office visits Albert, there seems to be hope just yet that the houses will reopen. Instead, he offers Albert one FEMA trailer. "Get the hell out this bar," he quickly says.

Delmond (Rob Brown) and saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr., both native New Orleanians, play at the famous Snug Harbor during their multi-city tour. As evident from their powerful performance, they also share a passion for "straight, no chaser" jazz (Bud Powell, Dizzy, Bird, Mingus). But when Albert arrives at Snug Harbor to watch his son Delmond perform, he and Donald share a little competition over the idea of running into each other in their respective Indian costumes at Mardi Gras. Like his father, Donald Harrison, Jr. is also a Big Chief. This and other events that evening perhaps show Delmond that he should embrace his New Orleans' musical roots a bit more. While Albert and his gang are rehearsing, Delmond walks in. At first, he just stands back and observes. Then soon enough, Delmond, the "straight ahead, strive for tone" jazz musician, is clapping and singing along as they chant, "Shallow Water, Oh Mama"

"treh-MAY" - Episode #5: "Shame, Shame, Shame"

(All photos/general information can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

Davis (Steve Zahn) enlists the help of local musicians (for very little money) including the phenomenal Kermit Ruffins to help him create his 4-song epistle "against all that is unholy and corrupt in the government of New Orleans." Just check out his reworking of the classic "Shame, Shame, Shame," by late, great blues musician Smiley Lewis.

Toni (Melissa Leo) smiles at LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) as she walks into David's prison cell. For the very first time, we are FINALLY going to meet the REAL David (Daymo) Brooks! Relieved to see her brother, Daymo pleads with his sister to help him get out of there, while fellow inmate Keevon White sits on the top bunk laughing. LaDonna grows speechless as the dirty, muddy water begins to flood the entire cell coming up to her legs. It's not until she stares down her feet that we soon realize that it's just LaDonna's horrible nightmare. Although her brother is still lost in the system, LaDonna does get a very small dose of justice: she happily filed a civil suit against Riley, her "shady" contractor who never made good on his promise to repair her bar's roof.

Toni meets with Lt. Colson (David Morse) to help recover Antoine's trombone, which is still missing since the horrible beating he suffered at the hands of "NOLA's finest." (See Episodes 3 & 4). Meanwhile, she puts Antoine (Wendell Pierce) in touch with Mr. Toyama, one of the many Japanese jazz fans, who is willing to donate money to help out many of New Orleans' fine musicians. A bit overzealous, he impresses (maybe even overwhelms) Antoine with his detailed knowledge of jazz, and ultimately, of black musicians. As Antoine walks with Mr. Toyama to the pawn shop to buy a new trombone, Mr. Toyama insists on buying him a brand new horn. Antoine immediately puts his arm around Mr. Toyama as they head to an instrument shop.

When they arrive at the store, Mr. Toyama's knowledge is finally challenged when he and Antoine bump heads over two great jazz trombonists--Kid Ory and Honoré Dutrey. Antoine may have proved Mr. Toyama wrong. [WE KNOW OUR HISTORY BECAUSE IT'S OUR HISTORY TO KNOW!] Their argument grows so intense that the music store manager asks them if they want to take it outside. In that moment, I thought that Mr. Toyama was going to change his mind about purchasing the trombone but gladly he didn't. After a long, uncomfortable silence, they apologize to one another and Antoine insists on playing for Mr. Toyama to show his appreciation. After he finishes playing a beautiful song just outside of his home (with Desiree happily watching) Mr. Toyama hands Antoine a wad of cash.

Antoine returns to the pawn shop to buy a trombone for a friend and fellow musician who lost his during Katrina. When the owner brings him the trombone, Antoine cannot believe that he sees his own "missing" horn in a pawn shop. He looks at the shop owner and reads the inscription: "AB 1979," his initials!

Toni brings it to Lt. Colson, who in turn tries to give her money for the trombone. She insists that those arresting officers need to be held responsible for this, but Lt. Colson explains how the officers are still emotionally ravaged by the effects of Katrina. "The wheels are off the cart," says Lt. Colson. "The CRIME's coming back and we ain't ready."

"New Orleans is coming home," random people shouted out during one of the proud city's parades. It reminds me of summer block parties in Bed-Stuy--smoky grills overflowing with food for everybody, dancing, great music, and more importantly the people. People were overcome with joy to see their friends and family still alive after Katrina. "ReNew Orleans" t-shirts were everywhere and for a while, it really did feel like a renewal. But then suddenly, gun shots fired out, leaving a handful of people injured.

An unfortunate incident yes, but there isn't one city in this entire country that hasn't experienced crime in one form or another. New Orleans shouldn't be singled out as some sort of haven for violence. And I'm sure if the government actually put more money into the ENTIRE city--not just Bourbon Street--the crime would go WAY DOWN!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"treh-MAY" - Episode #4: "At the Foot of Canal Street"

(All photos/general information can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

Here are just some of the highlights from Episode #4: "At the Foot of Canal Street":

Antoine (Wendell Pierce) has stitches in his lip from his recent encounter with two overly aggressive police officers (see "Episode 3"). He waits to be seen and treated at one of the few ERs open in the area. Frustrated over their lack of attention and care, Antoine begins to sing "St. James Infirmary Blues"--made famous by Louis Armstrong, but he adds his own flare to it and reworks some of the lyrics.

When he finally leaves the ER, Antoine's stitches have been taken out and he blows through his mouthpiece to see if he can still play his trombone. A little boy who stares at Antoine starts to laugh uncontrollably at him. Antoine stares back. When the boy walks off, Antoine kicks high and out into the air as though he were kicking the boy (hard) in his backside.

Later at Gigi's Lounge, Antoine is being served a heaping plate of red beans and rice from his ex-wife, LaDonna (Khandi Alexander). But for Antoine, that's not the only dish on the menu! As LaDonna turns around and bends over, Antoine is ogling her every move. When she turns around and notices him staring at her, LaDonna immediately gives him a look like, "You better stop." (Although, I think she's secretly flattered by the attention.)

While Antoine and LaDonna are talking, an incredible song, "Just a Little Overcome," is playing in the background by Ollie & the Nightingales. This amazingly talented yet unknown group prompts Antoine to discuss his own fears of not being able to play again and become known. He was told at the ER that he has dental problems. LaDonna suggests that Antoine go to Baton Rouge to not only see Larry, her dentist husband, but to also spend time with his two sons. Obviously not thrilled by the idea of being treated by LaDonna's new husband, Antoine realizes that he doesn't have other options and decides to go.

When Antoine arrives, you can't help but notice the difference between Baton Rouge, filled with chain stores and restaurants, and New Orleans, still picking up the pieces. He brings with him gifts for the boys (LaDonna helps him out with that) and although they're not thrilled with their gifts, they are happy to see him--in their own way. There's a wonderful moment when he turns to them and says, "You're always in my heart," while hitting his chest. It's a side of Antoine that we haven't seen--the role of father. He's not able to provide for his kids the way that LaDonna and Larry can (and have), but he does love his sons very much--and they love him.

Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown) and his girlfriend Jill, a journalist, are walking through Battery Park while playing the game "Monogamy with Exceptions." He gives Jill his "hit list": Beyonce, Gabrielle Union and Janet [Jackson]. She immediately calls him shallow for his choices and then proceeds to list her three "exceptions": former Yankee Bernie Williams, gay playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, and the incomparable McCoy Tyner, one of the original members of the John Coltrane Quartet and a phenomenally gifted jazz pianist in his own right. While unimpressed with Jill's choices, Jill in turn questions Delmond's ability to remain monogamous. Later on, at a party filled with artists and writers (including Tyner and Williams), Delmond realizes that Jill tricked him: "You set me up," he immediately says to her while laughing.

Toni (Melissa Leo) doesn't have any luck in finding Antoine's trombone, but she does manage to get the DNA results from the police for the "David Brooks" they have in custody. His real name is Keevon White. Keevon's about to go on trial for murder, which he explains to LaDonna and her mother, is partly the reason why he switched ID bracelets. As he describes the conditions they suffered--being treated like cage animals, having to fight over "moldy sandwiches" being thrown at them by the guards--during Katrina, it's beyond horrible to hear. For the first time, we also learn more about who the real David "Daymo" Brooks truly is and according to Keevon, Daymo isn't cut out for prison life.

You can find the music from this episode right here:

Speaking of the music featured in Treme, we were really given a treat this week from the likes of the New Birth Brass Band, The Jazz Vipers, and the AMAAAAAZIIING John Boutté.

Boutté's voice holds a tinge of inspiration from Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, but it's full of other flavors, a melting pot if you will, just like New Orleans itself!

Next week on Episode #5: "Shame, Shame, Shame": As the city celebrates the return of many displaced residents with another second line parade, Albert presses a Councilman to reopen housing projects and Davis recruits some local musicians to put out a campaign CD.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"treh-MAY" - Episode #3: "Right Place, Wrong Time"

(All photos can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

Here are just some of the highlights from Episode #3: "Right Place, Wrong Time":

Trombonist Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) is getting "better acquainted" with the stripper he met as his recent gig (See "Episode #2") at a club on Bourbon Street. Although Antoine is clearly enjoying this tryst, the stripper is just going through the motions. In fact, she chews and pops her bubblegum during the entire time. (Does anyone out there recall a similar moment in Waiting to Exhale?)

"How did you get a FEMA trailer so quick?" Antoine immediately asks the stripper while heading for his cab. "Baby, how you think I got one so quick?" she says while motioning to her toned, stripper physique.

That same morning, Antoine returns home with a bag of beignets, deliciously fried and powdered pastries, to smooth the path.

"Who you f**king?" Desiree, Antoine's girlfriend and mother of their baby daughter, immediately asks him. (I guess the beignets didn't work.)

Antoine gave a rather quick, yet convincing excuse for staying out all night: he was playing cards with the guys in the band. Desiree's a bit skeptical. When she threatens to take their baby and move in with her mother in Memphis, Antoine talks her into staying. Desiree seductively grabs Antoine's belt and gives him a chance to, shall I say, prove his innocence: "You ain't got nothin' for me now, I'm gonna know for sure."

After Desiree "puts it on him," Antoine returns to the same strip club for another gig. When the same bubblegum-loving stripper crosses his past, he does his very best to spurn her advances toward him. Meanwhile, Antoine's bandmates begin to tease him because he wasn't asked to be a part of the music benefit at Lincoln Center, alongside Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, and trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown).

Feeling a tad dejected, especially after the teasing and now having to play gigs on the "tourist-friendly" Bourbon Street, Antoine leaves and runs into keyboardist Sonny (Michiel Huisman) and violinist/fiddler Annie (Lucia Micarelli) performing on the street. Despite after having a few drinks, his voice sounds achingly beautiful when he's singing the standard, "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You" along with Sonny and Annie's beautiful playing. When Antoine stops himself and starts to head for home, Sonny and Annie both beg Antoine to stay and play his trombone. He kindly says no and then continues to head home.

As he turns away, he accidentally bumps his trombone against a squad car. Two overly aggressive officers immediately jump out of their squad car. Not only do they force him to throw his trombone down on the ground (sans its case), but they start to wail and beat him up with heavy-handed punches and blows, and then they arrest him. Although Sonny, Annie and a few others yelled out to the officers to stop hitting him, it didn't help.

Toni (Melissa Leo) arrives to bail Antoine out of prison and you can't help but notice the almost purple bruises all over his face. Worst of all, Antoine has a loose tooth--which can be a death sentence for a professional, horn-playing musician. He makes his living with his trombone and now that may be in jeopardy. "Make sure they got my trombone," he implores Toni.

Another familiar face also required Toni's help: former deejay and recently axed "French Quarter hotel guide" Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn). While standing in front of his home, Davis and a friend were talking and having a drink. Then the National Guard ordered them both to pour out their drinks and, of course, Davis vocalized his objections and that is when he was immediately arrested. The charge--drinking out of an open container. The National Guard is clearly a modern day gestapo in New Orleans and Davis, like so many others, are just plain sick of it. "I just want my city back," he says with great frustration to Toni.

Although LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) initially seeks Toni's help in locating her brother, David "Daymo" Brooks, she begins to have doubts and insists that her husband Larry contact his brother Bernard, a civil court judge, to see if he can help. Although Larry's reluctant to ask for the favor, he agrees to make the call and help her out. When LaDonna mentions that Larry's family is Creole, his reluctance suddenly makes sense. His family does not accept LaDonna because she's not Creole: " they're a different race."

LaDonna's emotions are understandably all over the place: one moment, she's raising holy hell over the contractors not finishing the repairs to her roof's shingles, and the next moment, she's calm and collected when she calls Bernard (after already leaving several messages) to ask for his help. And when she finally decides to visit Bernard at his office, he promises to help LaDonna--but never really makes good on that promise. LaDonna realizes that Toni's help is very much needed right now.

Meanwhile, LaDonna is also trying to convince her mother to move to Baton Rouge so that she can spend more time with her grandchildren. "What if David comes home and I'm not here?" she says to LaDonna. She's beyond upset at Toni for having the "wrong David" brought to them during their visit at the prison. However, it's clear to Toni (and to the viewers at home) who's really to blame.

During Toni's visit with Sherriff Babineaux, she insists that they perform a DNA test to prove that not only do they have the wrong David Brooks, but that they lost the real prisoner. While giving her the most insincere grin, the sherriff quickly denies her request. When she mentions to Sherriff Babineaux how prisons get more FEMA bucks for every prisoner they detain, he politely throws Toni out of his office.

While Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) is creating a new Indian chief suit for Mardi Gras, his friend (with the hauling business) stops by to tell him about a kid (the one who ripped out newly installed wires in a renovated home that Albert beat to a pulp) was in the hospital. Without giving anything away, Albert asked if the kid would be alright. His friend is clearly unsure.

Meanwhile, Albert gets a visit from Lorenzo, the son of fellow tribesman Jesse. Lorenzo, now living in Arizona with his family, is concerned not only about their family home in the Lower Ninth Ward, but more importantly, he's concerned about his father's whereabouts for he has not returned since Hurricane Katrina. As Albert and Lorenzo look through the house, he notices a boat that's flipped upside down. When he lifts it up, he immediately recognizes Jesse's body decomposing. Both Albert and Lorenzo are choked up with emotion from the stench of the body.

Delmond is now rehearsing in New York with other New Orleans musicians, including the great Dr. John. Just as they begin to jam, Delmond receives a call on his cell phone from his father Albert. Although Delmond silences the message, it's still a powerful one: Jesse's dead and he found the body.

Once they're done rehearsing for the day, the musicians gather around eating pizza and talking about New Orleans. While Trombone Shorty and some of the other musicians are homesick, Delmond insists that their talents are acknowledged in every other city except for New Orleans: "...they hype the music, but they don't love the musicians." As Delmond lists the names of famous musicians to come out of New Orleans ("Pops," "Prima" and "Wynton," respectively) you can't help but think that there's a lot of truth in his statement. However, the other musicians will forever call New Orleans their home.

When Albert begins rehearsing with some of his tribesmen, more start to come out to pay their respects to Jesse. As they begin to chant and sing, a Katrina tour bus slowly pulls up and the driver asks the group about what's happening. "Is this your house?" he asks. "Just drive away," a tribesman shouts at him. The driver realizes his grave error and soon leaves. The group continues to stare in shock as the tour bus drives off.

Questions to think about:

- What are your feelings about tour buses and the "developers" (shout out to Donald Trump) roaming the area?

- Does anyone out there feel that the group was wrong to tell the tour bus to "drive away?"

Next week on Episode #4: "At the Foot of Canal Street":

Spoiler: "Antoine spends the holidays with his kids in Baton Rouge while LaDonna and Toni look into a local case of mistaken identity. Davis and Creighton decide to take their pain to the masses, while Sonnie leaves Annie for a gig in Texas and Albert accepts an invitation for dinner."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"treh-MAY" - Episode #2: "Meet De Boys on the Battlefront"

(All photos can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

Here are just some of the highlights from Episode #2: "Meet De Boys on the Battlefront":

"Why don't you play the next cut on that CD as I summon the spirits?" New Orleans musician Coco Robicheaux slyly says to deejay Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) during their interview at the radio station. Robicheaux is holding a rooster in one hand and a knife in the other, pressing it against its neck. An alarmed, yet intrigued, Davis pretends not to know the fate of that poor bird: "Are we entering some sacrificial realm here?" he asks with trepidation. After the opening credits pass on, you'll notice the huge spatters of blood on the walls. Yes, rooster blood! Davis feels beyond proud to have witnessed a truly unforgettable moment. Not too long after Coco's ritual at the station, Davis gets fired.

He now has to beg his parents (father's a doctor) for a loan. They promise to help Davis out only if he accepts the position at a fancy hotel, located in the "tourist-friendly" French Quarter. Davis reluctantly accepts the position. His main job is to be a "friendly" guide and highlight the many great things there are to see and do in New Orleans--but only within the narrow, yet "safe" confines of the Quarter. Squirming around in his hotel uniform, it is obvious that Davis won't last long in his position. When he sends three "church volunteers" off to "Bullet's," a restaurant/lounge located in the 7th Ward (far away from the Quarter), Davis pretty much signed his "letter of resignation." "Crime's all gone to Houston," he assures the wide-eyed, youthful trio of the neighborhood's safety. Fortunately, the volunteers return unscathed, but not until the next morning and, of course, they were completely hungover and covered in tattered, feathered boas and Mardi Gras beads. They immediately thanked Davis for showing them the "real" New Orleans.

"A gig is not a job," Desiree incessantly reminds Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce). A wonderfully gifted trombonist, Antoine's flaws unfortunately are more evident in his private life. When ex-wife LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) pays Antoine an unexpected visit at his home, not only are she and current girlfriend Desiree now face to face, but LaDonna discovers that Antoine has a new baby daughter with Desiree. In addition to his two sons with LaDonna, there are [at least] three children that Antoine has fathered. "I'll tell your sons they have a new half sister...another one," says LaDonna, just before she takes off. Desiree turns to Antoine, "What she mean by 'another one'?" Clearly he's not going to win any father or husband of the year awards.

What Antoine really lives for are his "gigs," especially a gig that gives him the opportunity to perform with great musicians like trumpeter Kermit Ruffins. Although for certain gigs, particularly those in the "tourist-friendly" Bourbon Street, Antoine feels as though his integrity as a musician is being tested: "There's pride left on Bourbon Street," everyone tells Antoine. "Well, that's what I hear," he says with skepticism. Antoine certainly enjoys the "perks" of the working musician's life: smoking, drinking and of course, women. In fact, there's a very flexible stripper who immediately catches Antoine's eye during one of his gigs.

When LaDonna returns to her bar, Gigi's Lounge, she's upset to find her roof in the same horrible condition as she left it, after having paid even more money to a local contractor to fix it. But when Toni (Melissa Leo) arrives to tell LaDonna that they found her brother, Daymo, LaDonna's anger over her shaky roof quickly disappears. She warns LaDonna that the process may take a lot longer due to the fact that the parishes get more FEMA money for every O.P.P. prisoner they hold.

LaDonna, her mother and Toni all eagerly wait in the visitor's area of the prison for Daymo's arrival. When the guards finally walk into the area to meet them, they bring David Brooks over alright--just not "their Daymo."

Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) is also trying to rebuild--literally. Albert's son, trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown), insists that he spends the upcoming holiday season with his family in Houston, thereby forcing him to leave New Orleans. But Albert just can't say goodbye--especially now when his home is now in its most vulnerable state.

While working on the repairs for one of the local houses, he discovers that his tools have been stolen. As the episode spoiler suggests, "Albert is forced to take the law into his own hands." And that he does, questioning everyone that he can think of to return his tools, which are now considered priceless in a city that has been hit by so much natural (and man-made) devastation. Finally, someone returns the tools back to Albert and he admitted that he bought them off some young kid nearby. When Albert tracks the young man down, he was set to confront him for stealing his tools, but then he discovered that the kid was ripping out the copper wires that were just installed in a renovated home. Albert forced this kid to acknowledge what he was doing, especially so soon after Hurricane Katrina. Needless to say that the kid, perhaps blinded by his youth, was ignorant and stubborn. His ignorance enraged Albert so much so that he proceeded to beat him to near unconsciousness. That anger, that hurt was not just Albert's, but it was for all of the people in New Orleans who felt abandoned and in utter disarray.

Now it begins to go deeper--that is called great writing and first-rate drama!

The music was, once again, a prominent feature in this episode: cameos from Coco Robicheaux, Trombone Shorty, Galactic, the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, and of course, the great Kermit Ruffins.

Next week on Episode #3: "Right Place, Wrong Time"

Spoiler: "While Davis trades piano lessons for his freedom, Albert makes an unnerving discovery and Annie gets a gig on her birthday."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Introduction to Jazz Vocals Workshop - Jazz Music Master Charanee Wade

Jazz Vocal Workshop
Instructor: Charenee Wade
Tuesdays, 7-9pm

Sing, improvise, improve your vocal technique, perform, develop different timbres of your voice, tell a story, learn about the jazz greats, expand your repertoire, learn how to arrange

Session One: April 13th, 20th, 27th & May 4th
Cost: $120 (4 classes)

Session Two: May 11th, 18th, 25th, June 1st
Cost: $120 (4 classes)

all levels welcome!

(Discount: $20 off if you sign up for both sessions!)

Located at the Mama Foundation for the Arts
149 West 126th Street
New York, NY 10027
(212) 280-1045

Save 50% on Big Apple Jazz Tours - April 2010

Throughout the entire month of APRIL, save 50% off on Big Apple Jazz Tours booked online!!

The promo code to use for the discount is 50HALF!

Sign up/book a tour here:

Jazzmobile Vocalfest - April 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

"treh-MAY" - Episode #1: "Do You Know What It Means"

(All photos can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

Treme, the new HBO series that premiered on Sunday night, begins with a "rebirth"--that is, with the glorious sounds of the Rebirth Brass Band. After negotiating the final cut for each of the seven (out of the 8-piece band) who showed up to play that day, they strutted out with their horns and drums in hand and showed us, watching at home, that there are still great stories to be told.

The music of the Rebirth Brass Band is funky, alive and it hits you (and your soul) the minute you hear them. They are the embodiment of the diverse town--honest and unabashed. Not only is it one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans, but Treme was once a town where mostly free people of color lived. And to this very day, it holds a great cultural and historical significance for its people--especially its brass bands.

Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) arrives late in a taxi (which he can barely afford) to the parade, but his beautiful trombone playing falls right in sync with the band and before you know it, he takes the eighth member's spot and is now at the head of the line. But your eyes can't help but notice the debris (mainly old refrigerators) lying around outside. For a second, you remember that in 2005, there was a major death--the death of an entire city. With the high energy of the horns, the people dancing on top of rust-covered cars, the strutting with umbrellas in hand and shouting out lyrics of a Bobby Womack song ("I used to love her/ But it's all over now") only one word comes to mind: RESILIENCE!

You find that resilient spirit in the people of "Treme":

Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) runs a local restaurant--regardless if it's packed or (as we initially see it) filled with empty rows of chairs stacked high on tables. She's short on staff and on patience; frustrated over her non-working refrigerator, Janette still refuses to buy and serve "frozen crawfish" to her customers. And whenever someone asks her about the condition of her house [post-Katrina], Janette quickly shouts, "Don't ask me about my house." And she goes on with her work.

Janette's in a "relationship" with the free-spirited, weed smoking Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn). Davis is passionate about music first and foremost. We see instruments all around his home--a piano, guitars and drums. In fact, when Davis hears the sounds of the Rebirth Brass Band nearby, he rises from his bed, naked, puts on his glasses, points at his window and says to Janette, "They're doing it." We discover, thanks to Janette, that Davis is actually a disc jockey at a local radio station. As Janette leaves to open the restaurant, Davis also rushes out to catch up with the band and the people.

When Davis finally arrives at the radio station, he's told that he has to plug a "compilation CD" of traditional New Orleans music. To say that it hits the fan for Davis would be putting it mildly. The music of New Orleans is as diverse as it's people--you can't condense that spirit down into a 10-12 song CD. ("Ken Burns' Jazz" anyone?) And his idea for the government of New Orleans to be run by the Mafia is almost worth considering--ALMOST. They certainly couldn't do as horrible of a job as the lovely folks from FEMA did.

Speaking of the government, let's now move on to the Bernettes, Creighton (John Goodman) and Toni (Melissa Leo). On the outside, they appear to be a nice, "safe," white couple--especially when you see how their home was left unscathed by Hurricane Katrina. We first meet Creighton, a college professor, while being interviewed by a smug, unsympathetic "BBC-like" reporter. "The flooding of New Orleans was a MAN-MADE catastrophe! A federal F**K UP of epic proportions and decades in the making," Creighton shouts at the reporter with such intensity. The reporter goes on, completely unfazed by Creighton's statement, and instead asks him how he could continue to stand by a "once great" city in America. Toni, on the surface, may disapprove of her husbands "F-Bombs" and outbursts, but it turns out that she's perhaps much more dangerous than he is.

Toni Bernette does what the government has failed to do--work for the people. In fact, when she runs into two police officers at a local eatery, one of the cops boldly refuses to surrender the extra seat at their table, telling Toni that it was taken. He was salty over the fact the she filed a lawsuit against him for police brutality. It's evident that Toni has her fair share of enemies. Luckily, she also has some friends.

LaDonna Batiste-Williams, (Khandi Alexander) proprietor of a local bar and the ex-wife of Antoine Batiste, is searching for her brother who may have been incarcerated shortly before Katrina. The government has no record of him or his arrest, but LaDonna hears otherwise from a visit from a local who actually saw her brother in prison. LaDonna meets Toni at that eatery, tells her what she knows, and asks her for her help.

The second officer, a lot nicer, promised Toni a huge favor. He promised to provide Toni with, quite possibly, "confidential" records that might help her in her search of LaDonna's brother. Although he insists that there's no record of him or his whereabouts, LaDonna stresses to Toni that somehow, records would always magically disappear--even before Katrina. And she was right. Toni ultimately finds a more recent picture of LaDonna's brother (possibly during the height of the storm) and the search for him can now begin. Of course, as Toni begins to probe further, the government grows less cooperative in helping her with her search. When Toni comes home, Creighton is now calm and reading the newspaper, while Toni stomps and jumps and drops a few "F-bombs" herself. Creighton just laughs.

Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) had little to say. But his eyes, as they stared out at the ruins of his home and belongings, spoke volumes of the pain and abandonment that not only he must have felt, but the pain that all of New Orleans will never let go. The anger and rage comes from Albert's daughter. She expresses that anger as they drive over the same bridge where during the height of the hurricane, police officers threatened people with their guns for attempting to walk across it and find refuge. Albert is completely numb from his pain and hurt. He refuses to leave and asks that his daughter drive him to a nearby bar. Angered by her father's stubbornness to leave, she immediately calls her brother, Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown), the now famous jazz trumpeter, during one of his gigs at The Blue Note in NYC, to come down and talk some sense into their father.

We soon discover that this bar is where Albert, the Mardi Gras Chief Indian, and his fellow "tribesmen" would come to practice every weekend. Albert steadily cleans as much of the debris as he can, but it's clearly not a one person job. He tries to convince his friend (and tribesman) who has a "successful" hauling business to lend him a hand in clearing out the trash from the bar so that they resume practice, but he's not convinced that there will be another Mardi Gras. When Albert puts on his full Mardi Gras costume and shows up at his friend's house, he has a change of heart and eventually helps him to haul out the debris.

Treme is full of interesting, well-rounded characters. But perhaps the character that stands out most is the music. For the first time, the music will serve as a key player in telling these vivid stories rather than as mere backdrop. And the world will finally be introduced to a host of wonderful New Orleans' musicians: vocalist John Boutté (who sings the wonderful theme song), the Rebirth Brand Band, the Treme Brass Band, and Kermit Ruffins, a wonderfully talented jazz trumpeter, just to name a few.

It has just been announced that after one episode, Treme has been renewed for a second season!!

Now, tell me out there, what are your thoughts on Treme, New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, FEMA, jazz, etc.?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

THE INTERVIEW: Legendary Jazz Figure Sue Mingus

(Posted by Short and Sweet NYC on 2/9/10)

I had the pleasure of sitting down with a living legend in not only the world of jazz but in American music, Mrs. Sue Mingus, the widow of the late composer/bassist Charles Mingus. Like Miles and Coltrane, Mingus was a giant and yet, in the past, many have shied away from his music because of the complex structure of his compositions. For the past 30 years, Sue Mingus has made it her mission to not only keep her husband’s musical legacy alive with the Mingus bands and the upcoming Charles Mingus High School Competition & Festival on Valentine’s Day weekend, but also trust that there are listeners out there whose ears are mature enough to appreciate his vast, innovative body of work.

How did the Mingus bands come about?

Mingus Dynasty was the first band. About four or five months after Charles died, there was a two-day tribute at Carnegie Hall. A number of other bands performed there—I think one of Alvin Ailey’s dancers performed. We had a number of different events and in connection with that I was asked to form a band to play Mingus. I had never done anything like this, but I looked at the make-up of bands and some of the seminal albums at Columbia Records and I put together a seven-piece band—four horns and a rhythm section.

It turned out that at the whole event this band was the only one that played Mingus’ music. It suddenly revealed that people didn’t want to trespass the territory; Charles was such a powerful figure and dominated his music so much so that people didn’t really think of this whole gigantic body of compositions as being there to use like Duke Ellington’s. Other people weren’t really playing his music so that was the reason we kept this band going. We gave it the name Mingus Dynasty, which is also the title of one of Charles’s albums. It seemed like a fitting title because these are musicians carrying on the Mingus legacy. And it just kept going for about 10 years until we ultimately doubled the size and formed The Mingus Big Band, which has 14 musicians.

There are three Mingus bands: The Mingus Big Band, Mingus Dynasty and we have another band who alternates here called The Mingus Orchestra, which is a 10-piece band. Each band brings something different to the music. The Orchestra focuses on the compositional aspects of Mingus. Their instruments are more unusual, more exotic to jazz—bassoon, French horn, bass clarinet, which we don’t normally hear. There’s also guitar, which we don’t have in either one of the other bands.

Has being a member of the Mingus bands allowed musicians to hone and develop their crafts?

This music is like a University; it’s very demanding, it is challenging music and it calls upon individual musicians to reach inside themselves and play who they are. It’s very open music, there are a lot of spaces and I think it’s one of the aspects of the music that’s very exciting and it draws musicians to play the music because there is so much freedom written in the music that they can bring their own voices and their own ideas when they [perform] solo. Charles left an enormously varied [musical] legacy—the second largest in American music after Duke Ellington. The music is steeped in the blues but there are also European classic forms, bebop, and Latin music; there’s just about every kind of music you can imagine that Charles drew upon and used within the structure of his compositions.

Who are some known jazz artists that have come from the Mingus bands?

Randy Brecker has played with us for a long time. Most of these musicians have bands of their own or make their own recordings or play with other musicians. They are all very active in the music scene. James Carter, saxophonist, has played with us originally. There have been so many that have passed through our Mingus bands. We have an enormous pool of musicians. We probably have over 100 musicians who’ve learned this music. Because of the nature of the Mingus band, we play one night every week and we’ve been doing this for over 15 years now. And not everyone’s available every week, you know. The musicians may have other gigs and opportunities and as a result we have a large number of musicians on each instrument. That’s just the nature of the beast. We look for musicians who are available and musicians are always coming into town and you hear about new people who come in and sit in the band. If there’s a new player in town, word travels like a brush fire and you find out about it.

What has the experience been like for both bands to perform at the Jazz Standard?

It’s been like coming home. We had a wonderful tenure at Fez, also known as Time Café. We had a residency for I don’t remember if it was 10 years or a dozen years, but we missed it profoundly when it closed, which was about five years ago. We went to a few other places and finally we came here. We celebrated our first anniversary here in October 2009. And concurrently, we will produce a Mingus Big Band album, Live at Jazz Standard, which was recorded last New Year’s Eve. It was broadcast nationally on NPR with such a wonderful array of artists like drummer Jeff Tain Watts and trombonist Conrad Herwig.

We were also celebrating the entrance into 2009, which marks the 50th anniversary of a number of seminal albums in jazz; Mingus had three (Mingus Ah Um, Mingus Dynasty, and Blues & Roots), Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, etc. This was a banner year for jazz, like 1939 was for movies (Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, etc.) As we entered 2009, the music that we played that will be on the live recording are pieces that originally came out 50 years ago.

Mingus is highly regarded as a legendary figure in jazz primarily as a bassist. Do you think that his prowess as a composer has been underestimated?

Charles’s music was, on the surface, more difficult. He was a larger than life persona on stage—very intimidating. And I think people thought of it as “Mingus’ music.” This is the main thing that has changed since Charles died. Originally, people thought of him as a great personality on stage, a virtuoso bass player, and a bandleader. He was all those things. But they did not think first and foremost that he was a composer the way they think of Duke Ellington. When I started the Mingus Dynasty, people would say, particularly in Europe, “How can you have a Mingus band without Mingus?” It was his personality that was so big. And I took my cue from Charles who always said that he was first and foremost a composer and he knew that he would live on as a composer.

His composition, Epitaph, measures out to be possibly the longest piece of music in history—especially in jazz. Will this work ever be performed again? Did Mingus ever intend for this work to be performed?

This piece was recorded and videotaped and it was released this year. We premiered it in 1989, 10 years after Charles died. He had attempted to premiere it back in 1962. It was 19 or 21 sections, it takes over two and a half hours to perform and we play a lot of the individual pieces in the Mingus bands. There’s a piece called “Peggy’s Blue Skylight,” a piece called “O.P.,” (after Oscar Pettiford), and a wonderful ballad called “Noon Night.” There are a number of these pieces that have been arranged for a smaller format. We also published the enormous 500-page score for Epitaph and that is also available.

It's been more than 30 years since his death. Why continue to keep the Mingus legacy alive?

I think like any good thing, as long as people enjoy it and certainly the musicians love playing the music and the audience has grown. Charles’s music, when he died, was considered difficult and for many inaccessible. That has changed dramatically in the last 30 years because our ears grow up to music. When Stravinsky was first big, nobody composed his music. So things become more familiar. It’s not out of reach anymore. We did our first Charles Mingus High School Competition last year and we’re doing it again in February on Valentine’s Day weekend. And if you can hear those high school kids play this music, they are phenomenal. His music, more or less, keeps itself alive.

The Mingus High School Competition takes place Sunday, February 14th at the John C Borden Auditorium, Manhattan School of Music, 122nd Street & Broadway, NYC. It's FREE and open to the public. For more information, go to the website HERE

You can also catch the Mingus Ensembles every Monday at the Jazz Standard with two sets at 7:30PM & 9:30PM, which sees rotating Mingus ensembles - Mingus Dynasty, Mingus Big Band, Mingus Orchestra. For more info, visit

Shannon J. Effinger

Happy Valentine's Day Y'all!

2009 was indeed a rough year on all levels for many people--myself included. It took a lot of my creative energy out of me and left me, for once, at a loss for words on pretty much anything.

But we're in a new year now and the final year of the "2000s decade." It's time for a change of attitude, a change of heart on Valentine's Day and a change of mind.

I couldn' think of the perfect time to launch my new blog site, "SJE on all things jazz..."

Although I plan to cover the full gamut of the artistic spectrum, all of my works on the blues, jazz and traditional R&B will now be featured on this page:

I want to say thank you to all of my followers and readers out there!!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Please keep reading,