Tuesday, April 27, 2010

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

(All photos can be found @ http://www.poptower.com/treme-pictures.htm 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: "...like 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 @ http://www.poptower.com/treme-pictures.htm 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: http://www.zerve.com/newyorkjazz

Jazzmobile Vocalfest - April 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

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

(All photos can be found @ http://www.poptower.com/treme-pictures.htm 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.?