July 2010 Archives

Tonight's "Tavis Smiley Reports" primetime special, "New Orleans: Been in the Storm Too Long," is produced in collaboration with Academy-Award-winning director Jonathan Demme. It premieres at 8pm EST/7pm Central on PBS.

Both Demme and Smiley focused on New Orleans with depth and sensitivity in 2005, after the flood, and they've both stayed on the storyline. (With so much attention rightly paid to the oil spill just now, it's my hope that the still-relevant story of the flood's aftermath is not forgotten--rather, that the two narratives are folded together to highlight many core issues in common.) 

This collaboration owes in part to Demme's ongoing documentary project "Right to Return." Back in 2008, Smiley gave over a week of his airtime to Demme's material and to the post-Katrina narrative in New Orleans. This New York Times piece by Felicia R. Lee offers more background.) On tonight's special,  Smiley interviews, among others: musicians Ellis and Branford Marsalis, and Lenny Kravitz; and actors Wendell Pierce and John Goodman (both of whom have central roles in HBO's "Treme"). Pierce, in particular, has seeded important redevelopment work in his native Pontchartrain Park.

July 21, 2010 12:25 PM | | Comments (0)

Harvey Pekar was pissed at me. He told me so himself but I'd seen it coming because, as a parting gift, the outgoing editor of the jazz magazine I'd just taken the reins of had repeated to Harvey my criticisms--all legitimate--of his article about Jazz at Lincoln Center, knowing it would raise his substantial ire. I was "one of those Wynton sycophants," he raged, another "spineless suckup" looking for power and missing the real music. Harvey was wrong. I mean, he was right about the real music--Harvey was more often than not right about music; he had great taste and the knowledge to place it in context. But he was wrong about me: I agreed with his point of view, I just had some issues with the way he'd expressed it in print, with his research or lack thereof.

There was no such thing as a short conversation with Harvey. And boy do I miss that today. Not just because there will be no more conversations with Harvey -- in truth, there haven't been for me in a decade, since I left that gig (yet now there's not even the possibility of another one with him)--but also because the world I've now entered, one filled with emails and texts but little in the way of actual human discourse, is a place Harvey predicted, along with a dozen other dour but spot-on prophecies. Harvey's shit could bring you down if you let it, sure, but it was usually accurate.

Harvey was again incorrect a few calls after that first one, when he called me a "garden variety Jew" in a combative tone when I queried his commentary about Sephardic musical themes. (I think he was reviewing something by Joe Maneri, but it could have been John Zorn. Or maybe neither.) When I explained that my grandfather on my mother's side came from Greece, that I'd been Bar Mitzvahed in a Sephardic temple, landing on t's, not s's at the ends of words, he seemed convinced of my legitimacy as a Jew (if not an editor) of some distinction. 

Things went more smoothly after that. 

July 13, 2010 3:33 PM | | Comments (0)

If you're in NY this summer, you've got plenty of chances to hear New Orleans music that, as you await next season, offers insights into the sight, sounds, and characters of HBO "Treme." You can find my piece in today's Wall Street Journal with something of a roadmap to that effect. And something I wrote for the current issue of the Village Voice, looking back on June's wave jazz in Manhattan, has a point of connection, in the musical communion of two clarinetists--avant-gardist Perry Robinson and New Orleans traditionalist Michael White.

July 12, 2010 3:53 PM | | Comments (0)

In honor of Independence Day, what could be more American than playing jazz in the street? Here are two stories of mine along those lines, running today.


The first, for the website Truthdig, talks about brass bands and street musicians in New Orleans--especially some city ordinances that make my blood boil and some signs of reform by city council and Mayor Landrieu that would warm my heart.


The second, for The Wall Street Journal, celebrates the near-half-century legacy of Jazzmobile, a nonprofit that, if you live in New York City, has likely rolled into your 'hood.

July 5, 2010 3:57 PM | | Comments (0)

In honor of Independence Day, what could be more American than playing jazz in the street? Here are two stories of mine along those lines, running today.


The first, for the website Truthdig, talks about brass bands and street musicians in New Orleans--especially some city ordinances that make my blood boil and some signs of reform by city council and Mayor Landrieu that would warm my heart.


The second, for The Wall Street Journal, celebrates the near-half-century legacy of Jazzmobile, a nonprofit that, if you live in New York City, has likely rolled into your 'hood.

July 5, 2010 3:57 PM | | Comments (0)

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