Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 28 Feb 12 14:17
John Swenson's written a mighty fine book here, and the Well is proud to have him in Inkwell. Leading the discussion will be the Well's David Wilson, who has this to say about himself: Im an anthropologist who worked in government developing and running subsidized housing programs. I know how government bureaucracies work and how they spin the public in normal times and in crises. After living in exile for over 30 years in Minneapolis, MN (a good government state), Im back home in New Jersey (a bad government state) in a town on top of the Palisades within view of New York City. Ive been writing a book for the local Jewish Historical Society on a history of my hometown, Paterson. Youve seen such photo books in the Local Interest section of Barnes and Noble. I also program an internet radio station that focuses on jazz, latin music, and old r&b. <http://www://loudcaster.com/channels/1015-hipjukebox> And next fall Im scheduled to start teaching a class at a local college. I nurtured my long-standing love of music starting out by trying to stay up at night listening to Symphony Sids radio program and supplementing that with trying to sneak into New York clubs like the Five Spot and Birdland. In 1961 my friends and I all played instruments and we wanted to be Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Much later I put together a large music collection, listen to that, and read a lot of music history. Ive never been to New Orleans, but always appreciated the diverse and distinctive music that comes out of that musical galaxy. However I did live in France and in a Tunisian peasant village where music is part of the culture in the same way as it is in New Orleans.
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 29 Feb 12 13:05
And says John Swenson: I'm a journalist who's been writing about popular music since 1967. I edited the website jazze.com for Knit Media and worked as an editor at Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, Circus, Rock World, OffBeat magazine and others. I was a syndicated music columnist for more than 20 years at United Press International and Reuters. I've written 14 published books including biographies of Bill Haley, the Who, Stevie Wonder and the Eagles and co-edited the original Rolling Stone Record Guide with Dave Marsh. I'm also the editor of The Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album Guide. My latest book, New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, chronicles how musicians returned to the city to rebuild culture and infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina. It's a mix of politics, social commentary and music journalism reflecting my involvement in the city since moving there in 1999 to write about the culture. I currently split my time between New Orleans and my birthplace in Brooklyn New York.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 1 Mar 12 08:10
Welcome to the WELL John. You'll find that we are interested in your book that covers the attempts by the musicians to preserve the distinct New Orleans culture that was almost wiped away by Hurricane Katrina. We're ready for you. I hope you are ready for us. Someone once said that New Orleans culture is made up of 3 things: the music, the food, and the mix of different types of people. And there seem to be 3 types of narratives that tell the New Orleans story with Katrina as the latest chapter. Ned Sublette wrote 2 books which trace the culture through social history and ethno-musicology. David Simon has dramatized the story in a compelling way in his HBO series "Treme." And your book takes a journalistic approach and couples it with music criticism. Could you start out by discussing how you see New Orleans culture and what makes it so distinctive? Then talk about what first alerted you to the attempts at preserving it and how that guided your approach.
Gail Ann (gail) Thu 1 Mar 12 17:38
<scribbled by gail Thu 1 Mar 12 17:38>
Gail, posting for John Swenson (gail) Thu 1 Mar 12 17:40
(Sorry, I need to do that over. I copied it and formatted it badly. John Swenson passed along this response to get started, and he will be back here himself as soon as he can.) From John: New Orleans culture is unlike any other in the United States in that its roots in Native American, imported Afro Caribbean and Catholic French and Spanish cultures are so close to the surface. The French colonists were isolated from the rest of North America and kept strong Frankophone sympathies past the French revolution and even after the Spanish took control. New Orleans was bought by the United States in 1803 but remained a bilingual French/English culture well into the 20th century. Consider that slaves brought to work on cotton fields in rural Louisiana and Mississippi in the 18th century converged on New Orleans after emancipation. In New Orleans African Americans had long been able to trade openly in the markets and buy their freedom. Former slaves became small farmers and sharecroppers in the region or lived in the city proper as craftspeople, dock workers etc. African culture was therefore imported and nurtured in the region, and blacks became political leaders there during Reconstruction. When the era of Jim Crow brought white supremacy back to New Orleans blacks were prevented from holding places of notoriety in the community at large and prevented from even mingling with whites. This brought the black community even closer together and helped foster the rise of jazz as a means of black American expression. The music accompanied black culture from the cradle to the grave and was passed down through the generations by family members. Note that the forced depopulation of the city after the flood following Katrina broke up many of these communities and became in a very real sense the final leg of a centuries-long African diaspora. There is a very real danger of this culture being lost forever as the generational link may well have been permanently severed along with the neighborhoods that have disappeared or been almost completely gentrified since Katrina. We won't know until today's kids grow up if they will seek to carry on the traditions of New Orleans jazz, Black Indian gangs, brass band music and second lines as well as R&B and funk. The attempts to preserve the culture are being made by the musicians themselves, which is the main subject of New Atlantis and a subtext of the HBO series Treme, which parallels the book's storyline and references many of the same events. My approach has been simply to tell the stories of these musicians as I've observed them and interacted with them. A number of the subjects in the book have died since I began my research. They all made the ultimate sacrifice for their culture, and had the best reason for doing so -- they passed it on.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Fri 2 Mar 12 07:06
When the reclamation phase came after the initial rescue and stabilization phase, there was a lot of talk about redevelopment /community development strategies. In city planning and community development circles, someone came up with a simple statement that I thought was pretty profound given New Orleans character--give the musicians the resources to put their lives back together and that would stimulate the economic development. Simple, yes. Doable, yes. But the neighborhoods where the corruption lived weren't badly affected.
John Swenson (floating541) Fri 2 Mar 12 10:28
There was real concern at first about whether the musicians would be able to return, or if the city would be taken over by developers who would turn it into a tourist only destination a la Disneyworld. For "Green spaces" read golf courses; for restoration read the gutting and gentrification of neighborhoods and the closing of hospitals, low income housing projects and schools. The lower ninth ward escaped the fate of being turned into a giant country club but Charity hospital was closed, the low income housing projects were shuttered and the school system was gutted. The musicians came back on their own because they knew they couldn't play the music they'd been playing all their lives in other places. It was unique to New Orleans. Though musicians received some aid mostly they came back and did the work of gutting and renovating houses themselves and started small businesses to provide services that were no longer available after the flood.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Fri 2 Mar 12 13:56
i've just started the book and really like it. I don't know to what extent the book touches on this, but it is interesting to compare the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans with the aftermath of Ike in Galveston. One of the big differences is that Galveston has no deep and historic culture of music. I think some of the power structure in Galveston has seized on Ike as a way to "cleanse" the island of some of the large population of poor folks that have lived there for generations. Unfortunately, because there is nothing similar to NO's musical culture, there has been little that can articulate the plight of Galveston in a manner that has resonance with broader american culture, if that makes sense. Ike decimated all of the public housing on the island. In addition, after the hurricane, the city changed the building codes in ways that made rebuilding prohibitive for many low-income residents. A lot of families who had owned their homes for generations could not afford to rebuild and had to sell their property at a loss.
Monic (monica) Fri 2 Mar 12 19:41
<scribbled by monica Fri 2 Mar 12 19:42>
Monica Brady (monica) Fri 2 Mar 12 19:44
John, welcome to the Well. I'm enjoying very much "New Atlantis" and the stories that you are telling. I'm also getting turn on to musicians who seemed to have passed me by like R&B artist Jessie Hill. My first question is -- the first chapter describes an extraordinary recording session on Piety Street led by Tab Benoit. The descriptions are rich, and I'm wondering how you came about getting that story. Did you bear witness to the event? The story of the Andrews Family weaves throughout various chapters, and you dedicate a few glossy pages of photographs of the Andrews brothers by Elsa Hahne. Are you close to the Andrews?
David Wilson (dlwilson) Sat 3 Mar 12 06:38
To add to what <monica> is asking about the Andrews family--I thought your reporting of the conversation between Trombone Shorty and his older brother was key to understanding how they think about their culture. The older Andrews said that they knew the old songs and could play the hell out of them before Katrina, but playing them now means so much more to him. They connect much more emotionally now.
beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Sat 3 Mar 12 09:00
hi John, and welcome. i only received the book on Wednesday, so am not quite as far into it as i would've liked to join in the conversation here. i'm a huge fan of many of the musicians who you cover and am enjoying all the history a lot. seems to me watching Shorty play up here in PA and turning people on to that sound (like at last year's Philadelphia Folk Festival, of all places) is a good indication of seeing the traditions carried on, and brought to new ears.
Ed Ward (captward) Sat 3 Mar 12 10:49
I should add that if anyone outside the Well is reading this and wants to contribute, just send an e-mail to inkwell[at]well[dot]com and we'll put it up here for John's informed comment.
John Swenson (floating541) Sun 4 Mar 12 10:44
I've never been to Galveston but its relationship to New Orleans is longstanding. When Lafitte's pirates were run out of Barataria in the early 1800s they went across the gulf and set up their own principality in Galveston. Before Katrina New Orleanians who were concerned about the threat hurricanes posed to the city due to the loss of wetlands read Isaac's Storm, the great book about the historic Galveston hurricane, with great interest. I'm sure the poorest people in Galveston were the hardest hit by Ike. This is how political reality in the United States works these days. As Bod Dylan once said "If you go down in the flood it will be your own fault."
John Swenson (floating541) Sun 4 Mar 12 10:49
Piety Street studios is two blocks away from my house in New Orleans. I drop in there from time to time and when special sessions go down sometimes I'm allowed to be a fly on the wall. I augmented my own observations with interviews to draw the best picture I could of the historic VOW sessions. As a working journalist in New Orleans I've gotten to know Troy, James and Glen David Andres very well. I go to their shows as much as possible and marvel at their development as humans. I've gotten to be friends with each of them and very much enjoy their company.
John Swenson (floating541) Sun 4 Mar 12 11:00
Shorty is amazing. His band plays a different set every time I've seen them in recent years. I was at the Philadelphis Folk Festival (selling New Atlantis in fact) and was amazed at how Troy understood the difference in this audience and played a more folk music oriented concert, getting the crowd to sing along lustily to "Saints." Another night he'll be emphasizing the hard rock end of the show, or the band's ability to play James Brown-level funk or accompdate guest rappers. He is at his best when he lets the show rest on his own shoulders. He opened up for Bootsy Collins at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and absolutely ruined the crowd. It was so spectacular a performance that Bootsy had no way of following him. James has become one of the elder statesmen of New Orleans music. He has really blossomed since Katrina and is always worth seeing. Glen David Andrews can top even Troy on his best nights. He is a very improvisational performer whose charisma is off the chart. In club dates he literally interacts with every single person in the place. If you ever get to New Orleans make sure you catch one of his Monday dates at d.b.a. You won't believe what's in store for you. Also check out his album Live at Three Muses.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Sun 4 Mar 12 14:20
From reading your bio John, I see you are from Brooklyn and you split your time between there and New Orleans. From your name I conclude that you are not from 19th St. and Ave. J, or Bed-Sty, or East New York. Bay Ridge or Bensonhurst? So given your Brooklyn street cred, how did you wind up in New Orleans? And could you share your first reactions to the ways things worked there?
John Swenson (floating541) Mon 5 Mar 12 13:20
I was born in Methodist Hospital in Park Slope in 1950. Grew up in Flatbush, moved back to what used to be called South Brooklyn (13th St) in 1988, watched with incredulity as crack streetcorners became gentrified. Took a job in New Orleans in 1999, bought a house in the Bywater and watched with incredulity as crack alleys became gentrified. Some of the same people I knew from New York moved into my neighborhood in New Orleans. I have been splitting time between the two places pretty much equally. I came to New Orleans because I found less and less of the music I ran into elsewhere inspiring. I don't regret the decision, especially since the flood, as I've gotten a chance to see a very creative place infused with passionate young people. Reminiscent of the lower east side in Manhattan during the 1970s. First reactions? I'd been going to New Orleans frequently for many years. My first reaction when I started going there was that this place couldn't actually exist. Life is lived there to the fullest. It's incredibly corrupt and violent of course, but the core people are wonderful and very, very alive. It seems like everywhere else you go life has been deadened and of course corruption and violence have many faces. Manhattan is the most corrupt and violent place on the planet (along with Washington D.C.) if you take into consideration what the banks, super uberrich and the politicians they control are doing to the rest of us. In a sense nothing "works" in New Orleans. People make the best of what they have and infuse life, even in the face of extreme poverty, with great love and caring. I like staying in the neighborhoods rather than going to the CBD and tourist places, which are getting more and more like the rest of the country. Watching the Mardi Gras Indians roll on the back streets uptown on Mardi Gras Day is one of the most satisfying experiences I've had since I was a teenager.
beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Mon 5 Mar 12 16:21
well, hell, now I'm sorry I didn't set foot into vending at PFF this year.
beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Tue 6 Mar 12 10:22
meanwhile, i have a question really unrelated to everything we've discussed so far as far as "roots" music is concerned but kind of in line with the topic of carrying on NOLA music traditions. is there an heir apparent to the Radiators? having been a fan, and in later years friends with some of the guys, i feel like there's a niche that's gone now. certainly for us old fishheads. but i know people who went to MOM's this year were very disappointed with the "replacement". is are any youngsters out there doing anything like they did? as an aside, was very happy to see your piece on Ed Volker in Offbeat. miss him, as I do all the guys. but i was not surprised by his choice at all.
John Swenson (floating541) Wed 7 Mar 12 08:06
There really could be no replacement for the Radiators. They defined the position they occupied. But all the component parts are still operational so I encourage Radiators fans to see Camile Baudoin's Living Rumors, the Suspects featuring Reggie Scanlan, the Malone Brothers, Raw Oyster Cult and watch carefully for Zeke Fishhead sightings. The Suspects are quite good and sometimes Camile sits in with them. Otherwise enjoy the music as it continues to reconfigure itself. I've been really knocked out recently by Cyril Neville, PGF, Tab Benoit, the Happy Talk Band, Helen Gillet and various Mardi Gras Indian hybrids often featuring Monk Boudreaux (101 Runners etc). Monk is at a career apogee in his 60s and on March 10 he reunites with his partner from the Wild Magnolias Bo Dollis. Both Bo and Monk's sons will also be part of this show.
John Swenson (floating541) Wed 7 Mar 12 08:17
This just in: NEW ATLANTIS WINS JAZZ TIMES CRITICS POLL The 2011 Expanded Critics' Poll JT's critics choose their favorite musicians, books, DVDs and more 03/05/12 JazzTimes After the encouraging response we received to last years inaugural full-length Critics Poll, we decided to make it an annual tradition. Our regular contributors were asked to vote in the same categories that make up our yearly Readers' Poll, ranking their top five choices in each. The poll focuses on artists achievements during 2011, as opposed to their careers in whole. Winners below are bolded; runners-up are listed in order of number of points. THE EDITORS BEST OF MEDIA Book <B>∙ New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans by John Swenson (Oxford University Press)<B> ∙ Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice by Tad Hershorn (University of California Press) ∙ What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrongs Later Years by Ricky Riccardi (Pantheon Books) ∙ All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennettby David Evanier (Wiley) ∙ Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz by Benjamin Cawthra (University of Chicago Press)
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 7 Mar 12 08:50
Congratulations. You beat out some heavies.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Wed 7 Mar 12 09:19
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 7 Mar 12 09:24
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Wed 7 Mar 12 09:42
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