Harry Shearer On What's Funny About Nixon And What's Not In New Orleans

At Manhattan’s Slipper Room on Wednesday night, Harry Shearer spent two hours on a stage discussing the role he considers his defining one.

Not the megalomaniacal Mr. Burns, who he voices on “The Simpsons,” nor Spinal Tap’s affably insecure bassist, Derek Smalls. The character Shearer has lived with longest is Richard Nixon. His latest take on the 37th president, “Nixon’s the One,” can be seen in weekly episodes through Nov. 25 on YouTube.

With the Nixon historian Stanley Kutler, Shearer combed through thousands of hours of the tapes Nixon secretly recorded in the Oval Office, then staged re-enactments of key moments as if captured by hidden cameras, remaining “faithful to the words, the rhythms, and even the pauses,” he said. Even so, he said, “it’s not a history show, but a character comedy series.” My interview with Shearer about all that ran recently in The Wall Street Journal.

After that Slipper Room performance, Shearer, who lives in New Orleans, and I spent some time discussing an issue that just now seems defining for anyone who understands and adores New Orleans indigenous culture. And is distinctly unfunny. Continue reading “Harry Shearer On What's Funny About Nixon And What's Not In New Orleans”

Herbie Hancock Talking Possibilities

Here I am, reading a bit from the beginning of Herbie Hancock’s new book, “Possibilities,” (Viking) written with Lisa Dickey, at the start of our public conversation last night at Barnes & Noble on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The upstairs room, less than a dozen blocks from the apartment Hancock live in decades ago, was overflowing. When the time came to field questions from the audience and Hancock waded into the seats, microphone in hand, the staffers looked concerned: But Herbie was just doing what he does—engaging people, and improvising.
I began our talk by reading a bit from his book set in the mid-1960s, when Hancock was a young musician in Miles Davis second great quintet, playing alongside Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams.

“Miles starts playing, building up a solo, and just as he’s about to really let loose, he takes a breath. And right then I play a chord that is just so wrong. I don’t even know where it came from—it’s the wrong chord, in the wrong place, and now it’s hanging out there like a piece of rotten fruit….” Continue reading “Herbie Hancock Talking Possibilities”

Why I'll Tune In To New Orleans City Council Tomorrow (& You Should Too)

Cover “The Mascot,” November 15, 1890. Cartoon by F. Bildestein

If you’re the sort of person who is inclined to livestream the proceedings of a city council meeting—and I am—you might want to tune in tomorrow (Oct. 24) at 11am EST here.
That’s when the New Orleans city council will vote on a final draft of the city’s revised Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance.
Here’s why I’ve become that sort of person:
• Here‘s my recent post with some background on the implications for the city’s indigenous jazz culture.
• And here‘s an Open Letter from David Freedman, General Manager of the city’s flagship radio station, WWOZ-FM, containing  “fourteen questions about the consequences of that Ordinance for live music in New Orleans.”
• Here‘s some relevant background from the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO).
• And here‘s one practical illustration of what’s at stake.
Now, if you also happen to the be sort of person who will be in Washington, DC for the Future of Music Coalition’s Future of Music Policy Summit 2014, please join me on Oct. 27, as I delve more deeply into these and related issues:

“The Fight for New Orleans Jazz Culture, and What It Means”
A frank and open conversation about the tensions between the city of New Orleans and its celebrated indigenous music culture, the current activism surrounding new cultural policy, and the implications for other American cities. Journalist and critic Larry Blumenfeld, who writes for The Wall Street Journal and has delved deeply into this subject, will interview David Freedman, general manager of WWOZ-FM and Ashlye Keaton, entertainment attorney and educator (both cofounders of the and Bernie Cook, Director of Film and Media Studies, Georgetown University.
Includes an open forum for questions and ideas.
Mon., Oct. 27: Salon C in the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center,
3:30 pm – 5:00 pm.

Getting Jason Moran's Grammar Down, Through Film

Jason Moran (3rd from left) and members of The Kenwood Academy Jazz Band in "Looks of a Lot"

In March, I wrote about pianist Jason Moran signing on as an artist represented by the Manhattan-based Luhring Augustine gallery, which also has an outpost in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.
“The new works I’m creating have started to bear objects for the gallery,” Moran explained. “It’s a natural progression.” The papier-mache Fats Waller mask, above, created by Didier Civil, is owned by the gallery. “I actually sold it in a gala auction for Harlem Stage three years ago, and Roland Augustine purchased it,” said Moran. “He’s a big Fats Waller fan.”
So I was intrigued by an invitation to a screening at the gallery’s Bushwick space of a new film based about Moran’s work, “Jason Moran: Looks of a Lot.” Its title was drawn from the name of a piece commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for which Moran collaborated with various Chicagoans, including sculptor and activist Theaster Gatesreedist and composer Ken Vandermark, and the students in The Kenwood Academy Jazz Band.
The film is on one level a documentary about the making of this cross-disciplinary piece. But it also functions on other levels, delving into Moran’s relationship with Gates and with the students, and into everyone’s motivations for making art. (You can see a video “sample sequence” here.)
“Looks of a Lot” is a window into a longer and more complicated film-in-progress from director and executive producer Radiclani Clytus, in collaboration with co-directors Gregg Conde (who also serves as cinematographer) and Anthony Gannon (editor). Moran’s music fascinates most of all for its distinct and often askew rhythms, as well as for everpresent layers of meaning and representation that sometimes build and sometimes clash; Clytus’s team captured, through intensive focus and deft editing, both these aspects.
The larger work, Clytus told me, is called “Grammar,” a reference to an overarching idea of jazz as “more or less the essence of creativity–its lingua franca as it were,” he said.
Here’s a brief interview, conducted via email, with Clytus about the project:
Continue reading “Getting Jason Moran's Grammar Down, Through Film”

In New Orleans, A Young Organization Fights An Old Battle For Culture (Happy Anniversary, MACCNO)

If you’ll be in New Orleans on Monday night (October 13), you’d be wise to get down to Café Istanbul. The musical lineup is reason enough—among others, singer John Boutté, drummer Herlin Riley, trombonist-singer Glen David Andrews, and the Treme Brass Band. The club, co-owned by Chuck Perkins, a spoken-word artist with a resonant voice and a big heart, is a particularly welcoming space with good sound.
The real draw is the Second Anniversary Benefit Party for the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO). For more details, look here.
If you’ve been reading my accounts of the fight for New Orleans jazz culture, you know just how important this young organization has been; if you haven’t, you can find some good context here and here. These days, as I try to track the machinations surrounding a new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance and other legislation that will directly affect music and culture in New Orleans, I regularly look to MaCCNO executive director Ethan Ellestad. Beyond its work in galvanizing a community and instigating activism, MaCCNO is a source of open and good information. Continue reading “In New Orleans, A Young Organization Fights An Old Battle For Culture (Happy Anniversary, MACCNO)”