Whole Gritty City

11-year-old Jaron “Bear” Williams, in the Roots of Music program/photo by Andre Lambertson

It’s not often that a documentary about how real culture transforms actual lives airs on Saturday-night network TV.
I’m not talking about a lucky aspirant getting plucked out of ordinary existence and voted into stardom by a celebrity panel (though I suppose that’s a form of transformation, too, and maybe even a vehicle for someone’s idea of culture).
What I mean is the way that rigorous and deep training by musicians steeped in both excellence and jazz culture offers boys and girls in New Orleans a path away from danger and despair and toward something admirable, promising and, yes, frequently swinging.
That’s the story told by “The Whole Gritty City,” a poignant, feature-length documentary that goes behind the scenes with three dedicated New Orleans marching band directors— Wilbert Rawlins Jr., Lonzie Jackson and Derrick Tabb—and that airs this Saturday, Feb. 15 (9pm EST, 8 Central).  No narration. No voiceover commentary. Just real life, real music and the connections and contrasts between the two. And sometimes the camera is held by one of those young musicians. (You can find a trailer here, and another website with useful links here.)
The film is billed as “48 Hours Presents: The Whole Gritty City,” and the link to the true-crime newsmagazine program makes sense, not just because the school-based marching-band programs in New Orleans may be among the city’s most effective safeguards against violent crime, but due to the genesis of the film itself.
O. Perry Walker High School Band/courtesy of "The Whole Gritty City"

I first met Richard Barber, a “48 Hours” editor-producer (who created this film with cinematographer and photojournalist Andre Lambertson) in early 2007, in New Orleans. Barber was researching a “48 Hours” episode investigating two murders that sent shock waves through New Orleans. Continue reading “Whole Gritty City”