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Blues for New Orleans | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Blues for New Orleans

We've got a new Think Again column called "Cheney's Post Presidency" here and I did a "Welcome to Washington" post for Mr. Abbas for The Daily Beast thismorning here.

(And while we have your attention, don't miss the great Charles Pierceon the great Steve Earle singing the music of the great Townes van Zandt here.Pierce and the rest of the mail will be here tomorrow and don't miss thedocumentary Bill Moyers is showing this weekend, listed below. And if Iwere you, I'd also catch the PBS showing of the Clapton/Winwood concertat the Garden tonight, unless you're planning to buy it, as I did.)

In the meantime...

This Week on Moyers:

Award-winning producer Sherry Jones presents a comprehensive documentary--more than eighteen months in the making--that examines America's detentionand interrogation practices in the "war on terror." Bill Moyers Journalpresents "Torturing Democracy," which examines how coerciveinterrogation methods were used by the CIA and migrated to the UnitedStates military at Guantanamo Bay and other locations as well as thecharges that these interrogations became "at a minimum, cruel andinhuman treatment and, at worst, torture," in the words of the former-General Counsel of the United States Navy, Alberto Mora. It carefullypresents the evidence that the Bush administration promoted thesemethods and developed legal justification for the practice. The filmfeatures in-depth interviews with senior military and governmentofficials who fought the policy and former Guantanamo detainees whoexperienced it, and uncovers the origins of the tactics the White Housecalled "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Sal on Allan Toussaint and Marcus Roberts; Eric on new RVG releases

When I first heard of a new Allen Toussaint/Joe Henry collaboration ofstandards I had mixed feelings. Henry is currently my favorite producerand Toussaint is well... a rock and roll icon. What bothered me was theword "standards." I just don't want to hear them "revisited" anymore. Ican thank Rod Stewart, Cyndi Lauper, and countless others for that. But"The Bright Mississippi" the fruit of Toussaint and Henry's laborcouldn't be more perfect. It is not your standard collection ofstandards. With the help of some of the greatest names in jazz, DonByron, Nicholas Payton, and Marc Ribot, Allen Toussaint delivers acollection of songs that more or less shaped jazz music in the earlydays of the genre.

Composers like King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, DjangoReinhardt and Duke Ellington all get representation on sweet, soulful,and absolutely joyous takes of some of their most beloved material. Mostof the arrangements don't stray far from traditional, but thanks to JoeHenry's brilliant ear and respect for the music and the same simple anddry production that he presented on soon-to-be legendary records likeSolomon Burke's "Don't Give Up On Me" and Bettye Lavette's "I've Got MyOwn Hell To Raise," there is new life in oft-played songs like "St. JamesInfirmary," "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," and "West End Blues."

I caught last Friday's early set at the Village Vanguard, with basicallythe same stellar band as the record, including the wonderful rhythmsection of David Piltch on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums. But thehighlight of the evening was Nicholas Payton's absence. Nothing againstthe marvelous trumpet player, but to see Christian Scott, the NewOrleans prodigy and nephew of Donald Harrison Jr. who was there in hisplace, wow not only the sold out crowd, but the veterans sharing thestage, was something extraordinary.

The band covered most of "The Bright Mississippi," extending the songsjust enough to give the band some room. My favorite moments came wheneach of the main players were given their chance to shine on duets withToussaint; Christian on "Dear Old Southland," Don Byron on "Day Dream,"and my single favorite song of the evening, Marc Ribot's gorgeousacoustic take on "Solitude."

You can listen to the entire performance from Wednesday, 5/27, in theNPR.org archives. I highly recommend it AND the CD, The BrightMississippi.

Another record with a similar idea and approach is the (not so) newrelease from the Marcus Roberts Trio, New Orleans Meets Harlem. Onthis record, recorded in 2004 and sold as a limited edition at Roberts'live shows, but only now released somewhat commercially--I cant find iton Amazon--Roberts and his killer rhythm section of New Orleans' greatsRoland Guerin on bass and the otherworldly Jason Marsalis on drums,reach back to that same jazz-shaping era of the 1920's, and deliver aScott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, & Fats Waller repertoire, with a littlebit of Monk for good measure.

The playing is wonderful, and with the New Orleans rhythm section behindhim, Roberts' handling of such familiar melodies gets an additionalbounce that only makes what could have been another "tribute" recordsimply good, instead of great.

www.burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com

Eric adds: This week also saw the release of three more classic cds fromConcord's Rudy Van Gelder's Remasters series : There are earlyrecordings from Miles and Coltrane from their Prestige Days--Miles wenton to Columbia and Coltrane, to Atlantic and Impulse!--entitled Miles:The New Miles Davis Quintet and Coltrane respectively, which havebeen around for a while on box sets but are now nice and clean for asingle CD release and one that's new to me, Eric Dolphy at the Five SpotVol. 2, from July 1961. A wonderful document and a great friend to havearound, with some terrific Mal Waldron piano. Look 'em up.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, KY

Paul Waldman describes at the American Prospect website this weekexactly what galvanized the conservative opposition to PresidentClinton's healthcare reform plan back in 1993. It's a familiarperspective that reiterates that the drumming the Clinton plan tookwas a purely political hit job. Essentially, William Kristol, setabout marshaling conservatives to not simply oppose the Clinton planon a policy basis but solely because its success would mean afundamental political defeat that would echo across the electionfrontier for years to come. Waldman quotes a Kristol memo, "[thisplan] will revive the reputation of the party that spends andregulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-classinterests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blowagainst Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraininggovernment. The first step in that process must be the unqualifiedpolitical defeat of the Clinton health-care proposal."

Waldman goes on to describe how this same political hit job is beingimplemented against the Obama plan by the likes of Frank Luntz. Onceagain, Waldman, as a political correspondent, advises the Obamaadministration to drop the rope-a-dope and come out swinging, "Theoutcome of the health care reform battle will turn on whether theadministration is prepared to overcome the opponents of reform – notreach out to them, not listen to them, not understand them, notcompromise with them, but overcome them."

It is clear that the conservatives have gambled their fortunes on therancorous exploits of the likes of Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich andRush Limbaugh. The media are happy to pit the opinions of three ofthe most dishonorable pundits working today against the likes ofsitting Congresspersons and even the current President, as if thereis no difference between them. Perhaps this is the most appallingpart of it all. Forget that the Republican Party is only driven byits lust for power with no shame that it hasn't a clue what good it would do with it. And forget that its revulsion at all things Liberalhas become an unhinged catalyst for unwarranted and inexplicableattacks, both figuratively, and unfortunately now, literally by a nutjob protecting his perceived right to his guns by killing people withthem. Perhaps the worst part of it all is that the media willfully celebrates this mania as directed by its unscrupulous owners and forits own self-promotion.

In any case, it is clear, Obama is on notice that we elected himbecause we want real healthcare reform (read: national single payeroption) and anything less is not a compromise, it's a capitulationand a failure. Don't tell me that getting the votes is like herdingcats. Obama's overarching campaign promise was to be nothing lessthan the chief cat whisperer. And we gave him majorities, to boot.

Name: Edward Furey
Hometown: New York, NY

I'm afraid you gave too much credence to Andrew Roberts' absurdcolumn in the Daily Beast, in which he actually admits there is noevidence for his charges beyond a sort of Eric Idle-esque "wink,wink, nudge, nudge, need I say more" from anonymous sources.

In fact, the Double Cross System was used to turn captured spies, notPOWs. In wartime, spies are not covered by the Geneva Conventions orany others. It is the common usage of war to simply kill spies. Thisis accepted practice of all nations. George Washington, who refusedto abuse British POWs, nevertheless had Major Andre executed as a spyin the Benedict Arnold business (he was caught out of uniform). Ofthe eight Germans landed at Amagansett, NY and Florida from U-Boats,six were executed -- the others were spared by agreeing to turninformant. There is no record that any were tortured.

The Germans did not expect to hear any further from their POWs;spies, on the other hand, were expected to report, usually by radio.The British found it useful to turn them in case their handlersacross the Channel recognized their Morse code "hand." As Bogart saysin Casablanca: that made it even more official. And credible.

When the spies were captured by the British they were given twochoices: "Work for us or die." They were told they would be tried insecret, convicted in secret and executed in secret. No more"persuasion" was required. Every spy knows the penalty, if caught, isdeath. Most agreed to turn their cloaks. Especially by 1943, when itwas increasingly clear that Germany was losing the war, what withthe rout in North Africa, the Allies in Italy, the defeat at Kurskand subsequent Soviet advances, and the round the clock bombing. By1944, the former spies were singing like canaries, with tales ofPatton's non-existent First Army massing in Kent, in preparation tocross to Calais.

Roberts has been described as George Bush's favorite historian,continues to defend him as a great president, and seems to have drunkthe right wing Kool-Aid with respect to torture. However, includingimputing it to Winston Churchill without producing any actualevidence is more than a bit much. As Carl Sagan liked to say,extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Roberts offersno evidence at all.

Name: Greg Panfile
Hometown: Tuckahoe, NY

Musical merits aside, and conceding Charles' point that bigotry canpoint at anything, isn't it going to be time, when the scandalouschild abuse report on Ireland surfaces, to re-evaluate what SineadO'Connor did? Haven't we seen enough evidence that women and youngboys as classes have a fairly legitimate beef, so to speak, withthe Church hierarchy? There is a North African saying about sex:Women for children, boys for pleasure, melons for ecstasy. Perhapsalong with the red cap we can issue new bishops a case ofcantaloupe. And those Dylan fans who booed her off the stage at thetribute concert should be added to "American Pie" as another case ofwhen the music died.

Eric: One is distressed by all references to 'Bibi' Netanyahu. Can wenot all insist that grown men who assume positions of graveresponsibility adopt adult names? It should not be permitted, forexample, to head a country with nuclear weapons and be called Bibi,nor to be the Chief of Staff of a torture-promoting Vice Presidentand be called Scooter. The mind boggles to imagine if this paradigmhad more historical roots... 'Chancellor Butch Hitler... First LadyMuffy Roosevelt...' At such people's swearing-in ceremonies, theyshould be required to find some sort of mature appellation toassociate themselves with. Should they refuse, in tribute to thecomic genius of the late William Frawley, they should all be called,by common consent, Fred, or Bub.

Name: Steve McGaughey
Hometown: Champaign, IL

Thanks so much for including the OU-Texas game as a possible site forthe gun-toters to bring their toys. I was planning on going this yearbut now that you've given them the idea... no doubt unanimous votesfrom both state legislatures will be forthcoming. Seriously, I alwaysenjoy your writings, especially (being a former journalist) yourtakes on the slow death of the newspaper industry.

Name: Cindy Morgan
Hometown: Irvine, CA

I know everyone has an opinion about California and why we areshooting ourselves in the foot. Since I am a Californian I would liketo explain to everyone why the props that were voted on this weekwere so wrong.

Number one they were permanant tax increases to give the state moneyto play with (Prop 1A). Prop 1B was to give the money back to theschools that never should have been taken in the first place. If Isee one more prop about schools I'll scream!! Every single electionhas a prop about school services, smaller classes, more new books,and every time there is a budget crisis that is the first place thegovernment goes to cut programs and borrow money. Prop 1C was a wayto tax Lotto winnings in the future. I don't care about this onesince I know I won't win the lottery. 1D was a way to take moneyfrom women and children's services to balance the budget but doesn'tsay how it will be repaid or if it even will be. 1E was to take awayservices from mentally ill people that need more help then anyone.1F was to freeze elected officials salary, which was the only onethat passed.

So before anyone talks about how we are wrong to not approve thiskeep in mind these are really bad propositions to bail out agovernment that doesn't know how to govern itself. And yes, everyelection I will not vote for any incumbents because they are so badat this they don't deserve my vote. Somehow they keep getting back in.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC

Dr. As far as history of the 50's books go, check out New York in the Fifties by Dan Wakefield.

Many have the impression that the 50's was just a Happy Days rerun inblack and white consisting of somnambulant masses liking Ike whiledriving tail-fined monsters out of Detroit. Wakefield focuses thecultural upheaval of the era within the city namely The Bohemians,New Journalism as well as the New York jazz scene by interviewingsubjects as diverse as a pre-Negro Problem Norman Podhoretz to the beat poet Alan Ginsberg for their takes on the decade.

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