Look carefully at the final Congo Square JazzFest poster versus the version pictured below (click on the image to get a closer look). Compare and contrast.
Anything look different?
I’ll give you a big hint.
Osborne… struggled with how to fill the empty space in the upper right. For him, the I-10 is authentic Treme, so he added a curved section of highway. “It was a perfect solution to the space around Uncle Lionel’s head,” he says.
For many, though, that section of highway has different connotations. Those who lived in Treme during the 1960s witnessed the Claiborne overpass cutting the community in half, destroying the neutral ground that had been a local gathering place. For them, it remains a symbol of that destruction. “I grew up in Treme. The bridge was there already,” says Osborne. “I never thought about it in the way that the generation before me thought about it. I just saw it as a natural part of Treme.”
Nonetheless, Jazz Fest asked him to remove it. Osborne sought a compromise. “I really wanted that curve,” he says. “Plus, it just reminded me of what Treme looked like. So I found a more digestible solution.” He spruced up the highway with lights and trusses, transforming it into the Crescent City Connection. Jazz Fest officials were mollified, and Osborne got to keep his vision more or less intact.
To Delmond Lambreaux, it’s clear that all of New Orleans is an indigestible mass for him as far as his life as a professional musician goes. “New Orleans, they hype the music but they don’t love the musicians. I mean, look at how guys gotta leave to get their due – Pops, Prima, Wynton. I mean the tradition is there, but the city will grind you down if you let it,” he says over pizza to Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and the other musicians after the Dr. John session in this week’s episode. The musicians chide him and counter his observation with the fact that “there’s no place like New Orleans” as Delmond takes their admonition doubtfully…
…and with that, we get switched over to Antoine Batiste in the Bourbon Street titty bar, supposed small bastion of pride, where his fellow musicians there make fun of him talking big but being down with them and the bitches when Batiste’s big name friends are off to Lincoln Center in NYC.
It seems ironic at first that there’s Shorty looking at Delmond and asking him if he misses home. I’m listening to Shorty’s latest, Backatown, as I write this, and it rocks. From the kickoff, “Hurricane Season”, to the title song, to a great groove on “In the 6th”, the album shows off for (hopefully) the world outside the Treme how Troy Andrews has come into his own, surrounded by his stellar band, Orleans Avenue.
Judging the album by its cover, though, would tell you that you’re not in New Orleans anymore:
In the background is the High Line park in Chelsea, near the Hudson River in Manhattan. The side of the street Shorty is walking on carries a building housing a Helmut Lang shop and a few other boutiques and eateries that are surefire markers of upscale gentrification. A first glance at this sort of faux grittiness, and one listening of the songs that feature Lenny Kravitz and Marc Broussard on the album, and one would think Troy Andrews had left all things New Orleans behind.
On the contrary. Trombone Shorty has always been connected to the many musicians in his family and to the sights and sounds of New Orleans. The album was recorded in New Orleans studios and produced by Ben Ellman of New Orleans’ own Galactic. He is of that generation of 6th Ward-raised natives who grew up with the I-10 Claiborne Avenue overpass there and didn’t know any different.
The High Line in Chelsea, once a section of elevated freight train tracks left to rot, has been remade into a park. Andrews has risen above and beyond the Claiborne overpass’ bisection of the ‘hood of his younger days, as has Uncle Lionel Batiste.
Certainly concessions have been made to make peace with the rest of the world as it is…
But Delmond keeps missing the point. You can go out into the world and get hung up so on what you don’t have that you don’t see what gifts you do have from the very start of your life. There is no place else like New Orleans, and it doesn’t necessarily deserve to be left behind just because its musicians aren’t as respected at home as they are abroad. Change will only come when you fight for yourself in your home and you earn that respect for your rights – which is what Albert Lambreaux gets, what Dr. John and his session players get, and at long last, what Troy Andrews gets.
No matter how far away they go, there they are.