Monday, May 16, 2011

episode 14: marching

There are a bunch of little plot lines in Treme that I've already dwelled upon and are now marching along nicely:

... The local style of rap known as 'sissy bounce', made by transgender rappers like Katey Red, returns in a wack recording project dreamed up by Davis and bankrolled by dear old Aunt Mimi (after Davis puts on the hard sell by describing it as a "Big Sleazy reincarnation of Def Jam Records")...

... Del is trying to reconcile his progressive impulses towards modern jazz with his rootedness in tradition by digging into the mammoth Jelly Roll Morton oral history recordings from the Library of Congress, even listening to Jelly discuss masking as a Mardi Gras Indian as a kid while sewing an Indian suit of his own...

... Antoine Batiste and his Soul Apostles make their debut with guitarist June Yamagishi, who in real life plays (too many notes) with 'new funk' bands like the Wild Magnolias and Papa Grows Funk, though to my ears The Apostles sound a bit more like Big Sam's Funky Nation...

But I want to return to another story line I've already written about from another angle: the marching band tradition in New Orleans. This week, Desiree finally makes Antoine take up steady work as an assistant director of a school marching band led by (real life) band director Keith Hart at KIPP Believe College Prep. Marching bands do a great service for kids in New Orleans. They teach the fundamentals of music, which is mandatory job preparation in a city that must have more working musicians per capita than anywhere else. I don't know a single professional musician from New Orleans that didn't play in school band, marching in Mardi Gras parades in their flashy uniforms and playing tunes that are way funkier than your school band.

Spending time in band before and after school is also productive for kids who might otherwise be lured by crime. In this season of Treme we're beginning to catch wind of the violence that touches the lives of too many New Orleanians but viewers may not be aware that so many perpetrators and victims are young, really really young.

Students at LE Rabouin High School described their band director Dinerral Shavers as a mentor. "He was like a big brother to me," drum major Christopher Lee told me in early 2007. Dinerral was plenty busy as a substitute French teacher and snare drummer with the Hot 8 Brass Band but he took time to organize a band in the tumultuous year after Katrina to bring some stability and security to kids. The school principal took notice: “Kids that we had serious problems with, after they had band, I saw a total change in them." Others from the community stepped forward to volunteer: Katey Red was even teaching the majorettes.

Unfortunately, Dinerral was a victim of the debilitating violence that kids are generally sheltered from in the band room. While picking up his stepson,
a group of teenagers approached the car, shots were fired, Dinerral was hit, and he died after managing to drive his family to safety. Police believe the bullet was intended for Dinerral's stepson, who was embroiled in a feud with another student from John McDonogh High School, but the trial collapsed when no one would testify to witnessing the shooter. 

This was the story referenced briefly at the end of this episode, when Hot 8 trumpeter Terrell Batiste gets a call from bandleader Bennie Pete about Dinerral. You might remember the actor playing Dinerral interacting with (the real) Terrell and Bennie a few episodes back, or you might have missed it since the story gets kinda lost amongst all the others competing for air time. Too many notes? Perhaps, but Treme is swinging by this point, and next week the aftermath of Dinerral's murder will no doubt get full treatment. Until then...

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