New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition

New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition

New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition

New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition

Synopsis

With New Orleans Suite, Eric Porter and Lewis Watts join the post-Katrina conversation about New Orleans and its changing cultural scene. Using both visual evidence and the written word, Watts and Porter pay homage to the city, its region, and its residents, by mapping recent and often contradictory social and cultural transformations, and seeking to counter inadequate and often pejorative accounts of the people and place that give New Orleans its soul. Focusing for the most part on the city's African American community, New Orleans Suite is a story about people: how bad things have happened to them in the long and short run, how they have persevered by drawing upon and transforming their cultural practices, and what they can teach us about citizenship, politics, and society.

Excerpt

Foundations

Edward Kennedy Ellington from the District of Columbia composed and performed music for over fifty years. He made quite a name for himself. Along the way, he transformed American music, especially that which some (though not often Ellington) have called jazz. His grace, charisma, and artistic chops inspired a great many reviews and studies of the man and his music, and many photographs. These representations have made Ellington one of the archetypal figures who, for better and for worse, have helped to generate the layers of cultural meaning—a kind of noise, if you will—that have become inseparable from the sound.

In the spring of 1970 Ellington went to New Orleans, at the invitation of the promoter George Wein, to perform at the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. On April 25 he premiered New Orleans Suite as a five-movement composition. Through these movements—“Blues for New Orleans,” “Bourbon Street Jingling Jollies,” “Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta,” “Second Line,” and “Aristocracy a la Jean Lafitte”—New Orleans Suite expressed three objectives that defined many of Ellington’s longer works: representing place, representing history, and representing the cultural expressions that constitute places and histories. Ellington recorded these movements a few days later in New York, but he did not stop there. For he was simultaneously working on four additional “portraits” of prominent musical influences and collaborators associated with New Orleans. He recorded these additions—“Portrait of Louis Armstrong,” “Portrait of Wellman Braud,” “Portrait of Sidney Bechet,” and “Portrait of Mahalia Jackson”—on . . .

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