Studio 60’s Gift – An Instant Christmas Classic

neworleans.jpgTelevision is certainly an upside-down world. Reality TV is anything but real, and scripted shows often provide the most true glimpses of the world we live in.

Case in point: Monday’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” episode, simply entitled “The Christmas Show.”

One subplot concerned the quietly organized sick-out by musicians employed by the fictional “Studio 60” show as well as the real “Tonight Show” – bandleader Kevin Eubanks makes a cameo appearance. Executive Producer Danny Tripp (played by Bradley Whitford) deduces that the job action is being done to provide substitute work for homeless New Orleans musicians, “any of which could play our band under the table,” says Danny, to provide them with money and a path to the L.A. Musician’s union.

Danny decides to gather up as many of these refugees as he can and give them a spotlight performance on the show. The band, led by the amazing Troy “Trombone Shorty”Andrews, plays a jazz version of “O Holy Night” with a stark black and white photo montage of the New Orleans reconstruction effort as a backdrop.

Their performance literally had me choking back tears. New Orleans jazz is a kind of judo – it seems so simple and unadorned, yet so few musicians can play it with authority. One sustained note (where a vocalist would sing “O Night, O Night Divine”) from Andrews’ trumpet communicated such an powerful range of emotions. Sorrow, hope, despair, rage, resolution – all unmistakably articulated.

“This is America’s music,” his trumpet spoke, “and it is worth saving.”

All good television fiction, but here’s the catch. NBC’s website proudly promoted a tie-in with Tipitina’s Foundation, an organization “dedicated to helping artists recover from Hurricane Katrina and preserving the cultural traditions of New Orleans.”

Tiptina seems like a worthy group, and I’m pleased to see NBC blurring the lines between the ostensibly real and make-believe worlds. For those of us who learned about prejudice on “All In the Family,” it makes complete sense.

You can see and hear “O Holy Night” on YouTube, and a free audio version is supposed to be up on iTunes soon.

UPDATE: NBC lawyered away the YouTube version, so you have to go to their website, click on the “watch the musical highlight” link, and wait through a tepid “Nacho Libre” advert in order to see it. That’s all fine, but NBC’s version is chopped at the end, not faded. Quite inferior. One further note: the “Christmas Story” episode re-airs December 18.

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