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.

Local Rhythms – Music Rising

music-rising.jpgThe spectacle of U2 and Green Day joining forces to mark the return of NFL action to the Superdome a year after Hurricane Katrina, was an inspiring display of solidarity in support of one of the capitals of American music.

It also showed just how enmeshed rock music and sports have become; it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Longtime Saints quarterback Archie Manning stood on the sidelines, while two bands’ worth of punk acolytes and a horn section caroused in the center of the field.

The Saints are Coming,” the late 70’s Skids song that Bono and Billie Joe chose to co-cover, exuded English soccer more than American football. The tune’s lead-in riffed “House of the Rising Sun,” and the re-worked verse, “there is a house in New Orleans, that’s called the Superdome,” provided some waiting-to-exhale comic relief.

There are many Gulf houses much smaller than the Superdome still in ruins; rebuilding a sports stadium is simply a gesture, the dome but a symbol. Symbols are powerful things, though, to a city in need of all the hope it can muster.

I doubt that any celebration marking New Orleans’ soggy rise could happen without music, and the league deserves praise for putting the city’s party for itself and the world in the proper context.

Turning the event into a showcase for Music Rising, the charity begun by U2 guitarist the Edge, was another classy move. Much has been made of the fact that the downtown tourist district, which includes Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, mostly survived the storm’s fury.

Unfortunately, many of the musicians who perform in that storied area lost all of their equipment to the swelling levee waters. Music Rising raises money to replace the many horns, guitars, drums, and amplifiers claimed by the storm.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and not have my guitar,” says the Edge. Since late last year, the organization has helped over 2,000 musicians regain their livelihood.

Fans can get involved by downloading “Here Come the Saints” from Rhapsody, making an online donation at, or even purchasing a $600 limited edition Les Paul Custom guitar festooned with Music Rising art.

How can you support local music this weekend? I’m glad you asked:

Thursday: Spectris, Lowell Brewery Exchange – Speaking of music foundations, one of the area’s best progressive bands is performing a show presented by the New England Art Rock Society, or NewEARS. Their goal is to “create a community of music enthusiasts dedicated to sharing and promoting progressive rock” throughout the region. Fans of Yes, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater and Nektar – are you listening?

Friday: Aimee Mann, Lebanon Opera House – Whatever quirky charm “Magnolia” had was in no small part due to Mann’s contribution to the film’s soundtrack. The wan singer writes with disarming simplicity, but go beneath the surface of songs like “Amateur” and “Driving Sideways,” and you’ll find a dangerous world.

Saturday: Little Big Town, Eastern States Expo – The band’s hard luck story makes for great press releases, but their music is what keeps them vital. “Boondocks,” their debut album, is simply good country pop, an easy melding of shimmer and sawdust. Watch for their “CMT Crossroads” turn with Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham in December.

Sunday: Sunapee Chowder Challenge, Sunapee Harbor – Regional eateries put their best bowl forward from noon to three. Bistro Nouveau won last year, and they’re back again, along with Sophie & Zeke’s, the Old Courthouse, the Ship and others. A quaint lighthouse quilt is up for raffle, there’s music and kid’s activities. The event is located right on the harbor, with tents spreading up the hill to the bandstand.

Tuesday: Tool, Verizon Wireless Center – One of a handful of hard rock bands with the star power to fill arenas like this. Their most recent album, “10,000 Days,” was five years in the making, though lead singer Maynard James Keenan spent some of that time fronting A Perfect Circle. They combine hardcore and grandeur, with their best songs clocking in at over 10 minutes.

Wednesday: Michael Civiello, Old Courthouse – The ambience at Newport’s finest dining establishment is subdued in a quaint and charming way. The food is first-rate, and Civiello’s piano playing serves to accentuate the overall experience rather than call attention to itself. Look for jazz standards like “Mood Indigo” along with a few modern classical pieces. A artisan meal and a fine glass of wine deserve a good soundtrack.

Finally: After the Chowder Challenge, make sure you’re at Claremont’s Opera House for Hal Ketchum, and be on time. The opening performer, Liz Carlsle, is a rising country star in her own right,