Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Rob Walker's Territory

Rob Walker's NO Notes chronicles all things "St. James Infirmary." I'm going to let Rob breakdown Clint Maedgen's re-write of the lyrics to SJI in the new version by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in this version; I can wrangle the referential end of things. I've admired the Hall's efforts to remain true to traditional jazz without being bound to antiquity. The recent New Orleans Preseration, Vol. 1 sounds perfectly true to the Hall tradition, and it's not until you stop and think about it that you realize that the vocalists are 40-ish and under, and that this incarnation has expanded the repertoire to include R&B, Mardi Gras Indian music and more. With that in mind, it's no surprise that the Hall chose to do video for "St. James Infirmary" in imitation of the Fleischer brothers' cartoons from the 1920s and '30s.

In the spirit of conflating time frames, the cartoon includes members from at least three generations of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (that I recognize) - Sweet Emma Barrett on piano, John Brunious on trumpet, and Ben Jaffe and Maedgen from the current band on tuba and vocals respectively. I don't recognize the drummer's caricature, and in a salute to the song's remixer, Philly DJ King Britt is included on the turntables. Though they provide the music, the video's narrative follows two characters from the New Orleans Bingo! Show, a theatrical concert/game founded by Maedgen that came into the Hall family when he started singing with the group. In the cartoon, Ronnie Numbers and Mr. the Turk are on the run from the cops - who isn't in cartoons? - in pursue of lost love, and visit the decrepit Pontchartrain Park amusement park - one that no longer exists in any form, much less the half-broken down one depicted. Cartoon logic explains a lot of what happens, but when the cartoon's finished, a lot of subtle transformations have happened. In the animated world, real people alive and dead met fictional characters to play a new version of a traditional jazz song that's heard not as it was played but as it was remixed to illustrate a version of the city that never was. Few things capture the spirit of play that is central to New Orleans better than that.

1 comment:


did you see morgus and chopsly in charity hospital?