Archive for the ‘The Hot 8’ Category

The other day GK sent me a link to the second part of a two-part BoingBoing TV interview with Hot 8 founder Bennie Pete. Being a completist, I swiftly decided I had to watch part one first. (The links are at the bottom of this post.)

The host is a British guy named Russell Porter, who frankly didn’t seem all that well-informed. Still, Pete fascinates me and I was somewhat engaged. At one point in part one of this interview he says the Hot 8 never had a manager — “we made our own decisions” — because they’d seen other musicians get ripped off etc. He also talks about the rivalry with other brass bands, and people trying to make money off the Hot 8 by taping them, without cutting them in on the action. (This amusing in the middle of a nine-minute clip with three commercials in it, btw.)

But part two turned out to be the really interesting segment, and the one that is worth watching.

Pete talks about reworking songs like “Sexual Healing,” as well as traditional tunes — and deciding repertoire based on audiences.

And then, asked about whether he feels like the band has put itself together again, post-Katrina, he talks about Terrell Batiste, the young trumpet-player and Hot 8 member who, while in Atlanta, where he evacuated during the storm, was in a car accident and lost both legs.

Pete is clearly not really all that comfortable talking about this, but you can tell it’s really on his mind on even now — Batiste’s relationship to the group, and so on.

Again it’s not clear to me if the interviewer really knew the history of the band, which as you know if you follow this site has included a number of tragedies. The Hot 8 is an amazing story.

Anyway. There are some quite pleasing performance clips, too.

Part one; part two.

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Today while doing a little research that touched on The Hot 8, I got curious about whatever happened in the case of the murder of Dinerral Shavers, snare-drummer and founding member of the group. Last time I mentioned that killing on this site, it appeared that the prosecution of the alleged killer would not go forward because a key witness was refusing to testify.

Well I don’t know the details of what happened between then and now, but evidently there was a trial — and the accused was acquitted.

I know this only because of this article, which indicates that this same individual has lately been charged with attempted murder in connection with a shooting on May 4 of this year — less than a month, as I understand it, after getting the “not guilty” verdict in the Shavers case.

I gather he’s in Orleans Parish Prison on a $1 million bond, awaiting trial.

He has pleaded not guilty.

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Hot 8 on NPR

Some members of the Hot 8 were recently interviewed on the NPR show, The Bryant Park Project. Here’s a link to the audio. It’s all fairly basic stuff, but a decent introduction to the band and in its place in the contemporary New Orleans scene, both before and after Katrina.

The piece refers to the Finding Our Folk tour, which I had never heard of. I found its web site, and it’s not totally clear to me if it is active now. The site says:

During the Finding Our Folk tour, high school and college students supported by community elders and grassroots organizations toured America and visited cities where Hurricane Katrina survivors were displaced. The tour partnered with local and national community based organizations and learning institutions, to identify evacuees and the cities where they were, to develop curriculum and provide training for high school and college students to facilitate workshops and support the overall documentation of the tour.

In each city, we convened survivors and local community residents to share their stories, and to participate in the different tour activities. In selected cities, the day of learning and healing culminated in a large-scale celebration of the people and culture of the Gulf Coast region. These events allowed evacuees to share their journey through art and culture and featured performances by national and local performers, musicians, poets and visual artists, intertwined with speeches by veterans of the civil rights and current resistance movements.

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I’m a bit slow in acknowledging this, but I had missed the initial news until E pointed it out to me. The T-P reports that the charges against the young man accused of murdering Hot 8 drummer Dinerral Shavers have been dropped. (Earlier posts on Shavers here and here.) A 15-year-old girl described as a “key witness” in the case is apparently refusing to testify.

The collapse of the case brought strong reactions from both the police and the family of the victim. New Orleans police spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse said Friday that “a beautiful case” had fallen apart.

“Because the witnesses would not come forward, we have a killer loose on our streets,” Narcisse said. “This is a perfect opportunity to point out the importance of citizen cooperation. We cannot do it alone.”

The newly formed anti-crime group Silence Is Violence also issued a statement, which quoted Nakita Shavers, the sister of the victim, who joined the group after his death.

“My family and I are not satisfied with the investigation and prosecution that have taken place so far. I understand the DA’s decision to dismiss today, in that this decision leaves open the possibility of reindictment,” Shavers is quoted as saying. “I also understand the reluctance of the young witnesses to testify. It can be very intimidating, especially for someone so young.”

Obviously, this is depressing.  New Orleans is not the only city to see this kind of problem, with witnesses and others deciding not to cooperate with law enforcement, either out of mistrust for the system, fear of reprisal, or some combination of the two. It’s happening in a lot of places. (I believe the issue was even part of a recent “Anderson Cooper is concerned” segment on 60 Minutes, focusing on the “Stop Snitching” ethos and its endorsement by certain hip hop stars.) It’s certainly happened in New Orleans before. I remember several cases, when we lived there, of murders occurring in broad daylight in front of many witnesses, that resulted in no prosecution.

I don’t know what the answer to this problem is, because it’s a big one. It’s easy to say, “People, come on, you have to cooperate with the law!” But I get a sense that the underlying problems aren’t going to be addressed just by stating what seems so obvious. It’s a pretty major breakdown in the social contract, and if somebody is leading the way to address, change, and fix it, I’m not aware of that.

It’s a really sad end to Shavers’ story, and in my view would be a highly disrespectful way to treat his memory and legacy if this is where it stops. I hope there is a new chapter in this saga, and that however it concludes, it doesn’t all simply fade away. We’ll see.

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More Hot 8

So, there’s another blog at Arts Journal that is concerned with New Orleans & music. It’s called Listen Good. I only came upon it this morning, by way of the current top post that happens to be partly about the Hot 8 (and mentions a performance of “SJI.”) The writer apparently lives in Brooklyn, but is spending some time in New Orleans. As I understand it. He seems to have written about the city and its musical culture in the past.

Anyway, the specific subject of the post is the final installment in a series of weekly gigs that the Hot 8 has been doing with Dr. Michael White. Excerpt:

Hot 8 founding member and tuba player Bennie Pete invited Dr. White if he’d like to begin working with the band for what grew into a series of workshops as well as performances.

“Bennie said, ‘I’m tired of playing funk,'” recalled White, “which surprised me.”

The informal workshops were a mixture of rehearsals and discussions about musical elements — repertoire, harmony, dynamics, and so on — but also about the history, social purpose, and shared values.

“I learned a lot about some things I had been uncertain about in the past,” Peete told me in between sets at the café. “Answers to questions I’d never asked before.”

But last night, the musicians — ten strong, including the Hot 8, White, and guest tenor saxophonist John Gilbert (formerly of the Rebirth Brass Band) — sounded anything but academic. “St. James Infirmary” moved from dirge-like to uptempo, and sweeping the crowd along in its mood shift. …

I’ll be keeping an eye on the site…

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More on Dinerral Shavers

The WWOZ Street Talk blog has a nice audio piece about Hot 8 snare drummer Dinerral Shavers, whose tragic death was noted here recently. Producer/correspondent Matt Sakakeeny interviews some of the students Shavers worked with at L.E. Rabouin High School, where he got a music program going, and to others who knew his work. One good piece of news is that others have stepped din to work with the young musicians, and the high school band is expected to be a presence during Carnival this year. It’s worth a listen.

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AnimaMundi passes along this YouTube video of the Hot 8. I know I’ve seen this, and I hope I haven’t actually posted it before, but in any case it’s worth checking out. Although the title is “Hot 8 Brass Band on tour in France,” it’s actually footage of a street parade in New Orleans. If the only parade footage you’ve seen of New Orleans is mainstream Mardi Gras stuff, you should see this.

Thanks Marco!

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Sad news

Just yesterday I belatedly learned — after E came across something about it online — that 25-year-old Dinerral Shavers, snare drummer and original member of the Hot 8, was killed in New Orleans in late December. He was, according to this news story, shot in the back of the head, while in his car. Shavers was also a music teacher, at L.E. Rabouin High School, where:

He had recently begun the school’s first-ever marching band. “I’ve got 80 kids marching — we’re making history at Rabouin,” he said proudly in an interview earlier this week. The band was already booked for several Mardi Gras parades.

A subsequent article indicates that a 17-year-old named David “Head” Bonds has been arrested and charged with the murder, which may have somehow been fallout from a feud between Bonds and Shavers’ stepson.

At the center of the feud may have been resentment for “Uptowners,” such as Shavers’ stepson, moving into territory of the “Govs,” short for Gov. Nicholls Street, a name adapted by teens from that neighborhood. The feud, police sources said, may have spilled over into John McDonogh School and a club near South Claiborne and Tulane avenues.

This is all very sad. And there’s a lot of sad news coming out of New Orleans these days.

I’ve written about the Hot 8 (the band whose performance of “St. James Infirmary” got me started on this whole project) here and here.

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Promotional Item

It’s a big day here at no notes HQ: The power and influence of the world’s leading “St. James Infirmary”-themed blog marches forward by way of some kind words on my favorite Podcast, The Sounds In My Head. Sure this is partly the result of my harassing host Daniel after he did a New Orleans-themed show not long ago, but whatever. The bottom line is, he threw some Hot 8 into his most recent episode, an all-request affair that you should listen to. Seriously, it’s an excellent Podcast, he always plays great stuff, and that’s why it’s been on my link list at right long before he said anything nice about this web site. Check it out.

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Picking up, then, on The Hot 8, a topic I started on the other day:

One of the things that interested me about The Hot 8 that time we saw them back in 1998, is that at no point in the evening were there eight people in the band. I think there were five musicians when the evening started, and maybe seven by the end. Presently, according to the band’s official site, the Hot 8 has 10 members. From what I know of the street brass bands, this isn’t so unusual: membership tends to be a bit fluid. There’s usually a leader, a certain number of core members, and then a rotating crop of people who may or may not show up for a given gig.

Jelly Roll Morton talked about parade bands in his 1938 interviews with Alan Lomax (discussing the first decade of the 20th century or thereabouts). So did various other musicians from that era who Lomax interviewed in 1949. Membership was pretty casual back then, too. To take one example: Johnny St. Cyr was at various times in the Superior, Tuxedo, and Olympia brass bands in the early 1900s. (Lomax asks questions about the street bands as if they were something that had long since disappeared — but of course the brass bands were still playing parades and funerals when he was doing his interviews, and they’re still doing it now.)

The footage in The Hot 8 (the documentary I wrote about last week) was, I gather, mostly shot in 1999, and it’s possible that at the time there were exactly eight members, as the film implies. In any case, of the eight members in the documentary, only three are in the band today. Two of the members highlighted in the film (and one other who wasn’t) are dead — one was killed by police in a controversial incident last year — and a third is said to be in prison.

On the other hand, the Hot 8 is a pretty successful outfit. They’ve played all over the world, they have a CD, they were on one of the big stages at Jazz Fest this year, and they’re part of a Central Park show this summer.

It’s interesting to consider the balance between the identity of the band, and its component parts. The human, individual stories within the collective idea of The Hot 8 are amazing and often tragic — yet that collective idea somehow remains remarkably consistent. It’s even more interesting to consider the context in which that balance is being struck.

Every big city in America has its ghettos and its underclass. Often, many of those who live the toughest, most on-the-edge, and dangerous lives, are black, and that’s how it was in New Orleans. Some kids who grow up in the ghetto figure they can get out by becoming rap stars. Others focus on sports. Some end up dealing drugs. All that was true in New Orleans when we lived there, but what was amazing was that even at the turn of the 21st century, another way out was the trumpet (or other brass instrument, or drums, etc). As I’ve said elsewhere, I didn’t really expect that to be true when we moved to New Orleans. But it most certainly was (is).

So the Hot 8 holds my interest in part because within the collective identity of this sizzling brass band burning up a club or moving a parade crowd, are the stories of these individuals overcoming adversity — or failing to overcome it. Meanwhile, the audience dances, not necessarily paying attention to the idea that these are individuals at all, and whether these are the same individuals who played as the Hot 8 last week, or, for that matter, whether or not there are eight of them. I’m not criticizing such audiences, of course, since I’ve been in them, more than once. This is just the way it is.

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