Flying Away To New York
This Summer, the Sounds of HBO's 'Treme' Hit Stages Around the City
Fans of "Treme," David Simon's HBO drama set in New Orleans, must wait until next season to learn what happens between Davis McAlary, the overbearing, manic DJ-musician (played by Steve Zahn), and his girlfriend, Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens), the lovely and determined chef who lost her restaurant to hard times.
But at Sullivan Hall in the Village this past Friday, clubgoers checked in with Davis Rogan, on whom the character of McAlary is largely based. Mr. Rogan is the higher-caliber musician; but except for that, the similarities are striking: The real Davis knows the minutiae of New Orleans piano tradition, actually does keep his place impossibly messy, and did in fact run for local office on the strength of a self-produced recording.
This summer, the music of New Orleans will be poking through the fiction of "Treme" and onto stages all across Manhattan, pointing to one essential truth at the show's heart.
"The depth, the depth," said Blake Leyh, the show's music supervisor, describing what he's learned on the job. "Just when you think you're getting a handle on the thing, you discover a whole new world of music that you knew nothing about." Mr. Leyh first discovered the Soul Rebels, with their innovative blend of reggae and hip-hop with a brass-band tradition, in 1992 at New Orleans's now-defunct Café Istanbul. He's co-producing Mr. Rogan's next album, titled simply "The Real."
Donald Harrison has made several cameos in "Treme"—playing alto saxophone in a suit and tie as he leads a jazz band, and in feathers and beads as a Mardi Gras Indian. Both are strands of his real story. At Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola from Wednesday to Sunday, he'll be in the former mode, playing music associated with jazz-drumming icons such as Art Blakey in drummer Ali Jackson's quintet.
Mr. Harrison soaked up such material firsthand from Mr. Blakey, having joined Mr. Blakey's Jazz Messengers at 21. And he absorbed Mardi Gras Indian tradition from his father, who was a Big Chief. Now 50, Mr. Harrison's work sometimes straddles those legacies, as in his modern-jazz version of the traditional song, "Indian Red," which closed episode three of "Treme."
And that slippery bebop tune he played in episode five, alongside fictional trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux? It's a new composition, "Quantum Leap," which you can download from Mr. Harrison's MySpace page (or wait for the album, out soon).
And whatever happened to charismatic trombonist and singer Glen David Andrews, who "Treme" viewers last saw at a club called Sammy's, in Houston? The real Mr. Andrews bought himself a bus ticket back home in early 2006. "I feel ground down," he said in an interview back then, referring to his months "in exile." But by 2008's New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, he bounded from the stage, gazed up and announced, "It's my time."
It may well be. Mr. Andrews's bold, raspy voice is not new to HBO viewers: He sang the hymn "I'll Fly Away" to end Spike Lee's documentary "When the Levees Broke"—altering the final lyric to say "New Orleans will never go away." Onstage and off, electrifying club audiences and street scenes, speaking his mind at civic rallies, Mr. Andrews perhaps best embodies what Mr. Simon means when he says, "culture is what brought this city back." Mr. Andrews plays Joe's Pub on August 5 and Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center on August 8, on a shared bill with the Soul Rebels and the Wild Magnolias. The second-line parade they'll lead from the Caribbean Cultural Center to Lincoln Center won't last four hours, as do the sort that entranced Mr. Simon 20 years ago, but should lend a swinging sense of purpose, just like the real thing.
If "Treme" was your window into the worlds of the inimitable Dr. John and powerhouse trombonist Big Sam (whose band, Funky Nation, lives up to its name), catch the former at City Winery on Aug. 2 and 3, and the latter aboard the Jewel on Aug. 11 as part of the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Series.
Antoine Batiste, the trombonist portrayed by Wendell Pierce on "Treme," always lacks for cab fare and seems happiest when Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews is out of town (so he can catch a fill-in gig). Shorty plays at South Street Seaport's Water Taxi Beach on Aug. 26, along with pianist John Cleary. Somewhere in TV land, Antoine will be smiling.
—Mr. Blumenfeld writes about jazz for the Journal.