Jay Meehan: That N’awlins beat
June 30, 2015
To me, Lucia Micarelli will most likely always be that alluring violin-playing street musician from the HBO TV series "Tremé" who hung out with other "buskers" on that cool three-block stretch of Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood near the French Quarter of New Orleans.
There she’d be, intently listening to the Steve Earle character wax philosophically about the many levels of songwriting with the sign for the jazz club Snug Harbor prominently displayed just down the block a ways. Everything within the frame of a "Tremé" shot provided not only eye candy of some sort but usually also dripped with ambiance.
Other neighborhood clubs like the Spotted Cat or the Maison would also serve as backdrop to the ongoing dramas of the busker community along with assorted bookshops, coffee shops, and bars. All it would take was for me to click on the tube and I’d be hanging with Lucia, in her role as Annie Talarico. Before long, I felt like we had become pals, cohorts, partners in crime.
But, as is often the case in long-distance relationships, when the series ended, Lucia and I lost touch. She did perform at the Eccles Center last winter but I, being the calendar-rich kind of guy I am, found some lame reason not to attend. I was probably afraid I’d drool!
Anyway, as it turned out, Lucia had a life apart from "Tremé." Performing artists with acting careers are like that. Go figure! Classically trained at Julliard and the Manhattan School of Music, and with touring stints with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Josh Groban, and Jethro Tull under her quite-miniscule belt, her plate is rather full. You’ll have that!
But, not to worry! She’ll be Park City bound soon enough, set to perform as the headliner this upcoming Friday evening July 3rd at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater in a show the Park City Institute is calling "A Taste of Tremé." Also on the bill are the "Dirty Dozen Brass Band" and the "Funky Meters." Talk about dripping with ambiance. They just might need to hand out napkins.
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The Dirty Dozen bunch is a quintessential New Orleans Brass Band in an instrumental tradition that goes back to the early days. That being said, they would completely revolutionize the scene when they turned the "trad-jazz" beat on its head by introducing a "funk" and "bebop" sensibility to the proceedings. Following that infusion, for the most part, the Brass Band tradition has never been the same.
Not that they don’t give great "Second Line" grooves, it’s just that that famous sashay now includes body-language accents not seen in the French Quarter previously. And that’s where I find "funk" to be most alive, when you’re on your feet and moving to that slinky beat. As a strict concert experience, however, I was somewhat slow to come around. But we jazz snobs can be like that.
Now, you can’t talk about the "Funky Meters" without first talking about "The Meters," those who set the modern standard for New Orleans popular music. Although totally hip to "trad," these cats were never afraid to evolve and improvise.
Keyboardist and vocalist Art Neville, of New Orleans’ famous Neville musical family, became The Meters’ original frontman when the band formed in 1965. Guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter and drummer Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste filled out the group. Later, percussionist/vocalist and Art’s younger brother Cyril Neville would come onboard.
The Meters would go on to become the house band for the legendary Allen Toussaint’s record label and also back up Dr. John, Lee Dorsey and Robert Palmer, not to mention being credited as the main influence of bringing "Second Line" into popular music in general. It would be as the progenitors of "funk," however, that they hung their hat!
The evolution of the "Funky Meters" out of "The Meters" is somewhat convoluted, although oftentimes their personnel is similar. On tour, as they will be Friday evening, the Funky Meters perform many of the songs of the original Meters. Suffice to say, the groove is "funk."
So, there you have it, a taste of "Tremé," indeed! Lucia Macarelli, the Funky Meters and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on stage at Deer Valley this Friday night. I’m sure there will be more than a few white hankies waving in the breeze and I doubt that Mardi Gras beads and Second Line umbrellas will be in short supply. This is that N’awlins beat were talking about! Got the groove?
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.