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Tricentennial Reading List With Jason Berry (Part 5)

Susan Larson continues her look at 300 great New Orleans books with author Jason Berry, as they look at contemporary books on New Orleans Music.


Contemporary forms:

  • “Triksta: Life and Death in New Orleans Rap,” by Nik Cohn
  • “The Definition of Bounce: Between Ups and Downs in New Orleans,” by 9th Ward Buck with Alison Fensterstock
  • “Roll with It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans,” by Matt Sakakeeny with Willie Birch
  • “Talk That Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way,” by Rachel Breunlin and Bruce Sunpie Barnes

Post Katrina books:

  • “Groove, Interrupted: Loss, Renewal and the Music of New Orleans,”  by Keith Spera
  • “The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, “by John Swenson


  • “The Kingdom of Zydeco,” by Michael Tisserand
  • “Jazz,” by Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward



[“Basin Street Blues” by Dr. Micheal White]

Susan Larson: When it comes to contemporary times there aren't quite so many books but they are so interesting. I think of Nick Cohn's Triksta: Life and Death in New Orleans Rap. Ninth Ward Buck and Alison Fensterstock [& Lucky Johnson]  did the The Definition of Bounce: Between Ups and Downs in New Orlean and Roll with It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny with Willie Birch. 

Jason Berry: The streets are a theater, a venue, for so much music and Matt Sakakeeny’s book with Willie's illustrations Willie Birch’s pictures, capture where the younger brass bands are going at this time. 

[“It’s Real” by The Hot 8 Brass Band]

It's no secret that there's something of a cleavage, you might say, between the more tradition-minded groups like the Young Tuxedo or Michael White's Original Liberty. These are musicians really focused on taking New Orleans style, the term Bill Russell fashioned and polishing it and advancing compositions in that classical idiom. Come across the chasm, if you will, to a lot of the younger bands who do not play as strongly melodic a style of music. It's more driven by section rifting, the saxophones particularly, the tubas playing along looping figures. You can hear the melody, but it's much more of a street music and it's animated. 

[“Gimme My Money Back” by the Treme Brass Band]

Susan Larson: Then we have that gorgeous interior history from Talk That Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way with Rachel Breunlin and Bruce Sunpie Barnes.

Jason Berry: I think what Rachel Breunlin is doing at UNO Press with the Neighborhood Story Project, I think they deserve a major financial intervention because they are capturing the history of these downriver wards that were devastated, shredded during the hurricane, the flooding and the stories of people who came back and the meaning of the Mardi Gras Indian tribes in these neighborhoods and the meaning of the Tambourine and Fan club. Yes, you see about it in the newspaper now and then but there's a history there that is really profound and moving. What they are doing in that line of books is so important and I could not praise Rachel and Sunpie more for what they're about. I would add Jeff[rey] Ehrenreich, the photographer who is such a piece of the new book Fire in the Hole. 

Susan Larson: Then Jazz by Ken Burns and Jeffery Ward. Remember how we all watched that PBS series with such delight. 

Jason Berry: Well, he managed to resurrect the great man theory of history [laughs] that at academia had fallen by the wayside or wasn't getting the same credit it had before but he did it with musicians. When that series was being shown I heard so many debates by people who really knew the music. "Why did he put so much time on this guy and he didn't give us enough on Jelly Roll Morton? You know and have people actually arguing about a PBS program and whether Jelly Roll Morton got enough attention. It was rather inspiring. [laughter] 

Susan Larson: The passion never flags. 

Jason Berry: The passion doesn't flag, the city rolls on. [laughs] 

Susan Larson: We've been talking with Jason Berry about the very best in New Orleans music books. Jason, thank you so much. 

Jason Berry: Susan, it's always a pleasure, thank you. 


The Reading Life in 2010, Susan Larson was the book editor for The New Orleans Times-Picayune from 1988-2009. She has served on the boards of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library. She is the founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, which presents the annual Diana Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction.. In 2007, she received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the literary community. She is also the author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans. If you run into her in a local bookstore or library, she'll be happy to suggest something you should read. She thinks New Orleans is the best literary town in the world, and she reads about a book a day.

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