Arts: October 2014
Funny on the Fly: Learn improv and sketch comedy with some of the South’s sharpest wits.
Improv comedy powerhouse The New Movement originally began in Austin, Texas, in 2009, when New Orleans natives Chris Trew and Tami Nelson realized their longtime dream of founding a comedy conservatory. They brought TNM to NOLA in 2011, and, for the last three years, Trew’s crew has worked relentlessly to grow the local comedy scene.
“The problem, at the time, was that if you were any good at comedy, your time in New Orleans was limited,” Trew says. “With no full-time venue and no legit festival to showcase to out-of-town connections, it was hard to grow, and most people left.” But these days, the New Orleans comedy scene is its own hotbed of talent — and TNM recently raised $50,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to move to a bigger, better building.
“Most of our performers are like Swiss army knives: lots of stand-up comedians who also do improv, who also have a podcast, who are also writers, who also produce video content,” Trew says. “Many people who call TNM home do more than just one thing, and that’s important.”
Interested comedians can sign up for eight weeks of classes in either improv or sketch comedy writing for around $200. “It’s a safe space, led by an experienced and friendly instructor, and you are given more opportunities to get on stage than any theater in the country,” Trew says.
Just take it from past TNM performers, many of whom are current comedy up-and-comers — and that’s not to mention Trew himself, who started and produces several comedy festivals, including the dual-city, multivenue Hell Yes Fest.
As TNM continues to grow, adding classes and employees, so will its influence. “Tons of TNM people are frequently on the road, headlining comedy festivals in other cities,” Trew says. “One of our students performed on Conan last year. There’s a lot of activity around here, and we’re happy to be a part of it.” newmovementtheater.com
Bass Notes: Meet local musician Jasen Weaver.
“My original music is a reflection of many events I’ve experienced in my life, and how I perceive them now,” says bassist and composer Jasen Weaver. The young jazz musician writes almost all of the music covered by his namesake group, the Jasen Weaver Band, which features him on bass; Steve Lands on trumpet; Jeronne Ansari on woodwinds; Shea Pierre on keys; and A.J. Hall on drums.
You can often catch the band playing both jazz standards and original music at Bacchanal Wine. “We usually play two sets on our gigs,” Weaver says. “During the first set, I like to focus on a particular theme or composer. Recently, we’ve been playing the music of the late Mulgrew Miller.” A graduate of the University of New Orleans Jazz Studies program, Weaver continues to study composers in multiple genres to improve his own songwriting.
Working with New Orleans’ top bandleaders has taught Weaver how to push his musical vision without being a tyrant. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the great bandleaders in this city, including Herlin Riley and Jason Marsalis,” he says. “I observe the way they run their bands and try to emulate that.” In a twist of reciprocity, Marsalis will feature one of Weaver’s compositions on his next album — “Blues for Now” is an unhurried, moody meditation showcasing a mournful trumpet/sax opening and meandering piano line.
Weaver recently returned from a U.K. tour with jazz quintet The Session, and he plans to record an album with the Jasen Weaver Band next spring. In the meantime, he’ll tour the West Coast, New York and London with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra this fall. jasenweaver.com
Local Lore: A new book shines light on the early days of New Orleans.
By Misty Milioto
New Orleans certainly has a unique history, and a new book by Bethesda, Maryland-based writer Gary Krist, Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder and the Battle for Modern New Orleans ($26, Crown), chronicles the storied past of the Crescent City from 1890 to 1920. This 30-year period marked a dramatic transition for New Orleans — one in which vice (prostitution, drinking, crime and other indecencies) was becoming less tolerable by the city’s “respectable” elite.
In an effort to segregate these evils, leaders and officials created a government-sanctioned red-light district that came to be known as Storyville. But rather than being an area where vices could be restricted and contained, this area flourished as a bacchanalian free-for-all — ruled by the politically influential Tom Anderson — becoming a beacon of debauchery for both locals and international visitors alike. It was here that cosmopolitan madams (like the infamous Josie Arlington and Lulu White) catered to guests at their luxurious brothels, and where dance halls welcomed guests to listen to a new form of music known as jazz. While Buddy Bolden was one of the first musicians to play this electric, improvisational and loud music on his cornet, other greats (such as Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong) also found themselves playing late into the night.
During this same time period, there were also racial issues, and violence and revenge killings connected to the city’s Italian population (specifically with a Mafia-esque group known as the Black Hand). To top it all off, a series of violent murders by The Axman (targeting Italian grocery store owners) shook the city to its core. With such a history of turbulence and reinvention, it’s no wonder that New Orleans is one of the most diverse, colorful and infamous cities in the world. And as Krist puts it, “… the disruptive energies of the place — its vibrancy and eccentricity, its defiance and nonconformity, and yes, its violence and depravity — are likely to live on.” In any case, this is one book that should be on your must-read (soon) list. Look for it on shelves later this month.