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American Patchwork

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The invaluable musical historian and folklorist Alan Lomax is the writer, director, and host of this exhilarating five-part series about different American musics: jazz, the blues, Cajun songs, and Appalachian folk.

In this debut episode, Lomax travels to New Orleans to listen to the area’s indigenous jazz style and chat with musicians and music fans. Along the way he follows a ”second line” procession, the big brass-and-drum band parades staged by black organizations for funerals, wakes, and Mardi Gras.

In its affable, rough-edged way, American Patchwork is strong stuff for public television. Lomax doesn’t shy away from a political interpretation of the music, theorizing that for the poor, disenfranchised blacks in New Orleans, ”instead of moving into the streets with violence, they move into the streets with music, as a way to release frustration and despair.”

Lomax also makes a point of visiting old brothels that employed many of the best turn-of-the-century black musicians when no one else would. ”Jazz pertains to sex,” one elderly musician remarks. ”Always did; always will. That’s why rich, proper folks don’t care for it, and why regular folks like it so much.”

Maybe the 2 Live Crew should bring along a videocassette of American Patchwork the next time they’re hauled into court.

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