‘Without our traditions, we are nothing.’ – One Note At A Time (Film Review)

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In 2006 the Jazz Vipers released a single called ‘I Hope Your Comin’ Back To New Orleans’ which featured the lyrics ‘Stormy weather may come and go/Mother Nature may put on her show/ Still in my mind there’s nowhere else to go/So baby won’t you please come home’. Directed at the relocated residents of their beloved home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the song featured on the soundtrack of the seminal HBO series Treme (which ran from 2010-2013). The series focused on the aftermath and followed an ensemble cast of characters, many of whom were musicians, trying to rebuild their lives three months after Katrina. One Note At A Time feels like an extension, a companion piece in the form of a documentary looking at similar experiences had by real people; the musicians at the front line (or second line, to be more apt…)

Hurricane Katrina caused much devastation to New Orleans and in excess of 1,833 fatalities, one of which was its music. Or at least it could have been. Life in The Big Easy had never exactly been easy in a literal sense, especially for the musicians of Darlin’ New Orleans. In the aftermath, many found themselves being relocated far away from their homes; those who did manage to come back found themselves caught in what is known colloquially as ‘The Sacrifice Zone’ – earning too much for Medicaid, yet not enough for Obamacare, many musicians found themselves unable to get much-needed treatment, or faced with extortionate bills they would never be able to pay once they were forced into getting treatment. That’s where the New Orleans Musicians Clinic And Assistance Centre steps in. Formed in 1998, they offer comprehensive, and affordable, health care to New Orleans community of beloved musicians.

One Note At A Time clocks in at roughly 90 minutes long, yet manages to pack in multiple years of history and countless interviews with a huge range of New Orleans based musicians, a whole menagerie of Jazz. Each has benefitted from the organisation that currently receives more money from a small community in Germany than it does from the entirety of the USA. For fans of the music, and the city itself, watching this documentary is something of a bittersweet treat. The music and the joy that comes with it is contagious, as is the sense of sadness, loss and uncertainty.

Some of the faces are initially more familiar than others. Dr John makes frequent appearances, Irma Thomas and Clarke Peters (who also appeared in Treme) also feature alongside a whole bunch of faces you quickly come to know and care for. Each story told forms part of a scrapbook of a city that almost lost its soul, yet there’s also the prevailing sense that it still could if government policies continue to have their way. The documentary hops from page to page telling the stories of many, the end result is a rich watch that also serves as a warning; if you love hearing this music, what exactly are you doing to keep it alive?

Dir: Renee Edwards

Scr: Renee Edwards

Featuring: Shelton Shakespear Alexander, Dr. John, Donald Harrison, Irma Thomas, Wardell Quezergue, Kermit Ruffins,

Prd: Renee Edwards

DOP: Chad Owen, Andrew Schonfelder

Music: Ray Russell

Country: US

Year: 2018

Run time: 95 minutes

One Note At A Time is out in the UK from August 24th.