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‘Sonic Highways’ Goes to New Orleans

Mike Lawrie, Getty Images

Do the Foo Fighters have even the slightest bit of jazz in them?

‘Sonic Highways’ is a study of how place influences music, and New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. Will whatever song results from this week’s episode capture a little Dixieland magic?

Dave Grohl is passionate about preserving music, and so is New Orleans. Differences in genres aside, this should be a good match. The Big Easy is brass sections, the Foos are overdriven amplifiers.

But maybe the gap between the two worlds isn’t so wide. Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall notes that rock and roll is the evolution of jazz — that early rock stars like Fats Domino and Little Richard came from jazz.

Preservation Hall is the site for this week’s recording — a decayed, cavernous space not really designed for recording a rock band. Poorly insulated with ambient street noise pouring through the windows, the place is all about a vibe.

Jaffe’s parents actually started Preservation Hall back in 1961, when New Orleans remained segregated. Their goal quite literally was to preserve jazz, the only art form truly indigenous to the United States. It became the place to be, and was integrated years before the rest of the city.

Unfortunately, there are lots of other places to go in the Big Easy — many distractions for a recording band. “If you put a guy like Dave Grohl in New Orleans, sometimes you have to go look for him,” drummer Taylor Hawkins says, as he tracks down big daddy Grohl in a nearby bar and drags him back to the studio.

Locals Dr. John, Alan Toussaint, and the Meters all get some good love in this episode, as do the legendary Neville Brothers.

So does Troy Andrews, the horn player known better as Trombone Shorty. Andrews earned his nickname as a preschooler dragging around a trombone taller than he was, but he is a giant on the New Orleans scene. Since the Neville Brothers surrendered their closing slot at the annual Jazz Fest (a slot they inherited from Professor Longhair), Trombone Shorty has been closing the festival.

Grohl dedicates a chunk of time to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. At first blush it seems like an odd move for a music documentary, but remember: ‘Sonic Highways’ is about how place influences music. Seven of eight of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band members lost their homes during Katrina.

(Honestly, there’s just too much good in this episode for a brief summary. If you only watch one episode of ‘Sonic Highways,’ make it this one.)

So, does ‘In the Clear,’ this week’s song, capture the New Orleans vibe? You decide:

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