Michael Murphy’s Up From The Streets: New Orleans – The City Of Music Review
by John Saeger
American music is rooted in cultural bonds that are forged under unique circumstances. No modern art form has been more influenced by centuries of sociopolitical events than jazz. Like another singular export of the American South, bourbon, jazz has a rich quality enhanced by decades of collecting unique flavors brought out by time. The documentary Up From The Streets: New Orleans: The City Of Music (2019) explores the cultural melting pot that is the Big Easy and the birthplace of jazz.
Co-produced by Terence Blanchard, Up From The Streets looks at the history of jazz beyond a musical perspective. Blanchard, who was nominated for an Oscar for his BlacKkKlansman (2018) score, acts as the film’s host. Up From The Streets is his love letter to the city of New Orleans and jazz. He begins the informative documentary by playing his trumpet near the Mississippi River and refers to the art form as a “joyous celebration of life that defines New Orleans to this day.”
This expression comes from the pain that built the Big Crescent and still exists in the city. Slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and Hurricane Katrina have all informed the music that flows from the city. The New Orleans drum sound is rooted in Afro-Cuban beats that later became the city’s famous Second Line, blues, funk, rock, hip-hop, and bounce sounds. Up From The Streets digs into each genre’s origin and how they all originated in the Delta area.
To support Blanchard’s tour of the city, Wynton Marsalis, Aaron Neville, and Allen Toussaint are among the jazz figures interviewed. In addition to these legends, the documentary reveals the effects of the city’s sound beyond the region. Sting, Steve Gadd, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Harry Connick, Jr., and Robert Plant were all interviewed for the film. Each discusses different aspects of New Orleans art and supports the movie’s thesis that music is a global connection.
One sweet moment in the film that reinforces the international impact of the city comes as Blanchard discusses the classic Beatles song “Blackbird,” which was written about the Civil Rights Movement. A jazz performance of the 1968 classic completely reverses its tone and brings out the inspiration for Paul McCartney’s lyrics. The segment is one of many standout live cuts present in the documentary.
In addition to touching on the different genres related to jazz, the comprehensive film also looks at the various components that comprise the music itself. The evolution of jazz drumming, horn playing, songwriting, singing, and piano are all strung together in Up From The Streets. Historical figures like Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, and James Booker are incorporated into discussion that leads up to the present day. Blanchard speaks of the art form’s tradition, saying that he hears the spirit of Louis Armstrong as he listens to young musicians playing in the street.
This link between past and contemporary music is a key aspect of Up From The Streets. During a time when various aspects of African-American culture are receiving renewed celebration, the film offers keen insight as to how music ties closely to current issues. The documentary achieves its goal of showing why jazz continues to be America’s art form and why it stays relevant beyond the musicians of Bourbon Street.
About the Author: John Saeger is a music and film writer from Philadelphia. He has written the pop-culture blog Long After Dark, a site dedicated to the arts in the City of Brotherly Love and beyond, since 2017. Twitter Facebook Instagram