Buffa's Bar & Restaurant On the Border of the Quarter since 1939

Deconstructing Treme: The Only Trombonist in Treme

by Jeremy Ford

NoDef returned to Buffa’s Restaurant and Lounge Sunday night for this week's episode of Treme, titled, "Can I Change My Mind?"
 
The crowd packed into the back room of the Esplanade Ave. spot for a communal viewing where they can relate to their neighbors through the common locations, occurrences, and emotions represented in the show.
 
As DJ Davis, played by Steve Zahn, came onstage at the Red Velvet Cocktail Lounge dressed in a suit with that patented George W. Bush smirk, the grins began to emerge on the faces of the viewers. When the band shouted, "Not one fucking word" as Davis turned over the blank page of intended words of sympathy and encouragement from the president, the Buffa’s audience lit up.
 
Providing the pre-and-post show music this week was the Robert Harris All-Stars. Harris is a New Orleans native trombone player and has been a Treme resident since the year 2000. With reports that Harris was the inspiration for Wendell Pierce’s character, Antoine Batiste, NoDef tracked down Harris between sets for his take on the character and the show. We also spoke with the band’s pianist, David Roe. Roe has frequently been an extra on the show and provided some of his opinions.
Robert Harris
Intrigued by the knowledge of Harris affording the basis for Antoine Batiste, we approached Harris to get his perspective on the character. However, in all his humility, Harris did not take any credit for inspiring the character.
 
"That’s all just talk," he said. 
 
He wanted to focus more on his passion - the music. For this episode, Harris noted the tunes were out front.
 "The music was spectacular," he said. Harris said that he enjoyed the Palm Court Jazz Café scene when Rob Brown’s character Del played alongside New Orleans trumpeter Leroy Jones. Harris then acknowledged the café’s owner.
 
"It was good to see Nina," he said, referring to Nina Buck who opened the Palm Court in 1989 and was in the episode introducing the trumpeting performance.
 
Harris has recorded with the Palm Court Jazz All Stars and was touring with them in Europe around the time Katrina hit. Harris evacuated to Memphis while the city was flooded, and he was determined to continue playing music even if he could not be in his hometown. After he arriving in Memphis, "I was playing on Beale Street the next day," he said, referring to the Tennessee city's almost-Bourbon strip. Harris also filled us in on some information about the current state on Treme. He said that the neighborhood has changed in the last few years.
 
"There are less musicians living in Treme now," he said. "I think I am the only trombone player living there."
 
David Roe
In one scene of the episode, Antoine is disappointed in himself that his children do not play music. Describing how the culture of music is passed down from generation to generation, Roe said, "There’s a responsibility in New Orleans." He then added that in other cities if your dad shows up to your gig, it is not cool, but that it is normal in New Orleans as many times people start in family bands. "It’s what makes New Orleans, New Orleans," he said. In New Orleans, "It’s hipper to be in the marching band than to be on the football team," he said regarding the band classroom scene and referencing the appearance of the St. Augustine Marching Band in last week’s episode. He also talked about the character Toni’s resemblance to Mary Howell. Howell is the lawyer for the New Orleans street musicians, and Roe said that Melissa Leo, who plays Toni, must have watched Mary. Describing the resemblances between the two, Roe said, "She takes on cases that St. Anthony wouldn’t take on," adding "It’s like the musicians, it’s what she does."