When you think about that statement, you get it. It’s true. Guitar players play together, horn players too, but piano players rarely play together. Stevenson Palfi knew that. In 1980 Palfi planned a concert with three of New Orleans great piano players, Professor Longhair (Fess), Tuts Washington and Allen Toussaint. He recorded a video of their rehearsals in preparation for the concert. Prior to the event, Fess died and two years later, the rehearsal video became somewhat of a documentary about the New Orleans’ great history of piano players and a special tribute to Fess, entitled “Piano Players Rarely Play Together”.
Every day there are opportunities to see a great New Orleans piano player. This week there are two occasions to see piano players playing together. On Thursday, November 7, Tipitina’s (named after a Fess song) will host Fess Fest, a benefit concert to raise funds to preserve the home of Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair. There is a constant effort in New Orleans to preserve its rich culture. Preserving homes of New Orleans musicians is one such effort being meted out by a variety of individual preservationist and organizations such as the PRC.
The preservation of Fess’ house is a little unique. It is still in the Byrd family. In the 70’s, Fess was extremely pleased to provide a home to his longtime wife with whom he raised six children. A privilege for him to provide for her the way she had provided and stood by him in the lean years. One of their daughters, Pat Byrd would still be living in the house if it were not for Katrina and unethical contractors.
A friend of the family and Tipitina’s, Steve Armbruster, is spearheading the project. The Tips Foundation, United Way and Project Homecoming are helping bring the project to fruition. The project will include a small museum dedicated to Professor Longhair along with a residence in the old double on Terpsichore street in Central City. If all goes well, Byrd and her son will be moving in within the year.
In an effort to support the project and pay tribute to his music, Fess Fest is sure to spark a house party New Orleans style (another reference to a Fess song) with a line up of piano players and a rhythm section full of local heavyweights George Porter Jr., Shannon Powell, Detroit Brooks and more. The rolling piano styles of Professor Longhair will be represented by Jon Cleary, Hugh Laurie, and Joe Jackson.
When you are out and about uptown at Tips, perhaps you want to start your evening at an old staple restaurant with fresh concepts taking over the menu. Two such places Uptown near Tip’s are Dick and Jenny’s on Tchoupitioulas and Atchafalaya on Louisiana.
Now, Saturday night on the other side of town, that would be downtown, another chance to see piano players play together. This concert is concert will focus on another New Orleans piano great, Louis Moreau Gottchalk. Gottchalk was a brilliant pianist and composer that traveled the globe. Today, that is true of many musicians, however, Gottchalk was born in 1829. Yes, 1829. Much like present day New Orleans, Gottchalk had a passion for the rhythms of the Carribean plus South and Central America.,
It was his music that brought together two present day piano greats, Tom McDermott and Parks Van Dyke. They will be in concert this Saturday at Snug Harbor. Snug is a serious jazz club where you have an opportunity to sit and truly listen to the music. You will want to do that with these boys chops. These two are sort of preservationists themselves. Preserving these great rhythms and sounds of classical, ragtime, and early jazz.
Now at Snug you can do “one stop shopping”. If you didn’t know, this is a sister restaurant to Port-Of-Call. Needless to say, their burgers, steaks and baked potatoes are ALWAYS mouth watering good. If you want to mix it up a bit, start out at the hip new eateries on lower Decatur, Perestroika by Pravda or the old standby, Coop’s Place.
As I mentioned earlier there are always great piano players to hear in New Orleans. Every Wednesday the Old U.S. Mint hosts piano hour at noon. Lately the featured artist has been piano and vibraphonist James Westfall. Ralph’s on the Park has Joe Krown during happy hour Tuesday – Thursday. Three Muses has a regular rotation of piano players. Of course, you can always drop by Preservation Hall for traditional jazz sounds.
It”s New Olreans, it’s never ending in the city that care forgot (if you don’t get that phrase, translate anxiety for care; get it).
See you out and about with the piano legends!
Every thing lovely,
Out and About is a weekly blog by Leslie Compton of Every Thing Lovely, a special event and creative consulting team, and is sponsored by Key to NOLA Properties, a full service real estate brokerage firm specializing in furnished rental properties in New Orleans, Key to NOLA Properties and Every Thing Lovely have joined forces to provide a full array of services for travelers’ ( and locals’) personal and professional needs while in the Crescent City.