Tag Archives: New Orleans

Herlin Riley cover

Herlin Riley: Groove & Necessary Conversations

Wynton Marsalis once introduced his friend and jazz orchestra drummer Herlin Riley to an audience as, “A master of the New Orleans drum cadence, tambourine, washboard, cowbell, and many other things that can be hit and grooved upon.” 

Herlin Riley outdoors New Orleans
Photo: James Whighams

And that is certainly a fitting description. Because to Riley—who has been playing drums since he was three years old and has been a professional musician and a member of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) for 45 years—playing with confidence and with intensity is all a part of being creative.

“Almost everything can be a percussion instrument; if it has a sound and has a timbre when struck, you can create music with it,” he says. “I often play a local club called Snug Harbor, and there’s a four-inch pipe that has resonance in the corner of the stage where the drums setup. I always play the pipe in my performances, and my audiences have come expecting me to hit it in my shows. I’ve been known to hit music stands, mic stands, and any other object that has a sound and is in range of my drumsticks.”

“The essence of improvisation is being creative and uninhibited,” Riley continues. “It’s the same creative and uninhibited expressions I see when I watch people of color dancing to samba, salsa, rhumba, or a Second Line groove on the streets of New Orleans. The integrity of the art form of jazz revolves around being creative, freedom of expression, and utilizing whatever objects or sounds that are available to aid in the creative process. That’s the true essence of jazz music.”

And, man, has he made some jazz music through the years.

Riley is best known as a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by Wynton Marsalis, of Local 802 (New York City) and of Marsalis’ small groups. But Riley’s story is much more than that.

He grew up in New Orleans inside a musical family. His grandfather, Frank Lastie, played drums with Louis Armstrong. Frank had three sons who were also musicians (and AFM members): Melvin (trumpet), David (saxophone), and Walter (drums), who played in a combo as well as individually with musicians such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, and King Curtis. Riley was raised mostly by his grandparents, and his uncles typically rehearsed in their house. “Whenever they rehearsed, they would roll my crib into the room and I would check out the music as an infant,” Riley says. “So that was my beginnings.” 

As he grew up imbibing the music-filled air of New Orleans in general, Riley’s grandfather would show him different drumbeats, using butter knives on the kitchen table, and challenge Riley to repeat the patterns. At age 12, Riley began playing and studying trumpet—after his Uncle Melvin sent him one from New York City—and played that all through high school. He went back to the drums in college. 

Were you in the Fairview?

During the early 1970s, Riley joined the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, which was a youth brass band run by Danny Barker, a guitarist who played with the likes of Cab Calloway and Billie Holliday. Riley credits that experience as one of the seminal moments in his musical life because it exposed him so directly to New Orleans music and culture. It was also the first time he ever met his future bandmate Wynton Marsalis.

“Wynton and I used to argue about that,” Riley says with a laugh. “He said, ‘Man, were you in the Fairview?’ And I said, ‘Yes, were you in the Fairview?’ And I said, ‘Man I never saw you there,’ and he said, ‘Man I never saw you there either.’ Ironically, someone came up with a picture of Wynton and myself playing in the trumpet section together. I must’ve been about 12 or so and Wynton was about eight or nine.”

It was actually while he was in the Fairview marching band, at age 16, that Riley joined the AFM. “My uncles encouraged me to join,” he says. “I was playing in the Fairview and playing little gigs around town, and my uncles said it would be good for me.” While Riley does not remember exactly why they said it would be a good thing to join, he does remember how quickly he learned it would be beneficial. 

In the early and mid 1970s, when he was playing in New Orleans, the AFM was strong and club owners had to pay wages based on the union pay scale. But when Louisiana became a right-to-work state in 1976, many club owners started paying less, and even pitting musicians against each other in order to get jobs. “A lot of club owners were undermining musicians because the union had been diminished by the law that was passed,” Riley says. “To me, that was an important lesson: I learned that it was very strong to have the union in your corner. It gave me a basis on how to negotiate and how to be paid properly for the amount of work that you are doing, and how the union functions as one voice.”

Riley said this lesson also extended to recording work, whether for albums, movies, or television. “If you’re in our union, you know a base price that you should be paid and what you’re worth,” he says. “I think that’s vital to know, and that’s why I encourage musicians to join—because you should be paid what you’re worth.”

Years in the Ranks

Herlin Riley posed

Local 174-496 President Deacon John Moore lauds Riley’s continuous membership since joining the AFM at the age of 16 “under the tutelage and mentorship of a talented family of luminary musicians and music business pros, who instilled the values of unionism that he has carried with him throughout his illustrious career.” Moore calls Riley “a world-class master drummer and percussionist, comfortable and excelling in all genres of jazz,” and a musician “with a technique paramount in the artistic expression of the many facets of the roots music—gospel, blues, Latin and rhythm & blues—that tell the story of his unique heritage, having been raised in the palm of the hand of the very best people in the land where jazz began.”

Herlin Riley Tools of the Trade

Riley started playing professionally right out of high school in 1975—his first gig was in a burlesque club, playing behind the dancers and the novelty acts. He went on to play as a member of pianist and Local 802 member Ahmad Jamal’s group, and has played and recorded across the US and the world with musicians such as the late Ellis Marsalis, George Benson (Local 802), Harry Connick, Jr., (Local 802), and Wycliffe Gordon (Local 802), to name only a few. In 1988, Riley became a member of the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, and joined the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in 1992. Riley played a large part in developing the drum parts for Wynton Marsalis’s Pulitzer Prize-winning album, Blood on the Fields, and went on to lead his own bands.

“My experience with Wynton in a big band was so unique, so important to my life because I got to play so many different styles of music playing with him,” Riley says. “I really had to hone my skills as a reader, to read and learn music quickly, so my skills became sharper.” Wynton Marsalis also pushed Riley to begin to teach drums, because the orchestra would teach kids about playing music in every city they stopped. 

“I told Wynton, I don’t know how to teach because I didn’t learn in a formal way. He said, ‘Well, you play drums don’t you?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Well, tell ’em something. Just figure out what you’re doing and tell ’em something.’ So that pushed me to really think about what I was doing and get it to my students so they could understand what I was doing. And to this day I don’t teach from a book; I teach from a practical kind of setting to show them what they need to know, not just necessarily what’s in the book.”

The two main lessons he tries to teach every student are to 1) play with intensity and to 2) play with balance and control. By intensity, Riley does not mean volume, but rather playing with confidence, and a certain integrity and commitment, he says. “Learn the history and as many styles of playing the drum set as you can, so that you allow yourself to become like water (musically) and adapt to any musical environment you’re asked to perform in. It’s important to have solid understanding of the role of the drums, bass, and rhythm section as a whole. I would say all music starts with rhythm, no matter the instrument, but in order to groove, the rhythm has to be played with an intensity. … To be able to really develop a groove, that confidence is the belief in yourself, the belief in the rhythm that you’re playing.”

Lessons in Life

To have that confidence and belief in yourself also extends to life generally. As a Black man in the south, Riley has dealt with his share of racism, he says, and watching the cultural awareness coming out due to the Black Lives Matter movement has been encouraging. Doing gigs back in the ’70s, he would often be the only Black person in the club. He remembers one particular club where the owner—who was also a musician—would get drunk and tell jokes that always had a black person as the butt of the joke. 

Riley, supported by his bandmates, asked the owner to stop, to which the owner would apologize and say he would, but the next night he would start drinking and telling jokes again. “So, long story short, I quit because of my pride and integrity as a Black man. This musician was very successful and affluent and probably had the highest paying gig in New Orleans for a sideman. But I just couldn’t continue under the owner’s mindset, which was ingrained in his consciousness from his childhood,” Riley says.

He sees the Black Lives Matter movement as shining a light on these injustices against Blacks that have been ongoing for decades—and it’s because everyone has a cell phone and these actions and events can be photographed and recorded in real time. Riley understands this better than most, in fact, because his nephew, also a musician, was killed by police in 2004. “They said they thought he had a gun. He had a trombone in his car, and they riddled his car with bullets because they thought he had a gun,” Riley says. “So often injustices have happened to people of color and the police, DA, judges, and the white establishments have been able to justify their unfair practices with a flat-out lie.”

Racism is an uncomfortable subject and conversation, Riley says, but it’s a necessary conversation that is needed in order to make changes. “Everybody deserves to be treated fairly and to be treated like they would like to be treated. The golden rule always applies: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s a great way to live: with respect for other people.”

Herlin Riley’s Last Performance with Ellis

Herlin Riley and Ellis Marsalis

Riley tells the story of a concert he played with his group The New Orleans Groove Masters, comprising himself, Shannon Powell, and Jason Marsalis, of Local 174-496. They played on March 3, 2020 at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans. 

“Mr. [Ellis] Marsalis was in the audience along with his friend, Ms. Germaine Bazzle, who’s a singer. Ellis said, ‘Man, I want to sit in.’ Whenever Ellis Marsalis wanted to sit in with any band that I was a part of I was always honored, and the answer was always, ‘Yes, of course!’ He always invited younger musicians who were developing to sit in with him on his bandstands, including me. He played three songs with us that night: His original ‘Tell Me,’ featuring his son Jason on vibes and me on drums; he played ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ as a duo with Germaine Bazzle, his longtime friend; and ‘Tootie Ma,’ the last tune of the night. We had a great time and the audience was dancing in the aisles.

“Ellis Marsalis passed away on April 1st from the coronavirus. In hindsight, that March 3 performance was a special moment at the close of his life and career. He played with his longtime friend, his youngest son, and in the venue that bears his name and was built in his honor.”

Big News from Big Easy Local 171-496

This is a big year for New Orleans, which is celebrating the tricentennial of its founding in 1718. It’s also turning out to be an important year for the city’s AFM local. Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its merger in 1968, as well as the grand opening of its new home, coined Tricentennial Hall. To top it all off, in April, Local 174-496 President “Deacon” John Moore was honored before the New Orleans City Council in recognition of his more than 60 years in the music business.

New Union Hall

Tricentennial Hall, the new home of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA), has an equipped studio-quality, sound-proof room that its members can reserve and use for free. (photo credit: Cindy Mayes.)

Members in good standing can use the local’s new rehearsal, meeting, and recording hall for free during business hours. Simply contact the local to make a reservation. The studio-quality 30-foot by 21-foot space is sound-proof and equipped with a Kawai acoustic piano, Kurzweil PC88 electric piano, amplifier, full Mapex drum kit, PA system, mixing board, and more. A waiting area features historic photos of musicians, including those who have been featured in the International Musician.

Honoring One of Their Own

It was standing room only in the New Orleans City Council Chambers when City Councilmember Susan Guidry introduced “Deacon” John Moore at an April meeting. The council recognized Moore’s many years of influence on the New Orleans music scene. True to form, Moore wowed the room when he sang Nat King Cole’s “For All We Know.”

In April, New Orleans City Council recognized Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) President “Deacon” John Moore for his 60-plus years of service to the New Orleans music scene. (L to R) are: Jared Brossett, LaToya Cantrell (now Mayor of New Orleans), Susan Guidry, Moore, Nadine Ramsey, Jason Rogers Williams, James Gray, and Timothy David Ray.

“I have had a blessed career in show business, despite the fact that I’ve never toured on the road, never played in foreign countries, didn’t write or record any hit songs, no Grammy’s, never played any international festivals—beside the New Orleans Jazz Festival,” says Moore, remarking that he’s never had to take a “day job” and thanking all those who supported him over the years.

Moore has performed at the White House, for the inaugurations of governors and mayors, and at many private events marking family and community celebrations. He’s performed at every New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival since it was founded 49 years ago. He has been an AFM member since 1958 and president of his local for 12 years.

New Orleans Mayor-Elect and then-Councilmember LaToya Cantrell thanked Moore for his advocacy. “You were very instrumental in ensuring the protection of our musicians was top priority as related to second-hand smoke and making sure New Orleans was a smoke-free environment,” she said. Councilman Jared Brossett thanked Moore for his decades of service and mentorship in the music industry.

papa funk Neville

Poppa Funk Neville: Keeping New Orleans Funky into the Next Generation

In a career spanning more than six decades, Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) member Art “Poppa Funk” Neville is a
legend of the music scene in one of the world’s most musical cities. Though Art was the first Neville to launch a career in music, today the family name is synonymous with the New Orleans sound. Art’s three siblings—Charles, Aaron, and Cyril—all eventually went into music.

“Being born and raised here, I picked up on the rhythm of the city from a very early age. It’s something you can’t get away from—the people, culture, food, and music shape everyone here differently,” he explains. “I’ve been able to carry those values of loyalty, love, and creativeness with me all my life.”

When Neville first formed a doo-wop group in high school, it was just for fun, and also to meet girls, he confesses. “I was steeped in doo-wop early on—the Clovers, the Spiders, as well as Fats and other local favorites. We used to sing in the bathroom at school (the acoustics were good) and we’d get together at night in the park and practice. It was really the beginning of making music seriously.”

The Hawketts

papa funk NevilleAround age 17, Neville joined his first real band, The Hawketts. The group was looking for a piano player, and through a friend of a friend, Neville was invited to join. “I didn’t know who they were at that point. I said, ‘Sure,’ and my mother and father said, ‘Yeah, go ahead.’ And the rest is history.”

It was shortly after joining the band, that Neville made his classic recording of “Mardi Gras Mambo.” At the time, it didn’t occur to him that it would become a seasonal anthem. “I never thought it would [still] be around to this day,” he says.

The Hawketts became the hottest band in New Orleans and the surrounding area. “We played for every type of function—sororities, fraternities, plus night clubs, small and large,” he says. When most of the original members left, Neville kept the band together. After being drafted into the Navy Reserve’s active duty for two years, including a stint as a cook on the USS Independence, the musician jumped right back into the New Orleans music scene, not missing a beat. 

In 1966, Art’s brother Aaron had his first major hit, “Tell It Like It Is,” and they went on tour together. Soon after, Art put together a seven-member group that included his brothers: Art Neville and the Neville Sounds. In 1967, when they were hired to play a coveted gig at the Ivanhoe bar in the French Quarter, they had to scale-down to fit the venue.

The Meters

That marked the launch of The Meters with bassist George Porter, Jr., drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, and guitarist Leo Nocentelli. They soon became the house band for Allen Toussaint’s studio. They backed a long list of local and international musicians including Dr. John, Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer, and Patti Labelle.

The group released eight albums of distinctive New Orleans sounds blended with funk, blues, and dance grooves. Together through the 1970s, The Meters toured the globe, including opening up for The Rolling Stones on their Tour of
the Americas.

A family steeped in New Orleans culture and traditions, Art’s parents and uncle, “Chief Jolly” George Landry, longed to see the Neville brothers work together. Landry and his nephews released The Wild Tchoupitoulas in 1977, a sort of aural documentary of Mardi Gras Indians. Following their mother’s death in the late 1970s, the brothers formed The Neville Brothers. The next year they released an album and performed and toured together until 2012.

The Neville Brothers

papa funkThrough all those years, the brothers continued their independent careers and work with other groups. In 1989, Art was involved with an informal Meters reincarnation at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival that included Porter and drummer Russell Batiste, Jr. Encouraged by that performance, the funky METERS was officially launched in 1994 with Neville, Porter, Batiste, and guitarist Brian Stoltz.

“We’re still out there touring and playing festivals. It is exciting to still see the fans that have been with us for a long time, and now young fans discovering our music. It’s also exciting to know the music has stood the test of time,” says Neville. “Last year, The Meters’ ‘Stretch Your Rubber’ was used in a Nationwide commercial and right now ‘Hand Clappin’ Song’ is being in the new Google Pixel ads.”

Through all these years, Art Neville has been a loyal AFM member. “I remember when we first performed on television and filling out the paperwork. I was happy to be able to say, ‘Yes, I’m an AFM member,’ and I was also happy to get paid accordingly and properly. I’m a proud AFM member to this day,” he says. Neville’s AFM membership goes back to the days of segregation, and black Local 496, which combined with Local 174 in 1968.

During segregation, touring outside of New Orleans was particularly perilous, he recalls. “It was interesting because, in New Orleans, playing music was the one thing we all did together: black musicians playing with white musicians, or musicians of any ethnicity. It was always about the music, not what color you were.”

But, in other places it wasn’t like that and touring was scary. “It was treacherous. We wanted to play music, but we always had to be aware of our surroundings, whether we were playing school dances or night clubs,” he says.  “I remember playing a show and when we returned to our station wagon there was a note under the windshield wiper that read: ‘The eyes of the Klan are upon you.’ That was very scary.”

“One dance, in particular, our drummer forgot his snare drum so we had to go back home and get it,” he says. “While we were gone, the stage in the auditorium was blown apart by dynamite that had been placed with a timer under the stage. Had we gone on, on time, we wouldn’t have been around to tell about it!”

Looking back on his long career, Neville says he has no real regrets but does wish he had finished school. “The one thing I would tell my younger self is: ‘The music will be there, and you can do both,’” he says. “I’m very happy and blessed with all the opportunities I’ve had and created on my own.”

Neville says he’s not sure if the Neville Brothers will get another chance to perform together. “Maybe we’ll do some more shows in the future, while we’re all still here, I Neville say never!” he says. “I’m most proud of fulfilling my uncle’s wishes to keep the family and music alive. I think, between The Meters and The Neville Brothers, we made it happen.”

allen toussaint cover

Allen Toussaint Reveals Why He’d Never Leave the Big Easy

Allen ToussaintThere’s something magical about New Orleans and its connection to music and musicians. Through the good times and the bad times the music plays on and the city retains its charm. Musician elders pass down their traditions to the next generation, much like their parents and grandparents did before them.

Pianist, producer, and songwriter Allen Toussaint, longtime member of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA), is one such musician. “I love everything about New Orleans,” he says. “I was born and raised here and I will always be here. I still walk around New Orleans and enjoy what I see; I enjoy what I feel. It’s just a charming place to be and I’m glad I haven’t outgrown the charm.”

The street musicians still go in front of Jackson Square and check out a bench, pull out their horns, and start playing. It’s not traveling musicians; its musicians that came up here, just like Louie Armstrong did, and a whole lot of other greats from the past,” he says. “And that music that you thought you would like to hear if you got to New Orleans? When you get here, you can really hear it.”

Studying Up and Signing Up

As a child, Toussaint, was inspired by the music all around him. He began teaching himself to play the family piano at about age six. When he first showed interest and ability his mom enrolled him in a classic junior school of music, but she had to give up on the idea after six or seven lessons. “The boogie woogie already had me,” he laughs.

Toussaint knew from a young age that he wanted to have a career in music. He taught himself to play whatever he heard, both on the streets and in recordings. Among his early influences were Local 174-496 members Fats Domino and producer/arranger Dave Bartholomew, Ray Charles, and boogie woogie players like Albert Ammons and Pinetop Perkins.

However, his biggest influence was Professor Longhair, or simply Fess. Toussaint was drawn to his music. “So many things were like so many other things, but Professor Longhair was totally unique,” explains Toussaint. “He played with such demand—his voice and his whole vernacular. Plus, there was a strong element of New Orleans. He mixed with junka and he had rumbas in his left hand. It was really hip to bring those worlds together. Every new record he came out with I got it and studied it. It was very, very important.”

Toussaint took learning music very seriously. He wanted to be ready when it came his time to play. To prepare, he learned all of the popular songs of the day and he joined the AFM. “I joined the musicians union when I was about 15 because I didn’t want anything to be in the way of me performing anywhere I’d ever be called,” he says.

Subbing for Huey

Allen_Toussaint-pose Toussaint’s first big break came when he was just 17. “Earl King had a performance in Pritchard, Alabama, and Huey Smith had taken ill and couldn’t make it,” recalls Toussaint. King’s saxophonist knew Toussaint “as a young pianist around town who knew all the songs of the day on the radio” and they called him to sub.

He met the band at the Dew Drop Inn and they went straight to Pritchard for the gig, no rehearsal. “I knew Earl King’s repertoire very well and I had a very good time,” says Toussaint. “That was my rite of passage from the teenage world to the adult world, even though I was too young to be in that kind of club.”

“That introduced me to the Dew Drop set,” continues Toussaint, explaining that the Dew Drop Inn was New Orlean’s answer to the Cotton Club. It was where all the musicians congregated before they went out to perform. From there, other gigs happened, and a couple years later he replaced Smith in the same band, which was now backing the duet Shirley and Lee. “That was my first time touring,” he says.

Toussaint recalls the special feeling of camaraderie among New Orleans musicians. “It wasn’t a competition; we shared licks with each other; we shared ideas. There was what we called ‘turn-backs’ in music. You might see someone you hadn’t seen in awhile and you would say, ‘Hey, share a turn-back with me.’ We were very glad to know that others were on the scene and what they were doing.”

“I think it’s still pretty much like that,” he explains. “We certainly feel a heritage within each of us. New Orleans has a certain pace and all, an innate thing that is felt without saying words. I’ve always felt that and I still feel that, even with very young musicians.”

Songs from Behind the Scenes

Toussaint’s first recording was for RCA in 1958, and featured his composition “Java,” later a hit for trumpeter Al Hirt. Toussaint most enjoyed the behind the scenes work of  songwriting, arranging, and producing. By the early ’60s he was session supervisor for Minit and Instant Records, writing and producing singles for local artists.

But just as his career started to pick up steam, he was drafted into the military for two years. At the time, he worried it would affect his blossoming career. “I thought everyone who was doing what I do was way around the track because they’d been on the case and I’d been on hiatus,” he says. “That was the only time in my life that I tried to write a hit song. I wrote the song ‘Ride Your Pony’ because I thought all the other horses were all the way around the track.”

In the end, his talents for producing and songwriting allowed him to resume his career pretty quickly. “Ride Your Pony” became a hit for Lee Dorsey in 1965, and Toussaint has since racked up hits for artists ranging in genre from pop to R&B to country.

Toussaint partnered with promoter Marshall Sehorn and launched Sea-Saint recording studio. There he produced and wrote for artists like Lee Dorsey, the Meters, Dr. John, and others who drew heavily on New Orleans traditions.

Over the years, Toussaint’s timeless songs have been recorded and rerecorded. For example, his tune “A Certain Girl” written for and released by Ernie K-Doe (1961), was later covered by the Yardbirds (1964), as well as Warren Zevon (1980). “Fortune Teller,” first recorded by Benny Spellman (1962), was later covered by The Rolling Stones (1966), The Who (1970), The Hollies (1972), and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (2007). Songs like “Get Out of My Life, Woman” and “Play Something Sweet (Backyard Blues)” have been performance favorites for bands from around the globe.

As a producer and songwriter Toussaint is particularly skilled at bringing out the best in whatever artist he works with. “My habit has always been to write for particular artists. I listen to them a bit to hear what I think could be highlights in their voice, how they feel about themselves, how expressive they would like to be. It’s for that particular person, as if I was making a gown or suit,” he explains.

Among Toussaint’s favorite covers of his songs are Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream” (1965), Al Hirt’s “Java” (1964), and Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” (1977). “I do love all the versions of every song of mine I ever heard, whether they are removed from where I may have had them originally, or if they are almost verbatim,” he says. “I just feel so grateful that someone cared enough about a song that I wrote to take it to their own heart, live with it, learn it, and then have it come out of them. That’s a wonderful miracle collaboration to me.”

“I never thought of myself as a stage performer,” continues Toussaint. “I’ve always thought of myself as the one behind the scenes. If there was a band, I would be the one to listen to the recordings of songs we are going to do and arrange the music.”

Over the years Toussaint has been involved in numerous hometown productions, performances, and projects, serving as arranger and musical director. In 1996, he launched NYNO Records with New York radio syndicator Joshua Feigenbaum to record and distribute the roots and R&B music of New Orleans and “paint a musical portrait of the city.”

Emerging from the Storm

Allen_Toussaint-pianoFifty years into his career, Hurricane Katrina abruptly changed everything for Toussaint. He rode out the storm at the French Quarter’s Crown Hotel and then evacuated the city four days later, having lost his home, studio, and all of his possessions except what he’d brought with him—the clothes on his back and his irreplaceable personally recorded videos. On Feingenbaum’s suggestion Toussaint fled to New York City. He had no real plan.

“I did several benefit concerts to survivors of our area and that exposed me to more performances than I had ever done in my life on my own,” he says. “I must say that it’s been quite rewarding, but that’s not how my life was going before Katrina.”

Despite having to live outside the city he loved for two years, and losing his home, today Toussaint focuses on the positive outcome. “I perform quite a bit now in comparison with before Katrina, and I must say it’s been quite gratifying,” he says. “It’s really wonderful because all my time was spent in the studio, and though I was very comfortable there, the final analysis is that we are trying to reach people when we record, write, and arrange. When we are on stage, there the people are, right there. It feels so much more like music was intended to be. It gives you such a more human aspect to the whole process.”

Throughout his career, Toussaint says his decision to join the union has served him well. “There are some places that the pay and all was very secure because the union was definitely on the case,” he says. “One of the best unions in the world is Local 802 (New York City). They really take care of business and see that things are intact and benefiting musicians as much as possible.”

After 60 years in the industry, Toussaint thoughtfully looks back at how the business has changed in recent years due to digital technology, and how those changes impact the culture of music in the Big Easy. “New Orleans is affected by musical changes, as well. Nowadays you can turn on one button and the whole world hears the same thing, at the same time,” he says. “New Orleans has held onto its own traditions as well as it could in the midst of so much technology. Even though they can hear the world playing back at them on television, radio, and the Internet, musicians here are playing the New Orleans traditional music that they got from someone a bit older than them, in New Orleans.”

“They hold past members who have gone on as deities, which is very important,” he continues. “It preserves the richness of the music and the intent of it in the earlier days. You could not know that the early music existed unless you take it to your heart and live in an environment where others are playing it just