Flat Tires, Shakespeare and Monkey Shines
New Orleans music on the road
Tulane School of Liberal Arts photograph
New Orleans musicians are on a mission to bring our music to the world. What they bring home are great stories.
“One minute you’re at a gas station having a bad American highway experience and three hours later you could be somewhere spectacular.” Jeff Raines, guitarist in the locally based band Galactic, spends about 120 days a year on the road and has been at it “about 20 years.”
“We were on Cape Cod and we got to Nantucket,” says Raines, “and we met a guy from New Orleans. He took us out to dinner that night at a sort of private club. They had set up tables with torches at the water’s edge – we ordered Cristal. It was the most spectacularly extravagant meal!”
A breakdown in the Mississippi countryside brought Galactic a close encounter of the weird kind: “A convertible pulls up, and the woman driving it is wearing a dress made out of an American flag and she has a go-cup. We asked what was in it. She said, ‘Gin – and he’s having some, too.’ Next to her in the passenger seat was a monkey on a leash, wearing a diaper and holding a sippy cup.”
Sometimes the surprise is the place, not the people.
Roselyn Leonard, who plays with husband David Leonard, is often seen locally on Royal Street, but the couple has toured extensively for decades.
One South American city surprised her. “We were in Bogota, Colombia. We had just gotten in and it was about 11:30 at night, so we decided to go out. You know, in New Orleans at 11:30, the streets would be full of people. But, in Bogota, at 11:30 the streets were empty. We finally saw two policemen, walking around with bayonets fixed on their rifles.”
The Leonards despaired of finding an audience for their upcoming show. “But the next night the show was packed!”
Sometimes you can have a travel adventure without going far. Deacon John Moore proudly states, “I never had to take a day job – I’ve always supported myself by my art.” He once booked his band to play for a convention event on board a local steamboat.
“Well, everybody was there except the drummer,” Moore says. “I asked if we could wait, and the captain said ‘No.’ So, we sailed off, and I saw the drummer waving good-bye on the dock.”
“It’s a rock band – and I had to entertain the people with no drummer.” Luckily there was a drum set on the bandstand, and one of the conventioneers volunteered that he had played drums in high school. “He actually played with us; he kept the party going,” Moore laughs.
Sometimes the problem isn’t the musician, it’s the instrument. Tulane University Band Director Barry Spanier was representing the university at a jazz funeral (400 years late) for William Shakespeare in Stratford on Avon, England. Spanier says that the marching group included, “Wendell Brunious, his four musicians, my assistant band director Mendel Lee, snare drum and two Tulane students: Dylan Koester on trumpet and Joe Foster on tenor sax.”
When the event started, Foster discovered his saxophone had been irreparably damaged during the trip. “Fortunately, he was able to borrow a sax in Stratford – but it was an alto. He was a good enough musician to just transpose his part,” Spanier says. And the “funeral” proceeded on schedule.
And sometimes the biggest adventure happens when you get home. Organist Albinus Prizgintas rocks a mean keyboard and had just deplaned at the airport when he saw fellow pianist, Davell Crawford.
“Davell said he’d give me a ride home, so we got into a long, shiny black Cadillac,” Prizgintas says. “We got on the airport access road and suddenly whomp-whomp: a flat tire.” But Crawford was prepared. “He got out a little black box and plugged it in and there was air in the tire.”
As Crawford dropped him off, “he asked if I would like to keep the car – he was going back on the road.”
Considering possible tire trouble, Prizgintas declined.
“My wife, Manon, said what was I thinking? We could have been driving a Cadillac!”