The first section of our interview on the 23rd February 2017 with Leroy Jones, Freddie Lonzo, Joe Lastie and Louis Ford at The Preservation Hall, New Orleans.
Tom: Thanks so much for agreeing to do this, I’ve wanted to come here and see you guys and listen to you all for a long long time, so thanks so much! The first thing I’d like to ask is when are your gigs between now and the 1st of March when we have to leave, have you got anything that we could come and see?
Freddie: Well, I’m here today from 5 ‘til 7 at The Preservation Hall, and then I’m down at the Maison on Bourbon. And then tomorrow I come back here again at five. Then on Sunday I’m at The Jazz Playhouse.
Tom: Is that with Shannon Powell?
Freddie: No, Tim Laughlin.
Tom: Have you (Leroy) got any gigs over the next couple of days?
Leroy: Tomorrow there’s an annual greasing of the poles over in front of the Royal Sonester Hotel which is where the Jazz Playhouse is – inside there. And between 10 and 11am tomorrow they do what they call the greasing of the poles, where they have some celebrity guests on the front poles of the hotel putting lard on the poles, and you know, on Mardi Gras day some crazy people like to climb up to get to the balcony, so if all that grease is on there then they can’t climb up! So we play this brass band thing, bring ‘em out, it’s very brief. And there’s the football team, the New Orleans Saints cheerleaders all there – some of the members of the Zulu Krewe are there and maybe a couple of other guests, local and celebrity guests. So that’s happening tomorrow.
Tom: At 10am?
Leroy: Yes, 10 until 11. And then I’m playing Saturday night at The Bombay Club from 8:30 until 11:30pm and that’s on Conti, up this way between Bourbon and Dauphine, and it’s in the Prince Conti Hotel. But if you google The Bombay Club, it’s like a British pub actually! *laughter* That’s all until after Mardi Gras, so…because this is the big weekend coming up!
Louise: We’re all stupidly excited, this is our first day!
Leroy: And the weather’s great, too!
Louise: Well, Hurricane Doris has just hit England, it’s like 11 degrees there.
Laura: Yeah, we’re lucky to be here in the sun!
Louise: So, we wondered about all of your early influences and what led you to where you are today?
Joe: Well, I’ve got a question for y’all.
Joe: You said something at the top of the conversation about in London, trying to learn jazz, and my question is, which jazz?
Louise: Well, I suppose in London, the route if you want to be a musician is to study, do your grades maybe and then go to conservatoire where you’re basically told what you’ve got to learn to pass your course. At the beginning, certainly for me, when I went I was excited to learn and to play and to sing but you kind of come out having been a little bit squeezed into a mould.
Joe: Well, what kind of genre?
Adam: It’s mainly focussed on Bebop.
Tom: Yeah, it’s very harmony orientated at the conservatoires. But there are a lot of great musicians that have stayed clear of the conservatoires and just been really good and been on the scene and worked their way up. But the nice thing is that it does just give you a community where you can form bands like this.
Joe: What kind of songs do you learn?
Louise: Great American Songbook mostly; Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael…
Freddie: So basically it’s very academic, not as…not sure if that’s quite the right word.
Leroy: Well it’s the same with the university curriculum here, if you want to be a music major, you know you’re going to have to have theory and you’re going to have to study a certain way jazz was at a certain point in time, which excludes before Coltrane and before even, sometimes, before Charlie Parker. But Bebop is traditional now, because it’s over 60 years old. So I’m saying that’s not what you would call modern jazz but at one time, that’s what you’d say that’s modern jazz. But what they don’t teach, I’m sure in London like here for example – well, in New Orleans, we have some of our institutions like the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, I think the kids there are getting a little bit of everything, am I right? Because the musicians who are professional performing artists there are also showing them the New Orleans tradition, which you are definitely not going to get in any university! And so they are being exposed to that, as well as getting the necessary things to obtain a degree in whatever, in theory or harmony or whatever – or performing art, and of course, the classical aspect is there as well, if you care to venture in that direction, but it’s the same. It’s the same here. But I think in New Orleans it’s better in that if you might be going to uni and studying there to get a degree at Loyola, they have a conservatory at Loyola university, but also you have these opportunities to come and learn like this, like we do, you know. Many of us have various levels of musical education but great degrees of musical education when it comes to growing up in this city and listening to the musicians who were our mentors – and many of them have passed on but you can kind of feel on one hand that they’re still around, they have inspired us and taught us.
Freddie: To elaborate on what Leroy was saying, being fortunate that we’re from New Orleans the music here is ancestral – it’s been passed on from generation to generation. Just recently we had what, about 25 Japanese students, actually they left today, that came in town. And their sole purpose was to come in and listen, study and play along with us and the unfortunate thing is that they’re not accustomed to that in their own demographics. Here, we’re surrounded by that and we grew up with that, you know, so it’s in our genes.
Louise: I mean, to wake up, walk out the hotel and to hear an absolutely swinging band playing down in Jackson Square was just, you know, a dream come true! If only we could step out our front door in London and hear that
Laura: What you’re describing is like, essentially growing up in a context cultivates a certain attitude that you know, you’re not necessarily going to acquire in a conservatoire where you’re learning formally, because music is experiential and if you’re embedded in the culture from square one and are exposed to your mentors then you’re going to have a different attitude.
Louis: I wouldn’t say it’s easier for us – yes, it’s somewhat, but we do have to work at it, but those that are not from here really have to work hard at it.
Laura: Well, it’s more natural if you’re conditioned from square one.
Louise: I suppose it’s like if your family always listens to classical music and then you learn the violin, you’re going to be much better at it than if hadn’t.
Joe: I wanna answer that again and think about it, you know; You said it, I grew up playing in church – the same songs we play in church, we play in traditional jazz, so I come up playing and having that feeling, watching my elders and in fact both my grandfathers played drums in church, with my cousin, so I was born into it at a very young age in church. I’m sure some of these guys grew up playing in church too.
Louise: We’re really interested in having a listen to the music in church and going to church to listen to it but do you think we’ll be out of place if we just rocked up at a church?
Joe: No, I don’t think, to answer your question, we’re really not that.
Freddie: Well here’s another thing too, I mean everybody’s pretty much said the same thing you know, for example there’s Thursday… Thursday, Monday, Tuesday, you know, there’s always music somewhere in the city someplace, pretty much you know like you said, you step out of the hotel. I mean, this is the neighbourhood outside of the quarter where a lot of people wanna go – almost any day at any time, you might see some musicians. You know, sometimes you walk downstairs and you see them all alone, you know, they’ve got trumpet or tuba, trombone – I’ve been sitting at the station, bus stop, waiting to catch a bus I see students just hanging on the corner. So this is a kind of crazy city – not crazy – a little different. I mean it’s…I guess people are not shocked when they see one or two guys standing on the corner playing, you know, ‘cause that’s how it’s always been here, as far as I’ve been here, you know.