The Treme Brass Band was one of my first regular professional gigs. Back in the late ’80s, we would do three or four gigs a day on a Saturday, beginning perhaps with a second-line funeral before noon, a wedding in the early afternoon, a club gig around 6 and then a late-night gig in the Treme till 3 in the morning. My story isn’t unique, as most of the cats, like James Andrews, Kermit, and Nicholas Payton, were all part of that experience.
Besides the fun of playing, what I remember most is that Mr. Benny and Uncle Lionel always did right by the musicians. Mr. Benny would call me almost every week fussing, “Hey man …When you gonna come by my house and get your money?”
Uncle Lionel was the quiet one, who was always on the move. You might be driving anywhere in the Treme and see him in his trademark derby and cane strutting down the sidewalk, heading out on his daily adventures. He might just show up on your gig and bless the stage with a song and dance before vanishing like Batman off to his next stop.
At the time, I didn’t realize how special that really was. Like the Joni Mitchell song says, “Don’t it always seem to go — you don’t what you got till it’s gone”…
Edward Anderson, founder of Nola Art House Music, produced this series of jazz interviews as part of a Dillard University grant to celebrate the lives of local musicians who have made significant contributions to the legacy of New Orleans musical traditions, funded by the Louisiana Endowment for the Arts. Read his introduction to the series here. Next week: Treme Brass Band, Part 2