I left [New Orleans] early and went to Detroit. I used to come back every year with my dad. I moved to Detroit in 1948, when I was 14. Back then Bourbon Street used to be full of jazz. Now, up and down Bourbon Street, you don't hear jazz anymore. You hear country and Western. All music is good, but what you hear is different.
The city itself is really growing. I used to live on Conti and Galvez (streets). I went to St. Katherine's school on Tulane Avenue, across from Charity. Now New Orleans is growing at such a rapid pace.
Everything I have seen is for the better.
When I was here, there was segregation. Now that's changed. And then they built the (I-10) highway (overpass). (Now) people can go anywhere. It's a different perspective than when I was here then. Now that area's going to be a medical center.
I have traveled in a lot of different bands. I tell everyone that they have to go to New Orleans at least one time in their life. It's such a beautiful place, and the music and the food. It all goes in the gumbo, there's no place like New Orleans.
I started playing music professionally at age 11. I was playing with the Eureka Brass Band. It was during the war. A lot of the musicians were in the service. I was able to read music. My dad had taught me. There's a line of musicians in my family. My great grandfather Narcesse Gabriel moved to New Orleans; he was a base player. My grandfather Martin Joseph had the National Jazz Band. Freddie Keppard was a member of that band. When the musicians were in the war, they called my father and said, "Man, we have a job for you." And he said, "I can't take it, but you can take the kid." I was able to play with all those musicians — Kid Rena, Kid Clayton, Willie Humphrey and Percy, Kid Sheik and all those guys — when I was 11.
I came back permanently in 2009 because I joined the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Hurricane Katrina was devastating — so many musicians were displaced across the country. I had never seen anything like that before. I wanted New Orleans to still be what it is known for: the birthplace of jazz. ...
The Preservation Hall band has to embrace all sorts of music. They're a foundation for preserving culture. They have to preserve jazz, because everything else came from abroad. We reached out with Del McCoury and did bluegrass. We reached out with Jim James and a lot of different things with his music. It's something we should be apart of anyway. You have to have one foot in the past and one foot in the future. ... The music isn't locked in a box, the music is going to keep on changing anyway. I don't think that by playing something a bluegrass band would play or something that a Cajun band would play dilutes the music. Each thing has its own distinct personality that fits who they are. But music does change. — AS TOLD TO WILL COVIELLO