Mike Corrigan is a one-man pit crew for brass bands. He repairs and maintains horn instruments, and he's in town in conjunction with two musical benefits this weekend: Tipitina's Foundation's Instruments A Comin' and Sweet Home New Orleans, which holds a fundraising concert Sunday night.
"When we roll into town, we're happy to not only get instruments playing again that were not playable, and help improve how horns play, but we're happy to pretty up what most musicians refer to as their 'baby,'" says Corrigan, who runs a horn repair shop near Kansas City, Kan. "It's very rewarding for me and anyone who has accompanied me over the years."
Corrigan's visit is one of many services provided to local musicians by support organizations like the Tipitina's Foundation and Sweet Home New Orleans, which was founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. The programs they offer and/or support include everything from providing instruments to students in area schools to business and legal training and medical assistance. The support for musicians helps explain why so many sign on to perform at the benefits.
Tipitina's Instruments A Comin' is much more than a concert. There's a large and diverse roster of local favorites playing in the club. But there's also a big pre-concert — dubbed a "battle of the bands," though no winner is announced — which features five schools that have received instrument donations from the foundation. St. Augustine High School Marching 100 and O. Perry Walker High School are the heavyweights at the top of the card, and also performing are Pierre A. Capdau Charter School, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office's Band of Excellence and Miller-McCoy Academy.
Instruments A Comin' evolved out of what used to be the WWOZ Piano Night, held on the Monday between New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival weekends, and Injuns A Comin', which helped Mardi Gras Indians buy supplies to build suits. In its 11 years, Instruments has donated $2.5 million worth of new and refurbished instruments to more than 4,000 students in 75 area schools, says Tipitina's Foundation director Kim Katner. They support both high schools and elementary schools so young students can benefit from music education.
During Instruments A Comin', Corrigan will work on refurbishing 40 instruments recovered from a closed charter school. And there will be a silent auction and other fundraising to buy new instruments as well. One unique item is the Louisiana Legends Art Piano, a flood-damaged stand-up piano decorated in a folk art scheme and featuring keys signed by Fats Domino, Dr. John and many others.
The musical lineup is worthy of a small festival: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Galactic, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs, Johnny Vidacovich, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, Anders Osborne, Henry Butler, Big Sam's Funky Nation with Jean Knight (who sang "Mr. Big Stuff" and will be inducted to Tipitina's Walk of Fame) and many more. Donald Harrison will perform with the T.I.P. interns.
On Sunday, "The Doctor Is In" at The Howlin' Wolf benefits the Roots of Music program, Sweet Home New Orleans and Trombone Shorty's Horns for Schools program. The entertainment lineup includes the Rebirth Brass Band with Big Sam Williams, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, Jeremy Davenport, the Baby Boyz Brass Band, Yojimbo and others.
Sweet Home New Orleans is sponsoring Corrigan's visit, which includes one day with the Roots of Music band, one day open to community school students and then he moves on to the Instruments event.
The timing of the benefits does help call attention to the city's music culture, education and the plight of local musicians, but there's another timely benefit to the horn doctor's visit, says Sweet Home director Sue Mobley.
"We want those horns to sound their best when the musicians are out there on stage or on parade this week."
But both foundations also support musicians when they are not on stage. Sweet Home works with musicians on legal and business issues, helping them secure copyright to original work, recover unpaid royalties and talk with lawyers about dealing with contracts. Both the organizations have evolved over time. Tipitina's grew from benefit concerts to its current array of foundation activities. It has a co-op office (4040 Tulane Ave., 891-0580) that provides assistance and training on business, marketing and recording issues, and there are similar co-op offices in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Shreveport.
Sweet Home was founded in response to the levee failures, and its original mission was to bring musicians back to the city by helping them find housing and through gig support.
"Sweet Home is no longer recovery," Mobley says. "It's time to build infrastructure so people who want to play music can build their lives around that."
The organization is supported by donations and grants from institutions like the Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute, Greater New Orleans Foundation and others. It recently benefited from the third annual My Darlin' New Orleans event, organized by the producers of HBO's Treme, which has raised approximately $100,000 in each of the last two years, says Robin Borne, who coordinates the event. The transition from recovery to self-sufficiency also is on display at the horn clinic. While Corrigan has made several trips to the city in recent years, he also has spent the last two years training an apprentice: The Rebirth Brass Band's Stafford Agee has been learning to repair horns.