As Stevenson Palfi worked on his documentary Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together, short selections from his interviews with all three of his protagonists – Toussaint, Washington, and Longhair – found their way into the film. Today, Professor Longhair’s interview – filmed at Tipitina’s, conducted by Eddie Kurtz, and directed by Palfi – makes for essential viewing on its own. Here, now, is that interview, lovingly remastered, written, and edited by Blaine Dunlap, a longtime colleague of Palfi’s. It’s 95 minutes of bliss.

In his essay for the booklet, Bruce Boyd Raeburn places Fess firmly and prominently in New Orleans music history: “We can draw a straight line from Jelly Roll Morton and Champion Jack Dupree to Professor Longhair without quibbling over categories because the city’s Afrocentric spirit united them.” Raeburn also writes in Fess In Full about Fess’ day jobs, and definitively reveals when, where, and why Henry Roeland Byrd grew his hair long – so long that it was “almost against the law,” Fess says.

Read Michael Oliver-Goodwin’s Fess Up glossary in the booklet as you watch Professor Longhair on screen – meanings to words such as “propelacter” are unveiled, and Fess reveals many of his old haunts.


Nearly two generations have passed since Stevenson J. Palfi’s celebrated 1982 musical documentary was released: Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together. It is a 76-minute explosion of New Orleans keyboard pyrotechnics – now available for the first time in this gorgeous, expanded double-DVD edition. The film features three NOLA piano icons radiatin’ the 88s: Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, and “Tuts” Washington – live in performance, and talking about their music.

The title comes from Toussaint, a quote from his interview in the film. Of Palfi’s idea joining players from three generations, Toussaint says: “It was going to take some secret spirit organizer to slip in among the three of us” – Johnny Harper expands on this in his essay Radiatin’ the 88s in the package booklet.

“Three pianos were set up in a line, so the players could toss ideas back and forth,” Michael Oliver-Goodwin writes in Three Cylinder R&B. “As the session cooked along, some extraordinary music began to emerge as Tuts’s traditional, heavy-rolling blues, Longhair’s filigreed, sure-handed, Latin-tinged riffs, and Toussaint’s flashy, high-energy stylings synergized into a powerhouse, high-compression, three-cylinder rhythm ’n’ blues machine.”

The original cover from Stevenson Palfi’s VHS release of Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together.

Photograph by Michael P. Smith
© Historic New Orleans Collection.


Fess Up includes 38 pages of photos and essays. Many of the photos, ranging from the 1930s to the 1980s, from Piano Players production stills to Fess visting with other famous musicians, have never been published. Essays include Johnny Harper’s Radiatin’ the 88s, an overview of Piano Players; Michael Oliver-Goodwin’s Interview in E Minus: A Fess Up Glossary, a comprehensive translation of the many hilarious and endearing terms Fess uses; Bruce Boyd Raeburn’s Fess In Full, a remembrance of his first encounter with Fess; and Oliver-Goodwin’s Three Cylinder R&B, his 1984 review of Piano Players leading up to its national broadcast. Together, these essays and photographs, in a package curated by Aimée Toledano, expand greatly the understanding of Palfi, Washington, Toussaint, and Longhair.


In 1987, five year after Piano Players was completed, Mark J. Sindler and Al Godoy produced a film on the filmmaker called Southern Independents: Stevenson J. Palfi. In edit room interviews, Palfi offers director’s insight into Piano Players. The associate producer of the documentary, Eddie Kurtz, gives his own candid take on the film and working with Stevenson. And others who worked with him – associate producer and videographer Arnold Bourgeois, Burwell Ware, Alice Byrd, Julius Cain, and Al Rose – reveal Stevenson’s filmmaking process and the state of independent filmmaking in the 1980s (it was as difficult then as it is today). Blaine Dunlap has chosen 11 essential minutes from the Sindler/Godoy documentary for the Fess Up package, including clips from This Cat Can Play Anything featuring banjo player Emanuel Sayles, and Stevenson discussing at length the hurdles he encountered throughout the production of Piano Players, including the untimely death of Professor Longhair just before the filming of the planned centerpiece concert for the documentary. Palfi even reveals the original working title of the film.

The Fess Up DVD package will be available April 24 in New Orleans at the Louisiana Music Factory, and online.


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For accessibility, all FESS UP video content has English subtitles available.

For Nell.

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