Stevenson J. Palfi directs Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together, Sea-Saint Studio, 1980.
Photo by Eddie Kurtz.
Photo by Eddie Kurtz.
This video and print package came to fruition in 2018, the year Professor Longhair would have turned 100; he was 61 in 1980 when he did the interview that is Fess Up. The other principals have left us, too: Tuts Washington in 1984, Allen Toussaint in 2015, Eddie Kurtz in 2013, and Stevenson Palfi in 2005.
Making it extra special is the fact that the contributors who produced the package knew and worked with documentary film producer/director Stevenson Palfi. The release was conceptualized by a central and life-long colleague, filmmaker and preservationist Blaine Dunlap; by Palfi’s former wife and longtime co-producer, Polly Waring; and by Nell Palfi, daughter of Polly and Stevenson (Nell left us in 2016). Dunlap wrangled contributors from around the world, restored and remastered all of the video content, and wrote and edited the glorious Fess Up feature; a colleague, Aimée Toledano, researched the archives for never-published photos and curated the deluxe print package; a colleague, Tim Watson, unified the project and edited the written content; essays (and answers to endless questions) came from Michael Oliver-Goodwin, Johnny Harper, and Bruce Raeburn; Mary Katherine Aldin and Michael Oliver-Goodwin facilitated public relations; and Frosty Horton advised on package manufacturing. Sam Hammond handled our website; and up-and-coming documentary aficionados Marcelle Oliver and Helen Cressy gave production assistance. Special thanks to Professor Longhair’s daughter, Pat Byrd. Our non-profit fiscal sponsor is Video Veracity, Inc. in New Orleans. Many thanks to George Winston for assistance in remastering Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together. And finally: a longtime fan of Piano Players, Don Snowden, pushed hard for many years for the creation and release of the package, to bring Stevenson’s work to ever-wider audiences. Thank you, Don.
STEVENSON J. PALFIBy Michael Oliver-Goodwin
Documentary videomaker Stevenson J. Palfi (1952-2005) is a national treasure. Perfectionist that he was, he did not complete a huge number of videos in his life. But perfectionist that he was, each of those videos was a masterwork. From his 1978 portrait of New Orleans banjo player Emanuel Sayles, This Cat Can Play Anything, to his 1995 short The Universe According to Ernie K-Doe, each one illuminated an unknown (or insufficiently appreciated) corner of the cultural universe with Stevenson's brilliant vision.
His greatest documentary, the one that will get him into heaven, was Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together, digitally remastered in this release for the highest video and audio quality.
Stevenson’s artistic process is on show in an extra feature in the Fess Up package, in excerpts from a documentary that came out five years after Piano Players, the 1987 film Southern Independents: Stevenson J. Palfi, from Mark J. Sindler and Al Godoy. 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). Stevenson discusses 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, and he even reveals the original working title of the film.
Born in Chicago
Philosophy degree from Clark University
Moved to New Orleans as a Vista Volunteer.
Executive Director of New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC)
A Thorn In the Side of Indifference (producer)
Social issue docudrama shot for $300.
This Cat Can Play Anything (producer / director)
Half-hour portrait of New Orleans banjo player Emanuel Sayles. Broadcast on PBS.
Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together (producer / director / editor)
76-minute study of three generations of New Orleans piano aces: Tuts Washington, Roy Byrd (Professor Longhair), and Allen Toussaint. Broadcast nationally on PBS. In the permanent collection at MOMA.
Don’t Start Me to Talking (producer / director / editor)
Adaptation of John O’Neal’s groundbreaking one-man performance Don’t Start Me to Talking or I’ll Tell Everything I Know: Sayings from the Life and Writings of Junebug Jabbo Jones. Cablecast on Bravo. Broadcast nationally on PBS.
Da (advisor to director Matt Clark )
Feature film starring Barnard Hughes and Martin Sheen.
Memories of New Orleans (music producer / associate producer)
Production for Japan’s NHK Educational Network.
Setting the Record Straight (producer / director / editor)
60-minute documentary on fiddler Papa John Creach, shot over five-year period. Premiered at New York MOMA. Aired on Learning Channel and PBS.
Played in the USA (co-producer)
13-part series broadcast initially on The Learning Channel, then PBS, celebrating the best of American traditional music.
The Universe According to Ernie K-Doe
A short film.
Adjunct Professor of Communications at Tulane University
New Orleans Drumming
In the years before his untimely death, at his own hand, in 2005, Stevenson supported himself with commercial projects and assignments. One of the most interesting was a fascinating series on New Orleans drumming featuring four of New Orleans’ best: Herman Ernest, Earl Palmer, Herlin Riley, and Johnny Vidacovich. These instructional videos were initially available for purchase on separate VHS tapes; then they were issued on DVD by a Los Angeles company, Alfred Music Publishing. Currently out of print, they are still available via download from Alfred.
Songwriter, Unknown (unfinished); the film will be released soon and has been retitled Allen Toussaint: The Songwriter Tapes
On his own time, Stevenson threw himself into a project he’d been working on for 25 years: filming interviews and performances with and about New Orleans piano legend Allen Toussaint. Stevenson was shaping this material into an experimental music documentary about Toussaint. Incomplete at the time of his death in 2005, the Toussaint documentary has recently come back to life under the auspices of Aaron Walker, Stevenson’s editor on the film. Walker is now the co-director of the film (with Palfi), and his collaborator is editor Tim Watson, who also contributed to the Fess Up package. We look forward to the release of Allen Toussaint: The Songwriter Tapes, for one final work from Stevenson Palfi.