Professsor Longhair makes a wish as his wife Alice Byrd (left) looks on laughing, Tipitina’s 1977.
Photo by Michael P. Smith © Historic New Orleans Collection.
THE FEATURE-LENGTH INTERVIEW
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 – at Tipitina’s in New Orleans, conducted by Eddie Kurtz, and directed by Palfi – makes for essential viewing on its own. Filmed just two days before his death, here, now, is that interview, lovingly written, edited, and mastered by Blaine Dunlap, a longtime colleague of Palfi’s. It’s 95 minutes of bliss, a gold mine for serious students of New Orleans music. We see Fess – humble, but also calmly confident of his music and its value – discussing his musical roots, songs, style, career struggles, goals, and what he learned from his mentors, including Tuts.
In his Fess In Full essay for the package booklet, Bruce 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 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 Interview in E Minus, a whimsical glossary of Professor Longhair’s unique terminology (alternately hilarious and endearing) as you watch Professor Longhair on screen – meanings to words such as “propelacter” are unveiled, and Fess reveals many of his old haunts.
Professor Longhair was managed by Allison Miner from the mid-1970s until his death in 1980. Miner knew Fess well, and in the terrifc documentary film Reverence: A Tribute to Allison Miner, produced and directed by Amy Nesbitt, Miner discusses at length Fess and his career. Watch it below.
Reverence: A Tribute to Allison Miner
A word about Allison Miner, an important figure in New Orleans music: she moved to New Orleans in 1968 and worked at the Louisiana State Museum, then the Hogan Jazz Archive. Producer George Wein hired Miner and Quint Davis to start the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1970, and Miner later created the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive. Of the New Orleans music scene, Miner says in the film: “I want a little more reverence for what we're doing, and I want to hear what these people have to say about themselves and give them a chance to feel important like they're worth something. We're not just slapping them up on the stage and slapping them off.” Allison Miner left us in 1995. “Her devotion to Professor Longhair gave him the best years of his life,” Wein said.