Two generations of great New Orleans musicians fill two-thirds of the George French Trio. And depending on the gig, drummer Gerald French and his father, bassist George French, may call themselves the Gerald French Trio.
“I like performing with my dad,” Gerald French said. “In my opinion, my dad is one of the best bass players ever to come out of New Orleans. My dad is also one of the best vocalists from New Orleans.”
Now 75, George French has been performing since his teens. He was still in high school when his cousin, Dave Bartholomew, hired him to play Fats Domino sessions at Cosimo Matassa’s studio. His other session work includes Earl King’s “Trick Bag,” Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’” and Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias’ “Handa Wanda.” And his own vocals are the star in the concert album Celebration of the Voice.
Gerald French’s career includes touring with the Harry Connick Jr. Band, Leroy Jones and 14 years with Charmaine Neville. Since 2011, he’s led the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band. French’s uncle, Bob French, and his grandfather, Albert “Papa” French, Sr., previously helmed the band founded in 1910 by Oscar “Papa” Celestin.
Gerald French also plays drums for the Dixie Cups and the Catahoulas. The newly formed Cataloulas specialize in classic New Orleans rhythm and blues by Domino, Ernie K-Doe, Chris Kenner, Oliver Morgan and many more. “The people get out and dance,” French said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
His leadership of the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band came as a complete surprise, Gerald French said. After Bob French—another drummer and a great New Orleans character—became too ill to perform, Irvin Mayfield, former music director at the Royal Sonesta Hotel’s Jazz Playhouse, gave French the bittersweet news.
“Irvin said, ‘You’ve been filling in for Bob, but he really wants you to take over the band,’” French recalled. “And everybody I ran into said, ‘Bob’s been telling us you’re going to lead the band if anything happens to him.’ But Bob never said anything to me.”
Bob French was also Gerald’s most significant drumming influence. “Before I was even born, I was listening to Bob play drums because my mom went to his gigs.”
French learned much from his father, too, especially about performance. “A lot of guys, especially in jazz, forget to entertain,” he said. “It’s okay to play good music and be a serious musician. But if you’re only playing for yourself, that’s not cool. You want the audience to be an extension of what’s happening on the stage. In New Orleans, that’s part of our tradition.”
Saturday, April 14, 2p
Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta Hotel