You won’t find pianist Steve Pistorius on any of the Bourbon Street stages at this year’s French Quarter Fest, and that suits him just fine.
“Three years ago I was on Bourbon Street and it was pretty noisy,” he recalls. “Terrible smells, motorcycles going by, noise from the clubs,” he says. “I’ve seen it all my life on that street and it’s just tiring after a while.” Pistorius has been playing long enough to remember a different Bourbon. At 19, he got his first gig at the Gateway Lounge at Bourbon and Iberville. “This was in the early ‘70s,” he remembers. “There were jazz bands up and down the street. Not necessarily great bands, but they were jazz bands, playing in the New Orleans style.
What sets Pistorius apart is his strong allegiance to ragtime; his music emphasizes the genre’s continuity with early jazz. On his 2008 release Rags and Stomps, Pistorius tackled—among others—the compositions of Eubie Blake and Joseph Lamb. But there is one particular pianist who looms largest in his playing.
“[I’m] heavily influenced by Jelly Roll Morton,” he says. “I think [he] put it all together the best. The style is not heard a lot or understood a lot.” He notes a paucity of native New Orleanian pianists engaged in the genre. “There are lots of people in New Orleans that play the music, they’re just not from here,” he observes. “I think I’m the only guy from New Orleans that specializes in that sort of piano style.”
Pistorius is a frequent sideman in local trad circles. He can be heard behind clarinetist Dr. Michael White on 2008’s Blue Crescent, or alongside Rick Trolsen on 2007’s Sunrise on Bourbon Street. But at the Fest he will lead a group of his own assemblage, the Southern Syncopators. “I’ll sing a couple of Fats Waller tunes just for kicks. Play some Jelly Roll stuff, play a couple of ragtime numbers with (clarinetist) Orange Kellin,” says Pistorius. He appreciates the festival setting for the freedom it gives him with his repertoire. “Anytime I get to put together my own band—especially this one—I make a list of stuff I really enjoy doing and don’t get to do too often.”
At French Quarter Fest: Saturday, April 9, 11 – 12:45 p.m. French Market Stage.