French Quarter Fest Focus: Lars Edegran



“Music, really,” Lars Edegran replies when asked what brought him to New Orleans.

Born in Stockholm in 1944, Edegran arrived in America on a green card to work for famed Chicago label Delmark Records. Four months in, he took a trip to New Orleans. “I came to check it out and decided I liked it better,” he says as sunshine streams through French Market-facing windows and into the offices of GHB Jazz Foundation. “I arrived right before [Hurricane] Betsy hit New Orleans, August 1965.”

Employed at the foundation—established by his late friend, radio mogul/rabid jazz collector George H. Buck, with its Jazzology Records imprint and nine labels in total—in a multi-faceted role labeled simply “office manager,” Edegran explains that he was exposed to traditional jazz at an early age, listening to records his father, a banjo and guitar player, enjoyed from the likes of Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson and Fats Waller. Noting that he was “familiar with most Preservation Hall players” even before settling in New Orleans, Edegran recounts first playing piano before learning guitar, banjo “and clarinet by the time I came to New Orleans, which I began playing in brass bands, my first job in the city.”

Over an hour conversation, Edegran sits surrounded by stacks and shelves of CDs, records and tapes, affably spinning yarns from decades of a jazzman’s life: playing Newport Jazz Festival in the early ‘70s in honor of Louis Armstrong’s birthday on a NOLA-centric bill with Mahalia Jackson, Eureka Brass Band and others (“even Buster Holmes was there, cooking his famous red beans”); joining the black musicians’ union pre–Civil Rights; performing at long-shuttered Uptown dance halls; writing music for the 1978 Susan Sarandon film Pretty Baby; living in New York for five years to work as composer and player for the musical One Mo’ Time; and annual summer sojourns to Europe leading his band, the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra.

“I’m the only one left in the band!” Edegran exclaims with a grin, noting the loss two years ago of 40-year member Lionel Ferbos and describing the orchestra as the longest-running such ensemble in America.

“It’s odd—this is the only day job I’ve ever had in my life,” he says of his GHB Jazz Foundation duties. “It’s a lot of fun, producing albums, licensing to movies and TV… all the things we do to make money and keep the company going. This started in 1949 and is one of the oldest independent record companies in the country. There aren’t many of these types around anymore.”