“It’s very, very important to dress nice for a gig. Think of a lawyer’s office: If he’s got on a T-shirt and jeans, don’t go in there. This is a business to me. That’s why I practice so hard and study, so I can play the best that I can possibly play. I have 55 years of practice—I hope it paid off.
For my band at French Quarter Fest, it’s a total New Orleans grown-folks band, the way I think of a New Orleans band. I grew up when there were great jazz bands on Bourbon Street, players like Sharkey Bonano, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Barbarin.
Because of the Internet and hashtags and all, young players today can get popular before they’re ready to play professionally. When you get an older New Orleans musician like me, that’s heard the real guys, it’s a little disappointing, really. The music’s fun, though—I like the groove. I teach some at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and wish them luck because they need to learn more melodies. My thing is to try to get these young people to raise their standard higher. If I can help you, call me, I’d be glad to do it. But I’m not sure if these guys even want lessons from the older generations. The road to the hell is paved with great intentions.
I took advantages as a kid. I don’t know if I was born with enough talent to develop but I know you’re not born playing the trumpet like I do. You develop it over years and years and by listening to guys. I loved my dad [John]; I listened to him—but he wrote compositions for Cab Calloway, so he knew what the hell he was talking about.
I started playing in a big band when I was 16. It was a great experience to be around all these older musicians; that’s how we were nurtured in New Orleans. At 19, [Albert] ‘Papa’ French called my dad to play a gig, but he couldn’t make it, so he said, ‘I’m going to send my son.’ I showed up in my best Kmart suit and my hair all big and Papa said, ‘Man, who are you? I thought they were sending [late older brother] John?’ He did a wonderful thing, though. He said, ‘Don’t worry about that. You’re my bandleader tonight. Whatever you call out, we’re going to play.’
In 1979, I was 23 and Wallace Davenport called me and offered me a gig at Jazz Fest playing with Lionel Hampton, who needed a fourth trumpet player. Whoa! Went and handled that. Playing with all these types of jobs has broadened my musical horizons. I played Disney World; I played strip-tease shows. Some say, ‘When an old man dies, a library burns down.’ So you better go get a book from them while you still can.”