It’s not a stretch to say that music—and especially drumming—is in Joe Lastie’s genes.
As a child, he heard his maternal grandfather playing drums in church and his paternal grandfather, Frank Lastie, do the same. Other drummers in his family include greats such as his uncle Walter “Popee” Lastie and his cousin Herlin Riley. He also boasts kinship to trumpeter Melvin Lastie, saxophonist David Lastie, R&B man Jessie Hill and more.
“It gives me a treasure of memories of where I came from,” Joe Lastie says of his family’s musical heritage. “I believe that they left me this legacy to keep it going. Somebody told me once, ‘You’re walking history.’ And I said, ‘Yeah you’re right.’ I think they would be proud of me.”
Lastie’s presence will be all over this year’s Satchmo SummerFest with the drummer performing with three different ensembles. First up on Friday, August 1, he’ll lay down the rhythm behind the PresHall Brass Band, a spin-off of sorts of the renowned Preservation Hall Jazz Band, of which Lastie has been a member for 25 years. “I’ve been there longer than Benji,” he proudly proclaims, referencing bandleader and tuba player Ben Jaffe.
Throughout its history, Preservation Hall has always kept busy touring, but recent musical collaborations with somewhat unlikely modern rockers such as My Morning Jacket and the Foo Fighters have kicked up and broadened the Hall’s profile. Lastie has been enjoying the flurry.
“It’s exciting for me to be traveling all over the world with Preservation Hall,” he says with enthusiasm. “I find it’s a new experience each time I go out, and each country I go to, and the United States, too. Every place we go to is so different.”
Lastie really dug having the opportunity to perform with The Roots band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. “That was awesome,” he exclaims. “Basically, that particular scene was similar to the band that we have—with a tuba and all. I had to play behind [drummer] Questlove and it was like I fit right in. He was right there with that New Orleans feel and that made my job easier. That particular night, they played a lot of songs from our CD and it knocked me out. They played them and they played them right. They listened at the music and they did it right.”
The drummer becomes equally stirred up when talking about attending and performing at the 2013 Grammy Awards. “Ohh, ohh, wow, that was so exciting being around all those stars,” Lastie says before telling a story about encountering Beyoncé and her sister Solange. “Solange just grabbed me and kissed me. I thought that was the coolest thing.”
A versatile musician who started playing and continues to play in church, Lastie is doing double-duty on Saturday at the Satchmo SummerFest. At 2:30 p.m., he strikes with the Treme Brass Band, with whom he’s now a regular member. “I think Uncle Benny [drummer Benny Jones] is taking me under his wings, because he kinda misses [late, great drummer] Uncle Lionel [Batiste],” he explains. I think he found somebody that he could respect in the same way he could respect Uncle Lionel and I think he sees that in me.”
At 5 p.m. on Saturday, the drummer fronts his own band, Joe Lastie’s Sound of New Orleans, a group comprised of notable musicians from this city’s classic-jazz scene. The group—baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis, pianist Rickie Monet, trombonist Dwayne Paulin, tuba man Jeffrey Hill and trumpeter Will Smith—will perform what could be described as the music of Lastie’s lifetime. The set will be strong on traditional jazz, include some gospel numbers with his aunt, Betty Ann Williams [Herlin Riley’s mother] stepping to the microphone, as well as some New Orleans R&B.
Lastie got some early training in the classic rhythm and blues styles when piano great Professor Longhair would stop by his Aunt Betty’s house to jam with his uncle, Jessie Hill. Later, Lastie would man the drums behind Fess at some of the pianist’s early gigs at Tipitina’s. “It was easy for me to follow Fess because that’s the style of music I came up with,” Lastie explains of working with the wonderfully eclectic pianist.
Louis Armstrong, of course, was very influential in Joe Lastie’s music, as he has been to all those who play New Orleans jazz and beyond. During a period of time when Lastie’s family moved to Long Island, New York, he remembers that he would go to the library and check out Armstrong LPs as well as recordings by trumpeter Al Hirt and Pete Fountain: “I would put my headphones on and play along behind them.”
“Louis Armstrong has a big impact on the younger musicians nowadays,” Lastie continues. “Before it would usually be Wynton Marsalis or Miles Davis. Musicians like [trumpeter] Will Smith, they listen to Louis Armstrong a lot. They either try to play like him or try to sing like him. I always tell them if you listen to Louis Armstrong, you’ll learn something, because he played all the standard tunes that you do in traditional jazz.”