New Orleans drummer Joe Lastie talks about Professor Longhair, Fats Domino and Preservation Hall Jazz Band

"I do fear that the next generation may not pick up the traditional New Orleans jazz sound and it will be lost. What's ironic is that the jazz taught in school isn't going to get a kid a job playing anywhere."

Joseph Lastie Jr.: The Beat of Crescent City

Joseph Lastie Jr. is an American drummer, born August 28, 1958 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He has played with Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas, Fats Domino and Narvin Kimball among others. Joe Lastie is one of the current members of Preservation Hall Jazz Band and marching on the streets with the Treme Brass Band. Preservation Hall Jazz Band derives its name from the Preservation Hall venue located in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The band is known for performing traditional New Orleans-style jazz. The musicians in the groups have varied during the years since the founding of the hall in the early 1960s. Bands of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform at Preservation Hall on 726 St. Peter Street in the French Quarter, and tour around the world.

In 2010, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band released Preservation: An Album to Benefit the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program. The album includes traditional standards and featured guest vocalists on each track: Tom Waits, Andrew Bird, Pete Seeger, Dr. John, Jim James, The Del McCoury Band and many more. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band followed the release of Preservation by supporting My Morning Jacket on tour. The record after Preservation, entitled American Legacies, was another collaboration-based project with the Del McCoury Band. This record proved to show the two distinct American roots genres of bluegrass music and traditional New Orleans jazz working together in harmony. The two groups followed up their recording with a US tour.

During this time, the Trey McIntyre Project dance ensemble collaborated with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to create Ma Maison and The Sweeter End, two contemporary dance works set to the music of New Orleans. The two ensembles toured numerous dates nationally, including performances at the Hollywood Bowl and the Lincoln Center. In 2013, they performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, promoting their new album, That's It!. Joe talks about New Orleans music, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino and Preservation Hall Jazz Band. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the jazz blues culture and what does the blues mean to you?

My gospel upbringing really has led me into the jazz and blues. My uncles Melvin Lastie (a jazz bebop trumpet player) and David Lastie (a sax player) would bring their instruments into church, which is where I first was under the influence of jazz and blues! Both my grandfathers Frank Lastie and Emille Desvine played drums in the church.

How do you describe Joe Lastie sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

When I came up musically in the church, I would have to play "When the Saints" and "Down by Riverside" which both need a strong back-beat that you can feel. My press roll also came from my grandfathers in the church. Those two sounds really define my sonic identity.

"I miss the musicianship of the old days. Young people today are not learning the theory and understanding their instruments. I'm trying to teach as many kids as possible before I'm gone. I even have grown musicians coming to me for lessons."

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

I've seen so many places and played for so many great people, but performing in Bangkok for the King of Thailand is an absolute high. He even sat in and played sax with us. That is recorded and available somewhere! A low point was when my passport was caught up and I could not tour internationally a few years back. Luckily, Pres Hall helped sort all that out and we're headed to Brazil, Europe and Japan this summer.

Why did you think that the New Orleans music continues to generate such a devoted following?

The world has known New Orleans for happy music. That's what the world needs more than anything. When a little baby is out there getting down to our music, I know that is tapping into our New Orleans beat.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

I was really hot-headed as a young musician. I got great advice from Percy Humphrey and Scotty Hill in the French Market Jazz Band to get "the chip off my shoulder." Once I learned to listen and stay calm, my music career blossomed.

Are there any memories from The Preservation Hall Jazz Band which you’d like to share with us?

I think it is important to share that I was able to bring out my mother and my father to shows of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band just before they each passed. My mother came on a seven-day cruise with us and my dad jumped on the bus from New York City to California. I was able to give back to them which means the world to me to this day. On a lighter note, I was able to spend my birthday in three countries in one day one year - Switzerland, the UK and the USA!

"The world has known New Orleans for happy music. That's what the world needs more than anything. When a little baby is out there getting down to our music, I know that is tapping into our New Orleans beat."

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the musicianship of the old days. Young people today are not learning the theory and understanding their instruments. I'm trying to teach as many kids as possible before I'm gone. I even have grown musicians coming to me for lessons. I do fear that the next generation may not pick up the traditional New Orleans jazz sound and it will be lost. What's ironic is that the jazz taught in school isn't going to get a kid a job playing anywhere.

Which memories from Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas, Fats Domino and Narvin Kimball makes you smile?

Oh! You ready for this. Let's start with Professor Longhair: I used to play with him in my aunt's house. We used to jam with my uncle Jesse Hills and my aunt Beattie Lastie. Irma Thomas: My uncle had a band called Taste of New Orleans I played drums in that was backing Irma up. She told me I was "taught well"! Fats Domino: I was in a band with Antoine Jr., his son. Fats would come to our shows and sit in. My uncle Walter Lastie ("Popee") used to play with Fats and when he told me how much he made on tour I was amazed, now I make that in a night! Narvin Kimball: Mr. Kimble is the best banjo player I ever played with, he would keep me in time. His singing...Oh my God!

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I wish New Orleans jazz musicians were recognized in the jazz establishment as the leaders that we are.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

The second line dancers following the bands marching through the streets has always been an influence and really makes me smile. Now I get to make others smile on the streets marching with the Treme Brass Band.

"I wish New Orleans jazz musicians were recognized in the jazz establishment as the leaders that we are."

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Hawaii, I've never been there!

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