New Orleans Needs Pianos, and Jazz Pilgrims Deliver

Mark Anderson
for National Geographic News
April 10, 2006

John "Klondike" Koehler is on a pilgrimage to New Orleans.

Like thousands of music fans from around the world, Koehler is planning to attend the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which runs from April 28 through May 7.

But with the city still devastated from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, this Jazz Fest aims to be a celebration like no other. Its lineup includes Bruce Springsteen, Fats Domino, Paul Simon, Allen Toussaint with Elvis Costello, and Bob Dylan.

Koehler is no ordinary pilgrim, either.

Today he left his Wendell, Massachusetts, home in a rental truck to pick up 12 donated pianos destined for the studios of New Orleans musicians who lost their livelihoods in the floods last September.

Koehler and New Orleans native Juan LaBostrie head a charity called Katrina's Piano Fund, which has already directed donated instruments to more than 200 Crescent City musicians. The fund provides equipment to artists whether they have already returned to New Orleans or are still dislocated and trying to return.

"It's about repopulating New Orleans and getting these folks back home, so that magical musical economy can recover," said Koehler, whose company runs the Jazz Fest's sound equipment.

Koehler explained that his fund is currently helping musicians gear up for the festival, but the instruments the fund provides will be used every day of the year.

"[New Orleans] is certainly the only city in the U.S., probably the only in the world, where a musician can work five shows a day, seven days a week," he said.

"There's corporate lunches that use live music, jazz funerals, or recording studios in the afternoon, and there's bar sets in the nightclubs that run [all night]."

Katrina's Piano Fund joins several other nonprofit organizations—including the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund and MusiCares—that have channeled both dollars and donated instruments to the talent that makes the city a musical mecca.

(See and download a photo of a dancer at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.)

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