New Orleans Needs Pianos, and Jazz Pilgrims Deliver

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Out of the Storm

When guitarist and keyboardist Paul Batiste joins the Batiste Brothers onstage at the festival on May 7, he and his two brothers will all be performing on donated instruments.

Batiste also uses his donated keyboard, obtained through the fund, to teach music at the Sophie B. Wright Charter School in New Orleans.

"I'm also helping my students at Sophie B. Wright school get instruments through other means," he said.

"We're working with [the New Orleans-based artist-relief nonprofit] Tipitina's Foundation to get band instruments. We're trying to have a 75-piece marching band ready to march for the parade season."

Some of what Batiste now earns from performing and teaching goes back into restoring his home, which was severely water-damaged during the two months he and his family spent in Dallas, Texas, as evacuees.

"Sometimes when you're in a situation like that, you're not creative," he said.

"You just don't feel like doing anything musically. I call that being in the storm. But the keyboard and other assistance that I got brought me out of the storm."

Going Fishing

Drummer Brian Lewis estimates that in addition to the grief of losing his home and neighborhood to the floodwaters, Katrina cost him upwards of a hundred thousand dollars in instruments and recording-studio equipment.

The Piano Fund's LaBostrie contacted Lewis to help get him playing again.

LaBostrie himself is no stranger to Katrina-related losses. He and 15 neighbors were stranded at his house for two days after the city's levees broke. His neighborhood remained submerged in more than eight feet (two and a half meters) of water.

"[One] morning [during the flood], I thought I saw the water rising again," LaBostrie said. "Strangely enough, it was very pretty, one of those golden sunrises. Then I happened to see a refrigerator-freezer float past the corner, and I thought, This is not right."

LaBostrie ultimately evacuated to Wendell, Massachusetts, where he stayed with Koehler. (The two had worked together at the festival in years past.)

There they both resolved to do something to help New Orleans' devastated music scene.

"We were talking about doing maybe some benefit shows," LaBostrie said. "But Klondike [Koehler] said, 'Juan, we're not producers. That's not what we do. We've got to find a way to use the skills that we have to make this happen.' … We came up with the Piano Fund."

Lewis noted that another charity gave him a cash card to buy food and other necessities.

"That's like feeding you a piece of fish," he said. "With the Katrina's Piano Fund, they're saying, Here's a fishing pole. You can get all the fish you want."

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