Category Archives: New Orleans

U2 in New Orleans: Deserving Stewards of Musical Privilege

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I attended the U2 concert in New Orleans on September 14, 2017, a stop along their Joshua Tree tour that celebrates the 30th anniversary of the album’s release. The concert was everything you’d imagine from the iconic band. The band’s greatest hits are ideally suited to serve as arena rock anthems. Songs start modestly and build to a dramatic crescendo, provoking frequent “hair standing up on your arms” moments – Simple chords, a distinctive sound punctuated by the cutting riffs, harmonics, and delay effects of The Edge’s guitars and Bono’s vocals, and a stage presence that demonstrates that the band is comfortable in their skin as the greatest rock stars of their generation.

The musical excellence is greatly enhanced by the impact of technological advances of the concert experience. The stunning graphics canvassing the screen that traverses nearly the entire width of the Superdome floor provide a sense of the greatest live music video ever seen and heard. The band has the resources to take those technical capabilities to another level, superimposing live shots of the band members visually enhanced over pre-recorded graphics ideally suited for and meticulously synchronized with the music.

Add to all of the above, the backdrop of the Louisiana Superdome – a venue of last refuge for desperate Hurricane Katrina survivors, the band’s participation in the post-storm revival as well as their obvious affinity for the city and it’s musical influences, and you have the recipe for an unforgettable entertainment collaboration between artist and audience.

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As I left the stadium and approached the bottom of the ramp near street level, I looked up at the mammoth building structure that seems even more colossal against the backdrop of the downtown structures that punctuate the Superdome’s surroundings. I watched as the sea of contented fans filtered out onto the streets. I couldn’t help but think what it must be like for the band members to drive up to a venue of this magnitude knowing that enough people to fill the building to the rafters are willing to flock to see them. Success at this level is a unique combination of talent, charisma, hard work, dedication, faith, luck, and other elusive intangibles.

It’s also a tremendous responsibility and privilege to attain success at this level in such a high-profile profession. As fans and as citizens, we can only hope that the musicians who achieve that level of fame and success serve as deserving stewards of those rewards.

The return of the New Orleans Saints NFL football team to the Superdome in 2006 after the horrific events of Katrina was as cathartic an experience as any of the post-storm recovery activities. While a halftime concert might seem merely symbolic to outsiders, the citizens of the city can attest to the impact of the moment and the affinity for the anthem “The Saints are Coming” crafted by Green Day and U2 for that night. I couldn’t help but look up at the ceiling of the Superdome occasionally and think back to the darkest days when rain and a glimmer of light penetrated the weather torn panels of the roof. It gave the concert a sense of triumphant return to the city – so much so that a friend described the night as spiritual in nature.

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Courtesy NOLA.com

The Edge conceived the founding of Music Rising, an effort to ensure the replacement of musical instruments destroyed in the storm to those in the Gulf Coast region. The organization continues to this day, administered by the non-profit Mr. Holland’s Opus, as the mission has expanded across the country to those affected by natural or economic disasters.

But the band’s concern for humanity is of course as global as their musical acclaim. Bono is one of the most well-known and accomplished philanthropists and social activists that the music industry has ever known. His ability to reach out to a diverse group of leaders of religious organizations, government, business, entertainment, and media has garnered him recognition as an effective agent of global change. His understanding that polarizing criticism rarely brings about the long-term, effective reforms that partnerships and outreach can achieve has distinguish him among celebrity social activists. Though too numerous to mention, some of the issues that Bono and the band have taken on include world hunger, HIV/AIDS, women’s rights, third world country debt relief, disease, and fair trade.

You’d think that those tackling such daunting issues might convey a somewhat pessimistic tone. Yet U2’s message articulated by their leader throughout the concert was one of hope and possibilities, prefacing a signature song among many with the message, “There’s nothing that we can’t accomplish, if we work together as ‘One.’”

The band U2 defines what it means to be rock superstars aware of their impact as global citizens and consciously attempting to live up to that responsibility. And New Orleanians as much as any population are thankful for and connected to their generosity, sincerity, and devotion.

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When Clowns Were Good Guys, Bourbon St. Daiquiris, & City Soldiers in Song

dsc_0245In the late ‘80s, I tended bar at a Daiquiri place on Bourbon St. in New Orleans on weekends and during college breaks. Saturday nights were hectic as you’d image and we made good money for college students, but I really enjoyed working daytime shifts. You had more time to converse with people, find out where they are from, and generally observe the interesting cross-section of life that passes through the city on a daily basis.

Street performers add to the uniqueness of the French Quarter experience. There was a clown back then who would walk the street and offer to make little balloon animalsdsc_0252 for the kids for tips. Seems like fun, until you think about 8 hour days in the outdoors in New Orleans in the summertime in full makeup and costume. Typically temperatures reach 94-95 degrees with 90% humidity. He’d often walk into the bar to get a break from the weather and ask for a cup of ice water.

I recall watching him once as he stood at the bar exhausted, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the dripping sweat from his forehead. I could see his makeup beginning to melt away, and I could see the fatigue in his eyes. I realized under the makeup that he was of an advanced age, certainly not immune to the physical effects of his environment and of the demanding nature of his work.dsc_0271

I gained an appreciation of the sacrifices of the cast of performers and characters who roamed the area and put a smile on peoples’ faces on a daily basis. With this in mind, years later I composed a song as a tribute to the street performers of New Orleans titled “City Soldier,” including the line:

“There’s a clown with a tattered costume roamin’ through the square today. He never says a word, but he makes balloons for the children every day. It’s a long way from the big top, but he doesn’t really seem to mind. The smiles on their little faces help him forget about those dreams he left behind…”

Here’s City Soldier, featuring Romy Kaye on vocals and Tony Dagradi on saxophone.

Pete Fountain (1930 – 2016): Every Note Has a Smile

In 2008 I had the pleasure of interviewing Pete Fountain for the cover story of Where Y’at magazine. One of the most accomplished musicians in the history of New Orleans, Pete passed away this morning at the age of 86 (Photo credits Carlton Mickle Photography).

fj2-2008_Pete-FountainIt was the mid-1970’s, and the applause from the audience was electrifying. The band members’ smiles hinted of both joy and respect for their dazzling colleague. What I remember most was the reaction of the host, iconic Tonight Show legend Johnny Carson. For the 30 years that the show ran, Carson had a distinct affinity for great comedians and great musicians. His reaction to this performance, one of roughly 60 Tonight Show invitations that Pete Fountain would ultimately oblige, was genuine. Johnny Carson, a man who you would think had seen it all, was quite simply blown away.

For more than a half century, Pete Fountain has been the face and the sound of traditional New Orleans jazz, though he has taken that genre to another level. His alluring demeanor and engaging smile give audiences an uncanny sense that Fountain is amenable and approachable, and his music has that same endearing quality. As clarinetist Tim Laughlin states it, the first time he heard Pete Fountain play, “It was like every note had a smile on it.”

I sat down with Pete Fountain and his agent/son-in-law Benny Harrell recently to reflect upon an extraordinary career, one cultivated at the “Conservatory of Bourbon Street,” as Fountain describes his music education. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed most of what he owned and heart bypass surgery sidelined him shortly thereafter, Fountain is living proof that the greatest fuel for resilience is the satisfaction of a life spent in the pursuit of that which you love.

Pete Fountain 0005Fountain recalled with fondness his memories of the Broad Street Carnival Club from the age of 8 or 9. The group marched every Mardi Gras and planted the seed that would inspire him to form his own Mardi Gras marching group years later, the Half-Fast Marching Club.

Fountain’s father played drums and a little violin, but leaned more toward country music. His love for music was infectious however, and he took satisfaction in Pete’s progression as a student of music. “He never did push me, but he enjoyed me playing,” said Fountain.

A testament to his rapid progression in music, Fountain was invited to play in the Warren Easton High School Band even before he was old enough to attend the school.

Fountain describes his style as a cross between New Orleanian Irving Fazola and Benny Goodman. One of his earliest breaks was his stint with Lawrence Welk’s band from 1957-59, a move that granted him the recognition that would pay dividends for years to come, especially in terms of album sales. “It was a good thing for me,” he said. “From then on it just blossomed.”

After two years in North Hollywood, however, the pull of the Big Easy began to overwhelm Fountain and his family. He had three small children, he and his wife Beverly were homesick, and the inevitable return to New Orleans followed.

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(L-R) Pete’s Son-in-Law/Manager Benny Harrell, Craig Cortello, Pete Fountain, and former Where Y’at editor Chris Thacker

Fountain had a live music club at 800 Bourbon St. throughout most of the ‘60s, and he played a frenzied schedule of three shows a night, six days a week. He later moved to 231 Bourbon St., a club that held nearly 300 people, allowing him to pull back to a more manageable two shows a night.

Harrell added that Fountain and trumpet player Al Hirt had a great mutual respect for each other’s talents. If Fountain finished his set first, he would often head down to Hirt’s club to join him on stage, and vice-versa.

“If they [musicians] could keep up with Al Hirt, they could keep up with anybody, because he was a player. He was a gorilla,” Fountain said with a laugh.

It was a magical time for jazz on Bourbon Street, an era of “good feelin’,” as Fountain recalled.

In 1978, Fountain moved to his club at the Hilton Hotel, a venue that seated 500 people. Throughout that era, Fountain’s guest appearances on the aforementioned Tonight Show helped increase Fountain’s visibility and drive album sales. Fountain has released an astounding 96 recordings during his career.

Now semi-retired, he plays Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis, MS.

Harrell is a first hand witness to the love and admiration that Fountain’s fans share with him after each show, as he accompanies Pete.

People come up to him afterwards and say, “You brought me back to another time,” said Harrell of Fountain’s fans. “People are so gracious with their memories and what Pete’s music has meant to them.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is simply a nostalgic encounter, however. Fellow musicians affirm that Fountain still has the magic in his clarinet.

Laughlin is one of those musicians, and perhaps the person best qualified to articulate Fountain’s musical impact. Laughlin was invited to join Fountain’s band at Jazz Fest a couple of years ago, an invitation that he was honored to accept. In the same manner that Fazola influenced Fountain, jazz historians might view that Jazz Fest performance as a symbolic “passing of the torch” to Laughlin.

“There’s no better clarinet player in the country now,” said Fountain of Laughlin. “He’s all New Orleans. Whenever I have the opportunity, I like to bring Tim on stage. They love to hear both of us playing.”

Laughlin’s first encounter with Pete left a lasting impression on him. “The first time I heard Pete (age 9), I knew he didn’t belong in any category like traditional jazz or any other category for that matter,” said Laughlin. “He wasn’t trying to be a ‘throw-back.’ It was such a great, unique, and swingin’ sound, but I knew he was from New Orleans.”

“The thing I do try to copy is his professionalism and class,” he added. “He comes to play… not to tell jokes and stories between songs. His charm onstage is his clarinet and the things he does with it. I simply loved hearing one great tune after another. That’s really respecting your audience. It’s what they came to hear.”

“Once you get to know him, you get the feeling it’s not all about him,” said Laughlin. “It’s about the music. Anybody that knows him feels lucky to know a legend and such a good and decent man.”

Fountain’s Half-Fast Marching Club is approaching 48 years together, with 200 members and a 17 piece band. “He lives for Mardi Gras,” said Harrell, adding that passing up this Fat Tuesday ritual is one bit of doctor’s advice with which Fountain simply can’t comply.

Fountain was also recently inducted into the Delta Music Museum in Ferriday, LA, which focuses on the history and culture of the Louisiana-Mississippi Delta region’s music. He was honored with an exhibit dedication and a star on the museum’s “Walk of Fame,” with the induction taking place at the Seventh Annual Delta Music Festival on April 5th.

As for the upcoming Jazz Fest performance, Fountain said that Laughlin will likely join him again. In terms of what the audience can expect, the answer was simply, “A great band and happy music.”

Every note with a smile.

To the Class of 2016…Advice From a Parent

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Archbishop Rummel Class of 2016

For both students and parents, High School graduation is a time of remembrance and of celebration – A backward glance at accomplishments, friendships, and a measure of innocence lost. A reflection of joy, love, and sometimes pain and sorrow, amidst the realization of a journey ahead that will leave friends and mentors behind.

$Rum057It is also a time of anticipation – of endless possibilities, of hope, and of uncertainty. The apprehension that comes when discarding the comfort of that which is familiar eventually succumbs to the promise of potential fulfilled and the discovery of new horizons.

To the Class of 2016, a few words of advice…

Follow that which provides fuel for your soul and provides a service to others. There will be a time in your life for compromises, but those moments can wait. Be relentless in pursuit of a life that yields no regrets. Your future depends upon it.

Your energy, enthusiasm, and optimism not yet diminished by life’s disappointments and the shortcomings of the human race, work diligently to resist the temptation to turn cynical and lose faith in the goodness of others. Our future depends upon it.

$RumSrProm029Think big and remember that greatness has been achieved time and time again by those who simply outwork those with more talent, intelligence, and skill. Failure is a given, but merely a speed bump on the road to success. Quitting is optional.

Yet in your pursuit of greatness, never forget that the measure of a life well lived is simply the sum of tens of thousands of small moments that might seem inconsequential in isolation, yet are monumental in aggregate. Every smile, gesture, compliment, word of advice or encouragement, and sacrifice for others has a ripple effect that becomes a wave.

In the end, the quality of your relationships will provide your most lasting satisfaction.

Know that you alo$RumGrad012ne are responsible for your happiness. Don’t live a life based on the expectations of others, even your parents. Forgive us for wanting to guide your steps. We’d like to keep you from disappointment, heartache, and harm, but we can’t. Life’s most meaningful lessons must be lived to be learned. Besides, we don’t have all of the answers. Life at any age is a work in progress.

When you take your final breath, you’ll have to answer to yourself and your creator. Simply live a life that leads to the conclusion at that moment merely one simple thought, “Well done.”
$RumSrProm009And know that you are not alone in your journey. Everyone who has achieved success owes a measure of gratitude to those who took an interest in their development along the way. We hope that we’ve lived up to your expectations and haven’t disappointed you with regard to our duty as role models. As you develop your own sense of identity you will travel your own path, but we will take pride in your footsteps.

To Michael and to the entire graduating Class of 2016 from your greatest cheerleaders, your parents – We wish you success and love, and all of the above.

Onward and upward.

 

Dr. Michael E. Guillot In Memoriam (1953-2015): 10 Lessons of a Teacher’s Life Well Lived

(Note:  An education fund has been established to ensure the future education of Dr. Guillot’s 10-yr-old son, Spencer. For more information and to make a contribution, please visit:  GoFundMe.com/SpencerGuillotFund)

Thirty five years ago I wrote a dozen or so essays for my high school English teacher during my Junior year. Tonight for my friend and mentor, I’ll write one more.

Dr. Michael Guillot was a man of extraordinary talents, and the loss to the education community of New Orleans with his passing is incalculable. Educator, guidance counselor, education administrator, certified fund-raising executive, organizational development expert, non-profit advisor, education reformer, visionary, husband, father, NCAA hoops enthusiast, and friend only begin to scratch the surface.

IMG_2676What made Mike so uniquely special was that he took on all of those roles with infectious enthusiasm. The difficulty in eulogizing someone like Mike Guillot is that a simple list of accomplishments, of which he had many, doesn’t begin to convey the sense of how the people in his presence were made to feel. When you spoke to him about an organization, an idea, or you as an individual, you always walked away feeling as though greatness was not only possible – it was probable – if we were willing to push the limits of our talents. He knew that we were better and capable of more than we believed. He saw potential.

I first came to know Mike in 1980 as a junior at Archbishop Rummel High School in New Orleans, LA when he taught English composition. He was a demanding teacher. His 8 golden rules of composition were to be followed precisely, and even one violation garnered an automatic failing grade. As I recall, half of those compositions were written at home, but half were completed in class under the pressure of time constraints. I must say honestly that many a student mumbled the name Guillot under their breath in frustration when grades were distributed.

But Mike’s passion for quality of the written word and his genial demeanor helped ease the bite of his demanding approach. Also, it’s funny how the passing of time brings with it a greater appreciation in life for those who expected and demanded our best – those who understood that there were no shortcuts on a journey to excellence – and trying to convince ourselves otherwise was a terrible disservice to our higher selves, and to our creator.

A year later when Mike served as my Senior year homeroom teacher, I recall an intramural volleyball game. While other teachers sat casually in the stands and observed, I remember Mike standing by the net, clapping his hands exuberantly, urging us on, trying to rally his homeroom boys to victory. We went ahead and won game 1, lost momentum and lost game 2 in a close one, and got clobbered in game 3. I remembered thinking, “He sure does seem excited about this. It’s just an intramural volleyball game.” But for Mike, there were no mundane events, and no moments in life that didn’t matter. He was always present and engaged when he was in your presence. He always helped you understand that in life there were no dress rehearsals. Every day was the real deal.

Mike Guillot wore many hats during his career. He served as teacher, guidance counselor, and administrator at several schools in the New Orleans area. He began to develop expertise in assisting educational institutions and nonprofits in setting up their fundraising programs. In 1989 he founded Virtual Development Group, taking on the practice of fundraising consulting as a full-time endeavor. Over that 16 year period, he assisted so many education and nonprofit organizations in refining their mission, structuring their fundraising programs, and in providing guidance on board selection and management. For a time after relocating to North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he worked for nonprofit organizations there, including a stint as V.P. of Patron Services for the North Carolina Symphony. He also developed and taught a series of Nonprofit Management Program courses for Duke University’s Nonprofit CertiWk. 12 - Art class posters (1)ficate Program. He would return to New Orleans education in 2010, while continuing his work toward a Ph.D from Antioch University, work that he completed in the fall of 2014. After a brief tenure at Holy Cross High School, he accepted the position as President of De La Salle High School in New Orleans in 2012, a position he held until his death.

Mike’s impact on De La Salle H.S. in three short years was impressive, where all of the skills that he had amassed during his career came together. With an eye for innovation and excellence, he began to build classrooms of the future centered around the 4 C’s of 21st century education:  Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking, serving as a model for education reform efforts. He was a rare visionary talent inWk. 12 - C pd (1) education – someone with not only the understanding of the necessary changes needed in the classroom as the antiquated “repository of information model” of education gives way to skills and project-based learning – but also one with the skills, understanding, and drive to secure the resources and buy-in to turn ideas into reality.

It was in 1981-82 during my senior year at Rummel when Mike served as my homeroom teacher that we found the common joy that would serve as the link connecting our friendship through the years. When Mike played the annual Rummel teachers’ March Madness NCAA basketball pool in 1982, he shared his predictions and the daily standings with his students. I showed him my bracket as well, though he made it clear that the “official contest” was open only to teachers and alumni. I would later learn that some of the current students had coerced their teachers into allowing them to enter, but Mike held firm in his adherence to the rules, and I never let him forget that he was the cause of all of my office pool futility for years to come. In what I would later refer to as my March Madness “Guillot curse,” I became the “unofficial” winner of the 1982 Rummel teachers’ March Madness competition. After Michael Jordan’s game-winning jumper that gave the NC Tar Heels the championship and a comparison of my bracket to the winner, Mike sheepishly proclaimed, “Wow, you would have won our pool.” I was doomed.

I joined the pool officially in 1983, my first year as an alum, but I had no chance. But each year in March, Mike and I would find one another, catch up on our careers, lives, and families, and join in whomever’s company or organization had an open competition. Some years we’d play my office pool, some years we’d play his, and some years when neither organization we were affiliated with held a March Madness competition, we’d just compete against each other for an oyster po-boy and a Barq’s root beer. One year it was me, his son Ted, and Mike – $5 bucks a head – winner take all.

But it really was just an excuse to reconnect.

I have been fortunate enough to have had a front row seat for Mike’s wonderful journey of excellence for more than 3 decades. As our friendship grew, I came to think of Mike as my compass. Whenever I came to a crossroads in life, I turned to him for guidance, encouragement, and support. Like any great guidance counselor, he didn’t give direct advice, only asked the right questions that made the choice of the appropriate path seem obvious. I have been successful in life by often choosing the more difficult path that would help challenge me and grow my skills, a “lifetime of continuous learning” model that Mike exemplified and that I tried to emulate. I will always view this brief social media exchange that Mike and I had during teacher appreciation week with great pride:

It would have been easy to lose touch after Hurricane Katrina rolled through New Orleans, but thankfully we serendipitously bumped into each other at a local bookstore shortly thereafter. We gave each other a hug, exchanged our stories, and updated contact info so that we could stay in touch.

Once when I had reached one of those crossroads in my professional career, I turned to Mike for counsel. I dropped out of corporate America for a time to pursue my passion for writing, public speaking, and consulting. And when I began to conduct research for a book espousing the life benefits of music education, I knew that I would want to get Mike’s perspective and thoughts and include them in the content for the book. You see, Mike was a great proponent of the arts in education, his own life shaped by his participation in choir as a youngster. Secondly, Mike was of a generation whose experiences were profoundly shaped by the music of their time, a “golden period” as Mike described it, where the arts provided a conduit for social change. I knew that Mike would express those thoughts in an articulate and clear manner.

When the book was completed, I sent him a note to thank him for his contribution. I confided that although I was proud of the work professionally and felt as though I was making a difference, I wasn’t sure if I could make a living. His response:

“As for making a living…I’m pretty sure that’s not the point, right? Our job is to make a life, or as you say, make a difference. The money will take care of itself. You are putting yourself out there and establishing clearly your unique contribution to the world. It is working and it will continue to work…and counting dollars is not – repeat – is not a measure of success. 

Talk to you soon,

Michael”

It was comforting to hear Mike’s words and they gave me a sense of great clarity. I knew my mission at that point. Mike made it clear that when you had a calling to make a unique contribution to the world and challenge yourself, you should trust your intuition and not let fear rule the day. And things did work out. I would return to the corporate world a much more polished, skillful, and valuable employee years later, and I owe a great deal of that success to the lessons learned from my association with Mike.

As Mike migrated back to education and began to implement his own vision for education reform, I took great pride in his accomplishments. We shared a belief that sweeping changes were needed in 21st century education. I would later invite Mike to join a panel of New Orleans professionals whose success was influenced by music education that included Sheriff Newell Normand and U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Again, Mike so eloquently shared his thoughts and experiences, as well as his vision for 21st century education:

I was privileged to serve on a peer review group near the end of his Ph.D. work, just prior to his dissertation defense. I know that even when there were professional sacrifices in the pursuit of his degree, he persevered because he believed in the work and the need for a practical model for non-profit leadership.

I once spoke to Mike about his career as a non-profit and organizational development consultant. He said, “Craig, essentially I still consider myself a teacher.”

That was his life, inside or outside of the classroom.

When we experience a death that seems so untimely, we point to our understanding of God and the fact that we don’t always understand our higher power’s plan. I would like to believe that the impact of the life well lived by a great teacher can be measured by the students who were impacted. So what lessons do we take away from Mike’s exemplary example of life? Here are a few:

1.  Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking – become the model of education that Mike envisioned – live those concepts and integrate them into your work every day. It would be a shame if the reforms that are so necessary in 21st century education that Mike had envisioned and begun to implement at De La Salle High School in New Orleans lost momentum with Mike’s death. I just saw anrainbow_081110 article in TIME magazine recently citing a survey of CEOs and once again it’s these so-called soft skills that students lack coming to the workplace. In my own experience I can say that I echo his sentiments, and we shared our like-minded thoughts on the subject often. I would implore not just the administration and teachers of De La Salle High School, but all of the educators in this city to explore 21st century skills and education reform models and to make meaningful changes to both the environment and curriculum to better prepare our young men and women for the future.

2.  Read Mike’s dissertation and share with your colleagues in the non-profit world. It’s available for download at Antioch University’s website, and Mike was uniquely qualified to complete this work. The One Less Traveled By:  A New Model for the Nonprofit Leadership outlines 10 building blocks for Nonprofit leadership, but there are life lessons for us all in this work, with Mike’s distinct voice evident throughout. He gave his heart and soul, his time, and he sacrificed in many ways to see this work through to the finish. When I think of how unfortunate it is that we lost Mike only months after he achieved this esteemed honor of education, I take solace in the fact that he DID complete the work prior to his death and that we can share his research.

Mike was intent on conducting practical research. Whether you’re involved in nonprofit leadership or not, read this work. The document is filled with great lessons of society, community, purpose, and life.

3.  Emulate Mike’s model of a commitment to a lifetime of continuous learning. If we can all become ambassadors of learning, pursuing a cycle of an insatiable thirst for education followed by a burning desire to share our knowledge and experience for the good of others, we’ll honor his memory appropriately.

school girl 3 x 4Mike’s approach to social media was an indicator of his thirst for knowledge. I had a conversation once with a mutual colleague regarding how frequently we enjoyed the material that Mike posted on his social media feeds. Thoughtful essays, music and art reflections, productivity tips, education ideas, leadership doctrines, and business case studies were commonplace if you connected with Dr. Guillot (@meguillot on Twitter). Social media like most anything, can be good or bad – a great resource of enlightenment or a breeding ground for negativity, criticism, and even hatred.

For someone with such an insatiable appetite for learning as Mike Guillot, social media and the web were simply tools for more efficiently accumulating and organizing knowledge based on your interests and professional needs (He once informed me of the newsfeed tool Zite with the enthusiasm of a child with a new Christmas toy).

Make social media an extension of the values, goals, aspirations, interests, and beliefs you hold dear in your offline existence.

4.  Live every moment with enthusiasm for the task at hand and for the people who share those experiences with you. Mike contacted me once to let me know that one of the children of the members of the folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary had contacted him to discuss his sentiments regarding Music and Social Change that she’d seen in excerpts from my book. He wanted me to know that sometimes our actions can have very unexpected ripple effects in ways that we could never have envisioned, and provide affirmation for the validity of the work I’d completed.

Such is the nature of every interaction of every day. The manner in which we inspire and support each other’s efforts, ideas, and passions can have a multiplier effect on those whom they impact, and so it goes. Don’t ever lose sight of effect you can have, both positively and negatively, on those around you.

5.  Make a commitment to the arts – in education and in life. 

Mike Guillot was a believer in the importance of the arts, both for the critical role that they will play in 21st century learning and preparing our students for the creative economy for the future, but also for the role that they play in the quality of life. He shared his thoughts on both.

(I’ve included excerpts of Mike’s interview in the text below. Here’s the audio interview in its entirety:)

“I would sit in front of the stereo listening to Beatles songs, trying to figure out what they were playing. I still listen to their music and think they are as powerful an influence on art in general as anything that’s happened in the last 50 or 60 years,” he said.

Beatles Abbey RdBeing a part of that generation also opened his eyes to the power of music in terms of its potential for providing a conduit for social change.

“Art reflects life,” said Michael. “It was expressing that era of heightened change, of personal discontent, of grappling with core issues, of looking around you and not making a connection between what you saw and what you felt. Some of that had to do with justice issues, of race. Some of it had to do with equity issues – how come so and so has this and other people don’t? We claim to be the land of opportunity. Part of what we were striving for to identify in those days was how equitable was that opportunity.

“And of course, we were pressed on by a war,” he added.

“That war for me and many other Americans was not just an abstract exercise. We knew people who had lost their lives in that war and their families who had been affected. And of course I was at the age where I was eligible for the draft, so it was not an academic exercise. So to find any art form, but particularly one as accessible and as present as popular music to begin to tussle with those issues [was important]. 

“At the same time you had the Beatles; Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and Pete Seeger. You had the emergence of folk music becoming protest music, and popular music sort of echoing those themes. So Rock and Roll goes from just a mere expression of youthfulness to an expression of serious political and sociological issues,” he observed. “It was a profound time. Many researchers call these periods golden periods, where a convergence of things happens.

“You look at Athens, you look at Rome, you look at the Renaissance, periods where art and civic and commerce and all these things come together. The 60s and all that it meant represented that time in the world. The first time the world had to stop and look at itself since WWII, and not necessarily liking what it found. You had a lot of art trying to tussle with that.”

6.  Commit to excellence in all that you do. Don’t settle for less than your best.

Mike took an important lesson from his own experience in music that would shape his life and career. When I asked Michael to articulate the takeaways of his experience with and observations of music that he now applies to business, his thoughts first returned to the vocal ensemble and of the lessons of his influential vocal instructor, Mr. Malcolm Breda.

Seagull and sun1“In high school I got involved in a superior vocal ensemble,” he recalled. “We had a wonderful director who taught me how to read music, Malcolm Breda. He saw what we were doing, even though we were a small high school, as being at the highest level. He wanted us to see this as a pursuit of excellence.

“We rehearsed all day long, and it really became an important organization in my small school. He taught us how to read music and how to understand what the intent of the composer was. He introduced us not only to the fun music to sing, but also some challenging pieces. I really enjoyed the four years that I spent there. He saw that excellence and joy could be part of the same pursuit,” he said. “That you could work hard, demand the best of yourself and the others you were with, and that would not diminish, it only enhanced your joy.

“That was an important lesson for me to learn. And I think it is [an important lesson] for young people where they tend to associate hard work with pain. I was taught that hard work meant that you could stand in front of a group of people and perform, and they would love you.”

Having the opportunity to observe world-class musicians up close has given him a greater understanding of and appreciation for their dedication to the little details that are considerable in aggregate.

“When you look at professional musicians or artists at any level, what you rarely see is the amount of time and energy it takes to get to that level of virtuosity. As a business person you begin to appreciate that. How many scales does Leo Kottke have to perfect to get to that level of excellence on the guitar? It’s unthinkable.

“Yet that’s indeed the journey in front of you. Every day you have to be willing to do a whole compendium of little things that all add up to greatness.”

7.  Believe in the goodness of mankind. Every conversation that I can recall with Mike seemed to have a tone that would best be described as hopeful. When we spoke of the workplace of the future, he spoke of the humanity of the workplace and the idea that the workforce of the future would be driven not by technology, but by people. When we discussed education reform, he didn’t speak in cynical tones regarding the resistance to change that he might encounter, but rather about the excitement that could be created by the innovations that he envisioned.

It’s much easier to go through life with a positive attitude when you’re an optimist rather than a pessimist. And you’re more likely to inspire those around you.

8.  Enjoy life’s simple pleasures. I once wrote in this forum that if you can’t find joy in the simple thinStL-Cath-8x10gs in life, the joy you find in fancy, expensive things won’t last. Mike’s life exemplified those sentiments. His sharp, sarcastic yet playful wit, his love of college basketball and sports in general, his joy in strumming the guitar or singing a favorite song, and the beauty of stroll through the streets of New Orleans were some of Mike’s favorite things that I knew from our friendship. His family and friends echoed those themes in my conversations with them and in their written thoughts as well.

9.  Courage is a virtue. In the best-selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins discusses a principle that great companies exhibit known as the Stockdale paradox. The concept was derived from his conversations with Admiral James Stockdale, a prisoner of war of the POW camp known as the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War.

Quoting Admiral Stockdale, Collins writes, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

While Mike was an optimist with a wonderful attitude and great enthusiasm for his work, he understood that leadership carried with it a responsibility to confront and acknowledge realities of your situation and organization, and to make difficult decisions. Great leaders and great organizations understand that problems ignored and not addressed head on don’t simply fix themselves. They have the potential to drain your organization (or yourself) of its resources and sap employee or stakeholder morale.

10.  Live a life of purpose. And finally, I’ll go back to the words that Mike shared at a time when I needed them most on mission and purpose:  “As for making a living…I’m pretty sure that’s not the point, right? Our job is to make a life, or as you say, make a difference. The money will take care of itself. You are putting yourself out there and establishing clearly your unique contribution to the world. It is working and it will continue to work…and counting dollars is not – repeat – is not a measure of success.”

Similarly, Mike referenced this quote in his dissertation work:

Purpose.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to
be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and
lived well.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Threnody

In his nonprofit consulting work, Mike guided his clients toward focusing on a mission that would inspire their team, their current and future board members, and that donors would enthusiastically get behind and support. Once again, focus on purpose, resources will follow.

In the book Man in the Mirror:  Solving the 24 Problems Men Face, author Patrick Morley discusses the difference between goals and purpose:

“Goals are what we do, purposes are why we do what we do…One of the most perplexing problems men face is that met goals tend to become an unrelated string of hollow victories…you have to keep setting new ones, because achieving them doesn’t provide any lasting satisfaction.

Silhouette father & sonTo be satisfying, our goals need to reflect our examination of life’s larger meaning. The plain truth is that most men either don’t know their purpose in life, or their purpose is too small. A man can do nothing more important than to wrestle with the purpose of his life.”

So my final suggestion is to encourage our youth to follow the pursuits that feed their soul and have an impact on others. We are great at celebrating those who exit the doors of our educational institutions and become well paid engineers and lawyers, and no harm in that. But let’s celebrate those who pursue educating impoverished children in 3rd world countries or inner cities. The struggling artist who believes they have a gift to share with the world and perseveres in the face of commercial obstacles. Or the social worker who helps victims of domestic abuse for only a shade above minimum wage. Let’s celebrate the honor in those pursuits with equal fervor.

Pursue a life well lived, in honor of the teacher who showed us how.

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Jazz Guitar Picking and Fingering Technique Survey: Players Weigh In

I posed a question of some of the greatest guitar players living in/emanating from/or with ties to New Orleans recently regarding picking/fingering technique that some guitar players grapple with, particularly jazz guitarists:

Q:  Alright guitarists, question. I often prefer using thumb and fingers to pluck chords, especially when omitting a string, but prefer the pick when soloing. I’ve seen some with a “slip” pick that’s attached to a thumb or finger that you can slide around as needed. Have you found an off the shelf solution, and if you’ve developed your own gizmo, what do you use?

Steve Olsen:

“I slip the pick between my index and middle while comping chords or chord melody playing…when I need to solo the pick is handy”

Steve’s website

Davy Mooney:

“I always use pick and fingers, and keep my nails kinda long, so they sound kinda like picks. I wrestled with various solutions for years before settling on this one….”

Davy’s Website

 

Jimmy Robinson:

“I make a pick with a plastic electrical clamp and a little screwpost. It fits on my index finger. When using my fingers, or thumb, the pick is completely out of the way. It does require re learning technique a bit, but it works for me. Cranston Clements is the other person on earth who uses it. You can see it in this clip”


Jimmy’s website

Bill Solley:

“I play finger style completely using classical guitar technique along with a few of my own!!!”

Bill’s (and vocalist Kim Prevost’s) Website

 

The One Thing Every Musician Needs to Earn a Living

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I took my family to a local restaurant in New Orleans called Felipe’s in the area known as Mid-City recently. Local guitarist Chip Wilson was playing on the patio. Most venues that have music are drinking establishments with age limits, so I’m always pleased to find a rare gem of a venue with live music where I can bring my family.

Chip is one of the good guys of New Orleans music, and a talented, versatile musician. A former luthier who transitioned to mastering the instruments he once produced, Chip is a bluesy, rootsy, jazzy, singer-songwriter with such tremendous command of the instrument. His playing evokes a cycle of inspiration and frustration for six-string layperson wannabes like myself, but I’m mesmerized by the way he engulfs the guitar with his finger-picking style.

When we were ready to leave, I walked back into the restaurant’s bar area and asked for a manager on duty. When he nervously approached, I said, “I just wanted to tell you that I’m always looking for place that I can bring my family to hear live music. I really appreciate you hiring great live musicians.” He thanked me for the feedback.

It’s easy to blame the venues for dwindling support of musicians, and there’s plenty we can criticize. I’m reminded of a viral ad that a restaurant posted for musicians to play for exposure in their restaurant and a musician’s comical reply. There are plenty of musician exploitation stories out there. But for the most part, restaurants and clubs are weighing a business decision – will the money I fork out for live music in my establishment be a good investment?

The truth is that if you don’t let the owner or manager know that you specifically sought out their venue because there was music, they’ll never know. So when there’s a slow season or there’s a downturn in the economy, it’s easy to cut back live music. If it drives more business than the musician’s fee, then not cutting music is a no-brainer.

The one thing every musician needs – supporters who are willing to take action.

So when you appreciate live music, let them know it. Somebody’s living depends on it.

The Good Guys (& Gals) of New Orleans Music

If you’re not from New Orleans or haven’t lived here for an extended period, it’s hard to articulate how wonderful the environment is among musicians here, particularly the fellowship and the way they nurture young artists and share the message of the joy of music education.

But let me try.

Several years ago I noticed in the newspaper one Saturday morning that Delfeayo Marsalis (trombonist of the famous Marsalis family) was holding “Cool School,” a session for young kids explaining and illustrating what jazz was all about through story and performance. I entered the small daycare facility and found myself in the presence of about 15 children, a dozen or so parents, and six world-class musicians. I couldn’t help but think that people in New York would line up in droves to watch a program like this. It’s both a blessing and a curse that our expectations of accessibility to great music is so high that we don’t even bat an eye that such a performance is available in such an intimate setting.

A few years later I visited the iconic music club Tipitina’s in New Orleans for the Tipitina’s Foundation Sunday music workshop. Again, 3 world-class musicians – Tony Dagradi (sax), Johnny Vidacovich (drums), and Roland Guerin (bass) played, and this time they mentored young musicians.  The format of the workshop is that the trio performs a couple of tunes as an intro, and then invite children onto the stage to join them.  About 15-20 kids joined the kids with various instruments in hand joined in. The musicians provided a brief tutorial on a simple 3-chord blues, and off they went.

As Sales and Marketing Rep. at LAFARGUE PIANOS, I hear over and over stories of parents who bring in their children for music lessons because they themselves weren’t fortunate enough to play an instrument. Either their parents didn’t believe it was important, they couldn’t afford lessons, the school they went to didn’t have a program or considered it non-essential, they tried but didn’t take music lessons seriously and later regretted it, or they simply never took the initiative. In any case, they make great sacrifices of both time and money to open the door to music for their children.

As we struggle with diminishing resources allocated to music education, kudos to all of the musicians, non-profits, and parents who are helping to fill in the gaps.

Bobby Lonero (1943-2013)

bobby & craigI’ve written several dozen music articles and reviews for local publications and jazz websites as a sideline over the past 7 years. I write mostly for the satisfaction of shedding light on musicians whom I believe have had a level of publicity or recognition that pales in comparison to their considerable accomplishments.

My friend and musical colleague Bobby Lonero passed away recently. Bobby was best known for his spot-on renditions of Louis Prima’s Greatest Hits, making him a favorite of the considerable Italian-Sicilian-American community in New Orleans. Italian-American Marching Club events, St. Joseph’s Day festivities, parades, weddings, banquets – Bobby was a fixture and brought immense joy to all of those events for roughly 50+ years as a professional musician.

Bobby Lonero was not widely known beyond the metropolitan New Orleans area. He had an original song or two that received airplay and charted in the late fifties, but nothing that would be highly recognizable beyond the most devout music historians. Bobby’s greatest legacy will be the thousands of glasses of red wine raised in celebration, wedding dances of Fathers and daughters named Angelina, Marie, or Giovanna, music accompanying St. Joseph’s Day parades, and Tarantella’s danced on overcrowded New Orleans dance floors.

Bobby Lonero was not perfect. His financial difficulties sometimes strained relationships with fellow musicians. He could be forgetful and disorganized. He sometimes embellished the truth. But as is the case with most accomplished musicians, when the final tally is completed by the only accountant who matters, the smiles and the joy and the memories he created for others will far outweigh his faults. And it’s not even a close call.

So as I find proper epitaphs difficult to come by and very little fanfare on display as I reflect on Bobby’s life and career, 5 1/2 decades of a working musician’s life at least seems worthy of a simple blog post.

bobbyloneroBobby Lonero and the New Orleans Express were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame roughly a decade ago. From late 2002-2004, I played several dozen jobs with Bobby’s band, so in some small way I guess my association with Bobby affords me a sense of music immortality.

I couldn’t attempt to compile a complete chronicle Bobby’s career. The formal documentation of his career is minimal, and most events would have to be pieced together from the recollections of the thousands of musicians who shared the stage with Bobby. Everyone has their own personal version, and this is mine.

My earliest memories of Bobby were of my parents going out to see Bobby’s band at local music/dance clubs in the early 70’s when dancing, drinking, mingling, and leisure suits were the order of the day. The culture was different then, before DJ’s, karaoke, and synthesized 1-man bands took over the night club scene. As a teen I took up the guitar and joined a garage rock band, with plans to conquer the world with our original songs. My dad once asked upon hearing one of those original songs why we didn’t focus more on cover songs. “Bobby Lonero plays other people’s songs, and he makes money playing music,” he would say.

Perhaps that was Bobby’s greatest strength and shortcoming. As time moved on, Bobby’s repertoire gravitated increasingly toward Louis Prima hits to satisfy his Italian-American following. Though he recorded and pursued original songs early in his career, he never quite caught the break that would give him a defining “signature” song that so many other New Orleans artists used to propel their careers. When we had conversations about songs that he had recorded and written, there were also stories of deals gone bad and promises not kept that doomed some of those songs and recordings to obscurity.

For decades I knew Bobby only casually as the musician I’d see at Italian events, parades, and celebrations. In 2002 our musical paths would cross serendipitously. My Uncle Walton “Duke” Duplantis was known to many in New Orleans as the host of Franky & Johnny’s restaurant who would sing Sinatra hits on the P.A. system along with the jukebox that still spun vinyl 45’s. When friends and extended family decided to give Duke one “Big Night,” a first class Black Tie events where the charismatic, yet perhaps unpolished vocalist could realize his musical aspirations, we all knew there was only one backup band who could fill the bill – Bobby Lonero and the New Orleans Express.

I had written charts for many of the Sinatra tunes that Duke was familiar with, and for several months Bobby, Duke and I worked out the kinks and honed in on the songlist, later bringing in the full band. The fruits of those efforts came to fruition in November of 2002 at a sold out Rosy’s Jazz Hall on Tchoupitoulas St., a night that will be remembered fondly by all who knew these 2 musicians, the background story, or both.

There would be annual “Duke’s Big Night” shows again in 2003 and 2004. We would play smaller clubs with a scaled down band in the months in between. After the 2004 show, I began to pursue some of my original music with other musicians, and Bobby and I lost touch musically. On occasion we would cross paths, and I’d help him out with transportation or a favor, or I’d buy him lunch.

I guess what I’ll always remember is how happy Bobby would be when things went well musically. The instrumental song “Europa” became somewhat of a signature song for me, as the saxophone player and I would trade off verses and licks throughout. Bobby always laughed and smiled at me when we tore that one up. We once worked out harmonized licks at the end of the bridge in the song “You Make Me Feel So Young,” and we were both in musical heaven when our two guitars plucked in unison.

We played an Italian Festival in Kenner years ago, and I’ll never forget one song in particular. I took a break for a couple of songs and walked the audience, and one of those songs was a crowd pleaser known as “Eh Gumbari.” He had a number of parents line up with young children along the front of the stage, each participating as the kids shouted out the various instrument names and the band echoed the sounds. It’s a wonder anyone would have the patience to pull off such a feat. But Bobby’s defining quality was that he so desperately wanted everyone to enjoy the music and that he wanted everyone involved. And rarely did Bobby fail to get such a reaction and participation from his audience.

I surprised him once in 2005 when my wife and I took a weekend getaway to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where, to our surprise, he was playing at one of the hotel lounges. He lit up with an ear to ear grin when we walked in and told the audience that a great musician and great guitarist with whom he had played many, many shows had just entered the bar. Bobby had such respect for fellow musicians. I don’t think I can ever recall an instance where he denied a request of a fellow musician to sit in when we were playing together.

He asked if I had any requests, and he obliged with “Banana Split for My Baby,” another real crowd pleaser.

I had the above photo of Bobby & I framed, and I brought it to him one day to sign. He wrote simply, “To a great player and a great friend. Your forever friend, Bobby.”

Here’s one final musical memory of Bobby – a poignant Christmas song I had the pleasure of performing with him live entitled “Christmas for Two.”

Alicia Keys Super Bowl 47 National Anthem – Thoughts & Observations

Jazz singer/songwriter Dave Frishberg once recorded a song entitled “You Would Rather Have the Blues,” a tongue-in-cheek narrative poking fun at people who are always looking for reasons to be unhappy. Though the song was written long before the social media revolution, one might surmise that the tune is aimed directly at the Twitter nation.

Alicia Keys performed the Star Spangled Banner kicking off tonight’s Super Bowl in the New Orleans between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Fancisco 49ers. It’s a role that has come under considerable scrutiny in recent years. Some artists lip-synch the song to a pre-recorded track, some sing live and get criticized for not sounding great, some have forgotten the lyrics. Some are blasted for taking too many liberties with the melody.

The version that Ms. Keys performed this evening was simply spectacular. The combination of her restrained piano accompaniment to her extraordinary vocals, both of which were performed live, was wonderfully simplistic and appropriately poignant. The chordal arrangement was thoughtful and reserved. Many vocalists prefer the safety blanket of a large orchestral backup, yet the honest emotion of piano and voice was consistent with the style of the artist and daunting to pull off in such a setting. And you never had the sense that she believed that she or her performance were bigger or more important than the song itself, a trait becoming rarer and rarer in the day of Megastars and Super Bowl production overkill.

Yet the initial response on the social media outlets focused on the length of the song, a whopping 2 minutes 30 seconds preceding a game that exceeded 4 hours. Amazing. It should be noted that most of the early reviews that focused on the performance itself have been very positive, some concurring with me that it ranked as one of the all time best at this event. If you didn’t care for Alicia’s performance, let me know who has done a better job performing the song LIVE in the history of the Super Bowl – a short list I’m sure.

By the way, Kudos to local New Orleans Piano Showroom, Lafargue Pianos. Technicians from the local Yamaha Piano dealer were summoned to give Ms. Keys’ Grand Piano some prep work, and the look and sound were outstanding.

Here’s a video of tonight’s performance…

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-super-bowl/0ap2000000136099/Alicia-Keys-wows-singing-national-anthem