Tuesday, August 4, 2009

AL Broussard: The most profound musical experience of my life

I've seen a lot of steller musicians, famous and infamous. I've been to rock concerts, outdoor festivals, concertos, the symphony, jazz shows and all forms of live music in between.

As a musician, I've played a lot of gigs and shows with lots of different types of band. I came up in the band program starting in 6th grade and continued in orchestral and symphonic and marching bands until I was into college. Likewise, I've been playing in rock, jazz, soul, blues and even the odd polka or klenzmer band since I was fourteen. Bands I was in during high school played dances and the like, and although my performing goes through peaks and valleys, it's a great part of my life.

Some of my musical experiences where I've been playing have been profound for me. It seemed like nothing could go wrong in 2002 and 2003 when it came to the 10 or so bands I played with during that time. I like to do substitution work especially in blues bands, and that year was a banner year for playing some great shows with some very well known regional bands.

But despite all of that, the most profound musical experience of my life happened on a cold and drizzly New Orleans night in February of 1994. I was at a seminar, and I had made a few new friends from other attendees who share my profession. Although from different parts of the country, we quickly agreed we needed serious Louisiana cuisine, some drinks, and a nice bar to hear some great NOLA music in.

We ended up at a place called The 711 Club, so known possibly because it is located at 711 Bourbon Street. It had a restaurant deal in the back courtyard, behind the smallish bar, known as The Tricou House. It's a famous old building with a lot of charm.

Billed in front of the club was AL BROUSSARD: THE HUMAN TRUMPET. We didn't know exactly what a performer billed as the human trumpet might do, but it seemed one of the more interesting things going on. It was slow that night on Bourbon Street, being the first Sunday after the end of Mardi Gras week, and I guess performers and revelers alike were in for that night.

And at about nine o'clock, a very elderly black gentleman sat behind an electric piano and microphone and commenced to render the most soulful and rocking creole blues and ragtime and jazz type New Orleans music I have ever heard, and that's saying something because I have lots of recordings by The Meters, Louis Armstrong, The Neville Brothers, Dr. John and other NOLA influenced artists.
It took me back to the days of 1926 when Al and Louis Armstrong and drummers like Baby Dodds were playing in Storyville in New Orleans. Al lived to be 95 years old, playing music I know until at least 2000, a year before his death, which is when I last saw him. He still "had it" at 94. What a dude.

Al reminded me of Louis Armstrong, so it was no surprise to learn that they played together quite a bit over their careers. Al never had the success that Louis had, but that didn't stop Al from playing those Orleans blues and boogie woogies late into the night every night.

And so the evening went. One spellbinding and hypnotizing tune after another. Usually at a bar band gig, you revel for the breaks so you can talk to your friends. Not so this night. The ten or so tourists in the place were simply mezmerized with the soul and beauty of Al's vocals and piano playing.

The human trumpet moniker came from the fact that Al could imitate with his mouth the sound of a soulful muted trumpet.

You can hear some of Al's tunes and I think buy downloads. Here's a link I found:

It might not strike you as the most soulful or original music you ever heard. But to me, it was like feeling part Louis Armstrong and part Robert Johnson. But it is well done and to me, hearing it live struck a serious chord. I was lucky enough to see him a few more times before he died. He kept performing until his nineties, and my last vision of him is loading up his keyboard onto his 1970's Honda Trail 90 motorcycle and putting off into the night after finishing a gig in the Quarter.


  1. Same year...1994...I ended up in that same bar in November as I was leaving Louisiana (my home state) to move back to California. I did a shot at the bar with two friends, then leaned in to listen to Al Broussard play. At some point, he played All of Me and I started singing along from the bar, quietly. He saw me and made me sit on a stool next to him and sing with him. I am no singer, but I sang my heart out with him.

    I left New Orleans the next day and that is, in my opinion, the greatest goodbye ever for my favorite city in the world!


    1. The same thing happened to me in 1997. He heard me singing and asked me to come sit next to him while he was playing this old upright piano. He gave me one of his CDs and autographed it for me. He was truly a great musician. I loved his spirit and soulful singing. Liz B.

  2. Al may have passed on but his music lives on inside of us!

    Thanks for stopping by

    El Fisho

  3. i hope one day i will come enjoy your music with my man (PHIL) one of this days .