A Musical Tradition Perseveres

The New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra. i i

hide captionThe New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra.

Photos by Hollis Gabriel
The New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra.

The New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra.

Photos by Hollis Gabriel
George Schmidt plays banjo. i i

hide captionGeorge Schmidt is a period painter, banjo player and vocalist.

George Schmidt plays banjo.

George Schmidt is a period painter, banjo player and vocalist.

A Distinct Sound

The New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra performs the 'All Things Considered' theme.

It's hard enough to say the name on our air: The New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra. But the 16-piece revival jazz orchestra is one of our sentimental favorites.

We spoke with George Schmidt, a period painter, banjo player and vocalist, just after Katrina to find out how one of the city's beloved characters was holding up as an evacuee. John Craft, the general manager and a trombone player, was an e-mailing source of stories throughout the storm.

But it’s the solace that the NLOFO provides its members — and provided us — that sealed our bond.

You see, The Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom Club — aka, the orchestra — has been playing every Wednesday night upstairs of George's Julia Street art gallery for 25 years. No matter what. It's the New Orleans musical equivalent of a weekly poker game.

They play the craziest, kick-out music. It's all from the 1890s to the early 1930s. Some of my favorites are from the Burning Sands CD, tunes called "Egyptian Ella" and "Rebecca Came Back from Mecca" and "International Rag."

So imagine sitting down in their dusty practice space, piled high with decades of vintage sheet music, just weeks after the storm... and being transported. OK, a few of the woodwinds hadn't made it back. But that evening was transcendent for the NPR crew.

We had spent days wading through the worst devastation the United States has ever seen. That night, the New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra was proof that New Orleans would be back.

We asked them to honor us with their version of the All Things Considered theme music. We've been playing it on air all week. Beth Turner and Pete Wolbrette, the technical director, did the arrangement.

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