Donna’s Bar and Grill is History (book excerpt)

As has already been reported elsewhere, the great club on N. Rampart Street has served its last drink.  I spent many, many nights there.  So in honor of those memories I serve up an this offering from my upcoming book-

“Because of the laid-back vibe and inviting atmosphere of Donna’s, many of the elder statesmen of the brass band community gravitated to the intimate club.  Ruffins gave them stage time and continued to develop strong relationships that further influenced his new career direction.

Primary among them was “Uncle” Lionel Batiste.  Batiste is a wisp of a man who plays bass drum for the Tremé Brass Band and is an irrepressible personality with a penchant for dark glasses at night and dapper suits that recall an earlier era.  His nickname comes from the fact that everyone knows him and since he can’t possibly remember all the names, he simply calls his many younger friends “nephew” or “niece.”

Batiste became a regular, entertaining everyone with tall tales of gentlemanly conquest and sotto voce fables of life in old Tremé.  During the second set of Ruffins’ first show at the club, he decided it was time to perform, but without his bass drum, he was forced to improvise.

Batiste headed into the kitchen and came out with a stack of pots and pans, which he painstakingly assembled on the floor in front of the band.  After getting his set up just right, he pulled a pair of spoons out of some hidden pocket and began playing this makeshift percussion kit while on his knees.

Everyone in the place began cracking up at what initially appeared to be part of a comedy routine.  However, Batiste is a talented percussionist and after a minute or so, the band realized he was serious.  Without the aid of a microphone, he proceeded to take an amazing solo on the pots and pans.

After a song or two, he picked up the kitchen equipment, took a small bow and headed back to his beer at the bar.  He performed the same musical stunt a few more times at both Donna’s and Vaughan’s, and it was never reduced to shtick.  It was just the fun-loving, musical nature of the man on display.”

copyright 2010 Jay Mazza All Rights Reserved

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