Packing the House

After bringing New Orleans jazz to the world, Tony Gullage sets out to bring it on home

Romania is a long way from Lakewood Elementary, but the roaring crowd in the school gymnasium seems no less enthusiastic than crown Princess Margareta.

“When [Petr] Verner of the Jazz Foundation of American Foundation asked me if I would take this on, I jumped at the chance,” Luling-based musician and author Tony Gullage said.  “We travel a lot and we play a lot of good venues where we’re separated from the people and this gives us the opportunity to connect.”

Gullage performed a concert last Thursday morning as part of a Jazz in Schools initiative from the Jazz Foundation of America. The former Tyler Perry music director and full-time musician has been working with the foundation since 2006, and has represented southern Louisiana and jazz traditions as far away as England and Romania. Today, however, Gullage has begun a tour that is now taking him a little closer to home, attending schools and nursing homes throughout the area.

“When we play the nursing homes, it’s more of a music therapy,” Gullage said. “You see these people come to life from hearing certain songs and I imagine it kinda takes them to a better time—music is definitely a powerful medicine.”

Only two days prior, Gullage said, his band played a nursing home in Luling. During Thursday mornings event, the songs varied significantly. Classics were played that included a second line parade, led by Lakewood principal Kelli Oeterling, and a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” For another song, Gullage played a funk-style base riff as his daughter, 16-year-old Charis, tap danced for an excited crowd. Gullage’s other son, Kevin, played keyboard in the band.

“I thought it would be an extra treat because they studied with Mr. Petri in talented theater, and both now attend NOCCA,” Gullage said of his children. “I thought it was a good thing for them to come back and to see how far they’ve come.”

As a part of the new tour, Gullage said he has performed shows throughout the parish. Schools have included  R.K. Smith and Mimosa Park Elementary. Gullage said a grant from the late pharmaceutical magnate and jazz lover Agnes Varis has enabled him and his bandmates to travel and bring jazz to the community. He hopes to reach out to more schools before the year’s end, but that he “knows how it is, with schedules and testing.”

Gullage previously made headlines by making the transition from the stage to the page. His book, “Did Love Cause Me to Hurt?” was developed from  screenplay he wrote about drug abuse, child abuse and family abandonment. In his musical career, Gullage had the opportunity to perform with Dr. John and Henry Butler.

But in the Lakewood gymnasium, Gullage said gets the opportunity to give something to the community. Children clap, cheer and giggle through the performances before being shuffled, in single-file lines, back to the classes.

“I thought it went great,” Gullage said. “It shows me just how in tune the younger generation are with music now.”


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