Wendell Pierce as trombonist Antoine Batiste in HBO’s Treme was always hustling for gigs. Michael Urban’s “Nice to Meet You, Three, Four” in Southern Culture’s Fall music issue explains what life is like for New Orleans musicians.
“The notoriously low pay for New Orleans musicians receive – characteristically, for the band, $25-$30 per forty-five minute set on Bourbon Street; 20 percent of the bar receipts on Frenchmen Street – has engendered a number of practices that cement the bonds of the musical community. To survive economically, musicians belong to as many as ten different bands, playing two, three, or even four separate gigs per night. This maximizes the number of opportunities to get paid for playing and, in turn, fosters versatility – the capacity to perform numerous style of New Orleans music. It also promotes a sense of community, and New Orleans musicians employ phrases such as ‘one big band’ or ‘everybody plays with everybody’ to refer to the frequency with which they find themselves on stage together.”