Tom McDermott

Few pianists or composers are able to embrace the breadth and depth of New Orleans’ piano traditions as Tom McDermott. The venerable musician grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, where he absorbed ragtime, traditional jazz, and, inevitably, the sounds of New Orleans musical legends such as James Booker, Dr. John, and Professor Longhair. He followed the river down to the Crescent City to perform at the 1894 World’s Fair, and he quickly became a staple on the scene. His strong left hand and deft touch, combined with his immense repertoire and sly sense of humor, cemented his position as a local’s favorite.

Tom’s versatility is showcased through his eclectic variety of projects. He was a founding member of the traditional Dukes of Dixieland and the raucous horn-heavy New Orleans Nightcrawlers, and recorded and toured extensively with both those groups and a number of others.

His own discography – now numbering nearly twenty full-length releases –features myriad musical genres, ranging from Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, and Louis Moreau Gottschalk to the Beatles, Brazilian music, and contemporary New Orleans funk. He excels in the duo setting, and his 2009 CD “Duets,” with luminaries such as Anders Osborne, John Boutte, and Connie Jones, was named Offbeat’s Album of the Year.

McDermott is equally active as an eclectic musical composer. He’s written and recorded upwards of 100 original songs, created countless arrangements, and written for the theater (the Obie-award-winning off-Broadway show, “Nita and Zita”) and television (Showtime’s “The Knick”). His work has been heard world-wide on public radio (“All Things Considered,” “The Moth Radio Hour,” “American Routes”).

He is a prolific writer, sharing his musical thoughts and travel impressions on social media and in other writings. He lectures around the country, including Harvard University, on New Orleans music. His 2018 book, “Five Lines, No Waiting,” is a collection of 176 clever limericks he wrote amidst his demanding touring schedule.

He’s also had a bit of a career as an actor, most notably in the HBO series “Treme,” where he appeared as himself in three seasons, and ten of his tunes were used in the soundtrack.

These days he can often be found in solo gigs or in partnership with other New Orleans notables, especially the multi-talented saxwoman Aurora Nealand. He travels extensively, and brings his world-wide influences back to New Orleans to color his own sophisticated tonal palette.

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