New Orleans — Bob French, a third-generation New Orleans musician who led the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band for more than 30 years and was well-known as a disc jockey on WWOZ, died Monday from complications due to diabetes and dementia. He was 74.
Son of banjo player Albert “Papa” French, Bob French succeeded his father as the drummer and leader of the jazz band that was founded in 1910. Bob French last played with the band in 2011, when his nephew Gerald French took over.
Gerald French, also a drummer, said that he was listening to his uncle play before he was born — when his mother frequented gigs while pregnant. As a youngster, Gerald French said, he sat right by the drums and watched his uncle’s every move.
Matt Lemmler, a New Orleans musician who played and recorded extensively with Bob French, said he was a master drummer and “an original — he did things his own way.”
Lemmler said Bob French mentored many younger musicians like himself, providing opportunities to play and passing down New Orleans history and musical lineage.
“When you heard him play, you could hear the past and the present,” Lemmler said.
Of the younger generation of musicians who played with Bob French, Gerald French said, “A lot of us got our feet wet as far as real traditional jazz is concerned. Bob was definitely a stickler for that.”
Known for his propensity for swearing and at times confrontational behavior, Lemmler said he admired Bob French for always saying what was on his mind.
“He followed his own rules,” Lemmler said. “He had no problem expressing himself.”
Gerald French said some of his fondest memories of his uncle are when he lived next door and they would take turns cooking.
“He really could cook,” he said, describing Bob French’s mastery of his mother’s recipes.
“My uncle was a character,” Gerald French said. “He was very outspoken but had a heart of gold.”
French is survived by two brothers and four children. Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.