Gerald French joined the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band as their new drummer, replacing his uncle, fellow drummer Bob French.
Gerald, the son of bassist and singer George French, spent his formative years as a musician at the Fifth African Baptist Church. As a boy, he tagged along to second-line parades, to his father’s and grandfather’s gigs, and to Tradition Hall, sitting near the drums to watch his uncle "like a hawk."
Other local drummers who impacted Gerald French's approach include Louis Barbarin, Smokey Johnson, Ernest Elly, Duke Barker, Frank Oxley and such contemporaries as Russell Batiste, Shannon Powell, Raymond Weber and Herlin Riley. By 21, he was subbing for Bob with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band: "I’m onstage with a bunch of 80- and 90-year-olds, and they're kicking my ass."
The Alcee Fortier High School graduate studied briefly at Southern University, then earned a radiological technology certificate from Delgado Community College. Gerald French worked as the assistant band director at St. Mary’s Academy, but has otherwise made his living as a versatile drummer.
Gerald French has spent the past 14 years with Charmaine Neville and has backed Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John, trumpeters Leroy Jones and Gregg Stafford, clarinetist Michael White and pianist Lars Edegran, among others. He's a regular at the Palm Court Jazz Café and Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub, and masks with the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians.
At some point, Bob apparently expressed to Irvin Mayfield his desire for Gerald to succeed him. When it became clear this fall that Bob’s condition would not improve, Mayfield spoke to Gerald about taking over the Monday night slot permanently.
To do so, Gerald French gave up his regular Monday gig at Snug Harbor with Charmaine Neville; he still performs with her elsewhere. "She was totally understanding about the whole thing. She was very gracious."
Gerald renders funkier 'street' brass music with his Original Déjà Vu Brass Band, but is committed to maintaining the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band’s traditional repertoire, even if the musicians are intrinsically more contemporary in their approach.