Members of band Dr. Jazz share lifelong bond

Members of band Dr. Jazz share lifelong bond

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - New Orleans is a music city where song often serves as the common thread, bringing people together. There's one group who has withstood the test of time, becoming more popular as the years go by, bringing melodies to people's ears for more than 60 years.

Saturday night in the French Quarter, a second line weaves it's way along Bourbon Street. As people stop to watch and dance, it's the music that first catches their attention. Then, maybe the age of the performers. Some of the men have been marching to the same beat for most of their lives.

"We've seen each other grow up, our children grow up, and now grandchildren growing up," said Russell Steele.

At 74 and 83 years old, Steele and Sal Suer are the two surviving original members of "Dr. Jazz."

"You get very close, being together almost every weekend like that," Steele said.

They've built a lifetime of memories, getting together when they were just 21 and 14 years old, thanks to a music teacher at Loyola University.

"This band called the Sophisticats needed a trombone player and he recommended me to the leader of the band," Steele said.

The Sophisticats played at clubs all over the city, sneaking in their underage member.

Suer recalls, "He said that boy on trombone looks a little young to be playing in this club. I said, 'Landry, he's 18 years old, of course I knew he was 14."

The men grew up together.

"Sal played for my wedding and I've been married 51 years, going on 52. That goes back a ways," Steele said.

Pictures help jog their memories of the early days. In 1967, a then 24-year-old Steele moved to the nation's capitol to pursue his medical career. But that wouldn't stop the music.

"Sometimes the band members came to where I was, and we played, and there were a number of medical meetings in New Orleans and I would come down and we'd get together," Steele said.

They even gathered in different cities to play for their childrens' weddings. Fast forward to 1991 and Steele's return to his native New Orleans. His old friends waited for him.

"We spent more time socializing and eating than we did playing music," Steele explained.

They booked a graduation gig under a new name "Dr. Jazz" and eventually played a wedding. Then, the bride did something that catapulted their business.

"She got on there, unbeknownst to me, I never heard of 'The Knot,' and there's a message board, and the Monday after we played for her Saturday wedding, I started getting these phone calls from people to hire our band," Steele said. "She just said we were great and the best thing since sliced bread or something like that, and all of a sudden, we were in the wedding business."

Now they're booked almost every single weekend. It's a level of demand the duo never predicted. They admit, it comes with a few challenges.

"The actual playing music, that's the easy part. Carrying the equipment upstairs is the hard part when you get older," Suer said.

But they love what they do.

Through the years, Dr. Jazz marked milestones they never dreamed of: playing for President George W. Bush and Gov. Bobby Jindal, performing at Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest. Yet with time, the band shrank.

"The trumpet player passed away, one of the sax players passed on and drummer passed on," Suer said.

Eventually, Sal and Russell found themselves alone with their memories. While there are new members of Dr. Jazz, they are the only two left to reflect on the lifelong bond they've created, never imagining all those years ago at such young ages, they'd one day be sitting here side by side in their golden years.

"Sixty years playing music together, that's a long relationship," Steele said.

It's a relationship woven together through a common love of music and now, a brotherly love for each other that withstood the test of time.

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