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Celebrating Allison Miner

Celebrating Allison Miner

Allison Miner: Musician’s Advocate and Jazz Fest Founder

Allison Miner, the musicians’ advocate, crusader for cultural preservation, event producer, artist manager and Jazz Fest co-founder, will be the subject of a pair of events honoring her legacy March 24 and March 25 at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center. Admission is free to both events. 

On Friday, March 24, we’ll screen “Reverence,” the 1997 documentary about Allison that was directed by Amy Nesbitt. The screening will start at 7 p.m., and will be followed by a Q&A with the director.

On Saturday, March 25, we will present a panel discussion about Allison’s life and legacy. Participating will be:  Stafford Agee, a member of the Rebirth Brass Band, a group that Allison managed; Mary Len Costa, who was a close friend of Allison’s; documentarian Amy Nesbitt;  and one of Allison’s sons, Jonathan Kaslow. Longtime New Orleans anthropologist and oral historian Helen A. Regis will moderate the discussion, which begins at 7 p.m.

The events are co-presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive and Nola4Women. The Archive - which Allison Miner founded - is an educational resource that identifies, collects, preserves and protects materials of cultural and historical significance to New Orleans and Louisiana, as well as the records of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and its assets and programs. Nola4Women celebrates women and girls and provides forums to address the challenges they face and promote a future where they have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

“Reverence” is a close look at the life and work of a woman who spent her life “struggling to unite people of different races, classes, and genders through the healing power of music.” It first premiered in New Orleans in 1997.

The March 25 panel discussion will be an opportunity to hear from those who knew Allison well and worked with her closely. It also will be an opportunity for audience members to share their own remembrances.

Stafford Agee is a trombonist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and educator.  Born in Biloxi and raised in New Orleans, Stafford studied music with Herman Jones at Charles J. Colton Elementary School.  He went on to play with the Rebirth Brass Band for 27 years, travelling internationally and appearing in David Simon’s “Treme” series, in which he played the music for the Antoine Batiste character, played onscreen by Wendell Pierce.  Rebirth was awarded the  Grammy in 2012 for the Best Regional Roots Album.  Mr. Agee now runs Rebirth Instrument Repair, while continuing his work as a musician, volunteer and educator at Landry-Walker High School.

Mary Len Costa is an artist, an avid chef and a preservationist, and one of Allison’s best friends and confidants. She has worked with the Arts Council of New Orleans for 16 years, where she served in many capacities, including director of public art, chief fundraiser and as Interim Executive Director.  A native of Memphis, she was a textile designer, and worked as a sculptor and ceramicist.  After moving to New Orleans she worked with the Audubon Institute and Coliseum Square Association, and became centrally involved in the revitalization of the Lower Garden District.

Amy Nesbitt is the artistic director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, presenting more than 175 music, film, cirque, comedy, wellness and culinary events each season. Previously, she was a documentary filmmaker based in New Orleans, where she founded the nonprofit production company V. Veracity, which continues to support the work of independent filmmakers with connections to Louisiana.

Jonathan Kaslow is one of Allison’s two sons. He has worked in the music industry since graduating from Hofstra University with a BA in Anthropology.  He attributes his mother’s work with musicians as a big influence on his life. He said, “I’m doing a lot of the same work my Mom used to do.” He has worked at the record labels Island Deaf Jam music and Concord Music Group, and currently works at TRK Artist Management. 

Helen A. Regis has been writing about the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, following parades, listening to musicians at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, and doing research at the Foundation Archive for more than a decade.

Allison Miner was born Elizabeth Allison Crowther in Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida, where she attended Seabreeze High School. During high school she performed as a vocalist with her friend and classmate Duane Allman and his brother Gregg in their fledgling band at local venues under the billing A. Miner & The Allman Joys. The brothers would go on to form the legendary Allman Brothers Band.

She moved to New Orleans when she was 17, after hearing Danny Barker on TV say New Orleans was a city that cries when you’re born and celebrates when you die.

She came to New Orleans with hopes of becoming a singer, but it was at her job as an administrative assistant at Tulane University's William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive where she developed a passion for New Orleans music.

When George Wein, the founder of the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival, asked the Tulane University Jazz archive's then director Richard Allen to recommend people who could help him launch a New Orleans music festival in Congo Square, he suggested his employee Miner. She was then seeing Quint Davis, who is today the festival's producer-director. The two began rounding up interested musicians. The festival grew into what is today the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell.

Allison helped to run the festival for its first five years. She is also credited with founding the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Archive, which contains recordings from musicians interviewed at the festival as well as other documents, photographs, recordings and artifacts related to the Festival and Louisiana culture.

She also went on to guide the career of Professor Longhair, aka Henry Roeland Byrd, from the mid-1970s until his death in 1980. During those years, he toured overseas, produced popular recordings and gained critical acclaim. Her husband at the time, Andrew Kaslow, led Professor Longhair's back-up band. "Her devotion to Professor Longhair gave him the best years of his life," Wein was quoted as saying in an obituary that ran in The Times-Picayune.

Miner and Kaslow moved to Cleveland in the mid-1980s, where she produced a Cajun and zydeco radio show at Case Western Reserve University on WRUW 91.1, led the National Folk Festival at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and was development director at the Cleveland Music School Settlement.

Miner returned to New Orleans in 1988, creating the Jazz Fest's Music Heritage Stage, which features interviews with performers. "This is my way of bringing the Jazz Fest back to the way it was in the old days, like sitting around the living room floor and getting to know these people," she said in a 1990 interview. "It was our way of having a more intimate involvement with the musicians.... We talk and they perform and answer questions from the audience. People say it's like the Oprah Winfrey part of the festival." Miner said that Jazz Fest "is a reflection of what the world needs to know about New Orleans music."

It was during her second stint in New Orleans that Allison began managing the Rebirth Brass Band, helping to grow the group from local phenomenon to mainstays of the international touring circuit.

In the tribute film “Reverence,” Allison is quoted as saying, "I want a little more reverence for what we're doing, and I want to hear what these people have to say about themselves and give them a chance to feel important like they're worth something.  We're not just slapping them up on the stage and slapping them off."

In December 1995, Miner succumbed to complications from Multiple Myeloma. Her memorial service and traditional New Orleans jazz funeral were held at City Park and attended by many musicians from the city such as Kermit Ruffins and the Zion Harmonizers. The Heritage Stage was renamed in her memory as the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage. In 1997, her book “Jazz Fest Memories” was published posthumously by Pelican Publishing Company. The book contains photographs by Michael P. Smith and descriptions and stories of the early days of the festival.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.