Fellowship of music brings New Orleans man to Commerce

Monday, September 19, 2005

Saxophonist kept his beloved instrument with him when his family fled the hurricane.

After the city of New Orleans was left flooded by Hurricane Katrina, the soulful sound of jazz music was washed out of town. Many musicians lost the instruments that provided the theme song for their beloved city.

But longtime New Orleans saxophonist Rasheed Akbar wasn't one of them; he still has his saxophone.

Akbar, who is an acquaintance of Pat Schwent, performed with her band, Saxy Jazz Quartet, Sunday afternoon at the River Ridge Winery in Commerce.

"About four years ago, I went to New Orleans and was roaming the streets of the French Quarters, looking for other musicians," Schwent said.

She happened to come across Akbar, who was playing in front of the famous coffee shop, Cafe' Dumond.

Akbar was employed by the city of New Orleans to play music for tourists.

"We started talking and he invited me to play music at a club with him later that night," Schwent said.

That night, Akbar told Schwent that he had been looking to buy a specific type of saxophone, a Cannonball Grand Soprano Sax, that Schwent was able to locate for him at Shivelbine's Music Store in Cape Girardeau.

For four years the two musicians had kept in touch and three weeks ago, after the hurricane hit, Schwent became very worried for her New Orleans friend.

"I had no clue where he was, but my daughter was able to track him down in Memphis," she said.

Akbar and his wife took refuge with their family in Memphis, Tenn., after they were stranded from their home.

"We were actually vacationing at Hilton Head the weekend the hurricane hit," Akbar said. "We didn't prepare for this hurricane, we only had three days worth of clothes with us."

And Akbar had his beloved soprano saxophone, something he never left home without.

When Schwent contacted Akbar about performing with the Saxy Jazz Quartet, he was a little apprehensive at first.

"I wasn't sure if I wanted to play today but I'm so happy I did," Akbar said. "I'm feeling the world's kindness right now."

Shivelbine's and Schwent donated a Cannonball Tenor Saxophone to Akbar at the winery.

As the water slowly recedes in New Orleans, Akbar knows in his heart that the city will flourish again and the music will be heard from the streets of the French Quarter.

"Every place has it's uniqueness, but there's no place like New Orleans, Akbar said. "To say it won't come back, that's crazy."

Currently Akbar is playing New Orleans jazz music at King's Palace Cafe on Beale Street in Memphis.

jfreeze@semissourian.com

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