New Orleans filmmaker dies in depression

Filmmaker Stevenson J. Palfi, best known for the award-winning documentary "Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together," has died. He was 53.

Palfi shot himself Dec. 14 at his home, his family told. Relatives said Hurricane Katrina had destroyed or severely damaged almost all of his property and possessions, and he was severely depressed.

He had been living with his former wife and co-producer, Polly Waring, whose home was one of the few still habitable in the Mid-City area where both lived.

Palfi grew up in Chicago, where he graduated from the University of Chicago Laboratory School. He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The 1982 documentary for which he was best known features three generations of New Orleans pianists: Isidore "Tuts" Washington, Henry Roeland "Professor Longhair" Byrd and Allen Toussaint, composer of such hits as "Workin' in a Coal Mine," "Mother-in-Law" and "Southern Nights." The film is still in distribution.

At the time of his death, Palfi was in the final stages of production on a feature-length program about Toussaint titled "Songwriter, Unknown." He had been working on the film for more than 15 years.

Other New Orleans musicians who were subjects of Palfi's works included singer Ernie K-Doe and Preservation Hall banjoist Emmanuel "Manny" Sayles.

His work also included a 13-week series of documentaries and short films produced for The Learning Channel and hosted by actor Martin Sheen, a personal friend.

That series included "Setting the Record Straight," showing the musical versatility of violinist Papa John Creach, former fiddler for the rock band Jefferson Starship.

A tribute to Palfi is planned at Offbeat Magazine's "Best of the Beat" Awards ceremony Jan. 21 at the New Orleans House of Blues, the AP reports.


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