Famed New Orleans pianist and bandleader Ronnie Kole dies

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NEW ORLEANS— Renowned New Orleans pianist and bandleader Ronnie Kole has died. Kole’s son Ronnie confirmed that his father passed away of natural causes at aged 89.

A public viewing will be held at the Northshore Harbor Center in Slidell, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Sept. 2.

Central to the New Orleans music story of the second half of the 20th Century are the hands of Ronnie Kole.

He hails from Chicago and years ago Ronnie was getting tired of touring with his band and got a fateful call from another New Orleans music giant, Al Hirt.

Kole says, “Al got a hold of me in Norfolk before I even left there and says ‘I want you to come down and open up my new club on Bourbon St. and be my house band’ and I said ‘Oh my God’!”

Good news for us, he never left!  Ronnie eventually teamed with the folks from Moran’s Restaurant and opened his own place on Bourbon St., called Kole’s Corner.  Back then the street was full of great local music and gave Ronnie a real chance to show his versatility.

Ronnie Kole speaking to WGNO at his home in Slidell (WGNO-TV)

In the late 60’s, Ronnie was a part of the team that handled a few festivals in our city, but saw a need to produce a bigger showcase of our music.

“We realized that this was too big…too successful, and we needed a major guy who did festivals,” said Kole.

So the decision was made to bring in George Wein of the famed Newport Jazz Festival was made and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ronnie and his wife Gardner Kole had been an integral part of the Slidell arts scene for over five decades – giving their time, talent and support to many organizations.

Over 25 years ago, they started “Jazz on the Bayou” to help raise money for local non profit organizations. To date, “Jazz on the Bayou” has raised over $1.5 million dollars for these causes in Slidell and St. Tammany Parish.

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