A longtime staple of the New Orleans blues and boogie-woogie community, pianist Isidore "Tuts" Washington was a primary influence on later Crescent City players spanning from Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint to Fats Domino. Born January 24, 1907, he began teaching himself piano at the age of ten; inspired by the itinerant New Orleans musician Joseph Louis "Red" Cayou, Washington amassed a vast repertoire of songs by memorizing performances by area brass bands, then quickly returning home to develop his own renditions. Recognized as something of a prodigy, Washington -- also known as "Papa Yellow" -- was already the superior of most local barrelhouse pianists by his teen years, and he regularly sat in with prominent Dixieland and society bands; his style brought together an eclectic mix of ragtime, jazz, and blues textures, and despite a general reliance on instrumentals, he was also known to pull the occasionally bawdy vocal number out of his bag of tricks.
Washington achieved his greatest success in the company of singer/guitarist Smiley Lewis, with whom he joined forces during the late '40s; prior to the 1952 breakup, they cut some of the landmark New Orleans R&B sides of the period for Imperial, among them "Tee-Nah-Nah," "The Bells Are Ringing," and "Dirty People." However, for the most part, Washington considered recording of little consequence, content instead in his standing as the consensus choice as the French Quarter's champion pianist; as a result, he regularly rejected offers to cut solo sides, and in 1950 set out to conquer new territories, relocating to St. Louis to join the Tab Smith Orchestra. He was back in New Orleans by the end of the decade, signing on with the Clyde Kerr Orchestra and adding a new pop-oriented dimension to his playing for the sake of tourists. Finally, in 1983 -- at the age of 76 -- Washington consented to his first solo recordings, cutting New Orleans Piano Professor for Rounder; he died on August 5, 1984 during a performance at the New Orleans World's Fair. ~ Jason Ankeny