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PHOTO BY BECKY GIPSON back in tune An extensive renovation rescues the former home of noted jazz pianist BY PRESERVATION IN PRINT • PRCNO.org Susan Langenhennig ON A SUNNY WEEKDAY afternoon in May, the 8600 block of Spruce Street in the Carrollton area was mostly quiet, with just the distant hum of cars on Claiborne Avenue providing occasional background noise. Once upon a time, though, this spot was filled with piano music. Olivia “Lady Charlotte” Cook, a jazz pianist and music teacher, lived for more than seven decades at 8608 Spruce St., a modest Arts and Crafts-style shotgun house that her mother had bought for her in 1929. Cook, who performed pro- fessionally from 1919 until her death in 2004 at age 91, was heralded as “one of the last traditional jazz pianists whose style was rooted in the music’s origins,” according to a 2003 article about her in The Times-Picayune. That year, Cook was scheduled to per- form on the Economy Hall stage at Jazz Fest. “There’s noth- ing wrong with my hands,” she quipped to Times-Picayune re- porter Bill Grady, adding that she still played every day in her house and taught music stu- dents there. A year after Cook’s death, the home sustained heavy dam- age from Hurricane Katrina’s winds and water. The six-room single shotgun sat blighted for more than a decade, with homeless people squatting in 32 the abandoned property. In 2017, the Preservation Resource Center’s Operation Comeback program acquired the house, with the goal of restoring it to top con- dition. The program has a long history of rescuing and renovating blighted older buildings that others consider hopeless. The renova- tions then act as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization. The PRC also has worked for many years to preserve and high- light sites of jazz significance in New Orleans. But it was only after purchasing Cook’s former home did Becky O’Malley Gipson, then director of Operation Comeback, find out about its contribution to the city’s jazz history. In addition to performing at music clubs throughout New Or- leans and around the world, Cook also taught children to play piano through the New Orleans Recre- ation Department and several lo- cal dance companies, as well as in private lessons at her home. Her obituary in The Times-Picayune said that Harry Connick Jr. was one of her students. By the time the PRC bought the house, it was in sad shape. The front exterior door and the side and rear doors were missing, and there were holes in the floor. “A fair amount of the walls were caving in,” said Regina La Macchia with Green Coast Enterprises, which served as PRC’s owner represen- tative and project manager for the JUNE 2019