NEW ORLEANS – Filmmaker Stevenson J. Palfi, whose documentary "Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together" chronicled the lives of three New Orleans jazzmen, shot himself to death, his family said. He had been severely depressed after Hurricane Katrina damaged most of his property and possessions, they said.
Palfi, 53, shot himself Dec. 14 at his home, his family told The Times-Picayune.
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 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
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, Mass.
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.
"My friend Stevenson Palfi's life's work was immortalizing others, and, in so doing, he has immortalized himself. His work will outlast all of us," Toussaint said.
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 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.
Palfi received grants, fellowships and awards from, among others, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Channel Four Network of Britain, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.
Survivors include a daughter, Nell Palfi; his father, Alfred M. Palfi of Michiana Shores, Ind.; and a sister, Cynthia Penfold of Avon, Ind.
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. Plans for a musical celebration of his life and work will be announced later.