Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Terry Lee Ryan

Terry Lee Ryan. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)
Terry Lee Ryan. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)

In a December 2005 article in the News-Press, pianist/vocalist, New Orleans native and Hurricane Katrina evacuee Terry Lee Ryan guessed that it would take ten years to rebuild his hometown. Ten years after Katrina, he said the City hasn’t been rebuilt, but it has changed plenty.

“I’m at ten years now and I don’t think I would move back right now because the way that I’m looking at it, I’m a New Orleanian, born and raised there. I know what New Orleans is all about,” Ryan said. “And New Orleans is not all about the French Quarter, it’s about New Orleans, the whole region….

“….If someone goes there who’s a tourist, they’ll say ‘wow ‘New Orleans is back.’ No, the tourist area of New Orleans and the French Quarter are back. The outskirts and all that, nah….And it’s not the same New Orleans that I knew. It’s just different.”

Over the past decade Terry Lee has gotten to know Northern Virginia, first out of necessity, survival, and then out of choice, prosperity. Terry Lee, his wife Jennifer and their two daughters Natasha and Amanda arrived in the City of Fairfax only days after Hurricane Katrina touched down in New Orleans.

They had stopped in Birmingham, Ala., but continued to Northern Virginia when they learned that the storm was going to impact Alabama along with Louisiana. In the months that followed the Ryans attempted to acclimate themselves to their new lives in Northern Virginia.

Jennifer Ryan described the family’s transition as a “culture shock.” Terry Lee recalled how when he and Jennifer went to register Natasha and Amanda for school at Fairfax High School, the family was registered as “homeless,” because they did not have documentation to prove that they were City of Fairfax residents. He said it was one of those moments when his family’s reality became more clear.

“My sister and I, we were the Katrina victims. Everyone saw us that way,” Amanda Ryan said. “So it was interesting being that for a year.”

In that first month in Northern Virginia, Terry Lee, who’s been playing piano since the age of 9, said he was aching to play piano when he stumbled into Pistone’s Italian Inn, where there was a woman playing piano.

“I was a fish out of water. I was thinking ‘What am I gonna be? What am I gonna do?’ The first month was tough for me because I wanted to play music,” Terry Lee said. So, when he was in Pistone’s, watching the woman play piano, he was going out of his mind because he wanted to play so badly, he said.

And he asked an older man sitting the bar, who happened to be the owner of the restaurant, Joe Pistone, if he could play. Pistone obliged, and Terry Lee’s been playing at Pistone’s regularly ever since, except for about a year when he and his family moved back New Orleans.

He used to play every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday night at Pistone’s, but now he just plays every Tuesday, and for good reason: he’s an in-demand musician in this region now.
“I’ve been blessed,” Terry Lee said. “Life has been really good. Northern Virginia has been really good to me.”

Terry Lee isn’t the only person in his family to find success in Northern Virginia. Amanda graduated from George Mason University last year and Natasha has a daughter and is studying to become a certified nursing assistant.

As a thank you to the region and to commemorate the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Terry Lee is playing a gig at the Elks Lodge in Fairfax at 8421 Arlington Boulevard this Sunday, Aug. 30 from 5 – 8 p.m.

“Everybody has been helping us,” Terry Lee said. “And I thought it was time to give back.”

• For more information about Terry Lee Ryan, visit terryleeryan.com.