Brian Finigan, 1948-2014,
trumpet player in New Orleans in the 1970s and 80s,
studied with the legendary Punch Miller,
also playing trombone, alto and soprano sax,
later living outside Truth or Consequences in New Mexico.
Brian Finigan's memoirs
as he wrote them down on facebook
1. I should check my email more often: I had a nice letter from Dr. Michael White asking about a specific job we did in Jackson Square many years ago and with whom we played. He remember quite a lot about it and named almost all of the band which consisted of 10 pieces including Kid Thomas, Manny Sayles, Curtis Mitchell on bass, Julius Handy, Larry Batiste on drums, Joe Gordon on tenor........I have noticed that quite a few of my friends are writing memoirs so this has jogged my memory and I better get some of my memories down and I guess FB is a good place to do it. Here is what I wrote Michael: "Hi Michael, I remember you very well and remember that Jackson Sq. job with great fondness. The Union had been giving me these green sheet jobs and allowing me 10 pieces and I usually used a brass band but then I had a brainstorm about having a sit-down band and the first person I talked to about it was Kid Thomas. He said he would be glad to do it and I said he could play lead and I would play second but he said, "no man, I'll play second to you." Like Punch, Thomas liked playing second parts as I do. The reason I came to NO in the first place was to find Punch and when I studied with him a big part of what I learned was his association and respect for Buddy Petit and Punch taught me Buddy's second part on High Society and Punch would write out music with a lead for me and a second part for him. So on that gig it was just Kid Thomas and myself on trumpet. I really don''t think Nat was there. You are right about the other cats and I believe Joe Gordon was playing tenor. Possibly Frank Naundorf on trombone but it could have been Lucien since he was playing in my Magnolia Brass band at the Jazz home games in the Superdome. Kinda funny to have 2 banjos but I wanted Sayles to play guitar and asked him but didn't push it, There must have been a 3rd reed but I can't think who it was. Ernest Poree? At that time I was working at the Famous Door and the 500 Club so I might have hired Jim Stafford on sax because I used to hire him in the brass bands. ............I'm still playing. Spent a few years playing around New England and Boston and had a heart attack on a gig in Boston. I'm fine and was a model patient in the ER and when I got out I went right to another gig - very weak but I did it. It took awhile to feel right again. Now I am in New Mexico playing with a western swing band in Albuquerque and also some jazz with a trio. No matter where I've been and whom I play with I am easily identified as a New Orleans trumpet player. NO is where I started with Punch and I absorbed everything I could and learned from all the older musicians not only about music but about how to live my life. I have been back twice since Katrina but it is not the same for me and I lost friends because of that storm. I never push anything with the musicians I play with but if they are interested I always try to help them just as I got help from the older cats in NO. Punch and Joe Gordon taught me to be a musician first and be open to all styles and that has served me well. .............It was very nice to hear from you Michael and if I can remember anything more I will write you. I heard from Andrew Hall yesterday in England - there is going to be a 40th anniversary of the Maple Leaf which we opened in Feb. of 1974. In that band was Andrew on drums, myself on trumpet, Ron Simpson on guitar and Ernest Poree on alto sax. I found Poree uptown playing at different places and introduced him to Andrew. I spent lots of time uptown and found many musicianers who did not play at the Hall. I used to do those 12 hour MG parades with Andy Anderson and the second year he let me start leading my own brass band at age 22. I loved Andy and from that band I met lots of musicians that were still active but not well-known. I was very lucky to have known so many 2nd and sometimes 1st generation jazz musicians. A magical time for me and I carry it all with me."
Brian with Dr. Michael White, clarinet, and Joe Gordon, tenor sax.
2. Oh boy, the flood gates are opening now. About the same time I was playing at the Maple leaf I also had one evening and one matinee each week at Benny's Place in the Quarter - anyone remember that joint? Somewhere around St Phillip street. I was in the union but I could not get Benny up to scale so I filed a dummy contract and he signed it. I don't remember how I got the job but I asked Danny Barker to do it with me and could hardly believe he said yes. One amazing thing about famous NO musicianers was how friendly they were. Danny was Cab Calloway's guitarist and he put on no airs and was always helpful to everyone. He gave me a job during MG in Morgan City and got the bus for us and made all arrangements. Naturally my band was mixed, not only black and white but then I had a couple of Japanese and Europeans. This was my first and only experience with racism. After the parade we wanted to eat and a couple of black musicians came back and told me black people could not go to the restaurants. I'm pretty mild mannered but I was ready to find these assholes and cause a lot of trouble and this was in the 1970's! The band talked me out of it and we ate the most fabulous meal in the black part of town where we were all welcomed. So at Benny's Place I had a quartet with a couple of different drummers week to week and then Joe Gordon on sax and clarinet and sometimes a girl singer whom Danny and I both liked. Benny never did get up to scale and I kept filing phony contracts but the tips were so good we didn't care........petty early in the morning for these memories. I need more coffee and if something else comes up I will write it here when I think of it.........But I am thinking of going to that 40th anniversary of the Maple Leaf in NO. I think Andrew will be there and I haven't seen him in about 15 years.
Ernest Kid Punch Miller, Brian's mentor and teacher.
3. I should be taking my nap since Terry has orchestrated a busy afternoon for us but I have another memory: I was AWOL from New Orleans quite a bit, especially in the 80's. One thing Punch and Joe and I had in common was wanderlust. Punch started his wandering in the 20's; Joe started in the late 30's and I was quite a bit later. One place Kathy and I landed for awhile was San Antonio Texas and there were plenty of good musicians there and I made the rounds and found work with some bands. Then after I knew who I wanted I made the rounds with my little portfolio and spotted a fancy restaurant and after my little presentation they were interested in having a jazz brunch on Sundays. This was a class place with linen tablecloths and a gang of silverware for each course so naturally I gave them a healthy price because I wanted to be able to pay good musicians good. No haggling - I got my price and started work. Then I had a call from Joe Gordon who was also wondering and told him what I had in San Antone and it wasn't long before I met him at the Greyhound bus station and hired him for the Sunday brunch. Then I met a really good Cuban drummer and we hustled some gigs and finally got a steady 4 nights on the Riverwalk in a restaurant I believe called " The Mississippi Club". He helped me find a bass player and piano - piano was named Bruce and he was a modern cat who could play anything but he had a bad drug problem and would fall asleep at the piano and we'd yell at him and he would come in at the right spot. But this got old so we replaced him with a trumpet player from the Army band who also played good piano. Lots of army musicians in that town and all good - well-trained. We had that gig for a few months and the drummer, John Zaldivar, whom I would like to re-connect with, moved to Palm Beach, Florida. So I replaced him with a good guitar player and singer who sang like Jack Teagarden. That job finally ended when it got too cold in San Antone - they couldn;t take the freezing 60's. I also worked with the Alamo Jazz band doing gigs around town and at the Landing on Jim Cullum's off-nights. I played with a pretty good singer there too who was managed by her husband and so I met more good musicians. I liked San Antonio but kept wandering again. I met John Zaldivar in Florida and worked with his band and when I finally got back to NO Bobby LaCour and I traveled down to see John and work with him for about a week.
Joe and I played other gigs in San Antone with a guitar player. We would do strolling gigs in restaurants. One time we had a request for the "Blue Danube Waltz" and we didin't turn down any request. Joe played the lead and I did what I could and the kitty was purring. I always played with a mute, mostly a Harmon on these quiet gigs and sometimes I would use the wa-wa effect and instead of using all 3 fingers I would just use my middle finger of my left hand which I thought was more efficient and had a tighter sound, and I saw Percy do it that way and I liked it. But Joe thought I was making some kind of social statement, giving people the finger. No, things like that would never occur to me - it was just for music.
4. One more memory: I never did like playing on Bourbon St. and I did it for years. It was steady, like civil service. Hours were 9pm-3am M-Sat and lots of times I could not find anyone to sub for me on Sunday. To get time off for vacation during those years I had to lie to get a week. I told the bandleader that Colin banged his head into my mouth when we were playing. Big lie but I got a week off and we had a nice vacation. Another time the bandleader laid me off to hire some friend and I went to the unemployment office and their records showed I was making half of what I was actually making. I kept that to myself because I knew for whom I was working and didn't want my legs broken. Bandleader hired me back when his buddy couldn't cut it. But I never worried about a job - i could take 'em or leave 'em. The trick is to save your money and not have any bad habits and I learned that from Punch.
5. Naturally these memories are flooding in at 6am. One cup o' coffee so far: I was away from New Orleans so long in the 80's that I was almost afraid to go back. I was in Florida and had worked a nice gig in a steak house, did some really great gigs with the Perseverance Jazz and Brass band but I felt like I wanted to go "home". So I called Andrew Hall and asked him what was happening and he said come and see for yourself so I did. I took an apt in the Quarter which Barry Martyn owned and called Andrew when I got in and that night he put me to work on the Creole Queen which was docked at the Riverwalk which was all new to me. It had been built during the world's fair and Andrew had an office and booked bands for all the boats. His number came up during the world's fair and he was the busiest man in town. I didn't need any more convincing and didn't have any reason not to come back so I did and worked those riverboats with Andrew and met some fine musicians. Andrew would make me leader on these boats from time to time and two of my favorite musicians to play with were Ron Johnson who was Noon Johnson's son, on guitar, and Joe Peyton on bass who sang like Otis Redding. I played with them for years and sometimes Andrew would just send the 3 of us to do a long convention gig and I started lowering all the keys so my chops could handle 6 hours so I became pretty good in what are considered "guitar keys" but Ron could play in any key with as many flats as you could throw at him. And he could sing too although he didn't like to sing too much. Joe Peyton did most of the singing and could sing the standards but also R&B. Both Joe and Ron had drug problems and died almost at the same time. They were just a few years older than I was and it was very sad to see them go and especially sad for Maggie Kinson who played great piano on the boats which is where I met her. I heard she went back to England and joined a convent or monastery. So things were changing. ,,,After a few years Andrew lost the boats - something about not being able to eat at the Captain's table anymore and having to eat in the kitchen. I don't care about eating but Andrew took it as an insult so on my last night on the boats, the band I had hired and I sat outside in the back near the paddlewheel and as we finished each course on the expensive china plates and gold forks and crystal glasses, we tossed them into the river.......Next Andrew went into the Blue Room at the Fairmont hotel and that was a real nice gig with Sam Mooney on piano usually and Pete Savory on trombone who played in the Louis Nelson style. Shortly after that I began playing the casinos with a trio we formed called the "Crescent City Slickers", with Vic Shepard on guitar and banjo and at first Francis X Gregory on bass and Eb tuba. We played the casinos on the Gulf Coast and some in New Orleans but our biggest run was at the Bayou Caddy in Mississippi. We were at another casino when we got word about this one opening soon so we stopped by, gave them a 5 minute audition and were hired.....Funny thing about my last 10 years in NO was that I moved every year just to be closer to the gig I was on. My mother found it hard to keep up with my changing phone numbers. When I worked those casinos on the coast I decided to live in NO East at a swell apt complex with a big swimming pool, tennis courts and a lake. Very reasonable too and I got my deposit back when I left - I never did use the oven so I guess they musta thought I cleaned it. After 13 years with Kathy I mostly stayed single because I thought it worked better for my kind of life and could not find anyone as good or better until I met Terry.
6. Ok, here's the big one that happened in the last few years before I left NO: I had met this lousy drummer from Michigan who could not get the cadence right for opening Bourbon St. Parade which we were recording. I had to stand by him and whisper it in his ear. But he had a few business ideas concerning conventions and bookings so I went around with him to different places to see what he was up to and we hit one place and I won't mention the name - they still might be in business. This cat was thick and didn't see the signs so next day I went back on my own and talked to the manager and she was very interested. Nothing happened right then but she called me in a few days and by that time I had gone through the union book and tripled all the Class A jobs so I was ready. She hired me and began giving orders for sometimes 2 and 3 bands a night and I wasn't going to do this for nothing. Mostly it was trios so I found 2 bandleaders I could trust and farmed the work out and paid everyone way over scale and never had anyone blow the gig up on me. One little hitch was that every time she called me she wanted a 10% kickback so I paid but if one of her other agents called no mention of kickback was made. But I was busy and how and it was very lucrative for me and the people I hired and I did not leave NO with my hat in my hands. There are conventions in ABQ and Las Cruces and I would like to do the same thing here - I still have not been able to staff a brass band here with at least 8 pieces but maybe when Yves comes out we can work on this.
6a...There are no end to these memories. I never realized how busy I was until I started writing about it. On that last night on the boats and I believe we were on the River Rose, it was Sullivan Dabney who began throwing the dishes into the river. Sullivan was a flashy drummer and very dapper wearing expensive suits and a different hat each night and on the River Rose one night we had a request for "La Bamba" from a group of Japanese tourists. Sullivan didn't know any Spanish so he made it all up and it was a side-splitting event. We were all in pain from laughing so much. I liked to play with Sullivan because we had our own little enterprise going - our tip jar was named "Phillip" because we always had to fill it up and Sullivan would pass his own hat around to hep Phillip out. $50 apiece in tips was not uncommon with Sullivan in the band. We also played the big hotels in NO and we ate well and found out that they were gonna throw those big shrimps away along with all the other food so Sullivan made arrangements for the band to take the food home and we all brought doggie bags or boxes. Why waste food?
7. Another memory and an old one: I am self-taught and made lots of mistakes and had lots of trouble physically playing the trumpet. I didn't start till I was 18 yo and only music I ever had were piano lessons as a kid. So I rented this Olds Amb. trumpet from a music store and took 2 lessons from a one-armed trombone player who worked there and he gave me some simple beginner book but while I was playing over the lessons I could hear music in my head so I tried to play it and it was hard to get it out at first so I went real slow until I got what I wanted. After I did that my routine was to go out and invent a new exercise which I named jogging. I think I was the first one to jog not because I cared about exercise but because I could play these songs in my head and vary the tempo with the speed of my jog and I would do this for hours dreaming of the time I would be able to play what I heard in my head on my horn. Nobody knew what I was really doing but I could run for miles this way. ......When I found Punch's record on "Atlantic" I found someone who I had been looking for - his tone and his phrasing just went right through me and I noticed that the record was made in New Orleans in 1961 so maybe he was still there and I had to go to NO to find him, and I did. I stayed at the YMCA on Lee Circle, got there on a Sunday, found out how to walk to the Quarter and asked someone where PH was. I got there early and sat on the floor right in the front just to the right of the trumpet chair. Punch and the band walked in and I was sitting at his feet. They started at 8:30 and during all their breaks and a new audience coming in, I just sat there with my legs crossed, Indian style on the floor. I didn't want to lose my place. At 12:30 they stop and all that time I never talked to anyone, never got a drink of water, never went to the toilet - just sat there listening. Then trying to get up I almost fell because I was numb from all that sitting. When I got up I went over to Punch and said, "I'm a trumpet player too". Boy, did he laugh and said "I figured that". I guess I thought he didn't notice me listening so intently for 4 hours. We talked awhile and I told him about the record and asked if he would help me and we arranged to meet next day right there in the Hall and he gave me my first lesson.....
8. Thinking about my first time in the Hall and knowing how it worked, I must have looked like a schmuck sitting on the floor for 4 hours. I didn't even want a bench - I liked where I was but I supposed I was rather obvious and I think that was the only time I ever had to pay the dollar to get in. Punch and I corresponded and he sent a lesson with every letter but finally I couldn't stand it anymore and had to go back to New Orleans for good. I guess I stayed at the YMCA again but this time when I went to the Hall I met people, people around my own age who had done the same thing as I was doing. Only they were far ahead of me in playing and all of them were either from Europe or Japan. No Americans in this group I met except me. I became fast friends with Andy Ridley, a clar./sax player from England and he told me where he was staying along with some other musicians, namely the old converted blacksmith shop at 1212 Royal. So I went down there and talked to Nick Grassaffi the owner who was a trumpet player from Italy. Nick was pretty old and we negotiated a price of $25/month for a 2 room downstairs apartment. That was right in my ball park but it wasn't long before I paid $5 more so I could get some fresh air on the top floor. I don't know how I could be so extravagant. But ya gotta breathe don'tcha? It had a stove and a fridge but I didn't cook much because Punch took me to Buster's and I knew I could get Buster's beans for 27 cents with all the bread and grease I could eat. I usually ate in the back where they cooked the beans. If I ate at the bar I usually felt like I should buy a beer or a soda and that was not usually budgeted for. I have always been frugal as most musicians are but I felt the need of a job so I tried a few things and settled on working at Sears on Carondelet in the CBD, the original location. I did that for 2 years and got their profit sharing. I had been playing a little with brass bands like the Olympia and Papa Glass, the drummer said if I went down and joined the union I would get paid more. Punch was giving me harder and harder things and I was getting them down good and he told me I was the best student he ever had - now I know he helped Red Allen so I know I occupied a pretty high spot with Punch but not that high. I was a fast learner and went out there and got some gigs. But in 1970 I took Papa's advice and joined 174-496. It took 2 buses to get there and I went on my lunch hour from Sears and didn't get back till after 4pm but nobody missed me. The board grilled me about playing with union musicians but I didn't tell them a thing because I knew those finks wanted to get something on a couple of bandleaders. Alvin and Louis Cottrell were on the board too but we just smiled because they knew what those white mf'ers were up to. ....Before I forget I want to mention that at 1212 Royal Fred and Filly Paquette had the big apartment in the front and they were like 2nd parents to me, avid, hip jazz fans and 2 of the nicest people you could ever meet. Their son David is on FB and is a great piano player still playing in festivals and other spots around the world...........I also met Pauline England very early, a big jazz fan who lived in the Quarter on St. Ann I believe. She took me to meet Joe Watkins who was dying in the hospital. I got to NO too late to meet George Lewis. Now there was a rumor going around with Pauline and me that we had something going but Pauline was older than my mother and I thought of her as a second mother. Some of the old musicians from the Hall were hitting on Pauline so maybe they started the rumor but it was ridiculous. Pauline had 2 daughters older than I by about 10 years. I liked Gloria a lot because of her sense of humor but I didn't even really have anything going with her either..............
9. I taped all my lessons with Punch and of course over 40+ years I can't find them or his letters and the music he wrote for me. It was bound to happen with all the moving I did. But I have his trumpet which has been completely restored an engraved and I sent it off to get the valves re-done so it is a good player. I also have the slapstick he made as well as his Harmon-type mute and a horsehair watchband. I didn't have a long time with Punch, only from 1968 when I met him until he died in 1971 and a lot of times he was out-of-town playing gigs and gone quite awhile. There was no progression of easy to hard things he taught me. He always showed me the correct written key the song was in and stressed that I never take any shortcuts. He put "Stardust", "Body and Soul" and "Stompin' at the Savoy" on tape for me all Db tunes and he didn't say learn these by next week but I always did. I don't think at the time I would have been competent enough to play them on a job but I learned everything he showed me and there were lots of things like "Black Moonlight" (Ab) or "You're a Million Miles from Nowhere" (Eb) that I have never heard anyone do. And lots of pop tunes from before 1920 -very obscure things that he would think of. And then there came that day when I asked about the blues and as soon as I did he just played a blues in F I believe and I caught it on tape. At that time blues were a mystery to me and I was very intimidated and I listened to that tape over and over but I wasn't thinking right - I thought too mechanically, too rigidly. I could have copied what he played but what good would that have done? It was a feeling I was after or a little switch that turned something on in the deepest part of my soul. Finally it just happened and I could understand and that was that.
One of my favorite songs he did was "You're a Million Miles from Nowhere". I remember him playing and then singing it and I was taping it and on the tape I say "one more chorus" and he played a variation on the melody that only he could do. Now that one I learned note for note including the vocal part but have been frustrated all my life in never finding anyone who can play it with me but that was Punch's frustration too. He said "I wish those boys(at the Hall) could play these things." I asked about "West End Blues" and he played that opening for me hitting that high D right on the nose. Punch had range which was not displayed at the Hall but I had that high D on tape. He had Charlie Allen make a mouthpiece just for him in Chicago and somebody stole it. I saw a Charlie Allen mpc once and from what I remember it was a cushioned rim sort of like a Rudy Muck which is what I use. Punch never gave me any tips about high range and I never asked because I was new to playing and figured range would develop but if I can hit high F it is a very good day and those days are few and far between.
10. The saddest day in my life was when Punch died and I knew it was going to happen on that day. He was in and out of the VA hospital lots of times, had a stroke and couldn't play trumpet anymore but he just jumped on drums and kept playing. I had made that walk to the VA many times but that day was different. Punch couldn't talk anymore so I did all the talking and I'm not a big talker but I said everything I wanted to say. From the VA I walked slowly to Buster's and when I got there I could see by the looks on people's faces that Punch died during my walk and then they told me. They asked me to be a pallbearer and that is what I did and it was a glass enclosed horse-drawn hearse and in Danny Barker's book there is a picture from that day with the pallbearers and the hearse. Punch was buried in Providence Memorial Cemetery but I've never been back there.
Lots of people say they have seen spirits - my mother was one and she saw my grandmother just after she died. I was playing at the Famous Door and I saw Punch in the doorway and then he was gone. I figured he came to say good-bye and check on my progress and he seemed pleased. If there are such things as soul mates I think Punch was one, Joe was one and you are one Gates
11. Why are these memories happening so early in the morning?.........From having no experience I had progressed quite fast studying with Punch. And he told me more than once that when I go out there just to play things I know. Don't try anything more and that's what I did. Nice safe advice, right? He knew there would come a time when I had to do more and he wanted to be there when it happened so at a jam session at the Hall where I was playing with him and De De and other people from PH and some of my friends, things were going fine because I knew everything we played until they called one I'd never heard of. So I told Punch "I'm going to sit this one out" and he said "you are going to play the next solo" and he said that very firmly giving me no choice. He never taught me anything about chord progressions or any theory - I was on my own and had no plan other than blow and I did and during that solo I became elated that I could do it. And if he didn't know that I could do it he would not have forced me. It was a sink or swim thing, a rite of passage into a new dimension that would give me independence, confidence in myself for the rest of my life. This was the final and most important thing he did for me and he could do no more and he knew it and eventually I figured it out too. So now I had to be responsible for myself - he had proven to me that I could "blow". Of course with this new power I went overboard at first and had to balance things out and eventually I did.
11a...There are some people in this world who have extraordinary vision and can see right into your soul and Punch was one of them and his teaching style was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. It was like he looked at me as a tightly sealed can of beans and little by little he would open that can until that day at the Hall when the last turn opened me up completely. If there were more teachers like Punch who taught from love rather than force or monotony it would be a much better world.
12. I think it is true that when one door closes another one opens and it seemed like that after Punch died and I was sitting on a bench in Jackson Square contemplating what to do. A guy walks up to me and says he has seen me around town playing and we talk awhile and I find out his name is Joe Gordon, from NY and he plays saxophone. We become friends and after awhile I found out that in 1943 he went AWOL from the army because he discovered New Orleans and had lived at the old Astoria hotel. Joe is from a middle class black family who lived on Long Island, his father was in the post office, a solid citizen but Joe wants to see the country and on his summer vacation in 1939 from school he hits the road playing all over the country. His idol is Lester Young and it showed. His mother knew he read Down Beat like the bible so when Joe's father was sick his mother put an ad in Down Beat saying: "Joe, come home your father is sick." I don';t know where he was at the time but he read the ad and went home. Personally and musically Joe was the bravest man I ever knew and he was a survivor and knew how to do it. He fought in the Pacific during the war with a rifle and a saxophone on his back. He never went anywhere without his horn and he could read anything and play anything with anybody. I never found any limitations with Joe. And he made the best damn cup of chicory coffee I ever tasted. He lived on the second floor in an apt on Orleans Ave. and rode a bicycle all over town and people used to call him Bicycle Joe. When I picked him up for a gig I would just yell for him from the street and he always heard me from his kitchen window. Knocking was usually a waste of time since he had to come down and open the gate which was locked so if we were in a hurry I just yelled. If I was coming in for a cup of coffee he would come down and let me in. Joe became my closest friend, advisor, mentor, teacher, confidant and because we both were wanderers at heart we would meet in different places in the country. After a fiasco for me in NY I went to Atlantic City and called Joe and he knew where I should go to find gigs all up and down the east coast. I ended up in Orlando and he met me there. But we spent most of our time in New Orleans - we loved the music and the food too much to be gone for very long............
13. It seems like I am being chronological now: It was sometime in 1972 that I met a Japanese banjo player named Tuneo who had come to NO to study the music and so I invited Joe and Tuneo to my apt for a session which turned out to be a regular thing. I lived on Dumaine St. on the second floor in a slave quarter apt in back of the Milanese liquor store. Now the lady downstairs didn't appreciate my stompin' off and probably didn't like the music either but I was a good customer at the Milanese liquor store and Frank Milanese was manager and we were friends. Joe appreciated these sessions because he was learning NO style clarinet and he thanked me for helping him, like I was an expert? I was learning too and I enjoyed these sessions. I still had a day job so I wasn't depending much on music - I wanted practice and wanted to learn as much as I could so I was flattered that Joe considered I was helping him...........Later on that year Joe and I hooked up with Ernest Roubilieu who played banjo and guitar and had help introduce jazz to the French after WW1. We started doing street concerts and were making more money than I was making wasting my time at Sears so I quit. I wasn't learning anything at Sears but when I quit they gave me $3000 in profit sharing. Damn - that little nest egg could last me 3 years with my lifestyle so I was free to learn and do what I wanted....
This is pouring out of me like water - I'm trying to practice and then all these memories pop up. Michael White got me into this by asking me a question about a gig we did. The dam broke!
14. Joe and Roubileau and I were doing so good on the street that some finks turned us into the union and so we were summoned before the board. We went and the upshot was that if we made more than scale we would have to pay work dues and pension fund. I think Alvin Alcorn winked at me with that ruling. We had the union's blessing to do it and we were the only ones so we kept on doing it. Trumpet/clarinet/banjo or guitar with Roubileau's lovely voice singing Creole songs or standards. He was a big draw and we were very popular on the street....
15. I know everything has to be organized. I didn't start this chronologically - I was inspired by Dr. Michael White's question about the Jackson Sq. gig we did lo those many years ago and that triggered all these memories which I am holding back right now - so many are flowing. I guess I should just give myself free reign to write and then worry about organizing things later but it does seem to want to go chronologically now. As far as people are concerned like Ernest Roubleau there is a listing in the NO Family Album for an Ernest Rubilo who played banjo and was born in 1910. My Ernest Roubleau was born in 1894 and I don't know how I know that but the NO Family album is not reliable and I met many more musicians who are not even listed there. I met Roubleau uptown playing a Sunday picnic at a mostly black Catholic church. That is probably where I met Ernest Poree too. Andrew Morgan played those things as did Andy Anderson. Things were happening uptown and not on Bourbon st. If you had any sense at all you went uptown - that's where all the real music was and people who write about NO music on Bourbon St or some other commercial place missed the whole thing. I did not miss it - I went to look for it and I found it. So if I write about this you'll just have to take my word for it because it is not in the Family Album or any other book - dig?
16. There were plenty of old dance halls and joints left in NO when I got there besides Lutjens and Tony Fougerat had a gig in an old dance hall uptown and I sat in with him lots of times. Tony was Italian but played very hot NO style cornet and his cornet was an old Conn Victor, the same as Bix used to play and that was the first time I ever saw one. The people he played for were dancers. He was not playing for tourists sipping Mai Tais with little umbrellas. He played for real people, longshoremen, bricklayers, carpenters, the real people who lived and worked in New Orleans. He played the rough dives, places you would not bring your mother. He played functional music and he did that all his life. Andrew Hall and some other friends went up there too and we were inspired to find our own dance hall and we sure did and it was a thrill playing for these kind of dancers. To me music has to be about something, be useful, needed and not just a concert. As a musician I want to play for real people in a real situation and not in some tourist trap. I want to smell those people like Buddy Bolden did. I want to play a slow-drag that inspires people to improvise their dancing. I like it dirty, low-down and real and that's what we were able to do for awhile and that was rewarding and meaningful and then it was gone.
17. I guess I will consider these little stories my notes. I've never written a book before but I think I have to do it now and it will be dedicated to the oldest friend I had in New Orleans, Andy Ridley who died after Katrina at age 59. We almost had the same birthday. Leaving to go west and stuck in a traffic jam in Connecticut I got a call from the NO coroner that Andy died alone in his house. On his desk was a manuscript of the book he had worked on for years about Louis Keppard and the package was addressed to me. I think I know who took it but I can't prove it. .......Andy and I met Louis Keppard (Freddie's older brother) in 1970 and we had a ritual of going to see him every Saturday morning and usually he would play guitar and sing and we would play with him. At that time he was 82 years old and Andy and I were both 22years old so Keppard formed a club for us called "Young Man 22" and I still have the sign. Andy researched endlessly for this book and had taped interviews with Keppard and his wife Virginia. I don't know why he was sending the manuscript to me except maybe he wanted me to proofread it. I'll never know now.....Andy was a clarinet and saxophone player from England and when I met him his idol was Israel Gorman and he really had that tone too. Andy studied chords and that is about all he ever practiced on sax and boy he knew those chords too. His trade was house painter and he had his own business so he was not playing that many gigs except with me especially when I worked for the convention company and I made Andy a leader because I usually had 2-3 gigs a night to fill. Andy was well rounded musically and dug Prez as well as New Orleans musicians. Louis Keppard lived to be 100 or close to it and Andy was with him at the end. One story he got from Keppard was about the Robert Johnson race riot in New Orleans and both Louis and Freddie were boys then and were caught in the riot and made it home safely. Well I can't write about what Andy learned because I never got the manuscript. I can only write about what I know and I remember both Andy and I were living at 1212 Royal St. when Hurricane Camille hit in 1969 and after it was over we and some other people went to Pass Christian, MS to help Capt John Handy clean up from the storm---------I guess these are notes. I am not doing so well here. Maybe I need a break.
18. Joe Gordon was one of the few good clarinetists who worked with Wallace Davenport at the Paddock Lounge. Wallace wasn't too well liked I guess but I remember when he came back to town after being with Lionel Hampton. Every trumpet player in town was outside the Paddock digging him. Joe told me that Wallace tested him on the first night putting Bourbon St. Parade in A instead of Ab. Joe said "how hard is that? All he has to do is press the second valve." Wallace never phucked with Joe again. But I liked Wallace and I did sub work for him at the Paddock and I did it during the first Jazz Fest where Wallace was booked. But Punch was booked too and I missed his whole concert. the one which I sometimes watch on You Tube. But I told Punch about this gig and he encouraged me to take it but I still feel guilty. I think it made Punch feel proud that his student would sub for Wallace Davenport. I don't remember who was in the band but they were monsters but they put me at ease and I calmed down and had a great time. Like I said people didn't like Wallace and he died alone in a nursing home in New Orleans. But once he invited me to a rehearsal at the union hall for a big band he was forming. Not many people showed up but Joe was there and it was just Wallace and me on trumpets and I thought I was nuts for doing this and scared out of my mind because reading is not my best thing but when Wallace played the lead I just fell right in with my part. It makes a difference with a good lead player. I surprised myself but Wallace made it easy. The last time I saw Wallace was at the recording studio with Big Bill and his hair had gone all white and he looked tired and old. That was about 20 years ago.
To this day I never stop learning and never stop practicing but after Punch died I was able to learn from all the musicians at both Halls, Preservation and Heritage on Bourbon St. Musicians like me had the run of both halls and never paid to get in and I moved to an apt. Royal Street about 2 blocks from the Hall on St. Peter. I left a tape recorder on my kitchen table and if some song came up that I didn't know I would watch the trumpet players fingers to get the key and once the song was in my head I would rush home and put it on tape. Sometimes I would come back to the hall and right away would be another song I wanted so I would do the same thing and say to Dodie or Gail or whoever was on the door, "be right back". And I lived on the 3rd floor! Walking fast back home and climbing 3 flights of stairs keeping the tune in my head was 'breathtaking'. One time I was at Heritage Hall way over on Bourbon listening to Louis Cottrell and he played that beautiful tune he used to do that people call "True" but I didn't know the name at the time and am still not sure of it. Anyway I really had to keep that tune in my head in whatever key he was playing it in because I did not know clarinet fingering. So I hummed it all the way home hoping I had the right key, getting off Bourbon as fast as I could so I could get to a quiet street. It was still in my head when I got home so I grabbed my horn and played the song and it turned out to be in Eb. That was a long walk but I liked that song and if I've ever played it with anyone I don't remember but I sure would like to to able to call that one and lots of others I got that way. It sure kept me in shape with all that walking.
Another way I increased my repertoire was right on the job. If someone called a tune I didn't know then I would say play it and I will come in on the 2nd chorus but of course everyone has his own interpretation of a song so it is never going to be as written but I usually liked the phrasing that a clarinet or trombone would use so I learned it that way. I never bothered with sheet music much although I did buy those illegal fake books from Paul Crawford. Book one was the only useful one. But I couldn't find much of what I wanted in either book that I didn't already know. I like learning things my way.
People have commented on my good memory and if things are related to music then I remember. Everything else is forgotten and I don't care about whatever those things were. Now if this is going to be a book about my time in New Orleans I guess I should write about all the racism and bigotry I saw - except that I didn't see any! I don't attract that kind of thing into my life. And I don't attract those kind of people. I knew about the south and its problems relating to segregation and racism and I know NO had segregated buses and water fountains but I didn't get there till all that was over and done with. The only thing I ever saw was at a gas station in Mississippi when we went to help Captain Handy after Hurricane Camille wrecked his house. I could see the whitewashed sign on the men's room saying "white only". And that was it but it was enough to convince me that segregation was real. I was born on Staten Island, NY as was my mother and most everyone on her side of the family and I asked her once if there were black people in her school when she went to school in the 20's and 30's and she said "of course". So I wasn't raised with any kind of bigotry but we all have our own minds and we can think for ourselves so I don't think it matters how you are raised as long as you can think and figure out right from wrong. But at first I was suspicious of white people in New Orleans because of what I'd heard about the south but I soon found out that most everyone got along and there really was no segregated housing. Danny Barker lived in an Italian neighborhood growing up and he said: "I was 12 years old before I found out I was colored." So I took Harold Dejan's advice or maybe it was Sheik's who said "don't worry about nuttin'." I went anywhere I wanted to go and strut my jelly with who I please.
19. One of the main things in the early days for me were the house parties and they were always well-attended and you would see Kid Sheik, Cap and his brothers Sylvester and Julius and sometimes Percy and others from the Hall as well as Andrew Morgan and musicians from Europe and Japan. I even gave a party once for Thanksgiving and since I didn't know what to do with the turkey Andy Ridley's girlfriend volunteered to help me cook it but she didn't know much more than I did and it was the lousiest thing you ever saw. We left the giblets in and it looked hideous. That was when I lived in back of the Milanese liquor store so they party was saved and people had brought some other food and we ate that. I should remember more than I do about these parties but at that time I was drinking and that was a big pastime with NO musicianers. I fell right into it........Once I went to a party at Sylvester Handy's house and he had caught a lot of crawfish and I had never had crawfish before. They didn't even look dead and Syl said just snap the heads off and eat 'em. Well, I considered that for awhile and then helped myself to a few glasses of the Mississippi moonshine. Syl and Julius had a connection for moonshine and it was smooth as silk. After a few hits of that I began snapping heads and eating crawfish. I kept them down but didn't feel like playing my horn........At Julius' parties his specialty was red beans and rice and he cooked them slowly and they were done to perfection even better than Buster's beans. Julius was a good cook. It was at one of those parties that I met the drummer, Calvin Spears and Calvin had an R&B band and I began to play with him and all his gigs were in black neighborhoods. In all my years in New Orleans I was always accepted everywhere I went and when I played for Calvin I was playing for people around my own age in tough neighborhoods. Maybe it helped that I was with Big Calvin and he was big too and maybe I would not have gone into these neighborhoods by myself but it was a different time then and people were different and more accepting. I remember after one gig Calvin took me to a real tough bar for a drink which turned out to be many drinks and I don't even remember how I got home. Years later after another gig with Ron Johnson and Joe Peyton I spotted the same bar and asked them if they wanted a beer before they drove me home and they said "we're black and even we don't go over there." So times had changed.
20...One of the nicest gigs I ever had was across the lake in Mandeville at a beautiful restaurant owned by the Karno family. We played a jazz brunch and I hired Joe Gordon and Ron Johnson and the 3 of us got along like long-lost brothers and Joe didn't get along with everybody so this was extra nice and it was a real pleasure to play this gig. That bridge is 25 miles long and when you get to the middle of it you can't see land anywhere so it looks like you're at sea. I played over there quite a bit and I like Mandeville. It was quiet and peaceful. I even had a girlfriend over there who was a school teacher and when I started playing alto sax I would take it over there and play because she lived in a house surrounded by trees and no neighbors. I was living way uptown near Tulane University on Adams street and my apt was over a real estate company so I felt funny trying to play that alto there and I didn't really like it at first and never played in the high register which I thought sounded ugly. So when Myrna was gone during the day I opened that horn up to full volume, went into the high register and played it for hours. After that it seemed friendlier to me and I began to like it. I just think it had to be slapped around and worked over a bit. I still play it and will play it today on a gig. But if I still could go across the lake I would take the soprano and slap that one around too.
21...Sometimes when things got slow I had one last card up my sleeve and it was always the Famous Door. And the bandleader was an old friend I used to play with in the 70's at the 500 Club. So if I needed a gig I'd call him up. As soon as I'd do that other gigs would come pouring in. So this became like a superstition with me. He would hire me on trumpet but it was one of those times and I was coming off another gig where I played trumpet and alto and I had the alto with me. And Jimmy was a sax player who also played trombone. I asked him if I could do one on alto and he was leery about that since people only knew me as a trumpet and trombone player. A little while later I asked him again and he said go ahead and if I do say so myself I played the hell outa that sax just to show him I wasn't fooling around.,,,,....Another time at the Famous Door Jimmy, the leader spotted Harry Connick being interviewed out front. We took a break and since Jimmy knew Harry had started at the Famous Door he made a pest of himself during the interview trying to get Harry to come in and play with us. It was embarrassing so I backed away. Jimmy was a real 70's guy and had a sprayed hairdo like Glen Campbell. Always sprayed and weird looking. After awhile Harry looks over at Jimmy and says "Yeah, that's the look I'm after." Needless to say Harry did not come in and play any piano with us.
No. 23....No wi-fi last night but my memory has gone back further and further: My mother told me this and I remember saying it too that whenever anyone would ask me about do I want to do such and such I would always answer exuberantly, "I DO". They thought that was funny but what is funny about it. Why wouldn't I say that? I was new to this world and hadn't been around very long and I wanted to experience everything. I think parents forget that and they are always too busy and have no patience. They forget what it is like to be in awe of everything. But my grandmother didn't forget and we went everywhere together. My favorite place was the zoo and to get there we would take the no.6 bus to the Staten Island zoo and the first thing you saw when you went in was the tiger. If I wanted to stand there for a 1/2 hour watching the tiger my grandmother would stand right with me and then she'd say "so you want to see the elephant?" And I'd say "I DO". Everything was new to me and she had the patience to show me things and didn't rush me. When she would say "do you want to go into the city with me", I knew what that meant - it meant getting the bus to the ferry terminal, getting on a subway, eating lunch at a drug store or at the Automat and going somewhere else and I never cared where else we went because I would always see something new and interesting. Sometimes we stayed at the ferry terminal so I could see all the buses come in - I loved buses and I loved to watch the doors open and close and she would let me do it....I would walk up Harrison Ave. with her to the drug store by the park and I would have a grilled cheese sandwich and a cherry coke. Then on the way back we would stop at the grocer and then the butcher shop and bring things home to cook and I would sit on the back porch off the kitchen and shell the peas. Nobody ever told me to hold her hand when we walked - I never let go. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother then and I don't know what my parents were doing but I didn't care very much. I felt unconditional love from my grandmother. She let me be who I was and she understood what it was like to want to watch things and learn about them. She was born in 1879, before the Statue of Liberty and I am sure she must have watched that being erected. Her house was always neat and there was a parlor with a piano. My grandfather died around 1941 so I never met him but he was a prodigy on piano and also played cello and banjo. The legend says he would go for piano lessons and the teacher would play over a classical piece and next week my grandfather would play it perfectly but he could not read it and that frustrated the teacher who claimed he could not teach him anything. My grandfather made my mother learn to read. I wish I could have met him.
24....The 3 most important people in my life were my grandmother and Punch Miller and Joe Gordon. I think my grandmother prepared me for the difficult decisions that lay ahead and I was able to learn very fast when I needed to because she allowed and encouraged me to explore and not be a robot. She thought that doing things my way was a virtue and not a fault. I have always played by instinct and that coupled with meeting Punch allowed me to learn fast as he began opening me up and letting my instincts take over. He seemed to know where I was going. My problems were always physical and they had to do with a crooked front tooth and I experimented endlessly going from right to left but was never able to center the mouthpiece. I had severe range limitations and good days and bad days but I found a spot that seemed to work and I would do those long brass band jobs during Mardi Gras with Andy Anderson. 12 hours and after that was over there would be a dance at the Lyons Club whom he played for. We would have 2-3 hour break and my lips would be beat but once I accepted that, I was able to play for 4 more hours - it was go for broke. Once during MG I was playing night and day on brass bands and other gigs and I woke up one morning getting ready for another gig that day so I was going to warm up and I tried to play and nothing came out no matter what I did. I was in a panic and did not know what to do. I called Kid Thomas and explained it to him and he said to get a block of alum and rub it on my lips so there was a little drug store on Royal, not far away and I walked there and got some alum and started rubbing and then a little while later I got my horn out again and I could blow anything. I forget what time the gig was but I rested and just before the gig I did it again and it worked like a charm. Kid Thomas knew what he was talking about and must have had to use this himself. Needless to say I was hooked like I was on a drug or something and I never played anywhere unless I did the alum treatment. And it lasted for years but I should have bought more than one because they stopped making alum in block form and the crystals did not work as well. Years later I went to Ronald Benko in the NO symphony for help and he said " I can't help you with jazz" but I said I don't want that - I just wanted to learn to play with a better embouchure so first thing he said was to use a 10 1/2 C mouthpiece and I found the smaller ones worked better for me and he gave me Louis Davidson's book which had excellent advice and exercises which helped. Now I am devoted to the Reinhardt system and have gotten the most out of that. My problems are no solved and I keep working on them. I guess everyone has his own cross to bear and someday I might even like my own playing.
This relates to the earlier years in NO when I worked at the 500 Club in a show band. After Dave Williams left Jimmy became leader and he played good tenor sax but he also played trombone and it seemed like his personality changed from mild to wild when he played trombone. He had kind to a raggedy tone and style and enough technique to do what he wanted to do and so I began thinking about doubling on trombone. Since it was a boring and monotonous show I felt free to experiment. I was bored enough to try French Horn but trumpet players should leave those things alone - you can get 3-4 octaves but I always tend to overblow it right out of tune unless I was playing a ballad. So I sold that and got a valve trombone just so I could get used to the big mouthpiece. After awhile I sold that and got a slide trombone and learned it by putting some tunes on tape and playing along and then relating trumpet fingering to slide positions. So obviously I never learned it the right way and can't read a note on it but again I did things my own way and it has worked out well. It is a good double for me and I can almost do everything on it that I can do on trumpet and a bigger mouthpiece is much easier to play than a trumpet mouthpiece. So by the time I left the 500 Club I could play that thing...
25...This memoir concerns Punch when he was playing with Frankie Franko at the Golden Lily on the South Side of Chicago and it concerns this tune he recorded with Franko at that time which would have been in 1930......https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVBNkMIAJSU.....This is only conjecture on my part but one day Punch was telling me that before he left NO to go to Chicago he had a finance and when he got settled in Chicago he was going to bring her up there and he wrote many letters to her which she never received because her father tore them up. Her father did not want her to marry a musician. In this tune Punch changes the lyrics around in what I think is a message to her in the hopes that maybe she would find the record. "I don't believe she see me" is not the original lyric. I don't know if Punch mentioned this to anyone else and I probably did not tape this personal information but he told me about it. So when he was 41 years old around 1935 and was going to kill himself by jumping off the back of that train and had missed many opportunities because of drinking I think it had a lot to do with the girl and her father and he may have found out then what happened to his letters. So he wrote that song about the train and that became a turning point where he wrote "life begins at 41" and from then on he never took another drink and got on with his life but as far as I know he never married.
26........Because it was my first time sitting in with Punch at the Hall I remember it as a magical experience mostly because of the rhythm section which included Chester Jones on drums, Charlie Hamilton on piano and maybe Slow Drag Pavageau on bass. Punch introduced me to Slow Drag but I don't remember for sure if he played bass that night - it could have been Sylvester Handy. Paul Crawford was on trombone and Harry Shields on clarinet. But mostly I remember how it felt to sit in front of a good drummer like Chester Jones. Like Buster Holmes, Chester had been a prize fighter in the 1930's but unlike Buster who had eaten too many of his beans, Chester looked the same as he did in the 30's - big shoulders and strong arms and no fat. I guess people would say that Chester was not a handsome man but he was friendly and gentle with everyone and loved Punch and he made things really swing for me on my first time out and I had zero experience but I felt at ease with Punch and Chester in my corner. This is the experience I will never forget although I don't remember anything we played but Punch left that up to me and he played 2nd to my lead. I was nervous at first but then I calmed down because the rhythm section carried me and I just floated with them. This was very early and I had not known Punch that long and he wanted me to play that night maybe to evaluate what I had learned. I am pretty sure I just played a straight lead. But that was enough for me and because I was studying with Punch I was accepted by the band, especially by Chester Jones who called me Little Punch.
Brian Finigan I am not sure if it was that night or not but Punch and I walked down to Buster's and went into the bar and I met Buster and whoever else was in there that night - the kitchen was closed so Punch and I had a soda and chatted about music. Punch had a regular cab driver named Pickles who would drive him home - he lived a bit uptown just off Claiborne Ave. When I went to see him for lessons I took the Claiborn Ave. bus and it was only a couple of blocks walk. During the first jazz fest in 1970 there was a big jam session at Buster's and Woody Allen played clarinet and someone took a picture while I was playing next to him and that picture stayed in Buster's on the wall for years.
27.....There is a little documentary on youtube about NO music and Emmanuel Paul takes part in the discussion and the interviewer asks him why there will soon be no more New Orleans music and Manny answers, "because we won't be here". From the time I first got to NO I shared those feelings and they became a reality as the last of that generation left us. I wish I could have talked more in depth to Manny and other musicians. When I'd walk into the Hall and Manny was playing he would always greet me with "How ya doin' tonight Clark Gable?" He probably didn't know my name but frankly I didn't give a damn.......I played a lot of funerals in NO mostly for people I didn't know but when it was a musician it was more personal. Most of the time you would play a couple of blocks after the body came out of the church and then the motorcade would drive out to the suburbs and that was it. I only remember playing one "real" funeral and that was across the river and the band met at the church and walked all the way to the cemetery playing dirges and hymns and then we swung our way back. That did not happen much anymore............I knew Kid Thomas pretty well because he was friends with my friend Pauline and once he and Pauline came over to my apartment after Punch died and Thomas gave me the sheet music to "The Bells of St. Mary's". I don't know what prompted that. Thomas would visit with Pauline on a night he was playing at the Hall and sometimes I would be there drinking coffee with Pauline and she made good coffee too. I don't remember the conversation but it was light-hearted and then Pauline and I would walk to the Hall later to see Thomas play. He was her favorite trumpet player.......Pauline had taken me to see Joe Watkins in the hospital before he died and she knew most to the musicians at the Hall. I think Joe was very high on her list of drummers but her favorite and mine was Sammy Penn whom I was lucky enough to hear before he died. What Pauline thought of his replacement cannot be described in a family forum like this.............Very very early when I came to NO I began to dig Percy Humphrey's playing and he played at the Hall on Wednesday's and Saturday's. I would listen as intently to Percy as I did to Punch and one time I remarked to him about how beautiful his tone was and we had a short conversation and from then on it was just a friendly hello until years and years later before he died and was playing at the Palm Court. I went to listen to him and the first thing I heard was how his tone was gone. It was not that he sounded particularly weak - it was just that he became more mortal or something before he died. Percy saw me and came over and just like we were still in that conversation of 25 years previous he says "my tone is gone." I didn't know what to say. I heard it and he knew I heard it and I couldn't say anything about it. It was too sad because I knew Percy did not have very long to go.
28...I met a very good trumpet player in NO in the 70's but he was not a native of the city. We played a few parades together and I was very impressed with his smooth technique, endurance and control so between tunes I asked him what he did to keep in shape when he was not working and he said "I practice for 6 hours on the mouthpiece alone and then 6 hours on the trumpet." Well, 6 minutes on the mouthpiece drives me crazy so I thought to myself what is that doing to Charlie M (he may still be around). A couple of years later I found out. He had left town with a band and was touring Texas and he shot and killed the drummer. Drummers don't know how really close to certain death they are. Drummers are actually supposed to be musicians and think like musicians and know the melody. The best example of that was Cie Frazier. He always knew the melody. But there are too many drum beaters out there and they are taking great risks with their lives--we listen, y'know? I don't think they will be at risk from Charlie - last I heard he was leading the prison band somewhere in Texas, probably Huntsville. And I bet he whipped those boys into shape. Makes you wonder how far a musician would go to play in a good band. At least Charlie has or had a good steady gig for life.
29.........A more recent memoir and I don't like to write this one. It goes back 2-3 years when Terry had her last spine operation and was recuperating in a nursing home in Las Cruces. I had stayed down there in an extended stay hotel for a week and then I had a gig to do up here and just before I left the house to do the gig I had a hemorrhage in my L eye. I went to hospital here and they did nothing and then a neighbor drove me to hospital in Las Cruces and in the emergency room at 4am I was examined by a doctor who had an office and he wanted me to see him the next day. He charged me $400 and examined me again saying he could do nothing. For some reason I called John, the bandleader in ABQ and he told me about his cousin who has an office in ABQ and Santa Fe and is the only doctor in NM who could help me. I called him, made an emergency appt and Colin drove me to ABQ. The doctor helped me qualify for free treatment with NM Assoc. for the Blind and did the surgery on me of which there are some hideous pictures on this wall which Colin took. Colin and I stayed in ABQ overnight so I could be checked the next day and then he drove me back to Las Cruces and the nursing home let me stay with Terry and brought a cot in for me. I don't even remember how long I stayed there but Terry and I left together. She had to wear a big brace from shoulders to knees that made her look like a bumblebee but I had had instruction in putting it on for her and none of the nurses at the rehab could do it so I gave classes but mostly I would put it on her every day. Once it was on Terry and I had the run of the place and could go outside if we wanted to. I looked forward to the meals - that's about all and we met a women also recovering from an operation and she lived near us but across the Rio Grande. ...........I was told that I could not blow my horn and gigs were out but on the way down there Colin and I stopped home and I picked up some clothes and my horn and a couple of mouthpieces. I followed orders and didn't play for more than a week and then I tried to find something to blame on what had happened to me so I blamed the mouthpiece thinking it was too big. Stewing over this I came to the conclusion I should use the smallest one I had and after awhile I went outside in a little park area with my horn, a small mpc and a practice mute. A week or two sure made me weak so I just started slowly and would go out there twice a day. ..........Finally we went home and I kept on with small mouthpieces but I should have thought this out more clearly because about a year later the same thing happened again but I didn't panic - I just called the doctor and Terry and I went to see him but this time the tear was at the bottom of the eye and my options were to go to a real scary hospital and he would operate there or else leave it and see if the blood would go away. I chose the 2nd option and eventually I could see again. ..............Now I am into day 6 of a mouthpiece change to a very large mouthpiece and I am going slowly. I invented a series of exercises and the first series starts on middle G and goes down and now I am on middle C going down so that is how slow I am going and I am getting stronger every day but doing that and other things. Play 10 minutes and 20-30 minute break. I don't have a gig for over 2 weeks and by that time I should be ready and able. Small mouthpieces do nothing for trumpet or cornet - cornets hate small mouthpieces. But this big Schilke has opened things up and now a couple of cornets I have which I thought were dead are exploding with life - at least in the lower and mid range. But I can tell that a 15.75mm mpc was much to small and made me work too hard. Once I am switched over I think I will be happier.
30.....For a farmer, treasure is in rich soil; for a carpenter, treasure is in the wood he works with; for a jockey, treasure is a fast horse. But what is treasure for a musician and where is it found? I haven't found any real or meaningful tangible treasure - most of the musicians I've known and played with find their treasure right when they're playing. When you find a kind of telepathy going on in the band and everyone is swinging together and you're playing in such a compelling groove that a couple of sax players feel it and start a riff behind you that spurs you on to greater heights and ideas that you thought yourself incapable of - that's TREASURE! When you feel the magic mood of ensemble playing and the lead switches naturally to someone else and you don't want to break the spell of the moment and you allow that new lead to emerge and you back that lead with all the empathy and know-how that you have, keeping the spirit and the magic going and everyone catches fire with this ensemble spirit, creating something new that has never been played before - that's TREASURE! It doesn't happen all the time but when it does you know it and there is nothing off that bandstand that could command your attention, nothing in your mind at all really, you are one with the music and nothing else exists. It's not tangible, you can't hold it in your hands, you can't save it or put it in the bank, you can't eat it or drink it, you can't sleep with it or drive it around the block but to most musicians I've known that's TREASURE!
31......A very recent memoir only a few hours old: Last night in Hillsboro I fully intended to use the big mouthpiece I've been working on for one week today. But I played a few notes on it and chickened out. Maybe it was the rarefied air, playing up there a mile in the sky but I didn't think I could or should do it so I compromised with another mpc I brought - still pretty big but not like the Schilke. That compromise worked but I played more alto sax than trumpet and left the trombone in the car figuring the less brass I played the better off I'd be. So I felt awfully guilty driving down that mountain wondering if I screwed things up but doing what I did. But no, what I did had advanced my cause and there is a good feeling with the Schilke this morning on both cornet and trumpet and my range has increased and the mpc almost feels like it should feel. But I'm still doing 10 minutes on and 20 off and I think that amount of rest is important to this mpc change. If I had forced myself to use the big mpc I might have done some damage so compromise is good. Right GC? "NO"
32......The period in New Orleans that has always interested me was the 1930's which is when the 2nd generation of NO musicianers came of age. As far as I'm concerned there was no 3rd generation that followed in a strict traditional sense or added to what had gone on. before. It is accepted that my generation goes from 1946 to 1964 and is called the Baby Boom Generation. The one before mine has been referred to as the "Do Nothing" Generation and goes from 1928-1946. They were the only generation never to have a "president" but I, for one do not hold that against them. So before them was the WW2 Generation from 1910-1928. I don't know officially what the generation of 1892-1910 or the one from 1874-1892 was called but I lump those last 2 generations into what I call the "First Generation of New Orleans Music". And so what I call the 2nd Generation would be from 1910-1928. I have just used this as a guideline. I know it is not precise and many examples exist to show that there is a blurry line between 1st and 2nd.................I think the 2nd generation was very aware because of records as to what was going on in the country musically and musicians like Andy Anderson, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Poree and Herman Sherman were influenced by the "jump style" of the 30's and also in Poree's and Sherman's alto playing, by Charlie Parker. I am digging a big hole for myself here because I think of Louis Armstrong and Punch Miller as 2nd generation players and the 2nd generation was known to have refined and personalized what the 1st generation did as well as make jazz a soloist's art as opposed to the ensemble work that predominated when the music first started. Those generational periods were established by the government I guess for voting, buying liquor or driving licenses. They are not that important so let me blend 1st and 2nd together when I need to............I knew and played with the 4 musicians I mentioned above but knew Andy Anderson and Ernest Poree best and played with them most often but as far as I know they did not record in the 30's. I don't know how far back Thomas Jefferson's recordings go but the ones I've heard from the 50's and also 1960 demonstrate his "jump style". He could draw from the most traditional concepts in NO jazz and in the next song he would completely change his personality and jump into jump from the 1930's. Poree was mostly the same, being influenced by 1930's jump style and a bit of bebop although in my opinion he could never pull that off. Herman Sherman could display that side of his personality though. Andy Anderson was very aware of jump and swing and of course could play traditionally but his playing was always colored by what he heard in Bunny Berigan, one of his favorite trumpet players. Andy had a nice soft tone for ballads and it sounded like he just breathed those notes out and they came out sometimes with an airy quality like Roy Eldridge had on ballads. I mostly played with Andy on brass bands that he led and sometime in the 1970's he had a serious stroke. His nickname was "Jug" and you can imagine why. In the 70's I played from 9pm-3am and would park my car wherever I found a spot, not worrying about being mugged and one night I had to park in the CBD and as I was walking to work I heard a trumpet from one of the big office buildings. I didn't know who it was at first and then I found out that Andy had taken a job as night watchman and brought his horn. The next night I purposely parked in the same location and waited to talk to Andy before I went to work and he had been trying to play again after his stroke which affected his face. He was not going to let this get him down and he was going to work at it until he could play again. He actually did play again but never even came close to what he had done before. But he demonstrated that spirit I've seen so often in New Orleans musicianers. Never quit, never give up, just do the best you can and in one of those cats' words, I don't remember who said this to me, but he said "everyone has something to contribute". You don't put a fellow musicianer down. New Orleans musicians are the toughest, most resilient breed of musician on Earth. Nothing stops them and that was another big lesson for me.
33...........Under #27 I just posted Kid Thomas Boogie with a nice feature by Emanuel Paul which illustrates what he said about "we won't be here to play the music anymore". And I still think he was right about that. In my early days in NO I was at the Hall every night and after the Hall was over some friends and I would go over to Bourbon St. to a Chinese restaurant and I would not get home til 2 or 3 in the morning and had to be at Sears at 8am. Lack of sleep never seemed to bother me. The line-up at the Hall was just like in this video except I was lucky enough to see and hear Sammy Penn on drums before he died. The bass player, Twat Butler lit up the room with his smile even with some teeth missing and he was a warm friendly man and was married to an Indian woman but I don't know what the tribe was. He had 2 extremely beautiful daughters, one my age and one a little older and when I went out with the older one her mother was right with us and never ever said a word. It wasn't a serious relationship but there was a lot of kissing and it felt strange with her mother around. I would only see her now and then when she and her sister and mother would come to the Quarter. I think the last time I saw her was during Mardi Gras when Kid Thomas was playing over Johnny White's bar. Kid Thomas saw all that kissing going on and said, "you better watch all that kissin' because it weakens your lip". Thomas was always full of good advice and I took it to heart. Everything in moderation is my motto.
34...........Most of these experiences I've been writing about happened in my earliest days in NO when I was about 20-22 years old and most of the time I wasn't aware of anything but music and rarely left the Quarter. I would have to cross Canal St. to get to work but that was about it. Nothing much held my interest uptown. I never owned a TV, hardly ever listened to the radio but would buy a newspaper so I was vaguely aware of the Vietnam war but in 1969 did not know that we were going to the moon and I heard that on TV passing by a bar on Conti Street and went in and watched the broadcast and was fascinated by this news. I was aware of social issues but I just did what came natural to me and didn't think politically and didn't care one way or the other if what I did offended cultural mores or violated some social code that I didn't care anything about. Like I said before I didn't see any racism in New Orleans, at least not in the FQ which is where I mostly stayed so if I dated a black girl it was because I liked her and we had fun together. I was not making a political statement. My liaisons were always very public and if I was resented or criticized I didn't know anything about it. Years later when I was a lot older I met a black schoolteacher and we went everywhere together and even made a cross-country trip. Most all the women I have ever been involved with have been highly intelligent and open-minded and creative. A relationship with a dimwit didn't last long and sometimes at 21 yo I met women a decade older than I was and they were even more fascinating to me. So when I met Ella we hit it off right away and we sort of had an unspoken agreement that she would take me to black events and things that I would not normally participate in and I would take her to white events and things she wasn't hip to. The trouble was I didn't go to any white things so I had to think hard about this. I had been going to local plays in the FQ and around town because I thought some of them were good, especially the ones Lila Hay was in. So I took Ella to see "Inherit the Wind" way out in Metairie, the whitest place I could think of. We had a great time and people in the audience were very friendly to us. So I thought I did pretty good with my part of the unspoken agreement. But I was not prepared for what she had in store for me. Her father was a high official in a Carnival club and she got us into the Zulu Ball at the Municipal Auditorium and it was all black. I had played for the Zulus during Mardi Gras seasons but had never been to anything like this. The place was packed and everyone was friendly and we had a great time and she taught me about Black Dancing which I had never done - I didn't dance much anyway but I latched on fast. Maybe ever since June Gardner dubbed me a "Black Musicianer" I felt free to go anywhere and do anything I wanted to do..........There were some white musicians I admired but both the kitty halls hired mostly black bands and that's where I would be. The only resentment I ever heard about came from some white musicians who resented all the attention that black music was getting at the time. Most of those white bands played along Bourbon St. and were too loud, too fast and too commercial for my tastes. They still had good connections with hotels and conventions and some of the better paying gigs in town but eventually had to share those opportunities. Then, as today I prefer "real" people who are honest in their feelings and who have warm hearts and kind souls. And like Tampa Red always said, "I strut my jelly with who I please".
34.........Day 11: mpc change from 15.75mm to 17.52. Success. I did 2 weeks work in 11 days because I did it carefully and slowly and practiced twice a day for 3 hours each. Last week I was going to give up. This has been very difficult, monotonous and almost drove me crazy but I stuck to it. I was wrong when I switched to the very small mpc because I went blind in one eye for a time. Smaller was bad and I went blind again in another year. I devised the most boring exercises and stuck to them and even threw in some pedal tones and double pedals - I don't know what good they do but they do make your lips feel better and get the blood flowing. All my horns, cornets and trumpets sound better and more full now and live up to their potential. Range on trumpet is high C but usable range on cornet is A because of the large backbore on the Schilke mpc. I'm not worried about range because I don't think up there anyway-I like to play in the vocal range but if I can get my F's and G's eventually that will be icing on the cake. 2 weeks is about the amount of time it takes to change mpc's or change your embouchure and one of the benefits I've discovered with a large mpc is that I have quit fussing with my embouchure. I use the Reinhardt system and it has responded beautifully to the Schilke 18. Sunday I do a gig in ABQ and I am going to take both trumpet and cornet and see how it goes. I am not going to rely on trombone or sax. It's either sink or swim and those horns stay home. But I have worked very hard on a very big change so I want to see if all this torture has paid off.
35......Day 12. (a good riddance memoir) I discovered this morning in practice that I had picked some insidious bad habits using the cushion-rimmed small Rudy Muck mpc. All of a sudden this morning the incorrect tonguing I was using corrected itself. I guess tonguing against the bottom lip is a valid way if it works and that's what did work on the phuckin' Muck but it is no good for a sensible sized mpc. I don't think I was even breathing right on that thing and I sure was using an extreme amount of pressure. Your lips recover quickly with a cushioned rim but a few months ago I was playing at Sparky's with Bill Bussman and the blues band and those cats were swinging so mightily that I took chorus after chorus and not only did it hurt but the next day I found that my L front tooth was loose. It has since tightened up. I didn't like the sound of the phuckin' Muck at first and it took a long time to fix that and still some horns I have never did respond to it. And this was not my first foray into stupidity. 20 years ago I was using a Parduba 5 and then bought a custom set of Parduba 4's, made by
Warburton from a well-known trumpet player in Orlando who can use these things. 5 was better than 4 and Parduba is better than phuckin' Muck but for me neither is any good. They just feel a little more comfortable on the lips but they take you in the wrong direction. I'm not sure if any of my friends are "shrinks" but before anyone chimes in to tell me that what I was doing was a form of self-abuse, I will agree and add that I was also a bit crazy. Maybe it was bad toilet training or maybe I just hated myself. Crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result and now I even remember a 3rd time I did this in NO with a Callet mpc. Jeez, will I ever learn? That mpc received a ceremonial toss into the Mississippi river from aboard the Creole Queen riverboat. Either I had another mpc with me that night or I played trumpet the rest of the night with no mpc, which would have been better. I'm ok now. I'm just gonna go shave the cat and pack my flannel toothbrush in the pocket of my straight jacket. Bye-bye you vipers!
MEMOIR 36 (JULY 21, 2013)……….Happy hour at the motel where we still have no internet because the routers were flooded during the storm 2 nights ago so I am using Microsoft Word. Today The Black Cat Serenaders met with a photographer from “Albuquerque, The Magazine” and we had our pictures taken about 45 times in Piedras Lisa Park in the Sandia Mountains near the tramway. Piedras Lisa means in English, “smooth rock” and it was smooth and we first had pictures taken on the bridge and then she led us down a path and had Jordan do some interesting poses on the smooth rocks. Jordan was a good sport and I bet we have some good pictures for the magazine. Then we met Mel Minter, who will write the article for the magazine and he was very thorough and it should be a very good write-up about The Black Cat Serenaders in the magazine……………The Curio Cowboys were on fire tonight at O’Neill’s and the audience was really in our corner…………Before we started I spent about 15 minutes warming up in a back room on the Schilke 18 mouthpiece and I was nervous about playing this mpc for the first time on a gig. I brought trumpet and cornet and warmed up on trumpet only doing pedal tones which I’ve begun to think, are effective. So I did that and just waited to start and I surprised myself. I don’t really have much finesse yet and no range above high A but the power was amazing and they kept shutting off my mic. But I never blow into it anyway. It was just bleeding through I guess. Tone on both horns was very full but the cornet was a bit harder to play due to the large backbore so I put it away on the 3rd set and just used trumpet. Today was the end of the 2nd week of this mouthpiece change and it was successful and I am pleased. I am not often pleased but all that careful practice and work on the mouthpiece paid off. I will gain more control, finesse and range in time but for now I believe this is the best decision I’ve ever made. In the exercises I devised I have only gotten to E in the staff but that was enough and I wasn’t worried about hurrying. Projection is amazing. My lung power has always been good but now I don’t have to overblow……………Byron played tuba a few times tonight and his playing is superb and spurred the band on to greater heights when he played. We finished with ‘Stick out Your Can, Here comes the Garbage Man” and Byron and Tom on drums swung us into next Thursday!...........At the end of the night Joe the fiddle player who used to play trombone in his younger days wants me to bring one of my trombones next time so he can practice and help us with the brass band aspect of The Black Cat Serenaders which would be very welcome addition. He is the one person I know around here who would play trombone in a very functional and utilitarian way that would be more like a Chicken Henry approach in the Eureka Brass Band. Joe understands that kind of support. Nothing fancy, just help the band. I hope that the interview we did today will help the cause of jazz in the southwest. Western Swing is a form of jazz and the Curio Cowboys are the only practicioners of it in the biggest city in NM and it seems to me that the more we play the more people we attract. Like I explained in the interview I played WS in New Orleans but probably only the well-know top ten hits. There is so much more and the original cats could hold their own with Duke’s men and Lionel Hampton’s men in the 30’s and a big melting pot for jazz and WS was Central Ave, in Los Angeles. Along with the Curio Cowboys I hope The Black Cat Serenaders can play a big part in blending the gumbo of New Orleans with the hot chiles of the great Southwest. We are sure ‘nuff trying our best!
37..........Happy hour on the deck watching the horses down below and reflecting on what I've accomplished so far in this mpc change. This is the 3rd week and I am sticking to the regimen I've worked out. I have to listen to the exercises on the E now and the sound is very nasty to me but I practiced it in the morning and then again this afternoon. Since I am on the E I also do the exercises starting on the C and then the G for continuity and relaxation. I will stay on the E all week and then next week go to G on top of the staff. Also am practicing trombone now and it only felt strange for about 10 minutes and then I was alright. I am using the Bach trombone that I will let Joe use. It is a very good trombone for a student model and I found a 12C mpc for him which should be good. I use the Schilke 40B - I'd like to get a Schilke trumpet now since I play Schilke trombone, trumpet and cornet mpc's. I wonder how much a B6 trumpet is these days. I think I'd like the tunable bell too but I may be dreaming. I'm afraid to look at a price list. If I had just made a small mpc change I would not be going through all this torture but with a big change I think it is important to do things carefully and not go too fast.
Sp I'll keep plodding along.
Memoir 33 (maybe 38?)...………..This is going to be dull but when I learn something I need to write it down even if it is wrong and I have been writing some wrong things. The mouthpiece change did not work. I practiced that Schilke 18 for 3 weeks and even did a gig on it and overblew it just to convince myself I was right in this change. But I was wrong - it can't be done, by me at least. To play one of those huge mouthpieces you have to be a legitimate player who went to a conservatory or at least had some lessons. I'm an illegitimate player - I play by instinct or esp or something. I gave it my best shot and then the next week I compromised and went to my Najoom mpc of 16.75mm which I was playing before I went blind. So tonight I took Najoom and the 15.75mm Rudy Muck mpc. I did the first set on the Najoom and it was ok but still felt too big so on the next set I took out the Muck, tried to warm up a little on it but then John called something vigorous and pointed to me for the first solo and I played better and eventually with more confidence than I did with the bigger piece and I really had not touched the Muck for a month. So "muck" it, that's my mouthpiece. Why make life harder than it has to be? But I did learn something in the past month and I credit the late Kid Thomas for this. He had a particular mannerism that I always noticed where when he was not playing he would move his lower jaw out almost like an exercise - it may have just been a nervous habit but I think he did it deliberately as an exercise to keep his jaw alignment fluid and malleable. I have understood that the jaws should be aligned and have worked toward this end but now I am adopting this exercise and maybe I look like a bulldog doing it but that is how I have to play. Kid Thomas did not have one mark on either lip. No big tit like Louis or Punch. Everything was balanced with Thomas and that is my lesson. I will keep my small cushioned rim mpc and think balance. My instinct tells me so.
34................This memoir is triggered by the the video I posted last night called, "The Cradle is Rocking". I have seen it before but this one has been fixed up and is a good print. At 4:51 you see Gail Sams and Chester Jones eating some of Buster's beans at a yard party. This could have been a year or more before my time because George Guesnon is playing in the band and he died in May of '68 and I never met him. Kid Sheik is leading the band with Guesnon, Louis Nelson, Paul Barnes, Cap Handy, Chester Zardis. This little video is about Kid Sheik who was usually at all the yard parties and jam sessions and there were always yard parties. Some of the best were in the Quarter at Myrt's house. Myrt was Kid Howard's 'squeeze' and I never met him either - nor did I meet George Lewis. Lots of cats cut out before I could get to New Orleans. But I knew everybody in Sheik's band except Guesnon and they all were helpful, kind and encouraging friends. This yard party here is exactly what it was like for me in New Orleans. Music, beans, good friends and a lot of fun. These parties were where I could learn in an informal way from the musicians who were playing and I played these parties and understood New Orleans music more and more. In the video Sheik says sometimes he had played with people who wouldn't even speak to one another and "you don't get nothin' out of it that way". New Orleans music is all about friendship and that is a lesson right there. He also said "you can play for $10 or $1000 but the music is still the same." I agree. It's how you think of the music and the people you're playing with that makes the difference in NO music and everyone has something to contribute and something to say. Everyone is important to the music - it is collective and shared and inspired by the love you have for it. Without that you have nothing. New Orleans music is warm and friendly and that tradition has been carried on by all the musicians I met from Europe. You can hear it in their playing, on the records they made, on performances on youtube. They picked up on this very important aspect of NO music right away. I can recognize the musicians and bands with that warm feeling even if they never spent anytime in NO but I can also recognize the "cold fish", people without that feeling. Warmth is a necessary ingredient in all music. Just check out the warmth in Sheik's band in this video. I'll carry these memories with me to my grave and will always be looking for musicians who share that warmth and collective spirit in music and in life. Vive la difference!
(Memoir 35) - To paraphrase one of the Blues Brothers in the movie: "I am on a mission from God". I am just as open and unprejudiced about music as I am about people. I have always thought that prejudice of any kind stunts your growth and so from the moment I realized that I could do it, I began playing with all kinds of musicians, not always jazz musicians. I played with R&B, rock, country, Latin, folk, Italian and German brass bands, modern jazz and even a limited amount with symphony cats and opera singers. Like Duke said, "music is either good or bad." That's all I care about as well. To me music is a language and I want to be as fluent as I can be in it. Of course prejudiced, one-trick-pony musicians are mostly the rule but my mission has always been openness, inclusiveness with a willingness to extend myself to all kinds of music. I have never understood how a musician can limit himself to one thing and never want to learn anything new or different. How can you not be interested in what other cultures are doing or have done? Caribbean music, African music, Russian folk songs, Indian music, Chinese music(and I don't mean bebop). It's all music and you can learn from all of it. I think this cultural prejudice plays a very big part in race or ethnic prejudice and the mission is to get rid of that kind of thinking and include much more than we do now. You don't have to lecture anybody - just be open and you can swing some opera or even an Irish folk song. Some musicians seem to be more open than others so maybe a direct quote from the Blues Brothers is better: "We're on a mission from God!"
(Memoir 35) This springs from the Wooden Joe records that were posted today. I never knew Wooden Joe but I knew Louis Keppard and I met him through my friend Andy Ridley so I wrote a bit about that and posted it and I will copy it here. I don't write too much about Andy or Joe Gordon. They were my best friends in New Orleans. Joe became a mentor and a brother and a father to me after Punch died and Andy was always like a brother. I miss them both and I always feel like I am the last man standing and sometimes feel very lonely but I have new friends and that makes me happy. Andy never knew how good he was and how much of the original music he absorbed from Louis Keppard and the other old musicians we knew who started their careers in the 1890's. If you wanted to know what a clarinet part sounded like in 1898 Andy could demonstrate it. He understood the earliest influences of New Orleans music. He knew where the music came from and his interests and his research into it was very broad. I have always been more focused so I did not delve into NO music as deeply as Andy did. But Andy and I were alike in seeking out the old musicians in NO, musicians that were mostly forgotten and did not play at the Hall and were not interviewed except by Andy during his research for his book. There actually was a whole other level to NO music that was not exposed or studied or recorded and Andy and I made a point of finding these people. Everything that Andy found out and wrote about died with him as I explained because someone stole the manuscript of his book which was addressed to me before he died. This is what I wrote earlier: "The regulars who went to see Louis and Virginia Keppard were Andy Ridley(British clar and sax player), Pete Johnson from Denmark and Frank Naundorf (trombone player from Germany) and myself. Both Andy and Pete were the same age as I and Frank was older. As far as I know Frank is still living in the 7th Ward in NO. Andy died just as I was leaving NE to come west - he took years writing and researching a book on Louis Keppard and the NO coroner called me while I was stuck in a traffic jam in Connecticut and told me Andy was dead. My cell number and the manuscript of Andy's book were on the table and the manuscript was addressed to me. I never got it. Someone else did. Pete Johnson and his wife died in a car accident in Africa. I'm not sure what he was doing there but that was about 20 years ago. Other people would come over to see and play with Louis, mostly visiting musicians from Europe or Japan. Andy and I always went and when I left town for a few years Andy was there and was by Louis' side when he died."
Memoir 36. Chapter 7. "The Life and Times of John Buchanan". In '04 I was living in Manchester, NH and the primary was coming up and I heard this cat on a radio program and got interested mostly because he was so honest, forthright, sincere and dedicated to telling the truth. This was a freakin' novelty to me. He was running for president and stuck out like a sore thumb from all the other lying deadbeats who were running. So I offered to help him if I could which involved driving him to speeches, TV programs and other events. I don't have any interest in politics but I made an exception for this honest truth-teller and we worked very hard and I believe John Buchanan won most of New England. Being involved in this and meeting the other candidates and comparing their usual drivel to the shining truth that John presented I really thought we had a chance. No one could come close to John because they were afraid of telling the truth even if they knew it. John had flown up from Virginia and I remember his clothing did not fit the weather in NH which was constant snowfall. But we managed and got around as best we could. Terry and I were in John's corner all the way and this was the first time I had ever been involved in any kind of politics - I don't even vote anymore. But John was different because honesty and truth, the truth that people don't seem to want to hear, are not only refreshing - they are bloody well shocking. John Buchanan is now on FB and I am sure he would welcome my friends as his friends so click that friend button and tell him Brian (Secretary of Swing) sent you.
(Memoir 37) Over 25 years ago I was going through a divorce and was in Texas and then stranded in Florida where I took a job with a real estate company and part of their deal was to sell RV's and land on the Space Coast and I was going to be the only one to do it and I got a RE license and thought this is how I'm going to make my million. And then the Challenger blew up and I saw that from the RV lot. The bottom fell out of everything on the Space Coast so I stayed poor, but always happy. It was Christmas time and some cat was selling trees on the corner and he had an emergency and asked if I would look after his trees and since I didn't really do anything anyway for the RE company I said yes. He got back a couple hours later and was very appreciative so he gave me a Buescher tenor sax which he said belonged to his late brother. He knew I was practicing trumpet between RV customers which numbered about 2 a day after the explosion. To cut a long story short, I accepted the sax even though I didn't know the first thing about it. But I went to a music store and bought a fingering chart for sax and got hip pretty quick. I bought some reeds too and began practicing on the RE lot during the day and I had plenty of time to do it and was mostly by myself. Across the street was a steak house where I played every Friday and Saturday and I figured I'd bring the tenor and do what I could and I did and learned very fast so that became another double after trombone which I had picked up 10 years prior to that. That tenor was old so I sold it in NO to Dennis Bradbury, repairman to the stars. I finally got an alto instead which I didn't like at first but grew to like it after I tamed it the way I wanted. ......... Sometimes I try to practice trumpet, trombone and sax at the same time if I know I am going to use all 3 on a gig but now I think for the next couple of gigs I am just going to use cornet and alto. I can go days or weeks without touching trombone or sax and don't lose that much but the finesse I want takes about 3 days to get back. Soprano is a bit more touchy and takes longer. I am still working on that beast. ......... So that is what I'm gonna do - put a little more energy into the horns I don't usually put that much time into.
(Memoir 38) This concerns Kathy and her influence on me when we were married in 1972. Not only did she love me, she loved me unconditionally and that was a new concept to me. Up to that time no one had ever loved me that way and I didn't understand it and still have trouble with it and Terry is the same way in loving unconditionally. I get upset over the smallest and stupidest things and that, according to psychologists is indicative of a lack of love which goes back to childhood. I didn't understand any of this consciously with Kathy - I just knew it was a different feeling and I was not going to put any conditions on love for our son Colin. That was conscious and I think that is what I learned from Kathy. I only give advice to Colin if I am asked for it. I love him unconditionally and so I went in a completely opposite direction from the way I grew up and I was aware of that. And this started with Kathy. Before that I was a loner, not trusting anyone but myself. I had no support system, no one to confide it until I met Kathy. She drew me in and I trusted her and that was a new feeling too. She let me look at things in a new way, a more open and inclusive way and I brought her into my world as well because I had been in New Orleans about 3 years when we met and the friends and musicians I met were my support system. Kathy took to them right away and we had a home in New Orleans with good friends. An actual "home", a place to belong was something neither one of us had growing up. I think Kathy coped better with that than I did but we both appreciated what we had and where we were and it always felt like home in New Orleans. So I am still working on the things she taught me and am learning just as much with Terry. And I'll try not to get upset if the ketchup falls out of the ice box on the floor or I pull the toilet paper too hard and it goes on the floor and a 1000 other stupid things. Thank you Kathy and Terry.
131120 (Editorial),,,,,,,,,There is no such thing as perfection; there is only doing things the best you can do them. In the years since leaving NO I have run into musicians who claim or exclaim: "we can't do this without such and such, we need this or that." I never ran into these crybabies in NO. If Kid Thomas was still around he could tell of the time his band knew only 3 numbers and made the gig, changing tempos, keys, melodies. That's taking care of business. Or the time his front tooth fell out and he tied it back on with string so he could blow. All the old time NO musicianers had stories like this. If you wait around for perfection, for everything to be just right, you're going to be waiting a long time and will be sitting home playing solitaire while the cats with guts, ability, originality and creativity are out there trying to do their best. I am not of the old school - I was not around then, but I met some of the toughest and most determined and courageous musicianers who ever lived. They did not wait for perfect conditions - they just did their jobs the best way they could. And if there is such a thing as this pretentious stupid word called "Art" then that is its definition. There still are people with guts and determination and I can spot them and they are the ones I play with. The "perfectionists" can stay home and wait, and wait and wait. That's not for me. I've played with people missing teeth, limbs, people who refuse to give up, reed players who were dying and kept putting softer reeds on their mouthpieces so they could still play. Those are the kinds of people in all walks of life I admire and want to meet. I don't like crybabies. Do the best you can do, keep going, don't give up, don't wait till things are perfect because they never will be. Those kinds of people are my heroes. They are the "artists"!
The reason I want to write this book is first of all because of my friend Andy Ridley who died after Katrina and whose manuscript of the book he wrote and was addressed to me was stolen. He wrote about Louis Keppard and most of the time I was with Andy when we visited Louis, who was Freddie's brother. Andy and I were both 22 yo when we met Louis who was 82 at that time. Andy and I had one big thing in common--when we were born someone fixed it so that we could only see the good in people. We never saw bad and if someone's insides were dark and cloudy they stayed away from us. We didn't care about race, gender, nationality or any other external thing. We could both see right into people and I can still do that. I have seen into all my friends right here and I know the good things about you that you may not even know yourselves. So most of my memoir is going to be about the people I met in New Orleans. That they were old did not matter - they were musicians and musicians who keep playing never get old. They accepted me, taught me and nurtured me. And I think AARP will like what I write because lots of people who retire don't do anything. But musicians keep on doing what they've always done - they never stop. So my story will be motivational and maybe will inspire people to get up off that rocking chair and find their grooves. It will be mostly about musicians because that is what I know about.