Chet Jaeger of the Night Blooming Jazzmen died on January 4th, he was the best 97 year old cornet player around. His father was a vaudevillian and banjo player before earning his doctorate, becoming a professor, and much later mayor of Claremont California where Chet would spend most of his life. His parents ran a boarding house for graduate students in Columbia Missouri around the time he was born, and they would perform for fraternity parties with his mother on piano, so music was always with him. Before finally settling in California the family lived in New Orleans for three years of the late 1920s, which may also have helped shape Chet’s preference for the earliest jazz.
By the time he was ten he had a trumpet of his own and before long had started a band with some class mates. By 1941 he was actively playing out with several groups as well as the marching band after he started college at Pamona before leaving school to serve in the war. He met a hostess named Eileen while playing cornet at a USO during training in Ashville, NC, and within ten days they agreed to marry after the war. They had five children before they were thirty and celebrated their 75th anniversary in 2021.
After the war he finished college at Pomona and began a 30 year career as a high school math teacher but he never stopped playing jazz. In 1952 a bandmate’s off hand comment on the smell of flowers outside one of their houses inspired the name The Night Blooming Jazzmen, which Chet used for several short lived endeavors after that point. In 1960 Chet was one of the founding members of the Society for the Preservation of Dixieland Jazz, one of the most prominent California jazz clubs. His leadership in the SPDJ soon riveled teaching for his time.
The permanent incarnation of The Night Blooming Jazzmen was formed to represent the Society for the Preservation of Dixieland Jazz at the third Sacramento Jubilee in 1975. They were such a hit that the band has continued to play and record together ever since, becoming regulars at all the West Coast festivals and society monthlies as well as touring internationally and appearing on cruises. As time went on members came and went but there was always Chet Jaeger at the helm, leading with grace and and some of that vaudevillian humor he inherited from his father.