Don Hunt 1930-2018
The last surviving member of the original Syracuse Salt City Five – Don Hunt – died Aug. 5 in Lyons, N.Y. at age 87.
Although he blew a trumpet for the Salt City combo, Hunt was a multi-talented musician who played everything from keyboards to kazoos.
“Don’s inspired skills on the trumpet were a major factor in the Salt City Five’s rise to fame,” said former SC5 manager Arnie Koch. The band also featured trombonist Will Alger, clarinetist Jack Maheu, drummer Bob Cousins and pianist Charlie French.
Under Koch’s leadership and Hunt on lead horn, the band made a prize-winning appearance in 1952 on CBS-TV’s Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, one of the highest-rated television shows of the decade. The quintet later performed on Godfrey and His Friends as well as on Godfrey’s CBS radio programs. As a result, the band was booked for a long-term Sunday-afternoon engagement at Childs Paramount, a 700-seat restaurant club in Times Square below the Paramount Theater. There the quintet often shared the bill with some of the most legendary names in jazz, including New England-bred trumpeters Phil Napoleon and Bobby Hackett.
“Hackett was Don’s idol,” Koch said. “At jam sessions at end of sets, Don stood next to him and traded choruses. He was so impressed with Hackett’s improvisations.”
Koch credits Hunt’s “musical enthusiasm” for getting the Godfrey show bookings. “His playing was also crucial for the demo that landed the band a contract with Jubilee Records,” Koch remembered.
In 1954, Hunt left the SC5 and returned to Central New York as his wife, Margie, prepared to give birth to their daughter, Joanne. Locally, he played trumpet for Rochester’s Dixieland Ramblers and later for the Soda Ash Six
“I worked nights for several wonderful years with the Ramblers,” Hunt recalled, “and days with a local weekly paper – and after a few years, I bought the Wolcott Pennysaver.”
Circa 1980, Hunt was featured on an LP by Charlie Mussen called Hot Chaz, according to Don’s daughter, Joanne Hunt Arnish. “I also have a CD of a vinyl record The Dixieland Ramblers recorded at the Pittsford Inn with dad playing trumpet and his brother, Richard Hunt, on piano,” Joanne said.
Don Hunt was born Oct. 5, 1930 in Hamburg, N.Y. to the late Horace H. and Evelyn Tooley Hunt. He grew up in Eden, N.Y., graduated from Syracuse University in 1952 and married Marjorie Farwell. They lived on Lasher Road, Wolcott, most of their lives. In August 2016, he and Margie celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary at the Wayne County Nursing Home in Lyons, N.Y.
Don had a real zest for life, the great outdoors, music and writing. He became news editor at the Lake Shore News in 1954 and shared his humor and wit through his popular weekly local news column, the Rural Murals. The column was first published in the Lake Shore News and later in the Wolcott-Red Creek Pennysaver, which he co-owned from 1966 to 1981.
He was an avid hunter, private pilot, farmer, photographer and an especially versatile musician. A longtime member of the Lions Club, he also volunteered with the Conservation Club and the Wolcott Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
Don loved flying, taking aerial photographs for local customers and selling postcards of historical landmarks. He enjoyed farming and maintained a popular sweet-corn stand which is now operated by his son-in-law.
He continued playing trumpet, trombone, tuba and keyboard professionally in Western New York and Florida for many years, but always held fond memories of those glory days with the Salt City Five.
“Fortunately, Don was with the band when they were invited to play at President Dwight Eisenhower’s Inauguration Party on Jan. 18, 1953,” Koch recalled. “They remembered how Ethel Merman sat on the piano and belted out some of her favorites there.”
During his tenure with the SC5, Hunt would play “Margie” on a regular basis when they were at Childs Paramount and for good reason because that was the name of his wonderful wife. They also played “Margie” on Arthur Godfrey and His Friends TV and radio programs after winning the Talent Scouts. “Margie must have enjoyed the long-distance serenade,” Koch said.
Don began trumpet lessons in the fifth grade at public school in Eden. In the early 1940s, Don’s father picked up a used trumpet at a Buffalo hock shop for $22, and years later while at SU Don obtained an Olds Recording Model trumpet which his family still owns. At one point he owned a mellophone, a valve trombone, a slide trombone and a couple of tubas.
“They were all wonderful instruments for an ‘ear player’ to improvise on with small combos,” Don remembered. “Unfortunately, several years ago, a neurological ailment known as embouchure dystonia attacked and away went my chops.”
Although he could no longer play his beloved brass instruments, Hunt continued to appear at JASS jam sessions sometimes blowing a contraption he called the “Kazoozaphone” but more often performing the old tunes on his newfangled Roland keyboard synthesizer which replicated nearly 200 different instruments. The synthesizer enabled him to become a one-man band with a lead instrument, accompaniments, bass and drums. He could play in any tempo, any key, creating the sounds of a complete combo, big band or symphonic orchestra playing in all styles, Dixieland, rock, Latin, double-time, waltzes, country and polka.
“I never get tired of playing it,” Don said. “It’s an improviser’s dream!”
According to Koch, Don Hunt had that rarest of musical talents – absolute pitch. Widely referred to as perfect pitch, absolute pitch is characterized by a person’s ability to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.
Don is survived by his devoted wife, Marjorie Hunt.
Friends and family gathered for a memorial service on Aug. 25, at the Wolcott Presbyterian Church. Don’s grandchildren were scheduled to perform a few tunes as were Soda Ash Six bandleader Dick Sheridan and Ithaca trumpeters Johnny Russo and Woody Peters.
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