Creole multi-instrumentalist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie (1899-1964) spent six vibrant years blowing saxophone, trumpet and clarinet in Brazil and South America. Big Boy played Samba-swing, indigenous Latin dance music and encouraged a nascent Jazz movement.
Also explored are his return to Paris, postwar recordings, excursions to Switzerland and half decade in Berlin. Sharing in Frank’s South American sojourn and post-war life was his wife, Madeleine Boissin (1916-2012). They had wed in Paris in May 1939 with proper nuptial and church ceremonies. The newlyweds ran a tiny restaurant in Rio near the famed Copacabana Beach and traveled the continent.
Illuminating these years for the first time and a main source for this episode is the excellent biography, BIG BOY: The Life and Music of Frank Goudie by Dan Vernhettes, Christine Goudie (his French daughter) and Tony Baldwin (reviewed below). Adding color and context is an eyewitness account of Goudie in South America from musician, broadcaster and writer Richard Hadlock.
All of the music offered below was recorded in Brazil or Europe. But no recordings of Goudie from South America have yet been identified.
A Big Life: Recap
Goudie (pronounced “goody”) has been almost completely overlooked by Jazz History until recently. The wandering Creole lived multiple music careers playing trumpet, saxophone and clarinet on three continents. His story parallels the history of Jazz itself: origins in Louisiana, migration to Europe, transition to Swing, integration with Latin music, the New Orleans revival and introduction of Bop.
Born near New Orleans, he was a journeyman jazz cornet player before 1920. Then he went on the road in the Southwestern states and Northern Mexico. During two lengthy stays in Paris and Europe, Goudie became quite popular. Focusing on tenor saxophone, he easily made the transition to Swing. For nearly three decades he worked, recorded or jammed with the jazz elite of Europe except during the Second World War.
Sheltering in South America during the war, Goudie traveled and played Latin dance music, Samba-swing and Jazz when he could. Repatriating to the United States in 1956, his expressive New Orleans-style clarinet was welcomed into the flourishing San Francisco Jazz Revival.
Home, Sweet Rio de Janeiro
In South America, Big Boy Goudie continued performing on his three horns, working at the prestigious Copacabana Palace Hotel and Casino. Madeline learned Portuguese and in 1943 they opened a small restaurant-café within the famed Copacabana resort district just steps from the famed beach strip and grand casino.
The Goudies seem to have shared a life of stable domestic tranquility despite residing at nine different addresses in Rio. From an interview not long after he arrived we may glean that part of his motive for not returning to the United States was trepidation about how a mixed-race couple would be received. And as he explained to interviewer Ken Mills in 1960, “I never did follow the gangs.”
A photo of Madeleine at their café was published in a local newspaper, Journal O Cruzeiro. The caption in Portuguese read: “At dinnertime, a discrete light invades the small pensao where the wife of Big Boy, French by birth, crafted a typically Parisian atmosphere.”
The term pensao has no direct equivalent in English, but their daughter Christine is clear that this was a café, “a French restaurant very popular with [the] French and entertainers like Henri Salvador and Jean Sablon.”
The pair traveled for work and pleasure, taking adventurous trips to Uruguay and remote cities of the Brazilian interior. Visiting Argentina twice, the Buenos Aires visits were working vacations for Frank, who ran his own groups and played in the band of saxophonist Fon Fon Romeiro among others.
Goudie continued advancing his formal studies in harmony and counterpoint. For composing and arranging he kept a harmonium, a portable hand-pumped keyboard. One journalist explained how he stayed current: “Big Boy left the States 17 years ago but keeps up with American music by listening daily to short wave American broadcasts.”
The pair were divorced around 1950 for reasons that are unclear. Madeleine passed away in 2012 treasuring his memory, as does their surviving daughter Christine.
Friend of the Ray Ventura Orchestra, 1941-44
South America had a tiny enclave of European entertainers seeking refuge from the war. Big Boy encountered a number of his former associates, becoming friendly with cats from the Ray Ventura Orchestra.
Ray Ventura (1908-1979) was a successful bandleader, piano player and singer who led a large and popular French Swing orchestra during the 1930s. Ray was Jewish and brought most of his musicians to Brazil in 1941. Henri Salvador (1917-2008) was a Caribbean-born singer, comedian, guitarist and trumpet player who was associated with Ventura and is seen in the pensao photo above).
Their bass player Louis Vola (1902-1988) was a founding member of Django Reinhardt’s Quintet of the Hot Club of France and heard on some 200 of those recordings. And Vola had played bass on most of the discs that Goudie made with Willie Lewis and his Entertainers a few years earlier.
In mid-1942 Ventura took his band to Argentina. Their 1944 return to Rio was when Frank played with them. But they soon disbanded, and Ray returned to Europe.
Big Boy’s Jazz in Rio
Rio de Janeiro was a cosmopolitan center of finance, industry and culture where
Swing and Jazz were beginning to find acceptance. Goudie was soon comfortable enough to attempt recreating his Parisian world and engage with the fledgling Jazz movement.
During 1941-43, “Big Jazz, led by Big Boy, the famous saxophonist” drew a social elite to Rio’s Teatro Municipal theater grill, a sumptuous Babylonian-styled restaurant. Hiring local musicians, Goudie launched Big Boy and his Golden Boys.
Similar to his former Little Boys back in Paris, the Golden Boys were a dance and Swing band that Goudie operated on the side when not otherwise employed by prominent bandleaders. More like a small orchestra, it utilized up to eleven instruments and a singer — but was also available as a combo.
Playing tenor, Goudie arranged and led the four-saxophone front line. Promoted as a world-class ensemble, the broad repertoire encompassed sambas, congas, boleros and choros, but also waltzes, blues, marches and fox trots. Nevertheless, aside from Frank all the Golden Boys appear to have been Brazilians.
The report of a Goudie combo at the Copacabana Casino in July 1944 informs us that he was playing sax and sometimes trumpet. When he took a solo, the reviewer had to stop dancing and listen to his hefty, energetic playing. In late 1945 Goudie was performing at Avenida, the best jazz club in Rio de Janeiro with a band offering mostly Brazilian music, but also swing renditions of “Louise” and “Sugar Blues.”
‘Playing Brazilian Music Has Helped Me A Lot’
To be sure, most of the music Goudie played in the Southern Hemisphere was NOT Jazz. He worked with bands specializing primarily in samba, conga, rhumba, carioca and other Latin dance forms. A hybrid Samba-swing style had evolved in Brazil and South America that fused the Big Band format with deeply syncopated rhythms and popular songs in Portuguese or Spanish.
During the latter half of his stay in Rio, Frank worked at the Copacabana Palace Hotel for the popular Latin dance orchestra of Aristides Zaccarias (1911-2000) who played alto saxophone and clarinet. Zaccarias led and arranged his well-drilled ensemble of five reeds and five brasses with a powerful rhythm section, sassy vocalists and harmony backup singers.
He toured South America widely and waxed some of the biggest hits of Brazilian music for RCA Victor. Big Boy is believed to have made recordings in Rio de Janeiro, but none have yet been recovered. And there is no proof that he was on the records made by Zaccarias and his Orchestra in 1943-45 that are typical of their repertoire:
Zaccarias, Hadlock and Goudie
As a teenager, Richard Hadlock’s father was a VIP in RCA Victor’s Rio operations. A young swing enthusiast, Richard took alto saxophone lessons from Zaccarias. “Not much of a jazz man it turns out,” he says. Yet, “Zac [was] a masterful saxophone player so he wanted the saxes to be GOOD and wrote tough parts for them — and for himself.”
At the time, Hadlock noted the African American reed player who towered over the other musicians but was too shy to introduce himself. Today he suggests that because Zaccarias was the star alto saxophonist, solos for Goudie’s tenor were probably rare and he was likely confined to section work.
Richard also took note of the Goudies’ “very French restaurant just around the corner” from his family’s apartment. Though he never ate there, Richard walked by often. Glancing in the front window he observed “four or five tables with red-checked tablecloths just like a Parisian movie set,” adding “Goudie always had something going.”
Bringing Hot Jazz to Brazil, 1945
Goudie lent his reputation and talents to the fledgling Hot Club of Brazil. In September 1945 he performed as a headliner for their inaugural events, just as he had for the emerging Hot Club of France a decade earlier.
The publication Cena Muda reported on a Grand Jam Session hosted by the Hot Club declaring Big Boy “among the best jazz tenors in South America.” He was the main attraction at another event where “the hall went wild” at a “terrific party that went on till dawn” reported the publication Diario Carioca, “Jazz in Brazil is off to a good start.”
Frank had at first perceived Brazil to be ‘a country without Swing,’ as one writer paraphrased him. But he departed the Southern hemisphere richer for the experience, telling Hadlock for a newspaper interview two decades later, “It took a couple of years to really learn the samba rhythms, but it was worth it. Playing Brazilian music has helped me a lot.”
Return to Paris and Recording, 1946-47
The Goudies landed back in France on August 1, 1946. Madeleine – organized and enterprising – settled into running a book and stationers’ shop. Frank promptly resumed making records.
This was Big Boy’s most productive period of commercial recording. He waxed more than two-dozen titles for the Jazz-oriented Swing label, cutting several discs in an eponymous trio backed by French drummer “Mac Kac” Reilles and a blues and boogie-woogie piano player, “Dizzy” Lewis.
Charlie “Dizzy” Lewis (1903-2000s) was born in Chattanooga Tennessee and earned a music degree from Fisk University. Becoming fluent in French, he lived in France for most of his life beginning in the 1920s. He played or recorded with bandleader Noble Sissle, gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, trumpeter Buck Clayton and Sidney Bechet.
Surprisingly, passing as a French-Antillean, Lewis was able to continue performing through the Second World War. Astonishingly, he eventually became a bona fide scholar of French literature and doctoral-level expert on French novelist Marcel Proust. (Now, there’s a grand story awaiting telling!)
The Trio Big Boy recordings of 10.17.46 and 6.10.47 show that his saxophone technique had broadened to encompass the style of Lester Young. The double-sided “St. Louis Blues” (unissued for decades) demonstrates a distinct talent for playing extended blues improvisations on clarinet.
Goudie was interviewed around this time by Jazz and Blues authority Jacques Morgantini who declared, “He . . . played some splendid blues on clarinet . . . despite his awe-inspiring height, he was a gentle, calm man, very affable. Charming actually.”
Big Boy was increasingly employed filling the strong postwar demand on the Continent for Caribbean and West Indian music. He worked in the Latin-styled ensembles of trumpet player Harry Cooper, Los Criollos (The Creoles) Orchestra and others.
But now in his late forties, Frank was feeling burned out and listless. He complained to friends about his asthma and poor digestion, which he attributed to the climate and canned food of South America. He had quit playing trumpet for health reasons and stopped drinking on account of his liver.
Switzerland, Chikito Club and Travels with Bill Coleman, 1948-51
Wanderlust again in his blood, Goudie was soon in Switzerland where he became quite popular. He joined the Cotton Club Serenaders sextet of alto saxophonist Glyn Paque at the Chikito Club in Bern.
Prior to Europe, the credentials of Missouri-born multiple reeds player Glyn Paque (1907-1953) included stints with The Missourians, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and Benny Carter. He spent the war years jamming away in neutral Switzerland and never left. But Chikito management must have soured on Paque; in late 1949 Goudie was delegated to hire trumpet player Bill Coleman for a new band there.
Bill Coleman (1904-1981) mentions Big Boy Goudie in his memoir, Trumpet Story, supplying details of their re-acquaintance and brief post-war partnership, though erroneously writing that Big Boy was seven feet tall. Incidentally, it was at the Chikito where Bill met a young Swiss woman Lily, whom he soon married. Coleman’s account of Frank helping launch his first performing band and their subsequent European travels is depicted in this audio clip.
After Switzerland, Frank and Bill were off to Rome. And though the anticipated gig folded, they made the best of it. Big Boy did very well in the Italian capital, performing with a group from Martinique. And he joined Coleman in a concert sponsored by the Hot Club of Rome with the Roman New Orleans Jazz Band.
Bill Coleman returned to Paris and a very successful career (and marriage) in France for the rest of his life, writing “. . . a couple of my musicians went to Germany to join Bass Hill who was playing in . . . Berlin at the Neger Bar. Eventually, Big Boy Goudie . . . stayed for years.”
Neger Bar (or Negerbar) where Goudie played for several years in Berlin does not translate politely into English. The German magazine Jazz Podium took club management to task on other matters (BIG BOY, Vernhettes et al):
“Clarinet veteran Frank Big Boy Goudie is playing with a South American trumpeter [Gabriel Dores] who is so wound up that I wonder why he is not playing bebop. It is amazing that Big Boy is not more stressed himself, because what the Negerbar boss, Herr Frohlich, demands of his musicians is no joke . . . making musicians – especially wonderful old gentleman like Big Boy Goudie – work from early evening until the small hours, virtually without a break.”
Writing to his friend Johnny Simmen from Berlin, Frank reported that his records were selling well, he was working non-stop, singing more and had met the touring Louis Armstrong. His German Columbia Records of 1952-53 reveal the continuing emergence of a lyrical personal clarinet style that would soon become his primary mode. And Frank’s first vocal on disc remains his hometown’s best-known anthem, “The Saints.”
Curiously, in 1953 or ’54 Goudie and trumpeter Dores recorded for the Yugoslavian Jugoton record label, likely dropping into their Zagreb studio while on tour. Big Boy again sang: “The Saints,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Maria Dolores.” Five of the ten sides were Latin dance music.
The BIG BOY Biography
BIG BOY: The Life and Times of Frank Goudie by Dan Vernhettes with Christine Goudie and Tony Baldwin is a lovely collaboration between Frank’s surviving French daughter and two talented jazz researchers. Baldwin had some remarkable Goudie memorabilia and background from the South American years. Ms. Goudie had photos, her mother’s memories and a passion to tell her father’s story. Vernhettes is a tenacious documentary historian who never strays from the data.
Dan Vernhettes has written and independently published several gorgeous and well-researched Jazz books and the lavish BIG BOY is no exception. Offered in a generous 9” x 14” format, it contains 70 pages of very high-quality printing, with 100 photos, a discography and index. The San Francisco data and discography were supplied by this writer.
The cover image is a Conn tenor sax of the type Goudie played, known as the Ladyface (or Naked Lady) for the lissome female figure engraved on the bell. Unfortunately, BIG BOY is out-of-print in English (though limited copies may be obtained from this writer) but remains available in the French edition from Jazzedit.
Song of the Wanderer
Despite working steadily in Germany for almost five years, Goudie’s path from 1946-56 bounced like a pinball between Paris, Switzerland, France, Berlin, Prague and back. Circumstances placed him in a Paris session with soprano saxophone master Sidney Bechet in October 1949, but like most of their encounters the results were disappointing and unremarkable.
There was more work in Latin and Caribbean music. He even visited New York City briefly in late 1954, presumably scouting out prospects for a return to the United States.
Frank Goudie left Europe for the last time on November 8, 1956, sailing from Cherbourg on HMS Queen Mary. Later that month, he signed up with the musicians’ union in San Francisco and settled down to play music by the Bay for his remaining years.
A Big Life
Through his talent and initiative, Frank Goudie became a vanguard and exemplar far from his Louisiana origins. His path followed a course parallel to the story of Jazz itself. Highly adaptable and increasingly skilled, this Creole Johnny Appleseed of Jazz eluded the historical narratives.
Today, a new page is being written in the Jazz chronicles for the previously overlooked Big Boy. True, he was not a radical innovator nor a genius who changed the course of music and never pretended to be. But by the time this chapter concludes in late 1956 he had demonstrated a fierce commitment to his art and developed a strong personal voice.
And Goudie was about to undergo yet another major transformation. Playing only clarinet, he was welcomed into the booming San Francisco Jazz Revival where his most personal voice emerged in an autumnal ripening of his art. Part three explores his lively West Coast years through rare photos, exclusive audio and the recollections of those who knew him.
Newly recovered and restored performances from Goudie’s Frisco years are now available on iTunes, Amazon or contact the writer at [email protected].
Frank Big Boy Goudie, Pt. 2 of 3, South America 1939-46, Europe 1946-56
Thanks, Sources and Further reading:
Merci to Frank’s daughter Christine Goudie and Dan Vernhettes for photos and corroboration. Great thanks to Richard Hadlock for his 2013 interview and San Francisco Examiner articles. Dramatic readings by Kenneth Gant with assistance from Joanne Fish.
Thanks also to Tony Baldwin for the Zaccarias recordings and record collectors Bo Scherman, Göran Söderwall, Rune Sjögren and Jean-François Villetard for rare audio. All the music was recorded in Europe or South America. The saga of Big Boy continues at: JAZZ RHYTHM http://jazzhotbigstep.com
Ken Mills’ 1960 interview of Goudie’s is at the Music Rising website of Tulane University
Coleman, Bill, Trumpet Story, Palgrave Macmillan/Northeastern University, 1981
Hadlock, Richard, The Towering Reedist Goudie: Clarinetist ‘Home’ After Years Abroad with Top Bands, San Francisco Examiner, 4.28.63; Eulogy to a Gentleman of Jazz, San Francisco Examiner, Sunday, 1.19.64
Kernfeld, Barry editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd edition, Macmillan, 2002
Vernhettes, Dan with Christine Goudie and Tony Baldwin, BIG BOY, The life and story of Frank Goudie, Jazzedit.org, 2015