Jazz Jottings October 2021

Called “one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to ever make landfall in the United States,” Hurricane Ida did a number on three historic landmarks in New Orleans as the storm roared through the Crescent City in late August.

The Karnofsky Tailor Shop and Residence, a building with a rich history that once served as a second home for Louis Armstrong, was reduced to a pile of rubble. The shop was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Armstrong worked for the Karnofskys, a family of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, on their coal and junk wagons, tooting a small tin horn to let people know the wagon was approaching. He often ate meals with the family and developed a great love for Jewish food, especially matzo.

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The five Karnofsky sons were his boyhood chums, and the family had a tremendous, warm influence on his life. They loaned him money to buy his first cornet on the condition that he work for them for another year, which he did. Although he was baptized a Roman Catholic, Armstrong was often photographed wearing the Star of David, which he wore throughout most of his adult life to honor the family that had shown him such kindness.

As an adult, son Morris Karnofsky opened the first jazz record store in New Orleans, which Armstrong would often visit whenever he returned to his home town.

Buddy Bolden Mural 

Also gone is a mural on another building in the Central Business District that honored cornet player Buddy Bolden and his band. Bolden is often referred to as “the father of Jazz.” The massive artwork created by artist Brandan Odums, ripped apart during the storm, was on the wall of the Little Gem Saloon. All that stands now is the phrase “One time in New Orleans.”

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The mural was based on the only known photograph of Bolden. According to the artist, the halo around Bolden’s head is deliberately unfinished to evoke the psychological condition that cut short his career. He was institutionalized as a young man and died in the care of the state. Though he was buried in an unmarked grave, he did receive a marker at Holt Cemetery in 1996.

The Little Gem Saloon was Frank Douroux’s first tavern in the 400 block of South Rampart Street. From 1903 to 1909, it featured dance bands and was patronized by jazz legends Freddie Keppard, Jelly Roll Morton, and Bolden. From 1926 to 1949, the building was a popular “loan office” where musicians were known to pawn their instruments and hang out. In the mid-20th Century, it was the site of Pete’s Blue Heaven bar, which was a stop for the Zulu parade and other processions. The building was restored in 2012 and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kid Ory Historic House 

As Hurricane Ida barreled through LaPlace, Louisiana, John McCusker, founder of the1811 Kid Ory Historic House, and an associate spent a harrowing night hunkered down in the 1790s plantation house that dates back two centuries to the Spanish colonial era to save irreplaceable artifacts related to the life of jazz pioneer Edward “Kid” Ory, who was born on the plantation on December 25, 1886.

Jazz Jottings October 2021
In the midst of devastation caused by Hurricane Ida, the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House remains standing. (photo courtesy 1811 Kid Ory Historic House)

McCusker, a retired journalist who has reported on many hurricanes, including Katrina, stated it was the most terrifying night he’d been through in all his years of storm chasing. “The winds really got going after dark, and they howled all night for six hours straight.” He added the wind was so loud that they didn’t hear when large barn, located across from the house, collapsed to a pile of debris.

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Early in the night, McCusker said a window in the attic blew out, setting off a damaging series of events. The wind pushed rain into the attic, which caused brown sludgy water to drip from the ceiling throughout the house.

The museum officials used tarps to cover artifacts inside the house to keep the water from ruining them. “We have the largest holding of music, photographs, and personal belongings of Kid Ory,” he said. “We have boxes and boxes of archival material. It would have all been ruined if we would have left.”

The museum opened to the public earlier this year and houses two exhibits: one on the 1811 German Coast slave uprising, the largest revolt of enslaved people in the history of the United States, and the other dealing with the life and times of the famed trombonist.

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Back in the heyday of Dixieland festivals, it was rare to attend a festival where the Night Blooming Jazzmen was not one of the performing bands. According to long-time leader Chet Jaeger, “We started as an ad-hoc, pick-up band in 1972 that was not expected to survive. But we were so well received and were having so much fun that we’ve stuck together all these years.”

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In those early years, the band members would congregate at the piano player’s home before heading off to their latest gig. One evening as the group departed, one of the musicians said, “What’s that smell?” The piano player replied, “It’s my Night Blooming Jasmine.” (For the uninitiated, the Night Blooming Jasmine is a tropical shrub whose flowers open at night and stay extremely fragrant until sunrise.) Drummer Ned Brundage immediately offered, “What a great name for a jazz band.” Everyone agreed, and Chet Jaeger has been using that name for his bands ever since.

In the Fall of 1975, the band became the official band for the Society for the Preservation of Dixieland Jazz in California. In preparing for their first appearance at the third annual Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, the festival officials asked how the band should be listed in the program. Chet recalled, “Someone suggested—not seriously I hope—we call ourselves the Society for the Preservation of Dixieland Jazz Representative Jazz Band. That didn’t go over very well, and it was decided we would be the Night Blooming Jazzmen.”

So it was appropriate that the current members of the Society for Preservation of Dixieland Jazz and the Night Bloomers’ legion of fans should gather at the Duarte Elks Lodge last month to celebrate the band’s 60th anniversary, with Chet Jaeger still playing cornet, telling corny jokes and directing the seven-man aggregation.

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Nathan Tokunaka is a high school freshmen in California who took up the clarinet when he was in the fourth grade. When he was in his early teens, he heard a recording by Pete Fountain and decided “I want to do that.” He began to listen to other clarinet legends like Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, and Dorean Ketchens (the Clarinet Queen of New Orleans) and became more committed to playing traditional jazz.

He decided to seek out Clint Baker, the highly respected bandleader-educator, and caught up with the versatile multi-instrumentalist at a meeting of the South Bay Jazz Society. Clint was impressed with Nathan’s playing ability and his dedication and agreed to take him on as a student. Learning from charts Clint has given him, Nathan has memorized some 60 jazz tunes to date and been able to sit in with the Café Borrone All-Stars on occasion.

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“Having the opportunity to play with veteran musicians like Clint, Leon Oakley, Robert Young and Jim Klippert is a life-changing experience,” the young clarinetist exclaimed. “Nathan is super-intelligent and loves old-time traditional jazz,” according to Clint. “He’s a very special young man with a bright future.”

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Sometimes you have to shut out the world, close your eyes, and turn up the music.

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Lew Shaw started writing about music as the publicist for the famous Berkshire Music Barn in the 1960s. He joined the West Coast Rag almost thirty years ago and has been a guiding light to this paper through the two name changes since then as we became The Syncopated Times.  47 of his profiles are collected in Jazz Beat: Notes on Classic Jazz. Volume two, containing profiles from 2013-2016 will be available on Amazon soon. He taps his extensive network of connections and friends throughout the traditional jazz world to bring us his Jazz Jottings column every month.

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