On trumpet, Don Albert Jazz man speaks By Maury Maverick Jr. San Antonio The politics of jazz combined with the sound is what makes the music important. Whitey danced to it a long time without knowing the hell that spawned jazz: if you listen with your brains as much as your ears, how can you fail to see that Dutch ship, the first slaver, put.ting into Jamestown in 1619? Musical cocaine, a pain killerjazz is a different breed of cat from the gentle minuets of Europe. The dialogue between the races began not with the Martin Luther Kings or the Malcolm X’s, but with the King Olivers, the Jelly Roll Mortons and their predecessors; they were the first ambassadors. Sweet, sweet men. One of them is alive and going strong in San Antonio. He is Don Albert, born in New Orleans in 1909 as Albert Dominique. A Creole, his skin is as white as an Episcopal bishop’s. What is jazz to Don Albert? “Why, man,” he will tell you, “jazz is the gospel with a beat. It’s black people in slavery days trying to get the agony out of their bellies.” Taught the fundamentals by “old professors” Lorenzo Tio, Manuel Perez and Milford Piron, Don’S first instrument was the violin. The pull towards the brass began while sitting at the feet of trombonist Kid Ory and developed while watching a youngster named Louis Armstrong strut along in the Colored Waif Band up and down the streets of the Crescent City. A 1949 issue of Playback described Albert as “a representative of that second generation of New Orleans trumpet players who maintained a solid connection with the past while going on to achieve success in the swing era.” In a book published by the LSU Press he is evaluated as a musician of significant standing in the history of jazz. \(Fifty years ago, Duke Ellington predicted “Don Albert and His Orchestra” would be “the sensation of the country,” but Don Albert claims to have opened the University of Texas’ Gregory Gymnasium to dances and credits Jimmy Phillips, later a state senator, for the booking. “You know,” he says, “Jimmy worked his way through college booking musicians. He got black musicians gigs at places where only whites had played. He helped us. I’d like to see Jimmy again. Does he still smoke that big black cigar?” Charles L. Black Jr., Sterling Professor of Law at Yale, recalls that in the mid ’30s he brought Don Albert and his group to his parents’ home on Pease Street in Austin to listen to Louis Armstrong records. “The striking thing, of course, about this record-listening night was that one had to be careful about bringing several Negroes in at the front door. I am sure that contact with such a person as Don Albert played some part in my own movement toward becoming an antiracist lawyer.” “The all -time greatest” What about Louis Armstrong? Was he as great on trumpet as his reputation? “Listen,” Albert replied, “you could put Louis in a room with a hundred trumpets and the second he sounded a note you’d know it was Armstrong. He’s the all-time greatest. Never will be anyone like him again.” How does Don Albert evaluate black orchestras? “Way back there I used to have a competing orchestra with King Oliver. Since then I got to know all of the firstrate men like Basie, Fatha Hines, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway. They were all great, but I guess the Duke was tops. Ellington’s father worked at the White House and was able to send Duke to Howard University. He and his musicians were cultured, formally educated folks.” Did he know any of the big-time white Don Albert orchestras? Were white musicians “back there” as racially benighted as, say, white plumbers or lawyers? “A lot of the real pros in music don’t worry as much about race as some folks do. In the old days when the joints closed, we’d jam with guys in the orchestras of Jack Teagarden, Ziggy Elman, Glen Gray and the Dorsey brothers. Those Dorsey brothers were good people. Benny Goodman integrated his band with black musicians like Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson.” The other day Don and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church off Alamo Plaza. Affectionately known as St. Joske’sit is crowded in on three sides by a Joske’s department storethe church was packed with both black and white folks. Afterwards at a reception, Barney Bigard, Duke Ellington’s clarinetist, joined with local musicians in doing Mood Indigo, a piece Bigard wrote with the Duke. It was moving music. Then the saints came marching in, cake-walking, black and white together. Don Albert inspires that kind of thing. Age and a stroke make it difficult for Don to hit the high notes now, but Ile is still good. If you catch my friend blowing and going on trumpet, ask him to do Blueberry Hill. It’s my favorite Don Albert. Sweet, sweet man. Maury Maverick Jr. practices law in San Antonio.
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