[Dixielandjazz] Duke Dejan New Orleans Jazz Legend Obit
Mon, 12 Aug 2002 08:49:44 -0400
Better late than never. here is Duke Dejan's obit from the New York
Times. He passed on July 5.
August 12, 2002 - New York Times
Duke Dejan, a Jazz Player True to New Orleans, Dies at 93
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Duke Dejan, who as head of the Olympia Brass Band perpetuated a
swinging, exuberant tradition from the earliest years of New Orleans
jazz, died on July 5 in New Orleans. He was 93.
Born Harold Andrew Dejan, he began playing saxophone during the
adolescence of jazz with masters like King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.
He inspired new generations of musicians to play the brass music that
helped define his city, from the old funeral dirges to rock 'n' roll.
As they paraded through the streets of New Orleans, the members of the
Olympia Brass Band looked like a bands of the late 1800's, wearing
unadorned uniforms with black caps for funerals and white caps for other
occasions. Each cap read "Olympia" above the brim, except for Mr.
Dejan's. It said "Leader."
Emblazoned on the bass drum was his home telephone number, to facilitate
The band's very existence was a triumph of musical preservation. After
World War II, Mr. Dejan often played with a quartet called Mighty Four,
while another band he was tied to, the Eureka Brass Band, one of the
last of the old-time brass groups, was fading away.
"I didn't think they should be allowed to die like that," he said in an
interview quoted in his obituary in The Times-Picayune, the New Orleans
So in 1951 he started his own brass band, which became the Olympia in
1959. From a locally popular street band, it grew into a prime
attraction at Preservation Hall, the citadel of old-time jazz in the
But that was only the beginning. The band entertained three presidents,
Queen Elizabeth II and Pope John Paul II and made 30 concert tours of
Europe and one of Africa. It performed in a James Bond movie and scores
of television commercials. It made nine albums. It once played a funeral
in Wales for a multimillionaire who paid in advance.
"Everything Is Lovely" was both the Olympia's theme song and Mr. Dejan's
answer to most questions.
He was born into a Creole family of 10 children on Feb. 4, 1909, in New
Orleans. He took clarinet lessons as a child and switched to saxophone.
He quit school in the eighth grade to pursue music professionally,
joining the Olympia Serenaders and appearing on an early radio show. His
first brass band was the Holy Ghost Brass Band.
He was fascinated with the music scene in Storyville, the city's red
light district. (Prostitution was then legal.) He would occasionally sit
in with his brother Leo in Manny Perez's Imperial Brass Band, which
included the young Louis Armstrong.
"King Oliver used to be there on the street in the red light district
and blow that horn," Mr. Dejan told The Times-Picayune. "He'd get in the
middle of the street and blow that horn, then everybody would come to
where he was playing."
Mr. Dejan's career blossomed. He played at the fabled Basin Street
brothel Mahogany Hall, on luxury boats that cruised Lake Pontchartrain
and on riverboats in the Mississippi. Around 1930, he played saxophone
on a ship to New York, where he stayed with Danny Barker, the New
Orleans jazz banjoist and singer. He visited clubs to hear Armstrong and
In the late 1930's, he took a job with the Lykes Brothers Steamship
Company, where he handled interoffice mail, a job he would return to
after the war. He put in a total of 23 years there. "They're so nice,"
he told the British newspaper The Guardian. "They always give me time
off to play funerals."
During World War II, he served in the Navy, playing in bands.
After the war, he worked at his day job and continued his music career.
His own brass band consisted of nine to a dozen instruments, sometimes
including three trumpets.
The official name of his band became Dejan's Olympia Brass Band, though
Olympia usually sufficed.
Musical purists sometimes found fault with the group, which played in a
loose-jointed style that some thought erratic. But no one complained
about its enthusiasm.
Gradually, the band added pop tunes like "Come on Baby, Let the Good
Times Roll" to its repertory, while discarding the old military marches
like "Washington Post." But Mr. Dejan did not stray far from tradition.
Tanio Hingle, a bass drum player with the New Birth Brass Band, one of
the new generation of bands influenced by Olympia, told The
Times-Picayune what he learned from Mr. Dejan: "Keep playing traditional
music. Keep the heritage going. Be dressed properly on the gigs so you
can receive a lot of respect."
Mr. Dejan outlived almost everyone in his band, replacing each, as
necessary, with a member of his Young Olympians Brass Band, which he ran
as a farm team.
He is survived by his daughter, Lovetta Dejan Mahon, of New Orleans; his
brother Leo, of Los Angeles; 4 grandchildren; 7 great-grandchildren; 19
great-great-grandchildren; and 3 great-great-great-grandchildren.
Mr. Dejan suffered the first of a debilitating series of strokes 11
years ago and could no longer play the saxophone. But he could bang a
tambourine and sing. In 1997, Southern Living magazine described the
scene at Preservation Hall:
"And just when you think the old bandleader has sunk into slumber, Duke
Dejan stands, leaning on that cane, his right fist raised like some
senator on the stump, his voice in clarion song: `Oh when the sun/Refuse
to shine/Yes I want to be in that number/When the saints go marching