[Dixielandjazz] So long, Tom Justice
willc at highstream.net
Wed Mar 16 18:57:30 PST 2005
I report with great sadness that I delivered the following eulogy this
afternoon at a memorial session in Stuart, Florida for Tommy Justice,
who went to that big Band in the Sky Saturday. The one thing I'm
grateful for is that I survived a week plus bout of pnemonia and was
able to deliver it to a public audience instead of personally. When I
finished, there wasn't a dry seat in the house.
Vale, Tom Justice
A Eulogy by
Somewhere in the universe, a star of the first magnitude flickered,
dimmed and went dark on Saturday morning as our beloved friend Tom
passed through the gate to Heaven. That star was part of a tiny galaxy
that, over time, has included similar luminescences for Bix
Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, and Tom's pal and mentor, Bobby Hackett.
He stood with the giant jazz players of all time, our Tom did. He was
far too modest to claim an edge over the likes of Billy Butterfield,
Dick Cathcart, Ruby Braff and Don Goldie but there were many of us who
thought he could have. But Tom respected these men for the incredible
players they were, and spoke well of them. Possibly the only musicians
Tommy had trouble saying something nice about were Preacher Rollo and
Kenny G, for which God will forgive him.
I met Tommy 40 years ago. At first I loved his trumpet work, filled with
exquisite progressions and phrases that no one before had ever played.
His brilliance was awesome, and this was evidenced by the presence at
many of his appearances by peer musicians who just came to listen. Then,
as time passed I came to love the gentle, good hearted man underneath
every bit as much as I cherished the notes that he played. I think this
was inevitable as it became clear that the beauty of his music was
simply an extension of the fundamental decency, honesty, and generosity
that framed his spirit. These were the hallmarks of a soul that welcomed
all of us as friends, colleagues and more.
The players here know Tom's musical history but some of you may not.
Tom's professional career began in 1939 when, at 19, he was plucked by
Jack Teagarden to sit the jazz trumpet chair in one of the most
successful and popular bands of the era. Fired when the band reached New
York after more than a year on the road because he didn't have a Local
802 union card, he remained in the Apple to wait out the union's penalty
box time. During that time he met and played with PeeWee Russell, guys
in the Condon gang and the man who became his lifelong friend, Bobby
Shortly before the end of the war - and the gray hair out there tells me
you know which war I mean - Tom went to California and was picked by
"Stardust" composer and pianist Hoagy Carmichael for his hugely popular
band. During this six month plus gig, he sat the jazz chair and was
regularly heard soloing on the famed radio network broadcasts from the
After the war Tom came to Miami where he married, attended the
University of Miami, and began a teaching career mandated by his risk
averse, security-oriented wife. While she essentially clobbered Tom's
chance to replace Bobby Hackett on the Jackie Gleason Show and the Young
Lovers series of recordings, he did have steady work with the Preacher
Rollo Band, which was big stuff in Miami at the time. He achieved
modest national recognition through that band's network radio shows on
ABC and the release of several records by MGM..
The marriage ended and Tom, freed from the reins, moved to Stuart
where he made the God-sent connection with Ruth Root.
Now Ruthie was a church organist, with virtually zero knowledge of jazz
and certainly no awareness of Tom's high credentials in the jazz
community. But despite the gaping musical chasm in their backgrounds,
love, as they say, conquered all and Ruth became the Good Mrs. Justice
who, from that moment forward, cherished Tommy and protected him from
the whole litany of dumb things that we men are prone to do when left to
our own devices. Tom, never abundantly healthy, would never have made
it to this 85th year without Ruth's care and nurturing. We are all in
her debt for keeping our pal with us for this long. She also stepped
willingly into the role of step-mom-as-needed for Lisa and Johnny
Justice, Tom's kids. That's a good lady, that Ruth Justice.
I hope Ruth will forgive me for revealing that it took all of Tommy's
teaching skills, patience and love to give his dear girl sufficient
piano craft to permit them to play together, first at home and later on
paid gigs in the Stuart area. From the time he turned pro, Tom Justice
had played with the very best musicians around and it is enormously to
his credit that he succeeded in converting a church organist into a
player who could be part of his musical life. And Ruthie deserves huge
praise for undergoing the rigors and discipline of the conversion.
While he generously shared his stage limelight with some lesser players
over the years, he was really accustomed to working with heavyweights.
Among those who had black belts on their respective instruments and who
welcomed him at the Pearly Gates are pianists Don Ewell, Bob Eastman,
Charlie Queener and Jack Keller; trombonists Lou McGarrity, Herb
Winfield and the heroic Jack Teagarden. And surely also on hand to greet
him were guitarist Frank Applegate; drummers Bob Lolly and Barrett
Deems; bassists Al Mattucci and Gene Hoover; and Hackett, Billy
Butterfield and Don Goldie for whom he subbed or with whom he swapped gigs
And then there was that special cadre known as the Biscayne Jazz Band
which, under Tom's gentle leadership, did stage concerts, records, and
television show and may have enjoyed making their music more than any
band in history. So also on the Heavenly welcoming committee were
pianist Bobby Rosen, whose solos and comping were matched only be his
delightful sense of humor, and the impish Ernie Goodson, the
clarinetist Tommy considered the most innovative he'd ever met. In life,
Tom, Ernie and Bobby were joined on this band by drummer Red Hawley and
trombonist Hank Bredenberg, who are here with us today, and bassist Tom
Sheeder, who sends condolences from The Villages near Ocala. God, that
was a band!
The thing that makes Jazz both unique and arguably the most difficult
of all musical forms is that the real players are at least as creative
as the composers and songwriters. The good ones can take even
pedestrian songs and turn them into monster pieces by drawing on a core
of genius which is not granted in equal measure to all musicians. Tommy
was one whose endowment of this genius far exceeded the norm, and it is
no coincidence that this trait was shared by all the players in the
Biscayne Jazz Band.
The Biscayne Jazz Band was a "hot" band. But the style that Tom enjoyed
playing in most was the lyric ballad, and the album "Justice Makes
Love", which he recorded with local pianist Ray Thompson, bassist Gene
Hoover, drummer Damon Buckley and the glorious guitarist Frank
Applegate, illustrates both his majesty in the genre and his ability to
draw other musicians from the deep genius pool to work at his side.
No words of mine can do justice to Justice, but present today are people
who met Tom's standards and worked with him on his records and TV show.
I hope Jack Hawthaway, who has worked with and helped Tom throughout his
Stuart years, will give the floor to Biscayne Jazz Band alumni Hank
Bredenberg and Red Hawley, pianist Harry Epp and singer Lori Lea so that
they can express their love of Tom and condolences to his family in they
way they know best - with
March 15, 2005
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