[Dixielandjazz] Bill Campbell's e-letter to the Minister who conducted Don Gumpert's Funeral

Norman Vickers nvickers1 at cox.net
Sat Mar 26 06:09:20 PST 2005

To:  Dixieland Jazz Mailing List members
From: Norman Vickers

Re:  Don Gumpert's funeral..

Here is a poignant letter from jazz enthusiast and former columnist for Ft.
Walton (FL) Daily News to the minister at Trinity Methodist Church, Ft.
Walton, regarding Don Gumpert's life.

It's long but if you knew and cared about Don Gumpert, it's worth the read.
For those of you who don't know him, the Ray Brown mentioned in the letter
is not the late bassist Ray Brown but vocalist/pianist Ray Brown of the Ft.
Walton-Destin area.  Ray is a former member of the Four Freshmen and is a
working musician and radio personality.

Here's Bill Campbell's letter:

Dear Rev, and some others whom I've copied.......
I wanted to share my afternoon with you because it was
We buried Don Gumpert today, unarguably the greatest Dixieland cornetist in
the world. "Gump" wanted a "jazz funeral," and boy, did he get it.
The service at Trinity Methodist was a bit unusual, thanks to Ray Brown and
Ray Hitchell trading places at the keyboard with songs Gump loved. But for
those who didn't know Gump, here's a quick take. He grew up in St. Louis,
and fell in love with Dixieland and his horn. So proficient did he get that
when the man who eulogized him today...Don Snow, originator of Rosie
O'Grady's in Pensacola...said, "We needed a cornet player, and this kid
walked in 35 years ago. He played eight bars, and it was enough. He was
Gump played with all the great Dixieland groups in America. Or, more
appropriately, they played with him. He was a legend, a fact not fully
appreciated by many "just folks" in Fort Walton Beach.
But to the point: after the church service, we convoyed to Brooks Cemetery
for burial. And off to the side were a group of seven musicians, mostly from
Pensacola and the Seville Quarter where Gump played, and they played a slow
version of" Tin Roof Blues," followed by "A Closer Walk With Thee." Then we
formed a "second line" and walked to his favorite watering hole, "Docie's,"
next to Staffs restaurant. We walked straight across Highway 98, traffic
stopping for us in the middle of the afternoon. Hell, who'd want to hit a
tuba player followed by 150 people.
Then the jam session started. We had players from Orlando, Atlanta, Mobile,
Pensacola and here. I wish I'd recorded it. It was all about Gump, as he
wished. I kept my composure until Ray Brown invited Cheryl Jones to the
stand. She took the keyboard and the mike and started a slow version of
"Saints," which then picked up with people playing from their hearts like
they've never played before. And, my arms around Don Gumpert, Jr., I cried
welcomed tears. As did he; we'd both done pretty well until then.
A couple of more tunes and a childhood friend of Gump's wanted to hear one
of his favorite songs. "Somewhere Under a Rainbow." I asked Cheryl if she
knew the words and she said, "Yes, but I've never sung it." But she did, and
it was spectacular, as is she. I again cried unashamed tears, this time with
my arm around Gump's daughter. We wept together, and it was good.
And I guess the reason I'm sending this to you all is that it occurred to me
I was so blessed with knowing not only Gump, but the people playing, and
crying and loving this bittersweet moment. And I wondered why more people
weren't involved. What the hell are they doing with their lives that they
couldn't find time to enjoy jazz and   the people who play it?  Why couldn’t
they make friends with these gifted people as I did?  Is television all that
meaningful when you have guys and gals gigging at places of pure joy?
I once asked Ray Brown why people like he, Holly Shelton, Bobby van Deusen,
David Seering. Gump, Toni Drago, and I hung out together. We couldn't come
up with an answer except for the fact we all were too familiar with the
"Remember me?" stuff, when you didn't have a clue who was addressing you. Or
that maybe what passes for "celebrity" isn't really, but we tend to hang out
together as a buffer. And we don't have to impress anybody when we're
It's a strange syndrome, but I love my friends in the world of the
spotlight, not just because they're in it, but because, in my little way,
I've been there and I know it ain't all it's cracked up to be. Sure, it's
fun at times, but it can be damn lonely, too.
Tom, you and another man of the cloth are numbered among my best mends. Yet
I'm a heathen by most accounts. but you're in the same boat. I don't go to
church, but you and Vern are very close to me, and I to you. And I don't
playa lick of jazz, but look at all the wonderful people I've met because I
enjoy their music. There must be a sermon in there somewhere.
So here I sit, tears staining my already-stained jacket, wishing more people
could have been there to cry with me. But I cry for them, for not knowing
Gump, and the people like him who probably have more music in them than they
know, for as the minister at Trinity Methodist said today, "You can say more
with music than you can with words," and Gump, and all those there today,
did exactly that.
	I'm blessed. And so happy I was in a place where I could take that first
step, and get to meet others of
great gifts. And now I'm humbled.
	I'll close this tedious tome with the words I wrote for Gump in next week's
Beachcomber; they're from
George Eliot:
	"What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each

Stuff to hang on to........

Bill (Campbell)


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