[Dixielandjazz] Russians In Sacramento
willc at highstream.net
Mon Oct 17 11:56:47 PDT 2005
I am pleased to report that a fine jazz memorial for listmate Harry Epp
was geld on Sunday, October 9th, and attended by about 100 people
- a third of them top South Florida musicians - and for the first time
in my experience (and I put together similar events for Don Ewell and
Billy Butterfield and a dozen others over the years) people danced in
Harry had made provision in his will for a "going away party" and he
funded an open bar for as long as anybody wanted to hang around and when
a band on stage was playing something hot, a couple was irresistibly
driven to jitterbug, and they had company in an instant!
I had told Harry about provisions in my will and he followed suit. I am
delighted at the way this works out and I know damned well that Harry
was up there whistling and laughing and scratching and stomping his
feet in approval.
On the off chance you might be interested, the eulogy I delivered for
my friend follows.
1928 - 2005
I am really pissed off that Harry died.
We were pals, and as a couple of widowers with a lot of interests in
common, we had a bunch of good times together. Harry and I went to
Clearwater and Sacramento and Los Angeles for jazz festivals, we
recommended good books and authors we discovered to each other. We were
both pilots. We happily drank Three Kings beer - or almost any other
kind, for that matter - and scarfed down Cincinnati chili, steaks with
Bernaise sauce and enchiladas in fancy eateries and greasy spoons. We
often chased down any meal we shared with a slug of Gran Marnier - or,
as Harry insisted, Gran Manure. We argued politics but he never called
me a warmongering Philistine and I never questioned his more peaceful
And of course we made music together. Harry played in my band and I
produced records for him.
I first met Harry more than a quarter century ago when he was
working a duo with bassist Gene Greco at the now long extinct Ground
Round at Broward Boulevard and 441. Harry wore the striped vest and
straw boater of a saloon entertainer, and he kept the joint jumping with
sing-alongs and smiling responses to requests for New York, New York and
Tie a Yellow Ribbon even though he thought those songs really stunk. In
due course, Harry invited me to sit in and in a fit of extraordinary
benevolence, management agreed to pay me to play on New Year's Eve - an
event Harry and I both remembered vividly in later years as the night
the brimming tip jar was stolen off the stand right under our noses.
When Hal Donovan, Bill McNaughton and I started the Hot Jazz and
Alligator Gumbo Society in 1980. Harry was Charter Member number 4. And
when we formally incorporated the club and made it a tax exempt charity,
Harry served on the first board of trustees and continued in that post
for nearly ten years. All during that time, He was a stalwart who
consistently responded to calls for volunteers to do the very modestly
paid and occasional freebie school and charity gigs the Society booked.
Harry was with Hal Donovan, Jerry Pascoe and other club members on the
float with the Metrozoo Moose when a HAGS band appeared in the Orange
Bowl Parade. And Harry was a featured guest artist on the very first
Some of That Jazz television show I produced for Channel 2 in Miami.
Harry was my all time favorite piano player, and not just because he
knew all the tunes. He knew Hoagy and Fats and Clarence Williams and
Jelly Roll and he played their tunes and a thousand more with the energy
and talent of the powerhouse entertainer he was. He always played the
right chords and was terrific at comping behind the solos of other
musicians; that is an art that not too many pianists are really good at.
But what made Harry my personal hero was that he was a generous
musician. When we we played together he cheerfully and expertly covered
my dumb mistakes with skill, a smile and incredible patience. For
example, I have been known to quite unintentionally start a solo on the
song the band has been playing, play the bridge to some other song and
do the last 8 bars on yet a third tune. Or I'll call a tune in A-flat
and then actually play it in C. Harry just rolled with these musical
punches and made sure the bass player and everybody else knew what the
hell I was up to. You've just got to love a guy that makes you sound good!
And Harry could make you laugh. He swore that if he ever got his
banjo really in tune, he was going to have it welded. He insisted that
instant gratification wasn't nearly fast enough. He revered W.C. Fields,
Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, and was hilarious when he said
"walk this way" and did his hunchback shuffle. Hip fans and musicians
were fractured with laughter when Harry did the haunting tune Stella by
Starlight as a two beat Sousa march.
We were lucky to have Harry in Florida. When he decided that the
skills as a combat parachutist the Army taught him weren't going to be
of much help in civilian life, he returned to his native Columbus, Ohio
and in created the Muskat Ramblers band. Populated with eager young
players in a city that was a hotbed of jazz at the time, the band
quickly honed its skills and became one of the top territory bands of
the fifties, playing the same Chicago and Detroit and other Midwest
clubs that headlined Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and Count Basie.
Harry's Muskat Ramblers were heavyweights. When rock and roll
popped the jazz bubble, Harry came south and worked steadily in singles
gigs and with Frank Hubbell, the Bourbon Street Jazz Band, Sandy
Sanders, my River Liffey Saloon and Roaring Tusker Jazz Bands and, in
recent years, with the Riverside Jazz Band out of Boca Raton.
Harry was a caring, compassionate man, and that made him a worrier.
He worried about clarinetist Marv Rosenthal, afflicted with cancer, and
bassist Pat Cooke who lost his home to Katrina in New Orleans. A few
months ago, when he couldn't get me on the phone, he drove to my house
and queried my neighbors only to discover that I had been hospitalized
for some giblet repair. Harry cared, and he wasn't ashamed to pray for
those he cared for.
Some of Harry's friends couldn't be here today but asked me to let
you know of the affection and respect they had for him as a man and a
musician. John Ulrich, the fabulous pianist who was Harry's early mentor
in Columbus, Ohio, was probably closer to Harry than any of us, and he
sends his love and condolences to the family. Bill Allred, trombonist of
Disney fame, trumpet giant Randy Reinhart,. guitar and banjomeister Bob
Whitlock all send kind and thoughtful messages. Hank Bredenberg, who was
his close friend and whose trombone genius tailgated Harry's Muskat
Ramblers and graced his last CD deeply regretted his obligation to be
out of town today. Actress Kaye Wade and Hollywood stunt man Chuck
Hicks. Natural Gas Jazz Band Leader Phil Crumley, Nancy Giffen, Ben
Fowlkes and Bob Ringwald, all of whom Harry first met at Sacramento or
on the internet Dixieland Jazz Mailing List, sent sympathetic messages,
as did Leslie Johnson, editor of the Mississippi Rag magazine that
published a feature article about Harry in January, 1998.
Let me tell you that Harry wasn't in any hurry to check out. He
survived a heart attack some years ago and had recently started eating
salads and working out at the gym and doing other health nut things
that I warned could kill him. He had also seriously embarked on a
regimen of spending his kids inheritance by visiting New Orleans and
going on jazz cruises and to jazz festivals hither and yon. He was bent
on having fun and spent the last weekend of his life at the Sweet and
Hot Jazz Festival in Los Angeles.. He came home raving about the great
music and the chance he had to see, hear and schmoose with old friends.
In fact, Harry only spoke of departing this mortal coil in connection
with tossing a nice going away party for his pals - and his kids Robert,
Tom, Chris, an/d Richard have kept faith with their Dad by having us
here for that very purpose today.
I'm still pissed at Harry for leaving us so soon. I'm already
missing my accidental role as his computer tech support guru. But
Harry's in my heart and a lot of others today as we raise our glasses
and remember him as he joins his beloved wife Ceil and takes a
well-earned seat in that Big Band in the Sky.
So long, pal.
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