[Dixielandjazz] Russians In Sacramento

Will Connelly 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 
the aisles! 

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.

Harry Epp
1928 - 2005

A Eulogy
Will Connelly

    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 
Mennonite leanings.

    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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