Lionel Ferbos, the longest-tenured jazz trumpeter in New Orleans, dies at 103
Date Posted: 2014-07-29
Trumpeter Lionel Ferbos, who enjoyed a late-in-life celebrity as the oldest active jazz musician in New Orleans, died early Saturday, July 19. He celebrated his 103rd birthday two nights earlier, on July 17, at a party at the Palm Court Jazz Café, a favorite venue of his.
Mr. Ferbos was the personification of quiet dedication to craft. Even some residents of his 7th Ward neighborhood, he once said, didn't realize he was a musician — they knew him as a master tinsmith who had taken over his father's sheet metal business. That occupation sustained him and his family for decades.
But he always nurtured a musical career on the side.
"He proved that the greatness of the city of New Orleans is that ordinary people can be extraordinary on a daily basis," said trumpeter and New Orleans Jazz Orchestra founder Irvin Mayfield. "Everyone has an opportunity to be something special. The culture gives us the opportunity. He was an example of that."
His life in music spanned the Roosevelt administration to the Obama administration, the Great Depression to the Internet era. Louis Armstrong was only 10 years his senior, but Mr. Ferbos outlived Armstrong by more than 40 years.
A self-described "melody man," Mr. Ferbos was never a "hot" player -- he wasn't flashy, or prone to showy improvisation. He never promoted himself as a bandleader or soloist -- his horn was part of whatever ensemble he was with at the time. As a result, he made relatively few recordings in his lifetime.
Born in 1911, he represented one of the last living links to the earliest years of jazz. His understanding of traditional jazz, and how to play it, was formulated by primary sources unavailable to musicians today. As a result, his style was subtly different, especially his sense of time...
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