Sunday, August 3, 2014

Uncle Lionel moves onto his next gig

For some 30 years or more, Lionel Ferbos had been introduced to audiences as New Orleans' oldest jazz musician. Someone else will have to assume that title now since Uncle Lionel has crossed over.

Ferbos celebrated his 103rd birthday this month at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe where he was a regular and played trumpet at every Jazz & Heritage Festival event until last year.

Like most working musicians, he held down another job, running a sheet metal business as a master tinsmith to raise a family.

He took up the trumpet despite childhood asthma. Ten years younger than Louis Armstrong, he outlived Satchmo by 40 years.

Ferbos played Traditional Jazz, a genre that went in and out of fashion during his lifetime.

Irvin Mayfield said of Ferbos and his contemporaries: "There's a certain way that they play melodies - it's a different beat, a different rhythm. When you listen to King Oliver or Jelly Roll Morton, you hear it."

"That's one of the lost things that we won't be able to hear in person again," Mayfield added.

Corpus Christi Catholic Church in the 7th Ward was packed on Saturday for the funeral mass. The Treme jazz band came strolling up St. Bernard Avenue to meet the procession going to the cemetery. Everyone was smiling because though the occasion was sad, Ferbos had seen it all - several wars, recessions, civil rights, integration, Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans' rebirth.

He was going to meet his maker.

The band played, "A Closer Walk with Thee," a New Orleans standard the musician had probably played a thousand times.

Ferbos lived an exceptionally long life, but he was not alone, even in his final performance.

Lionel's chariot

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