Eddie King – Jazz Story
Eddie King’s jazz journey had an unusual beginning; he didn’t begin playing until after he left New Orleans and moved with his mother to Dayton, Ohio. He was thirteen years old when he saw the jazz legend Lester Young.
“Of course, I wanted to play tenor saxophone just like he did,” he said, “but the only instrument they had at school was a trombone. I was just a kid so I took it.” The rest, as they say, is history. New Orleans provided Eddie’s musical roots, however, and he considers that a good thing. “New Orleans music has that swing,” he said.
As we spoke, several members of The Treme Brass band filed onto the simple wooden riser that serves as a stage at Donna’s Bar and Grill, and adjusted their instruments. Eddie leaned on the bar, his back to his band-mates. “Give me a Cognac, darling,” he said to the bartender.
“You have a tab,” she said. She gave him a look of mock accusation and yanked off a piece of paper taped to the cash register. Charlie, the co-owner along with the eponymous Donna, was dispensing beer to some tourists at the other end of the bar. Charlie has sensitive hearing when his money is being discussed. Eddie knows that. He had started over by the time Charlie looked up. Eddie stopped at one stool on the way and clasped a woman’s neck in a quiet hello. He had a huddled remonstration with Charlie. Eddie got his Cognac. The Treme Brass Band plays at Donnas every Friday. I think this scene has happened before.
Eddie has a faint hint of a Midwestern accent, but with a pronounced New Orleans lilt. His speech and mannerisms convey a sense of wry amusement toward the world. When asked about music, he becomes most enthusiastic discussing his teachers. “Yvonne Bush at Clark High School produced so many musicians he said, “I should have listened more to her.”
By the time he graduated high school, Eddie was playing a lot of gigs. But he got married and had children and needed a more reliable source of income so he joined the union and became a longshoreman. (An all too common tale.) Eddie didn’t play music for over twenty years.
Eddie returned to playing music in the late 80s and early 90s. It was a time of resurgence in New Orleans brass band music. Bands like The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Rebirth Brass Band played brass band music with a funk feel. People became interested in both the old and new types of music. Eddie reentered the local music scene.
When he retired as a longshoreman, Eddie decided to return to school. He is currently studying music at Southern here in New Orleans under Professor Kid Jordan and Auguste Flury. He laughed when asked if he was getting his degree, “No,” he said and touched his horn, “I’m just trying to learn more about this.”
Eddie began playing with Benny Jones in the Treme Brass Band a few years ago. He played with Milton Jones, Benny’s father many years ago. As Eddie sipped his cognac, I asked him who was a better drummer, the father or son. Benny, who had bought himself a beer, pulled his stool a little closer. Eddie just shook his head and laughed.