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Farewell: Lionel Ferbos (Online Exclusive)

7.17.1911-7.19.2014

Lionel Ferbos
Lionel Ferbos

Lionel was born in 1911 and when I met him in the ’70s he was still working a day job. He had a sheet metal business that he inherited from his father. Pretty soon after that, he retired and just played music. Before he came along I had another trumpet player playing with me and he got sick so I was looking for someone else to take his place. I was talking to the guy that was running the Tulane Jazz Archive in New Orleans, Dick Allen, and he put me in touch with Lionel. I didn’t know anything about Lionel Ferbos. He was not active on the scene in New Orleans; he wasn’t playing where anybody would notice him. The guy who recommended him to me knew that he had played in dance halls in the 1950s, and he knew that Lionel came from a very trained background, playing in big bands. So I met up with Lionel and he decided to join the band. That started our relationship, and he played with me till he got sick.

We played the ragtime music of the last century. He was a second-generation jazzman and he never changed his style. He played the same way all his life, the same kind of tunes. He played in the style of the Creole trumpet players in town, which is a more refined kind of playing. They’re more trained and don’t play a lot of jazz or blues. They study their instrument and produce a very good tone. Lionel came from a Creole background so he was used to mixing with white and blacks through his job and he didn’t have any racial hangups or anything like that. His father used to run a hardware store together with an Italian guy, which was very unusual in those days. There were other trumpet players in the same style as Lionel, but they all died way before him.

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Originally Published