Posts Tagged ‘Don Marquis’

Anniversary of an Ancient Friendship

March 6, 2012

Louis Armstrong and Don Marquis, Chicago, 1959.

Fifty years ago today, March 6, 1962, it was Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans. Fifty years ago last night, at the Royal Street apartment of a very dear friend, JoAnne Yoder, one of my female classmates from Tulane University Graduate School threw a party for about thirty of us on the evening that spilled into Mardi Gras Day.

That party spilled all right – all the way through the night and into the dawn’s early light of Fat Tuesday, but we were young – and just having a good time as fun was had in a less cautious or socially more  judicious era. Those of us who grew to adulthood from that romping-stomping time of alcohol excess that was the 1950s and have survived to tell about it – don’t live like that anymore. – And those of us who failed to see the error of our ways and thus to reform “just a tad” are no longer here, but make no mistake. – Few of us, if anyone,  would change anything we did on the way up that rather steep leaning curve.

That was a special night. JoAnne’s boy friend from Cleveland, Don Marquis, had just arrived in New Orleans for his first visit to the city to spend some time among the old traditional jazz artists that still walked among us in those days. And, man! Did that plan ever turn out to be an understatement of purpose?

In addition to remaining one of my closest friends to this day, Don Marquis, now closing in on age 79 this coming May, is still there in the Crescent City. After sixteen years (1962-1978) of working most of the time as a proof reader for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, just for the purpose of keeping his mind and time clear to do research as an insider to the jazz culture, Don Marquis wrote “In Search of Buddy Bolden, First Man of Jazz” for LSU Press (1978). Here’s a link on ordering and review information:

“Bolden” turned out to be the seminal research book on the legendary cornet player who preceded Louis Armstrong and all others as the now recognized first man of jazz. Because of his acceptance into the black jazz musician community, Don Marquis was able to eventually find his way to descendants of Bolden and all kinds of artifacts, including a portrait and a band picture of the group that once played Funky Butt Hall on Rampart Street at the far western boundary of the old French Quarter.

Success of the book led to world travel and many ancillary articles on the subject and further investigative efforts. Don Marquis was hired as Curator of the New Orleans Jazz Museum. He held that position for over twenty years prior to his retirement several years ago. Today Don still lives in the same simple one bedroom lower floor apartment home on Royal Street that he has inhabited since 1966. Don and JoAnne never married, but they remain close as ever, even though Jo has now retired and moved back to Goshen, Indiana, where Don grew up and they both went to college. They met at Goshen College in 1958.

Bill McCurdy and Don Marquis, New Orleans, 2003.

If you ask Don why he and Jo have never married, he will tell you with a straight face and a slight smile, “We don’t want to rush anything.” The truth is that both have lived happy and fulfilling lives separately and together in ways that have not distracted either from their larger purposes in this world – without sacrificing their connection as soul mates to each other – no matter what. Don Marquis’ legacy to the world has been his contribution to the documented history of Buddy Bolden. JoAnne’s contributions have been to all the veterans and others suffering from mental disabilities she has treated and assisted over the past half century as a mental health professional.

Don and Jo have missed having their own children, with each other or anyone else, but they each will leave this old world all the richer for their separate contributions to jazz history and mental health. I’m just happy to have enjoyed their friendship over all this passage of time.  I met JoAnne Yoder fifty years ago from this past September, when she and I both enrolled as students at Tulane in 1961.

I met Don Marquis fifty years ago from yesterday. This morning, it seems like yesterday.

Two final notes: An independent film maker has been working on a movie based on Don Marquis’ book for some time. Hopefully, it will be out in due time.

Secondly, I just had to mention that Don Marquis has one of the greatest senses of humor I’ve ever encountered. Years ago, when Don was proof-reading at the NO Times-Picayune, he became convinced that his editors were not really checking his corrections. So, he decided to test it. (I really think he did it out of boredom.)

Since Marquis is a big Notre Dame fan, he couldn’t keep his proof-reading hands off the starting lineup of the Fighting Irish when they came  south one late 1960s or early 1970s season to play LSU. He scratched the name of the real ND running back and wrote in the name “George Gipp” as the new printable name of the Irish RB. – According to Don Marquis, the adjusted George Gipp lineup went to press without editorial question, or maybe just as bad, without a single reader later writing in to say “you got that wrong.”

Don’t get me started on the literacy rate among New Orleans readers. Or editors.

Happy Anniversary, old Friends, wherever you may be this day.