at Play in Little Rock

Thumbnail: Trumpeter and Richard Boone, 1957 Photo  CLICK for a larger version
Jazz at the Waiters Club, West Ninth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957. Picture by Clifford Weems
The man with the trombone is Richard Boone. His obituary and some history was found at "Fuller Up, The Dead Musicians Directory," and his music on at least one CD released a couple of years ago. Here's a good site, with another biography: Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation.

You might know the name of the trumpeter. I don't remember it, and haven't recognized him. Could it be Clark Terry? He visited Boone in Copenhagen in the later years. Look here. Tell me what you think. (Thank you Ken Burns and PBS)

When I arrived at Little Rock Air Force Base I was a jazz enthusiast, very familiar with the Los Angeles area scene. I had a few albums, West Coast stuff and Dixieland. Whenever any of the people in the squadron heard that, they said, "Wait till Weems gets back! You gotta meet him."

When he did return from temporary duty in Morocco, I collared him before he could unpack or catch a nap. He dozed off in the middle of a Shelly Manne record I was playing for him. We became friends.

He introduced me to a group of men in Little Rock, also jazz enthusiasts, who met Friday and Saturday evenings in a clubroom just down the street from the Waiters Club. They called their association "The Esoterics," and were eager and able to discuss just about any subject. There were attorneys, medical doctors, school teachers, college professors and students, and Weems and I, Airmen from "out at Jackson-vuhl."


Thumbnail: YOBS with a few of the Esoterics, LIttle Rock, 1957  CLICK to see a larger version

Click the thumbnail to see a larger version of the picture of me with some of the Esoterics men in their clubhouse. I found the original, which is of the same quality as that of Richard Boone, above. I was sure it would turn up. Fortunately I am paranoid about such losses, and made a picture of the picture, just in case.

Thumbnail:  the Esoterics' board meets

I also found another photo, this of the Esoterics' board meeting.

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Music, dancing, refreshments, and stimulating conversation were followed by a stroll to the Waiters Club. Richard Boone was the musician who most rang my bell: I liked JJ and Kai, and thought him their equal. What I really liked were the times Boone stood his trombone on a stand and played a cowbell. He had shredded plenty of drumsticks on its edges.

My access to all this was based on arriving with the prestigious Esoterics and paying the $3.00 cover charge. The first time I was invited one of the men told the doorman I was a "cousin," and that was good enough.

On that first night we were quite early, and I got to circulate and meet many of the regulars. It was fun and "cool." When it came time for the musicians to play, I was the one nearest the stage, with its obligatory single unshaded lightbulb hanging above it. The manager called me by name and told me to turn it off. I picked up my chair, stepped up on the stage and then the chair, and with a stretch was able to unscrew it a half-turn. Just before the light went out I glanced around. What a sight for the eyes of the only white boy in the place. All other eyes in there were zeroed in on me as I doused the light, and a rumble-flutter of laughter accompanied a stumbling descent from the pinnacle of my stage career.

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I don't remember sensing any hostility from anyone in the place. I spent as many Friday and Saturday nights there as I could afford (an A/2c got $85.80 a month in those days). The Saturday night sessions lasted until after sunup, most weekends.

Of course all this was during the late summer and fall, in the town and year that gave light to the "Little Rock Nine." The Waiters Club changed management. Even though the Esoterics warned me that there wasn't much chance the new folks would let me in, I had to try it. The doorman was surly, and hesitated only a second before announcing, "He don't look like no cousin to me." The Esoterics wanted to argue, but I backed out. There was no use, in my mind, creating animosity toward them as well.

I was able to keep up with the happenings "on the set" through Weems and another Airman friend, Curtis O. "Chuck" McDaniel. One of the ladies who went to the Waiters Club worked as cook in a Little Rock Bar (the "Ship Ahoy") where I spent some time. She also helped ease the loss of that association. OK, I spent a lot of time in the bar, a good portion of it in the kitchen. Again, I felt I should back away because of oblique pressures on Annie.

One of the singers who came through there while I could attend was Pam Newborn, Phineas' sister. Someone complimented her, saying she sounded like Sara Vaughan. She said, "I just want to sound like Pam..." She did both. I don't know if she ever had any success other than in clubs, but she sounded fine, there.

I was also very happy to be part of a pallid pair with a guitarist who played a gig there. I can never remember his name, but I recognize the way he moves his mouth as he plays, every time I see him on TV.

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