For all clarinetists and lovers of Dixieland: I received this today from Barbara Z Banks, former sister-in-law of Jack Maheu .
Jack Maheu, whose career as a top jazz clarinetist spanned over 50 years and included many appearances in upstate New York, died on August 27, 2013 in Ithaca. N. Y. at 83. He had suffered a severe stroke years before and was a resident at a nursing home in Ithaca.
Knowledgeable critics considered Maheu one of the finest jazz clarinetists. In 1951, he became a founding member, with fellow student musicians from the Syracuse marching band, of the eventually well-known Dixieland group, the Salt City Five.(later Six). They won the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts on tv. and appeared on Godfrey and Friends and his radio programs. As a result, the band was later booked for a long term engagement at Child’s Paramount in Times Square where it had the opportunity to share the stage as the house band with some of the legends in jazz on Sunday afternoons.
Born in Troy, N.Y., he spent his formative years in Plattsburgh, NY. After graduation from high school, he studied commercial art for two years at the Pratt Art Institute in Brooklyn, NY, then, on the advice of a musician friend from Syracuse, studied music for two years, majoring in clarinet at Syracuse University.
` During the early ’50s, two albums were recorded for Jubilee Records. In 1957, Maheu left the band and joined the Dukes of Dixieland where he recorded and helped arrange eight of their albums. He left the Dukes in 1959 to form his own band at the Preview Lounge in Chicago and played opposite the George Brunis band. He then toured with Muggsy Spanier for about a year and a half and recorded with Bob Scobey, Jimmy McPartland, Art Hodes, George Brunis, Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, George Wettling, and Bud Freeman. In 1961, he re-formed the Salt City Six as co-leader with Will Alger. Wild Bill Davison joined this group for a one-year tour in 1962.
Beginning in 1979, Maheu joined the house band at Eddie Condon’s Jazz club in New York, and recorded Condon’s Hot Lunch album with Pee Wee Erwin in 1980. After the club closed in 1985, he stayed in New York to work and record with Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Mark Shane, and Howard Alden and played at the Red Blazer.
Maheu moved to Marco Island, Florida in 1988 to help form the Paradise Jazz Band, with which he toured and recorded. In 1989, they played an impromptu jam session for the newly liberated East Germans coming through the demolished Berlin Wall. In 1990, Maheu moved to New Orleans and, using his architectural knowledge from Pratt, designed his own house. He toured for six months with Al Hirt and played engagements at the Fairmont Hotel plus various Bourbon Street clubs and Mississippi riverboats. He formed the Fire In The Pet Shop Callithumpian Jazz Band, which won First Place three years in a row in the New Orleans French Quarter Jazz Festival Battle of the Bands.
In New Orleans, Maheu became one of the most sought-after musicians in town. At Fritzel’s Jazz Pub on Bourbon St., he was known as “The General” by many of the City’s best players who sat in and younger clarinet players who listened and learned. Eddie Edwards, head of the Louis Armstrong Foundation told the Times-Picayune (4/23/94), “Maheu is the best clarinet player in New Orleans. He’s a real pro. When Jack talks, other musicians listen. His presence commands the respect of other musicians.”
Jack remained active in jazz in New Orleans until 2006 when a stroke forced his retirement. During his career, Maheu was featured on over a dozen national TV shows and over twenty record albums. His last recording was My Inspiration with the Jack Maheu Quartet (2004) on the Jazzology label.
Richard Sudhalter, noted jazz critic and Grammy winner for record liner notes, described Maheu as, “the master of a totally expansive, melodic way or playing that acknowledges its debt to admired figures of the past – Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Pee Wee Russell – but which speaks forcefully in its own accents and eloquent means of expression.”
As for playing the clarinet, Maheu told The Mississippi Rag (05/95), ” It is so difficult to play it well. You have to put a lot of years into it. A lot of guys can pick up a saxophone, a guitar…and in a couple of weeks they can play a job. Clarinet players have become the orphans in the music business – except for New Orleans.
“It’s the only town I’ve been in where the clarinet players get first calls for the good jobs. In the same article, Maheu said, “To me, there are only two kinds of jazz – good and bad, whether it’s a modern group or a Dixieland group. In Dixieland especially, the ensemble sound is absolutely one of the greatest things in music. Leonard Bernstein was quoted in print saying, “the most exciting sound in music is a good Dixieland band at full tilt”
Irving Berlin’s 1922 ‘Some Sunny Day” was Maheu’s favorite song. “I like the words,” he once said: “Some sunny day, with a smile on my face, I’ll go back to that place far away..”
He is survived by four children; Joy Maheu, Lisa Hawthorne, Michael Maheu and John Maheu; two sisters: Patti Mooney and Merilee Trudel;
three brothers: Robert, Bill and Jim Hargraves and three grandchildren:
Jenessa and Devon Maheu and Olivia Hawthorne. He had been previously married to Sharon Gravelet of New Orleans. A private ceremony is planned.
Thank you, Ms. Banks. We are all sorry for your and our loss