Take one Professor of Mechanical Drawing-vintage 1902-add one pair of twinkling eyes, one Batchelor of
Music degree, several unissued Snoozer Quinn masters, and a dash of pessimism; sprinkle
with three or four dozen Musical Day Dreams, flavor with a low chuckling laugh and a few Mouldy Figs. Shake all this up, and what have you? One of the hottest cornet players ever produced in New
Orleans! In fact, whoever cooked up Johnny Wiggs must have thrown the mold away. There will never be another.
We were sitting around casually in the back room of Orin Blackstone's record shop. The usual Saturday afternoon regulars browsed through the shelves; the Coke machine drank in the nickles, while the record players poured out assorted versions of Dixieland jazz -- and Johny talked.
I saw the pale green shirt under the subdued sport Jacket, the firm chin, and I saw the sunlight bounce off Johnny's glasses, but mostly I heard his quiet monotone giving me facts, dates, sketching the Jazz events in his life, remembering....I caught glimpses of
his passionate admiration for Bix, his almost-but-not-quite acceptance of the doors that have been repeatedly slammed in his face when he knocked to plead the cause of jazz. Only he rarely uses
that word. He speaks of "New Orleans' traditional music" or "this wonderful music of ours".
I scribbled dates and names. Looking at them again, I know they are only that: names, dates, black on white but they don't really tell the story of Johnny Wiggs, Musician.
"Schooling? Oh, the usual...degree in music at Loyola University and later on I took subjects in architecture, engineering, journalism at Tulane University...quit to grab a boat for Europe...I lived near Earl Crumb, a wonderful guy...played drums. I played violin.."
Somehow this seems right, looking at him. Quiet face, his graying hair must have been blond once. I can imagine him dreaming over a violin. When did he discover Bix, I wonder?
"...neighborhood group. We had fine sessions...only bass, drums, piano, and cornet. We practiced at Monk Smith's house...some of this gang became part of the Six and Seven Eighths, Edmond Souchon's group, while others of us became "The Invincibles", forerunner of the New Orleans Owls. Monk made me buy a C Melody Sax...we fooled around, and had a lot of fun, then I went on to Law school ..."
Johnny a lawyer? I remembered the last meeting of the New Orleans Jazz Club and how Johnny looked when he closed his eyes and started to blow his cornet....hot liquid notes spilling out, the silent youngsters collecting around him, listening intently....
"...Earl began booking dances, professionally. My replacement? Dick Mackie, Red's brother. Ever hear Dick? He was great....I quit Law and went to New York and studied violin SERIOUSLY. When I returned I met Earl and he persuaded me to buy a cornet...Yes, that was the Owls band. We played at the old Grunewald Hotel all winter.
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