University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – An Intern’s Journal

June 22, 1948, Chicago.

In these last days of a marvelous break before my internship begins I have gone to the Edgewater Yacht Club with Tulane classmates Okky Ochsner and Jack Terry and to a concert in Grant Park with Harry Danielson, followed by a brief educational experience with Harry at “Keyholes of Paris,” and thence to the Blue Note, where Jimmy MacPartland was again holding forth, this time with “Lady Day,”  Billie Holiday, as the main bill. He pretended that he recognized me from last summer and seemed as torn and tense as the last time we met. Lady Day still “makes it” on her phrasing, but her high notes are no longer pleasant to the ear and her range is very restricted. They say that she has multiple addictions. So sad.

A Jazz Night with Muggsy and Lee

This evening, after spaghetti with chicken livers, I spent a couple of hours at Jazz Limited listening to Doc Evan’s group. Jazz cornetist Muggsy Spanier was in the audience and invited me to his table to share hero-worship for Alton Ochsner of New Orleans, whom he called, “The Chief.”

“The Chief saved my life, you know!” said Muggsy, who then added gratuitously: “I missed my callin’, you know, Doc. I shoulda been a surgeon!”

Muggsy, a rumpled, gravel-voiced Irish leprechaun, is gracious and very likable and apparently a confirmed alcoholic. He swore me to secrecy, seemingly terrified that I might tell “The Chief” that he was drinking and smoking again. After Dr. Ocshner saved his life with an emergency gastrectomy for an unrelentingly bleeding ulcer, he had supposedly sworn off on the proverbial stack of Bibles. [The medical event was memorialized in a Muggsy recording of, “Touro Infirmary Blues”].

When Jazz Limited closed for the night, he and I went on to the Victory Cafe on North Clark Street to hear Lee Collins on trumpet, arriving there about 3 a.m. Lee, drinking as usual, was like a happy kid when Muggsy came in, and did his damnedest on stage. Except for a few muffed cadenzas because of drink, his playing was easy and true, at moments as electrifying as Louis’s.

The three of us gathered on the sidewalk after the bar was swept clean by the police at 4 a.m. There Lee was uncontainably high, almost squirrely, reminiscing and joking with Muggsy, pointing out each sidewalk character with remarks such as,”Don’t he look jes’ like Oliver?” Muggsy kept head-to-head with him in the growling, free-wheeling, jocular banter often heard between musicians who respect each other and who go back a long way together.

At dawn, we drove speedily in Muggsy’s car out to 63rd Street South to take Lee home, and then cruised pleasantly back at daybreak along the incomparably grand Lakeshore Drive. At Superior Street I got out and bade good-bye to Muggsy, delightful companion; fine musician.

Newsbreak: The Republican National Convention has nominated for president the dapper, seemingly invincible chameleon, Thomas E. Dewey. I fear that he will be our next president. And this, a time for greatness!

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