This is an open-ended blog ranging from news about my latest gigs and publications
to ruminations about politics, world affairs, culture and whatever piques my interest—or ire.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Harold with me, at 16, blowing behind him. © Sancton Coll.
One of the greatest learning experiences I had growing up was marching and playing with Harold Dejan's Olympia Brass Band. Harold, a soft-spoken, good-humored alto sax player, had a favorite saying: "Everything's lovely!" I built up my chops playing eight-hour parades and funerals with the Olympia, I learned a lot of great music, and got an inside view of the back streets and neighborhoods that, in those Jim Crow days, were largely unknown to whites. Harold opened the door to a different world.

Here's what I wrote about Harold's band in "Song for My Fathers":

By far the funkiest of the marching groups was Harold Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band. Harold had a day job as a driver and delivery man for the Lykes shipping line, but his real love, and genius, was running the Olympia. Harold had a favorite saying—”Everything’s lovely”—and when you hung out with him and his band, everything was lovely and life was fun.
         Harold was one of the younger jazz musicians, probably in his late 50s when I met him. He was short, broad-shouldered—he used to be an amateur boxer—and a bit paunchy. He had a smooth, gentle voice and a ready laugh that always made you happy to be around him. People called him the Duke.
Olympia on Parade. Photo © Tom Sancton, 1962
        Harold played an alto sax with a transparent red plastic mouthpiece. To tell the truth, Harold was not a dazzling instrumentalist. In fact, he never played anything but straight melody. That was surprising, since he had played with some famous bands in his youth—reading bands that required high-level musicianship. So I couldn’t figure why he never ventured past the melody line or displayed any kind of technique.

         He explained this to me one day when I asked his advice about clarinet playing. “Tommy, I’m a tell you how it is,” he said with a loud sniff. I think he had some kind of allergy, because he wore reddish-tinted glasses and was always sniffing and blowing his nose. “You take me—I can run scales and arpeggios all up and down my horn. But you’ll never hear me do that. You know why? Because you gotta let the people know what you playin’. Out on the street, folks don’t want to hear all that fancy stuff. What they loves is the melody.”...
The Olympia musicians were the most unselfconsciously funny people I had ever met. They were always kidding each other, bragging about their sexual prowess, their drinking capacity, their luck at the race rack, or telling hilarious stories about one another... (Read the rest in Chapter 15 of "Song")

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