User login

Jack Maheu Obituary-Offbeat Magazine - 10/1/13

Jack Maheu, whose career as a top jazz clarinetist spanned over 50 years, including 15 in New Orleans, died on August 27 in Ithaca, New York. For New Orleans musicians, his move here in 1990 after a decade on NYC’s 52nd Street provided a high standard as well as endless tales, and he became one of the most sought-after musicians in town. He led a band for many years at Fritzel’s Jazz Pub on Bourbon Street, where he was known as “The General” by NOLA’s best trad-jazz players, including many clarinetists, who sat in and learned.



Maheu remained active in jazz in New Orleans until 2006, when a stroke forced his retirement. He was featured on over a dozen national TV shows and over 20 albums. His last recording was My Inspiration with the Jack Maheu Quartet (2004) on the Jazzology label. Maheu also appeared on the Grammy-winning Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton, as well as albums by Bob French and Tim Laughlin.


Trumpeter Richard Sudhalter, a noted jazz critic and Grammy winner for album liner notes, described Maheu as “the master of a totally expansive, melodic way of 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 in May 1995, “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.’”


Born in Troy, New York, Maheu spent his formative years in Plattsburgh, New York. After graduation from high school, he studied commercial art for two years at the Pratt Art Institute in Brooklyn, then, on the advice of a musician friend from Syracuse, studied music for two years, majoring in clarinet at Syracuse University.


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’s Talent Scouts” on TV and appeared on “Godfrey and Friends” as well as 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.


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 Marty 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 French Quarter Festival’s Battle of the Bands.


Jack Maheu was 83 years old.