Though this might be the first time that you’re hearing his name, Lionel Ferbos kicked around New Orleans for over 100 years, making music for several of them. He was a frequent player at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and sat in as a session musician for several local and national acts coming through New Orleans.
He lived most of his life in the 7th Ward neighborhood in New Orleans and worked by day as a tinsmith, NOLA.com reports. He led a simple life, but all through the years his love for music kept him playing the trumpet. Upon hearing of the jazz legend’s passing yesterday, fellow trumpeter, friend, and New Orleans Jazz Orchestra founder Irvin Mayfield said the following about Ferbos:
“He proved that the greatness of the city of New Orleans is that ordinary people can be extraordinary on a daily basis. Everyone has an opportunity to be something special. The culture gives us the opportunity. He was an example of that.”
Lionel Ferbos began making music during the Roosevelt administration and played through the Great Depression. He took his first trumpet lesson for 25 cents and made few professional recordings in his life, but his reputation preceded him. Still, Ferbos has shared the stage with the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Ani DiFranco. Louis Armstrong was only 10 years Ferbos’ senior, but Ferbos would outlive him by 40 years.
Ferbos’ style was described as “melody music,” which is why he spent a lot of time as a session performer. He never tried to exert himself as a soloist or the leader of the band. He may be the only musician in history who played at every single one of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivals. According to USA Today, his abilities to play the pocket and read music made him an invaluable player that took him all over New Orleans, playing parks, schools, churches, dance halls, and even prisons throughout his life.
Lionel Ferbos just celebrated his 103 birthday earlier in the week before his passing. He was doing what he loved — playing the trumpet — to celebrate his 103 year on Earth. Just a few days later, Ferbos would lay down his brass for the last time. Though his body is gone, his legacy as one of the most enduring jazz trumpeters to ever have played in New Orleans, lives on.
[Photo credit: NY Times]