This past Thursday and Friday I attended the annual Jazz Connect Conference at Saint Peter’s Church.
One of the more popular panels at the conference is Jazz Jukebox Jury where a panel of radio program and music directors hear previews of unreleased new jazz recordings and weigh in on whether they would add them to their station's on-air music rotation.
One of the tracks they selected is from the new Howard Johnson CD “Little Black Lucille”.
Johnson plays the pennywhistle and not the tuba for which he is most known.
HOWARD JOHNSON & GRAVITY “Testimony”
Howard Johnson – Tuba; Velvet Brown – Tuba; Dave Bargeron – Tuba; Earl McIntyre – Tuba; Joseph Daley – Tuba; Bob Stewart – Tuba; Carlton Holmes – Piano; Melissa Slocum – Bass; Buddy Williams – Drums)
Special Guests: Nedra Johnson Vocal (track 2); Joe Exley – CC Tuba (tracks 1, 5, 6, 7, 8); Background Vocals, (track 2) CJ Wright, Butch Watson, and Mem Nahdar
(Tuscarora Records 17001) Street Date: March 3, 2017
Howard himself was in attendance and yes, the panel unanimously said they would program this track.
That pennywhistle got me to thinking who else plays jazz on the pennywhistle.
I couldn’t remember.
On my drive home it hit me.
It’s Les Lieber.
I knew that he was still playing at 100, but lost track so I got in touch with guitarist Bill Wurzel who told me this:
I spoke with his wife Edie yesterday.
Les will be 105 in March.
He climbs stairs and plays sax.
I played the Fire Island gig when he was 104 and was asked to pencil in next August.
They’re headed for Florida and possibly a cruise.
I believe this makes Les Lieber the oldest living still performing jazz musician (please correct me if I’m wrong).
Saxophonist Fred Staton (Dakota’s brother) is 101.
Fred Staton performing at the Hot House Awards 2016
Les has lead quite the extraordinary life.
I got to meet him a few times over the years.
One time he invited me to his living loft on Broadway down by NYU.
In addition to his musical accomplishments, finding and recording Django Reinhardt in Paris in 1945, founding Jazz At Noon he was also a journalist who wrote feature stories for one of the big newspapers back in the 50s and 60s.
His bathroom walls were covered with them:
Check out Django Reinhardt & Les Lieber
Sweet Sue – Paris, 01.12.1945
Franco American Quintett
Les Lieber (penny-whistle); Larry Mann (p);
Django Reinhardt (g); Bob Decker (b); Red Lacky (dm)
1945 December 01 – AFN-Studio, Paris
Honeysuckle Rose No.2 – Paris, 01.12.1945
Les Lieber: Jazzy "It Had To Be You" on penny whistle 1939 – YouTube
In The Pocket: Jazz Penny Whistle Virtuoso Les Lieber
Published on Mar 2, 2012
Photojournalist Natalie Keyssar spent a recent afternoon with 99 year old Jazz Saxophonist and Penny Whistle Virtuoso Les Lieber, as he talked about his long life in music and played for us his unusual choice of musical instrument. On March 16, Mr. Lieber turns 100, and will celebrate the occasion with a special edition of his weekly performance series Jazz at Noon, which he has been presenting since 1965.
Interview with Les Lieber / Edie Lieber: Getting Your Money's Worth with Judith West
Les Lieber, 99 year old saxophonist, credits is wife Edie with his attitude toward living happily into his 90's. He was the inspiration for the documentary, "Over 90 and Loving It" by Susan Polis Schultz featuring uplifting portraits of nonagenarians and centenarians, currently airing on PBS. Les, who was a foreign correspondent for the NEW YORK TIMES and NEWSWEEK, among others, has played the saxophone as an avocation since he was 12 years old. He has enhanced his longevity by continuing his music. In 1965 he established Jazz at Noon on Fridays in various New York locations, currently at The Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park, S. He talks about enjoying his life with Judith West on Getting Your Money's Worth.
Les Lieber, Billy Taylor and Benny Goodman 1972.
Show Les a little love and give him a Like on his Facebook page: