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"H. O. Brunn And The Dixieland Jazz Crackers"

I played piano in Harry Brunn's band 
"H. O. Brunn & the Dixieland Jazz Crackers" 
in the 1950's. 

I was the youngest member, 
and it was my first band gig. 

Harry played tailgate trombone and led the group. 
He was the ultimate purist. 
He would play records for us at rehearsals, 
by The Original Dixieland Jazz band. 
They started recording in 1916 
and some music historians say they were the first jazz band. 

Brunn had us learn their intricate arrangements, 
like "Tiger Rage" which changes key 4 or 5 times. 
We were allowed to improvise, 
but if one of us played a lick that sounded later than 1929 
he'd stop the rehearsal and yell at us. 
And no 9th chords! 

He insisted on cornet, rather than trumpet, 
and hated the idea of dixieland jazz bands using bass or saxophone. 

His ideal Dixieland Jazz band was this: 
Piano, 
Drums, 
Cornet, 
Trombone, 
and Clarinet. 
Five pieces only. 

I think in those days 
they couldn't record string bass well, if at all. 

He practiced trombone and read Robert Benchley's humor 
in the bathtub. 
He wrote a book titled "Notes While Soaking in a Bathtub". 
Around 1960 he wrote a much more famous book on early jazz, 
which is often quoted and used as a reference. 

He lived in an old mansion in Snyder, New York, 
a suburb of Buffalo. 
The big house looked a little neglected. 
I leaned on the arm of a couch and it fell over. 
I think he was just more focused on his music and writing 
than on his surroundings. 

He drove a Cord, 
The coolest car I've ever ridden in. 
They only made them for two years, about 1937. 
Batman would have been proud to drive it. 

I enjoyed his company 
when he wasn't mad at me for playing a semi-modern riff (1930's) 
or for upstaging him by playing too much piano during his solos. 
I learned things from him, 
and it was good experience for a young musician. 

Harry ("H. O.") Brunn is one of the interesting characters in my life. 

 2003 Jack Blanchard. All rights reserved. 

 

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