Sunday, April 1, 2012

Clarence Olden, trumpeter, saxophonist, bandleader

Clarence Olden: I was from Paducah, Kentucky and was inspired to be a musician when Fate Marable, who led the bands on the Streckfus lines up the Mississippi River would come to his hometown, Paducah, and play a concert.

I went to Buffalo, New York and worked in the Hotel Vendome from May until November, 1934. Then I went to the Hotel Ford and played micellaneous jobs until Christmas week.

Christmas week, 1934, I opened the Apollo Theater in New York City and after the Apollo, I went into a night club job in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to avoid travel during the winter. And on the very first night we worked, which was a Saturday night, the Highway Patrol came in and took the man who owned the club’s license for selling liquor on Sunday morning. Blue Laws were in effect

Well, a night club is no good without a license, so we didn’t have a job. That was New Year’s Eve and we were stranded for three weeks. My wife had left from Buffalo to Columbus, she encountered a Jewish man and told him that I was stranded in Harrisburg.

He sent a Greyhound bus to Harrisburg to pick us up and by that time, my musicians had gotten scared and went back home; some to Buffalo. I had only about eight pieces left out of fifteen, so that’s what I came to Columbus with.

The Jewish man put five hundred dollars into the Lincoln Branch of the Ohio National Bank in my name. So with that money I started sending all over the United States for musicians; an alto player from Los Angeles, a trombonist from Albany, New York, a tenor sax from Detroit, a bassist from Toledo. When I got through I had thirteen or fourteen musicians.

I wanted a certain type of musician, free to travel. When I got to know Columbus musicians I found that they were tied down with home, family and nice cars. But traveling musicians are used to living in a suitcase and ready to go, you can do things with them. They’re willing to cooperate with you.

Local musicians, all they want is money. They’ll work, but I’d rather have transient musicians, because after I finished my local jobs, I’d have to hit the road myself. I had engagements as far south as Nashville, Tennessee, as far west as Iowa, into Michigan and into New York state.

When World War II came and the U.S. had the draft, I was cleaned out of players. When I had engagement in Columbus, I would have to send to Wilberforce to recruit Collegiants to fill my spots. When the draft got heavy I would have men out of Cincinnati who would come up to Columbus to work.

There was a local organization called Earl Hood and His Orchestra. When the draft cleaned me out and I had to work at the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Plant, we combined orchestras and held his job at the Valley Dale Ballroom. Within a year, 1943, he took sick and I had to take over the management of the orchestra.

I eventually took over the Hood band and had it until 1957. Up until that time, I had been working at Curtiss-Wright, which became North American Aviation and playing music. But when 1957 came, I quit playing music, quit North American and bought a grocery store.

There was once a time when I was changing piano players and I had an option on Count Basie or Al Freeman, Sr. and I took Freeman. He was out of San Antonio, but Columbus was his home and he was a wonderful piano player. At the time Count Basie couldn’t read very good and I didn’t hire him. He could play anything by ear, but I had to make my decision.

Note: Mr. Olden passed in 1981, but he left me some wonderful posters of Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Fats Waller, as well as the portrait above.

Arnett Howard

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