Picking up a cornet the same year Miles Davis was born, Lionel Ferbos still has a paying gig every Saturday at The Palm Court Jazz Café, a gig to which he’s never late!
However, this Saturday will be his last gig as a 99 year old, as he’ll be turning 100 years old on Sunday, continuing to be one of the oldest active musicians in the world.
For all intents and purposes, the man has seen it all: with many dynamic shifts throughout the history of jazz, Ferbos continues to be a part of the scene. After 85 years of playing, Ferbos continues to establish his place among the upper echelon of traditional jazz players for his rich, brassy melodies. “I like the pretty songs,” Ferbos said. “I’m a melody man.” To create those melodies, Ferbos uses a Vincent Bach mouthpiece, given to him two days after his wedding in 1934. Without naming any specific favorites, Ferbos said he likes all the standards.
Remembering his first lesson, Ferbos said his godmother’s husband, Mr. Tennet, a violinist in a string band and an alto horn player in a brass band, taught him his fist notes. Originally, his mother wanted him to play banjo, but after seeing Phil Spitalny and his All-Girl Orchestra at the Orpheum Theater he decided to go against his mother’s wishes, and went to Rampart Street and bought a cornet.
Since then, he has been on 20 records including one with Lars Edegran entitled 5 Minutes More and the more recent album Place of My Dreams with Dennis Browne. Ferbos also toured almost the entirety of Europe— from Scandinavia to Italy—with the New Orleans Ragtime Band. He’s also played every Jazz Fest except for two: once because the water was too high and the other because there was a police strike.
To keep active today—aside from playing a weekly gig at the Palm Court—Ferbos regulars about twenty different New Orleans restaurants with his friends. That, and he enjoys meeting the nice girls.
For his birthday this year, Ferbos has already received 60 cards from friends, family, and fans. Last year he received a total of 365 birthday cards, of which he responded to every last one.
On Sunday, the Palm Court Jazz Café will host his 100th birthday celebration, before their summer break. After that, one can be sure to hear him play his trumpet every Saturday night.
Send birthday cards to: Lionel Ferbos, The Palm Court Cafe, 1204 Decatur Street, New Orleans, La. 70116.