The Manuel Perez Orchestra (1924-1927)

Pythian Temple Roof Garden

Manuel Perez Jazz Band #2

[Click to Enlarge photo]

Left to Right:  Earl Humphrey (trombone), Adolphe “Tats” Alexander Jr. (alto saxophone), Osceola Blanchet (piano), Maurice Durand (trumpet), Jimmy Johnson ( bass ), Caffrey Darensburg (banjo), Alfred Williams (drums), Manuel Perez (trumpet), Eddie Cherrie (baritone saxophone)

The men shown above were all members of Manuel Perez’s house band when they played together at the Pythian Temple Roof Garden located at 234 Loyola Avenue, near the corner of Loyola Avenue and Gravier Street. Housed on the top 6th floor of the Pythian Temple Building in the Central Business District, the Pythian Roof Garden was opened from 1909-1927. It soon became known as the entertainment spot for colored New Orleanians to frequent for music, dancing and socializing.

Feeling compelled to know more than just a name and a handsome face, I decided to do a little research to find out more about each musician pictured above. Below are some biographical information that may shine some light on each one.

Earl Humphrey (1902-1971) was the son of William E. Humphrey and Josephine Tassin. He was the brother of two other well-known jazz musicians, Willie and Percy Humphrey; all of whom were taught music by their grandfather, the legendary Professor J.B. Humphrey. He joined a traveling circus with his father in 1919 and traveled widely in the 1920s. Mr. Humphrey continued to play the saxophone throughout the 1930s but left New Orleans and retired to Charlottesville, Virginia.  He returned to New Orleans in 1963 and lived at his family’s home, 2309 Cadiz Street. Earl Humphrey was still playing two nights weekly at Preservation Hall just before his sudden death in 1971. He was scheduled to play that Sunday at the Royal Orleans Hotel with the Joymakers led by his brother Percy Humphrey. His burial took place on June 28, 1971 at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Adolphe Alexander Jr. started his career on the clarinet but later switched to the saxophone and mastered both instruments plus the French horn. He devoted 45 of his 70 years to playing music in his native New Orleans. He played with the DPW (Dept. of Public Welfare) Band during the depression and was also a member of Sidney Cates Moonlight Serenaders. He often played at Preservation Hall and traveled up and down the Mississippi River playing on the Steamer Capitol. Mr. Alexander was a member of Oscar “Papa” Celestine’s celebrated group for several years and even played at the White House Correspondence Annual Dinner during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Administration. He was presented with a plaque proclaiming him an “Immortal of Jazz.”

When Adolphe Alexander died on 30 December 1969, the headlines read “Music Great Alexander Buried to Sounds of Jazz.” His services were held at Epiphany Catholic Church and he was laid to rest with the accompaniment of Jazz played by the Olympic Brass Band. The band had been requested not to play the traditional “happy jazz ending” at the funeral.  When the service was over, the casket was found to be an inch or so too large to fit in the above-ground vault in St. Louis Cemetery #2. While several men were unfastening the metal bars in order to slide the casket into its place, the crowd across the street wanted more, so Olympia obliged and broke out with a foot- stomping rendition of “Rock Around the Clock” on the sidewalk across the street. As they say… only in New Orleans!!

Osceola Blanchet – Read the article dated Setember 22, 2013  to find  information on Osceola Blanchet (1902-1987).

Maurice Durand, son of John and Marie Pierre Durand, was born on the 4th of July 1893. He grew up with three siblings: John Jr., Maurice and Pierre Durand. He lived in the ninth ward and played the trumpet there and in St. Bernard Parish. During the day he worked at a broom factory and often played for weddings and St. Joseph Day parties. He could also be found playing at the Alley Cabaret which was located in the back of the St. Bernard Market on Claiborne and St. Bernard.

Mr. Durand served in the military in World War 1 and played both the clarinet and trumpet in the 816th Pioneer Regimental Brass Band which spent time in both England and France during the war. His name can be found on a large arch on Burgundy Street in Bywater, having been erected in 1919 by people of the 9th ward to honor citizens who enlisted in WWl. He was also a protégé of Manuel Perez and performed with the Onward, Tuxedo, Imperial and Terminal Brass Bands. Fed up with the meager pay, he retired from music in 1933 and moved to San Francisco in 1944. He was married to Naomi Durand and passed away November 23, 1961 in California.

Jimmy Johnson –played the bass with Buddy Bolden’s band before joining Jack Carey’s Crescent Band in 1907 and the Silver Leaf Orchestra in 1911. He continued to play with Manuel Perez after 1927 when Manuel took his orchestra onto the New Orleans riverboats and was now known as the Manuel Perez’s Garden of Joy Orchestra. In 1931, Mr. Johnson joined the Don Albert Orchestra out of San Antonio and played with them for the rest of his life. He died of kidney failure while on tour in 1937 in Mobile, Alabama.   

Caffrey Darensburg- more information is needed on Mr. Darensburg. He was the son of Eddie and Louise Jupiter Darensburg.  He resided at 2011 Almonaster Street in 1925 and was said to be one of the best tenor banjo players in the vicinity. He died in Dallas, Texas on February 22, 1940.

Alfred Williams was a master drummer, a “living legend” in the heyday of Dixieland Jazz. He started on the drums as a teenager around 1918 and later joined the Original Tuxedo Orchestra. He played with such greats as Papa Celestin, Sweet Emma Barret and bandleader Armand Piron on the S.S. Capitol riverboat. He moved to El Paso, Texas during the Depression as a band leader until World War II. He returned to New Orleans to play music plus work in parades and funerals as the drummer of the Eureka Brass Band. He lived at 418 North Prieur and passed away on April 30, 1963. He left behind one daughter, Iris Williams Stephens and several grandchildren. His services were held at Progressive Baptist Church and he was interred in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Eddie (Edward) Cherrie for many years was a barber by day and a jazz musician by night. Born on October 4, 1890; he lived at 612St. Mary Street. He married Louise Osborne in 1913 and became a close friend of Manuel Perez. He followed Manuel Perez to Chicago and by 1930 was residing at 4848 Vincennes in Cook County, Chicago, Illinois. He played not only the saxophone but the clarinet as well. He collaborated with Alphonse Picou on the clarinet solo in the piece called High Society which was a combination of three French marches.

Upon returning to the city, some years later due to ill health, Eddie Cherrie was taken by train to New Orleans from Chicago. His brother, Dr. Ernest Cherrie, arranged for him to be brought to the family home at 2131 Lapeyrouse Street from the train station in a hearse belonging to the Labat Funeral Home. It was the same home where his mother had died just several months earlier.  He lingered for only two weeks before passing away at the age of 52. He left behind one son, Edward Jr. A funeral Mass was held at Corpus Christi Church and, of course, Labat Funeral was the undertaker.

Emanuel  Perez

Manuel Perez (Photo 2)

 He came into the world as the son of Emile Perez and Marie Letitia Demazilliere on 19 December 1878, but years later would become known as “A Titan of Early Jazz” who would leave a profound impression on his contemporaries.

He was raised in a strict Catholic household with four other siblings: Fernand, Marie Letitia, Lelia and Joseph Arthur. His parents were very religious and they insisted that their children receive a Creole education. Manuel attended Miss Golis’ Grammar School where only French was spoken. Even years later, Louis Armstrong would comment, “Emanuel couldn’t speak so much English, but his horn would talk any language.”  He was taught how to play the cornet under Professor Sylvester Coustaut at the age of twelve and could sight read music, as was the case with so many other Creole musicians.

In 1890, the Perez family lived at 39 Urquhart Street. Emanuel followed in his father’s footsteps and became a cigar maker, but still continued playing music. In 1899, he joined the Onward Brass Band and a year later organized his own Imperial Orchestra. Since Emanuel had studied classical music, he also became an orchestral musician who played at times with symphonic orchestras.

In 1902, he married Mary Forbes and became the father of two sons: Alvarez and Lionel Perez. By 1915, he and his family moved to Chicago where he was holding a day job making cigars and playing music at night. Two years later, they returned to New Orleans. Back home, he would soon become one of the “big name” leaders of Storyville, but was said to never have drank, smoked or chased women. His behavior was considered eccentric by many musicians, but was attributed to high morals instilled by his parents. He also played picnics, riverboats and dance halls. He remained fairly busy thereafter until the Depression.

Perez was not only a great musician but a generous, caring teacher as well. He had numerous students, both white and black. Among them were Leo Dejan, Manuel Manetta, Lionel Ferbos, Manny Coustaut, Albert Nicholas, etc. He influenced such great trumpet players as Joe Oliver, Freddie Keppard, and Louis Armstrong. He would teach for the love of the music itself and didn’t charge a dime for the lessons he gave. If he saw a kid on the street that he liked, he’d call him and say: “I’m gonna make a cornet player out of you.”  He was a very patient teacher but also a very demanding one who would send a pupil back home if he did not know his lesson. It was his passion for music that moved him all of his life. He was a very proud musician but one who never bragged about his playing.

By 1930, Perez started having dental problems that impeded his ability to play. He ceased all musical activity in 1931. He might have kept a grocery store for a time or taken up cigar making again. By the early 1940s, Manuel suffered several strokes. Manuel Perez died on December 5, 1947. Louis Armstrong described him as the “waltz and scottishe king from downtown.”

Sources: photo (personal copy of author); Jazz Puzzles (Manuel Perez) pages 60-74, Vernhettes, Dan/ Lindstrom, Bo Vol.1; Jeffcrompton.blogspot.com Maurice Durand and a Chance Encounter with Jazz History (2012);  The Times Picayune (obituaries) 3 January 1969+ 3 May 1963 + 27 June 1971;  New Orleans States Item 4 January 1969;  The Louisiana Weekly  11 May 1962; Who’s Who in New Orleans Jazz ; Ancestry.com (1920-30-40 censuses); Wikipedia.org ; A special thanks to William Ransom Hogan Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane University for their assistance.

L.V.C.

8 thoughts on “The Manuel Perez Orchestra (1924-1927)

  1. Very interesting article. We (Peter Braud family) lived across the street from the Humphrey’s for many, many years. Lolita, was Eddie Cherrie your husband’s father?

    Pat (Braud) Bishop

    • The Eddie Cherrie in the photo is not his father but his grandfather. I remember being on your porch on Liberty Street listening to all that rich New Orleans Jazz coming from the Humphrey house. What a unique cultural experience that was !!! Thanks Cousin Pat……….Lolita

  2. Manuel Perez’s Conn Victor cornet was in the jazz museum at the Mint (it’s one of the two shown standing up in the photo). It’s a beautiful, gold plated cornet and has his name engraved on it – plus some incredible engraving done by the great Conn artisans.

  3. I, too, would love to know if Manuel Perez’s cornet is still at the Mint. Manuel was my father’s uncle (Joseph Arthur was my grandfather), and there is so little written about him. It’s always good to find more info.

    • Yes, Manuel Perez’s cornet is back at the Mint. I spoke with Greg Lambousy today who told me that Perez’s cornet was moved to Baton Rouge after Katrina, but has since returned back to its home. Unfortunately, it is not on public display yet, but a grant recently received will enable the Mint to get their jazz collection back for public viewing. In the mean time, you can view the cornet privately yourself. If interested just let me know and I’ll send you a personal email explaining how this can be done. Thanks for asking, Gisele……….Lolita

      • Thanks, so much, Lolita. I plan to move back to New Orleans this summer, and will want to go view it then. I’m sure my brother who lives there will want to, as well. Do you have a sense of when the jazz collection will be open to the public again?

        • The entire Jazz collection at the Mint will not open to the public for another two years. One on a smaller scale will be on display in Aug/ Sept 2014. If Perez’s cornet is not shown at this time, Greg Lambousy will gladly let you see it privately…….Lolita

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