May 4, 2012

Ogden LaFaye, Musician and Exterminator

The Catholic Church in Kiln, MS

Palmetto Bug
 When I lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, between 1972 and 1978, I spent many weekends at my brother and sister-in-law's home in Pass Christian, MS.  They used an exterminator by the name of Ogden LaFaye (pronounced lah-fye'), who lived nearby.  The gulf coast is known for the bugs it grows, including a variety of large cockroaches known locally as "palmetto bugs."  Ogden had plenty of job security.  Nonetheless, my brother Willy often joked that he was sure Ogden used roach food instead of poison to ensure his future.

One day, shortly after Ogden had left, my brother asked if I was aware that Ogden had at one time been a fairly well known jazz pianist.  In fact, he pointed out, Ogden had an article describing his music career in the Encyclopedia of Jazz.  I was impressed.  The next time I visited the public library, I looked up the article described by Willy, and sure enough, there was Ogden's name.  In fact, if you do a Google search on Ogden's name today, you will find a "Dixielandjazz" forum exchange dated April 28, 2006, in which author Pat Cooke states,

"Back in the late 40's I played a daily local (New Orleans) radio show in the "WTPS Trio".  It consisted of Ogden Lafaye on piano, Al Hirt, and myself on bass. At that time Al was at his peak.....his technique and range were dazzling.  After a few years, his health began to deteriorate.  His playing began to suffer and gradually deteriorated also.  His later recordings lost a lot of the spark and excitement that his earlier recordings had, but Al continued to perform.
     I saw his last performance about a week or so before he died.  He had to be helped onto the stage, and helped onto a stool.  How can I say this kindly?  I don't know, but I will try.  His playing was nothing like anything I had heard in his entire career.  It was pitiful.  I felt so bad for him, I nearly cried.  I was relieved when the set was over.  I had known Al for so many years, even used to go fishing with him. 
     At his funeral, a TV truck was there expecting large crowds, and extra police to direct traffic; but they had an easy job.  I had no problem parking.....traffic was not a problem.  I saw lots of musicians, show people, and his family.  A smal dixie group played softly in a corner of the room.  When the casket was moved to the chapel, some of his more popular recordings played softly on the PA system.  There were a few words by members of his family, and a eulogy by the Archbishop.  After the service, the recordings resumed....I remember "Man With A Horn" as we said our goodnights.

   Pat Cooke
   New Orleans

I have corresponded with Mr. Cooke to see if he knew what ever became of Ogden, but he advised me that he had lost touch with Ogden many years ago.  He had no idea of Ogden's status or whereabouts.  I have found no other Internet references to Ogden's musical contributions to our society, so I'd like to add one.

The city of Pass Christian had a small Catholic church, and there were a number of outlying churches (more like chapels) that were served by a "traveling" priest, not unlike the Methodist circuit-riding preachers of the 19th century.  In the case of this small circuit that included Pass Christian, Creole, Cuevas, and the Kiln, MS, Ogden LaFaye accompanied the priest, along with a small Estey pump organ, that he would set up at each location to provide the music for that Sunday's Mass.  He was the circuit-riding organist.
The Estey Portable Organ

One Sunday morning, I woke up early and decided to sneak out to an early mass.  I recall that the service in the Kiln was at 6:30 AM, so I got in the car and dashed over there from Willy and Joanie's house at Crazy Acres, arriving just in time for Mass to begin.  There were probably 15 people in the tiny church.  The traveling priest that day was evidently from Ireland, judging by his thick brogue.  Ogden selected and announced the hymns to be sung and led the small congregation in song.  Catholics are not known for great participatory hymn singing, so I'm afraid God had to use his imagination on some of the music.

Then it was time for the communion, perhaps the most profound part of the Mass.  As the congregation rose, I heard a slow and haunting melody that sounded familiar.  Ogden was playing "I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair," a parlor song by Stephen Foster, as if it were a communion hymn!  No one else seemed to notice.  After mass, I heard the priest comment to Ogden that it was indeed a beautiful communion hymn.

No one ever told him that Ogden's daughter was named Jeanne.


Sprat said...

Ogden ("Ogdie") Lafaye was my maternal grandfather. He passed away in the Spring of 1983. He also did not have a daughter named Jeanne. He had three named Haydee (my mother), Susan and Catherine (Coco), and a son named Ogden (Buzzy). All children are still living.
Their home in Pass Christian, MS was on East Second Street.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Mead: I enjoyed and
appreciated your story about
Mr. Ogden Lafaye immensely, and thank you for sharing it. I still love the last line of your story, despite the 'correction'--had thought, like everything else that was stated, it "spoke" nicely of your warm feelings toward Mr. Lafaye, who was a second cousin of my mother's, and with whom she never had the pleasure to meet. I am sure I have repeated "not factual" family stories in my time, but I hope these stories were told with a great big heart, as yours certainly was in your story-telling about my 'second cousin, once removed' (indeed, I'm Old School-Southern enough to know how to name my "kin"). Thank you again, Mr. Mead, your heart all throughout your story about Mr. Lafaye truly warmed mine. But I must warn you: should you ever meet my mother, Alice Lafaye O'Brien (George Charles Lafaye's granddaughter), please do remember that her first name IS pronounced "Ah-lease". Hmmph! LOL!! Thank you again for your lovely, sweet, and informative story.
Sincerely yours,
Jim O'Brien

Joshua Guttman said...

and he has a musically frustrating grandson in Atlanta, GA. Me!

Joshua Guttman said...

and a musically frustrating grandson in Atlanta, GA. Me!

Haydee Lafaye Ellis said...

My name is Haydee Lafaye Ellis, and OGDEN LAFAYE was my father. He played many venues and was highly respected by other musicians. He appears in "New Orleans Jazz, A Family Album" by Al Rose and Edmond Souchon, M.D. His photograph is on page 70 (with incorrect birthday, which was 1910 not 1896). He also appears in Thomas L. Morgan's "Historic Photos of New Orleans Jazz", published in 2009. He is not identified (I met Mr. Morgan post-publication), but is shown on page 77 on WTPS, with "The Ogden Lafaye Trio", comprised of my father, Pat Cooke on bass and Irving Fazola, famed clarinetist, who also played with Bob Crosby.
I have a recording of him playing with Fazola on the radio in the 40s from the New Orleans Jazz Club, hosted by Edmond Souchon. Pete Fountain told me that my father and Fazola had a band that played at Lenfant's on Canal Blvd. in New Orleans, and that he would always go hear them. Fazola was his idol. He also said my father was one of the nicest people he ever knew.
My father hired Al Hirt to play in his band when Al Was just starting out, and regretted the day he had to fire him because the club owner said Al played too loud and disturbed the customers! When I met Al Hirt, he told me that my father's nickname was "Brickhead" and "Skull" because he was so hard-headed. Mr. Hirt said it was a good, however, because was usually right, and was a genius when it came to music.
I can remember listening to "Dawnbusters" in the 40s on WWL radio. My father played on the program quite often, and many of the people who appeared on the show would come over to our house. I can remember his paying me a quarter to play some boogie boogie and "The Blue Danube Waltz" for the likes of Pinky Vidacovich, Henry Dupree, Al Hirt, Irving Fazola.

Bob said...

Thank you Haydee, for sharing so much. Your dad was quite a guy and he brought joy to a lot of people.