Alphonse Picou had such a long career and he reached so far back in jazz history that it is surprising that he was only 82 when he died. Picou started playing guitar when he was 14, took up clarinet the following year and was working professionally as early as 1894; he was part of the birth of jazz. Picou was flexible enough to work with both reading bands and those that featured improvisation; his piccolo solo on "High Society" (first devised while with the Tuxedo Brass Band and possibly based a bit on a George Baquet idea) was the first famous set solo in jazz, one that is still played during that song. Picou, who formed the Independence Band in 1897, played with virtually every significant New Orleans jazz musician including Freddie Keppard, Bunk Johnson and Manuel Perez. He lived in Chicago during 1914-18 but then returned to New Orleans permanently. During the depression years he worked during the day as a tinsmith and only played part-time. Picou made his recording debut with Kid Rena in 1940 (being the best part of those poorly recorded sides) and later in the decade he worked regularly with Oscar "Papa" Celestin. Alphonse Picou (who never led a record date of his own) was heard at his best with Celestin (during performances, radio broadcasts and recordings) despite being in his early seventies. After Celestin's death, Picou led his own group at the Paddock in New Orleans and played regularly until shortly before his passing, a last living link to the days of Buddy Bolden.
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