Cle Frazier

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The wrinkled face of this elderly drummer was once one of the many living pieces of history one can see in New Orleans. Cle Frazier was one of that city's founding fathers of basic jazz drum styles, so…
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The wrinkled face of this elderly drummer was once one of the many living pieces of history one can see in New Orleans. Cle Frazier was one of that city's founding fathers of basic jazz drum styles, so in other words he is at the heart of everything jazzy, no matter how far out it might get. He spent his later years as an often-seen member of the musical aggregation that got together nightly and played at least four sets at Preservation Hall for tourists, any one of whom might cough up the 20-dollar tip necessary to spur a performance of "When the Saints Go Marching In." (Any other song cost only a tenner). If one stopped by the club and he wasn't playing drums, chances are a record producer was in town and he was off in a studio, cutting one of the many superb New Orleans jazz albums he was involved with during his twilight years.

Born Jonah Frazier close to the start of the 20th century, he had his own drum teachers, such as Louis Cottrell Sr., the legendary Red Happy Bolton, and another drumming character who went under the name of Face-O Woods. At 17, Frazier joined the righteous Golden Rule Band, a bit of a family affair, with his cousin Lawrence Marrero. The cousins continued playing together in Marrero's Young Tuxedo Orchestra in the mid-'20s. Frazier cut his first recordings with Oscar Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra in 1927; he also gigged with various Celestin outfits. In 1928, the drummer joined the orchestra of A.J. Piron, working with the Sunny South Band and the Sidney Desvigne Orchestra in the early '30s. He continued drumming during the Depression by getting gigs in WPA bands, then drummed his way through a Navy stint with dance bands. He recorded in 1945 with Wooden Joe Nicholas and in the '50s was back working with Celestin, as well as Percy Humphrey, the brass band of George Williams, and random assignments with the Eureka Brass Band. In the early '60s, he became associated with the Preservation Hall scene and was a regular face there for the next two decades. He also created the lion's share of his recording output during this last period, including sides with Kid Howard, De De Burke, George Lewis, Emil Barnes, "Captain" John Handy, and Don Ewell. His drumming on the Reunion of George Lewis and Ewell is considered a textbook example of the New Orleans snare drum style. Steve McQueen's fans may recall Frazier showing up for an onscreen performance bit in the film The Cincinnati Kid; the drummer also gets screen time in the documentary American Music, From Folk to Jazz to Pop. He remained dedicated to the New Orleans groove to the end. Don't assume otherwise, based on a Helen Reddy recording credit, as this was the result of the song mistress' attempt to "go New Orleans" during a dull part of her career.