Freddie's Story (Part 2 of 5)
After a chance encounter with the trombone at the age of 14, Mr. Lonzo picked up the instrument quickly; he had fallen in love with the trombone. Under the tutelage of his first band teacher at Carter G. Woodson Middle School, Ms. Mercedes Stamps, Lonzo was placed in the advanced group of brass students. He'd often work alone in a practice room, listening and playing along with the regular school concert band through the other side of the wall. While in the 7th grade, after only one year of playing, a friend in the jazz band asked Freddie to parade with him and his brother's marching brass band, The EG Gibson Brass Band; it was his first parade gig.
During that same year at school, Mr. Lonzo was getting impactful experience and tutelage from another member of the jazz band, Mr. Charles Moore. Charles, the first chair trombonist at the time, was a year older than Freddie, the third chair trombonist at the time, and was highly skilled. Freddie would watch him perform, and in turn, Charles helped Freddie hone his craft. By the time Charles graduated the next year, Freddie moved up to his first chair spot.
When Freddie began high school at Walter L. Cohen, he was playing at an elite level. His band director, Solomon Spencer, a former big-band saxophone player, took notice. Freddie compared his middle school band to being more in likes of John Phillip Sousa, which he assured wasn't a bad thing. However, he likened his experience in middle school as "training." Mr. Spencer was a Jazz and Rock N' Roll fan and their school concerts reflected the band director's interest. This experience performing in his high school band made an immediate and lasting effect on Freddie's professional career. Mr. Spencer was also the entertainment director at Lincoln Beach, the African-American entertainment center on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain during segregation. Spencer gave the roll of first-chair trombone at Lincoln Beach to Freddie. It was his first professional gig at an actual venue, and he was still in high school.
While in high school, Freddie also started playing in Funk and Rock N' Roll bands. He performed in Vincent Dupree's band, a teenage funk band called The Ecstatics. While performing with The Ecstatics, Freddie met Paul Batiste, a guitar player who, along with his brothers, were forming their own funk group called David Batiste and the Gladiators. In the late '60s in New Orleans, funk groups like The Meters, The Gaturs, The Fabulous Phantoms and The Gladiators were the evolving sound of the city. The Gladiators had a lot of high-profile gigs. At a talent show, the Gladiators won a spot sharing the bill with the Temptations; they also played on shows with acts like Wilson Pickett and Bobby Womack and made the rounds of local stages like the Nitecap, the Devil’s Den and the Dungeon. Mr. Lonzo recorded an album with The Gladiators; the 1970's collectors' favorite "Funky Soul Parts 1 & 2" on record impresario Isaac Bolden's Soulin' label. Mr. Lonzo is forever grateful for his time with The Gladiators and looks back fondly on his experience. "They basically sounded like The Meters. It was a great band. A family band. The [Batistes] were all great musicians." Included in the "family band," was Michael Batiste, who they called Mr. Lonzo's "look-a-like;" Michael is the father of Jonathan Batiste, the band leader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. The Gladiators, who eventually changed their name to the Batiste Brothers Band, still perform today.
Mr. Lonzo still continued to parade with numerous marching bands throughout middle school and high school. In addition to parading with the E. Gibson Brass Band, he also played with McNeil Breaux's Apollo Brass Band ("They wore these funny safari hats," Mr. Lonzo reminisced), Doc Paul's Brass Band ("He was the Danny Barker of Uptown, he fondly recalls) and in Irish Channel walking clubs like Jefferson City Buzzards. By the 11th grade, he was invited to play with the storied Harold Dejan's Olympia Brass Band. Many prominent musicians, including numerous who would later perform at and with Mr. Lonzo at Preservation Hall, played under the esteemed moniker of The Olympia Brass Band. The Olympia Brass Band certainly kept Mr. Lonzo busy throughout the remainder of High School. "We did a lot of work with the Jolly Boys Social Aid and Pleasure Club. They would parade all damn day."
Soon Mr. Lonzo would find himself enrolled in another kind of schooling, the "school of Bourbon Street."
Top: A young Freddie Lonzo, farthest on the left, with Dejan's Olympia Brass Band. Photo courtesy of Lee Friedlander.