Wendell Eugene (1923-2017)
Date Posted: 2017-11-17
Trombonist Wendell Eugene, one of the last of New Orleans' Creole jazzmen, died October 12 at the age of 94. He came from a musical family-his uncle was clarinet legend Albert Burbank and his generation of the family included his brother Homer, who played trombone, guitar and banjo, and cousin Clement Tervalon, also a trombonist and bassist.
Eugene followed his older brother on the trombone and began working around New Orleans and joined the Musicians’ Union while still in high school. He played with many leaders of that era, including Kid Howard, Papa Celestin and Don Albert.
During World War II he enlisted in the Navy and played in the marching and concert bands at Port Chicago, CA. His biggest thrill during the War was playing behind Louis Armstrong in a 1943 USO show. Eugene went on the road after the War, and toured with Buddy Johnson and Lucky Millinder. He returned to New Orleans in 1949 and settled into a job at the Post Office, though he worked music jobs evenings and weekends. He played and recorded with many of the leading bands in the 1950s, including Paul Barbarin, Freddie Kohlman, and Papa French. He worked regularly with the French band at Dixieland Hall, later Heritage Hall.
Eugene had better training than many of the younger musicians and was often called upon to make arrangements or transcribe music for less-experienced players. He also taught trombone and swing band at the Grunewald School of Music.
When Eugene retired from the PO in 1979, he jumped into music full time. He made his first recording as a leader for 504 Records and became even busier, with long stints with Andrew Hall’s Society Jazz Band and Barry Martyn’s Down Home Boys. He took on a bit more traveling and worked out-of-town on occasion with the Onward and Olympia Brass Bands, and Danny Barker. He also played on a GHB DVD commemorating the revival of the Dew Drop Social Hall in Mandeville.
Eugene remained active well into his nineties- when he turned ninety he self-produced a CD, "If I Had My Life to Live Over" with some fine trombone and charming vocals, reminding me so much of his uncle Albert Burbank. The album was so successful it was added it to the GHB catalog (GHB BCD-532). He worked well into his nineties in Lionel Ferbos' band at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe.
He is survived by a large and loving family who are sure he did everything right the first time and wouldn’t have to change a thing if he had to start over again.