Former Frenchmen Street statesman in New Orleans, jazz cornetist Jack Fine has died | Music
Cornetist Jack Fine, who moved to New Orleans late in his life and became an older statesman in the Frenchmen Street jazz scene, died in the Touro Infirmary on July 16. He was 92 years old.
With a particularly sweet cornet tone and an endless amount of storytelling, Fine lived a colorful and well-traveled life even before arriving in New Orleans in the 1990s.
Born in Brooklyn in 1928, he enlisted in the Air Force at age 17. He was a military police officer and served in British Guiana. He claimed to have survived three plane crashes. “I got away from all of them,” he said in an interview in 2020.
He spent time in Singapore, a “hip place.” There are some interesting things happening in Singapore that never happen elsewhere. “
Back in New York City, he celebrated 52nd Street jazz clubs in the heyday of “Swing Street” and befriended Danny Barker, the jazz guitarist, banjoist, singer and storyteller of New Orleans.
In the 1950s, he worked at Milt Gabler’s Commodore Music Shop, the crossroads of the New York jazz scene. He was a regular at the legendary Monday night jam sessions at Jimmy Ryan’s club on 52nd Street. He crossed paths with jazz legends who are, for most fans, more of a myth than an actual memory.
Fine operated the Cinderella Club at 82 W. Third St. in Greenwich Village. Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk and Mae West were regulars. He lived and performed in Paris for a while.
Along the way, he married several times and had three children, with whom he lost contact.
He was well into his seventh decade when he moved to New Orleans. “When I heard this music, I knew it was for me,” he said. “This is where it started. It was a good place to be for jazz. I’m so glad I had the chance to be a part of it, even though I arrived a bit late.
He played at the Old Point Bar in Alger Point during the day and haunted the Rue des Français at night. He has performed with the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, the Smoking Time Jazz Club, and the New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band, among others, and has delighted young musicians with his stories about jazz greats.
“I liked the excitement,” he said of Frenchmen Street. “People really listened to the music. “
In 2017, Fine moved to an independent retirement community in the West Bank. But he was struggling to keep up with his medications, diet and personal hygiene, and could be cantankerous as a result. When administrators felt he needed more care than the retirement community could provide, he was asked to leave.
Swamp Donkeys trumpeter and singer James Williams had visited Fine, so he was asked to host him. The tenants who lived in a tiny house at the back of Williams’ Mid-City property had recently moved, so Fine moved in.
He sipped the Ensure nutritional shake, practiced on his cone, watched old movies and listened to records with Williams, who was six decades younger.
“We spent some time together and had a great time,” said Williams. “There have been good times and bad, but always the best. You never knew what you were going to get. Jack was a character. When he was Jack he was 100% Jack.
In June, after a fall, he was transferred to a care facility. In early July, he was hospitalized with an infection, said Williams, who only recently learned that Fine had died.
Plans for a celebration of her life are on hold.