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Don Suhor: From Dixieland to Bopsieland

Charles Suhor By

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Another mark of Don's originality was his way of incorporating notes above the normal range of the clarinet and alto sax into his solos. This skill wasn't employed as an attention-seeking gimmick."Showmanship," whether in the form of instrumental hotdogging or strained bodily contortions, was antithetical to his unassuming personality. The notes were simply there, like all others, accessible for unaffected use in melodic improvisation. His fellow musicians were stimulated by his bopsieland synthesis, with few exceptions. When he was subbing with one Dixieland group, the leader whispered nervously, "Think Faz, Don, think Faz!"

Late in 2002 Don, a lifelong smoker, was stricken with lung cancer. I drove to New Orleans from my Montgomery, Alabama, retirement home to be with him during the weeks of decline. I helped organize the January 13, 2002, benefit jam session at Palm Court Café. The last thing I heard at the end of the final set was a shout from the bandstand."We love you, Don!" He died two weeks later at the age of seventy.

Photo credit: Rick Olivier. From New Orleans Magazine 1997. Traditional Jazz All-Stars. Left to right: Eric Glaser, bass; Alvin Alcorn, trumpet; Tom McDermott, piano; Don Suhor, clarinet; Louis Cottrell, drums.

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