Having A "Wail" Of A Time

Our Jazz Correspondent writes:


A famous clarinetist/saxophonist whose later life was blighted by his constant mis-identification as Professor Brian Thrupiece has died today in New York aged 109. Otis "Buddy" Wail who played with the Paul Washboard band in its 1920s and 1930s heyday, was the original clarinetist for the premiere performance of Georg Gershowitz's Rhapsody in Puce - a performance at which the composer himself took the piano part. Wail performed with the Washboard orchestra for more than 4 decades, progressing from 2nd to 1st clarinet and often moonlighting as a session musician on some of the 20th century's most celebrated jazz and swing albums. Described by Jazz historian Marcel de Hotte-Clubbe as "possibly the greatest exponent of the liquorice stick ever to have played the Espresso Bongo Milk Bar, Melplash", Mr Wail was possessed of "wonderful technique, fabulous breath control and dancing fingers that could charm the knickers off a maiden aunt".

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Otis "Buddy" Wail in 1928 "at the peak of his form"; Times Square, New York in 1928 [it was here that The Paul Washboard Orchestra most often plied their trade]; Poster for one of the Paul Washboard Orchestra concerts; George Gershowitz performs Rhapsody in Puce with the Orchestra ["Buddy" can be seen in the orchestra on the right of the piano]
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Otis "Buddy" Wail in 1928 "at the peak of his form"; Times Square, New York in 1928 [it was here that The Paul Washboard Orchestra most often plied their trade]; Poster for one of the Paul Washboard Orchestra concerts; George Gershowitz performs Rhapsody in Puce with the Orchestra ["Buddy" can be seen in the orchestra on the right of the piano]

Famous as he was in his own right, however, from about 1955 onwards, Mr Wail was frequently mistaken for the even more famous Professor Thrupiece to whom he bore a striking resemblance. Indeed so uncanny was the similarity that American concert goers would sometimes congratulate Professor Thrupiece on the remarkable artistry of his tonguing [even though he and the single reed were as complete strangers] whilst Mr Wail was often asked to elaborate on the derivation of the Thrupiece Tables: a subject on which he was, more often than not, totally at sea. As he recorded in his ghost-written autobiography "Blowing The Ladies" [Threadbone Press, 1997], "Being a doppelgänger for the Prof wasn't all moonlight and roses; for, though it brought me to the attention of many who wouldn't have known Take The A-Train from The Star-Spangled Banner, I had to turn some tricky corners when the conversation turned - as it inevitably did - to fluff, methane gas, the space race and "my" war-work with liquorice torpedos. Sometimes I think women only slept with me because they thought I was him, but it had its compensations - by the time they discovered their mistake I was usually somewhere else pulling the same trick. I guess you could say that it was the music that got me paid, but the Prof who got me laid".

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