I don’t celebrate Christmas, but this picture embodies what it might mean at its highest — an occasion for love, immortality, generosity, and art. The little boy here, now grown up, is Stephen Hester — the noted Red Nichols scholar. I’ll let him provide the details:
“The picture was taken on December 24, 1958 in our house in Pontiac, Michigan, by my grandfather. (My grandmother was holding my newborn baby brother, off camera.) Yes, that is my mother, me (age 3), and dad. I tease dad,because of this picture, that he started me before I can remember. I have been told at the time of this picture my favorite record was Felix The Cat (Whiteman w/Bix). I do remember at age 5 my favorite record was Red’s O’er The Billowy Sea, which is about the time I did meet Red, at our house. I remember I was collecting and starting to help dad with the reseach when Red passed in 1965. That exact copy of Bixieland is still in the collection. I do have “newer” copies to play, but that one has a special place.”
Steve’s father, Stan Hester — along with Woody Backensto — is responsible for much of what we now know about some eminent but often neglected jazz musicians of the Twenties, Red Nichols and his associates. Steve told me, “Dad started collecting in 1941. He and Woody started the Nichols research (with Red’s help) the month after I was born. I have been lucky to have been able to read and study all the correspondence, notes, from them, and all their contacts: bandleaders, musicians, collectors, etc. Many of the musicians and collectors became my friends, among them Joe Tarto, Mannie Klein.”
You might want to consider what this picture suggests. One whimsical moral is, of course, “It isn’t Christmas without Condon!” and few would disagree. But there is something larger resonating here. Give something you hold dear to the people you love, and both gift and giver will transcend time and the calendar.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah to all of you. May jazz always give you happiness, and may you find ways to spread happiness through jazz.