Recently I reread Max Kaminsky’s autobiography, MY LIFE IN JAZZ, which takes him from his birth in Brockton, Massachusetts (1908) to his then current life in 1962.  It’s a pleasant and revealing book, with sharp self-awareness as well as portraits of Max’s friends and colleagues — especially Billie, Louis, and Eddie Condon.

When I closed the book, the person who had made the greatest impression on me was his mother.  We don’t get to know her given name in the book: she is “Ma,” born in the eighteen-eighties in southern Russia . . . and she gives Max and his friends loving kindness and wise advice until her death at ninety. (Intuitively, she is a quick-witted compassionate friend / rescuer to Billie and Pee Wee Russell.)

Three sketches of Mrs. Kaminsky.  “Ma.”

When Max is in seventh grade (the very early Twenties) he rounds up other neighborhood children to form a “kid band,” which enjoys some success at the local vaudeville house until several members of the band turn on him and fire him:

I ran into the house and cried inconsolably until finally my mother came to my room and talked to me.

“People are bad,” she said, “but they’re bad to themselves and all the harm they do is only to themselves. Wait, and you’ll see this is true.”

and at the end of her life:

“Don’t mourn for the dead, take care of the living,” she had so often said to me. “And when I die, I want you to go out and see a movie.” 

. . . I kept remembering how I used to play Louis Armstrong records around the house night and day when I was home in the thirties and how my mother was convinced it was I on the trumpet. Nothing could shake her conviction. “That’s Maxie, but he doesn’t want to tell me because he’s so modest,” she’d say knowingly to [Max’s sister] Rose, and then turning to me she’d say, “You needn’t be ashamed. In fact, it’s very good!” Everywhere I go, I still meet musicians who ask me about my mother.

I feel that I am lucky to have known — even in these tiny glimpses — such a person.

May your happiness increase!

6 responses to “MAX’S MOTHER

  1. I just want to thank you for pointing out another trumpeter for me to listen to and all that you do to keep tra jazz alive.

    Lee Rene’

  2. Joanne Horton

    Max told me his mother would touch Billie’s face & say such a “shana punin”!

  3. I loved my time with Max his wife and dog
    He gave me his recording of Viennese music
    I did pro bono work after his office visits

  4. thanks for sharing, i saw max a few times in the 1970’s.

  5. When Max’s book came out, he was relentlessly hawking it from the bandstand on his gigs. One time Red Allen said, “look out…here comes Max “Buydebook.” hee-hee!

  6. Very nice article.

    My grandmother, who died the year before I was born, was named Sarah. From what relatives have told me, the magic you found in her through Dad’s words was really there. He was greatly infuenced both by her and by his sister Rose.

    A story little known outside our family: When Dad left home at a young age to play on the road, his sister Rose told him “I want you to call me every Friday night so I know that you’re all right”. He did: for next 60+ years until she died. Every Friday, wherever he was around the world.

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