Cornetist George FInola (1945-2000) didn’t live long enough, but was loved and respected by many. (Hoagy Carmichael was a fan.) He spent his life in Chicago and New Orleans, playing gigs and advancing jazz scholarship — helping to establish the Jazz Institute of Chicago.
I had only known of George because of his 1965 debut recording — where he is paired with notable friends Paul Crawford, Raymond Burke, Armand Hug, Danny and Blue Lu Barker:
and a matchbook ad for a New Orleans gig:
My friend Harriet Choice, the esteemed jazz writer, had spoken to me of George — “a very dear person” — but I had never met anyone who had known him, not until September 2014.
Jim Branson and I later found out we had been at many of the same California jazz events (Jim and his wife live in Berkeley) but until Jim said something about George from the audience of the Allegheny Jazz Party, I had no idea of their close and long-term connection. On my most recent visit to California, Jim very graciously told me stories of a precocious and singular friend. And it seemed only appropriate to have George’s record playing in the background:
Later, Jim remembered this: When George taught himself to play cornet he learned the incorrect fingering, holding down the third valve instead of the first and second for certain notes and correcting by altering his lip pressure slightly. This is the same mistake that Bix reputedly made when he taught himself to play. Did George do it by mistake, or did he do it on purpose because he knew that Bix had done the same thing?
Randy Sandke had crossed paths with George as well: George and I went to different high schools in Chicago but both grew up on the South Side, him in South Shore and me in Hyde Park. I met him at Bob Koester and Joe Siegel’s record shop, Seymour’s. I put on a record and he came over and said “is Bix on that?” After that we became friends and discovered we both played cornet. We met and jammed together and also exchanged reel-to-reel tapes of 78s we had that at that time had not been reissued. I saw him in New Orleans a few times after that. I always enjoyed his playing and he has a lot of friends from NO that I still see, so his name comes up in conversation. I was very sad to hear of his premature death. More people should have heard him play and known who he was.
Other people who have stories of George are New Orleanians Banu Gibson, David Boeddinghaus, and Connie and Elaine Jones . . . perhaps there will be more tales of this beautiful player and intriguing man — and I am sure that some JAZZ LIVES readers knew him too.
May your happiness increase!