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Southern fried son returns

Courtesy photo
Charleston native Paul O'Connor (top right) returns to the city this weekend with the Southern Fried Jazz Band. A longtime member of the Dixieland outfit, trombone player O'Conor promises the group will serve up a heaping helping of hot jazz in its Charleston Community Music Association-sponsored concert at the Charleston Municipal Auditorium on Sunday.

WANT TO GO?

The Southern Fried Jazz Band

Presented by Charleston Community Music Association

WHERE: Charleston Municipal Auditorium

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: Adults $35, full-time college students $10, youth (under 18) $5

INFO: 304-744-1400 

NOTE: Those who show their concert ticket at Fifth Quarter can receive a Cajun-style platter for $8.99, with a bowl of jambalaya for an additional $1.99. CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Trombone player Paul O'Connor has been playing trombone a very long time. Even he's a little amazed at how long.

Speaking over the phone from his home in Florida, the 85-year-old Charleston native said he played his first paying gig the weekend after Thanksgiving in 1941.

"Two weeks before Pearl Harbor," he said. "I was 14."

O'Connor, who returns to Charleston this weekend to perform on Sunday with the Southern Fried Jazz Band at the Municipal Auditorium, said he remembers that first show.

"I played with the Bill Garten Band," he said. "We played the West Side Women's Club."

O'Connor grew up on the West Side. The old home place, as he called it, was a house past Florida Street on Sixth Avenue.

"Charleston was a great place to grow up," he said.

O'Connor started playing trombone in junior high and kept up with it through high school. He played in the high school band and also around town. After he graduated from Stonewall Jackson High School in 1944, he hit the road.

"I played with several of the name bands," O'Connor said. "I played with Charlie Spivak, Hal McIntyre, Bobby Sherwood and Jimmy Dorsey -- big bands in the 1940s."

In 1950, he was drafted into the military and served two years in the Army during the Korean War. After the armistice was signed, O'Connor returned to the States and resumed his music career.

"I went back to the band business until about 1958," he said.

But music wasn't always a stable way to make a living and he wanted to get off the road. By then he had a wife and family.

"I came back to Charleston. I went to West Virginia State and studied accounting."

O'Connor became an accountant but never gave up his horn. While in school, he played in clubs around Charleston. After graduation, he and his wife left for Toledo.

"We only lasted seven years [there]," he said. "Charleston could get a little cold, but I liked to freeze to death in Toledo. It was too cold."

They moved to St. Petersburg, Fla. in 1969. O'Connor found work as an accountant and started a band that still plays every week at the Bilmar Resort in Treasure Island, Fla.

"I've been there for, I guess, 40 years," he said.

O'Connor joined the Southern Fried Jazz Band shortly after it was formed in 2001.

"I knew most of those guys from back when I played in the big bands," he said. "Don [NAME] and I played together with Charlie Spivak in the late 1950s. We just kept in touch. He'd come down this way to play, and I'd go where he was and play with him."

O'Connor said the music he plays is Dixieland jazz, but it's not necessarily what everybody thinks of as Dixieland. "I don't play the old Dixieland gutbucket style," he explained.

Gutbucket jazz refers to an earlier form of jazz that uses a strong beat and rollicking delivery.

"We play the Dixieland jazz style," he added. "I think we're one of the very few left in the country who do that."

He's looking forward to bringing the music back to Charleston.

O'Connor said he visits from time to time and still has a lot of friends in Charleston, but it's been a while since he actually took a look around.

"We're coming in on Saturday," he said. "My daughter is coming with me, and I'm going to have her take me around, go see the old home place and say hello to some of my old friends. I'm hoping to see as many as I can."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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