A smile flickered across my manservant Joe’s face when he brought me a glass of Armagnac after dinner and I asked if we had any Buddy Bolden records in the house.
He explained that it would be quite a sensation if we had, as I lit a Vegas Robania Don Alejandro. I sensed he was remembering that time some dinner guest mentioned the greatest musician ever born in New Orleans, and I commenced a homage to Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Luckily, Joe was hovering nearby and he whispered “Louis Armstrong” in my ear.
Since then, however, I have been learning about jazz. Seems we have a great trumpeter in town called Irvin Mayfield, and he has opened a plush venue for his New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. It is called the Jazz Market and includes a bar named in honor of Bolden. I was curious to know how Bolden’s music sounded.
Apparently I was not alone. “Nobody now alive ever heard Bolden play his cornet, sir,” Joe explained. “Any recording he made is long lost, and he had drunk himself into an insane asylum by 1907.”
“At least he’ll never be forgotten at cocktail hour,” I replied. “This has given me an idea.”
Joe was no doubt eager to hear it, but managed to maintain the impassive look appropriate to his station.
“It’s that time when I consider where to direct the Beauregard philanthropy,” I told Joe. I run a few ideas by him every year because, although the family has oodles of cash from the days when cotton was king, I don’t want any to end up in the wrong hands. “I thought I’d award some to Mr. Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra,” I said. “I figure it needs help if it is going to pay the Library Foundation back.”
“It is not going to repay the money, sir.”
Seldom do I have to correct Joe — the boot is almost always on the other foot — and I must say it felt good. “Joe,” I said, perhaps with exaggerated patience, “the chairman of the NOJO board is Ron Forman, head of the marvelous Audubon Institute. He promised last year that every penny would be paid back, so I think that settles it.”
You probably remember the story. Mr. Mayfield and his partner at NOJO, Ronald Markham, got themselves appointed to the board of the Library Foundation and transferred $1 million of its reserves to the Jazz Market. These two gentlemen know better than anyone what a worthy cause NOJO is, because they are both employed there at salaries of more than $100,000, but they were too modest to let the public know to what lengths they would go to boost its coffers. When the public did find out, NOJO bowed to pressure and its entire board agreed with Forman that the money would be returned so it could be used for the purpose its donors intended.
“What are you telling me Joe? That Mr. Forman would go back on his word? The most trusted man in Uptown New Orleans?” I laughed dismissively, so didn’t quite catch Joe’s next remark. Something about not being trusted with a 50-year tax.
It is always a mistake to get cocky with Joe. He said nothing, but placed a sheet of paper in front of me — a statement issued by NOJO’s PR man. It only took a minute to read, simply explaining that NOJO had “retained outside counsel to conduct a thorough and independent financial and ethical review,” which concluded there was no need to pay the money back after all.
“Well, I guess I was wrong, but at least NOJO had settled the matter to everyone’s satisfaction,” I said. “It was all just a misunderstanding, but I am sure NOJO was on tenterhooks awaiting the results of the review.”
Joe said nothing, but raised his right eyebrow about a millimeter.
Still, it was time to get back to eleemosynary matters. “I wonder if this vindication means that NOJO no longer needs a donation. I don’t know where else to direct my money.”
“I believe the Library Foundation could use some, and donations are safe there these days, sir, now that Messrs. Mayfield and Markham have decamped to the Bolden bar.”
Editor’s note: This column was updated Jan. 28 to correct the name of the foundation in the headline.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.