WT Jazz Hall of Fame: The Organizer, Jack Lesberg

This West Texas Jazz Party feature considers the primary connection to the party for most of today’s musicians, the bass player Jack Lesberg

Lesberg-4decades Nearly every musician who plays the party with a heritage dating back to the 1990s owes his association to the West Texas Jazz Parties to Jack Lesberg.

In the late 1960s and until 1977, the Odessa Jazz Party was a prime ticket for a one-of-a-kind musical event in West Texas. And then the folks in Midland added another party in the fall. The first thing they did, even before they sewed up the hotel in Midland, was to contact the Odessa Jazz Party Music Director, Jack Lesberg. Thus began Lesberg’s run as the primary organizer for the Midland and Odessa parties for more than three decades. He even outlasted the party in Midland!

Lesberg-1975-SydneyFor a number of years, Lesberg lived and worked in Australia, requiring him to return from “down under” to the Permian Basin for the jazz party. Lesberg never missed a beat, handling his Music Director duties long distance while making every party.

For the 30th anniversary of the Odessa Jazz Party in 1996, when there was still also a Midland Jazz Classic, Jack Lesberg was credited as being the musical director for both parties in the program of the Odessa Jazz Party.

Jack Lesberg was one of three primary bassists who regularly provided rhythmic and artistic foundation to the early West Texas parties. The other two were Milt Hinton and Bob Haggart. Moreso than any other musician, Jack Lesberg shaped the parties by identifying and recommending musicians to the parties who he knew personally from his work in New York and around the world.

Lesberg-1996sJack Lesberg was a jazz survivor. A native of Boston, he was also one of the few survivors of Boston’s 1942 Cocoanut Grove ballroom inferno, a fire which killed 491 people. Lesberg woke up in hospital the day after that fire his lungs badly damaged from smoke inhalation. He and his wife relocated to New York, and he found work with trumpeter Max Kaminsky’s group at the Pied Piper in Greenwich Village. Then, having formed a lifelong friendship with Eddie Condon, Lesberg appeared with the guitarist-turned-club owner’s all-star groups in Town Hall wartime concerts. In 1945, when Condon’s club opened on West 3rd Street he became resident bassist – and stayed until 1950.

Leonard Bernstein recruited him for the New York City Center Symphony after Condon introduced them. Lesberg recalled playing Tchaikovsky until 10:30pm and then hopping in a cab to go play with the Condonites.

In 1956, Lesberg joined Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars for a tour which took in Britain, Africa and Australia – a country with which Lesberg fell in love. “Nothing,” Lesberg recalled, “could ever top touring with Louis.” A year later Lesberg returned to Britain with a terrific band co-led by trombonist Jack Teagarden and pianist Earl Hines.

Lesberg last played the West Texas Jazz Party in 2000, when his string of consecutive jazz parties ended at 34.