Jack Lesberg

Jazz double bass player
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"One of the happiest times of my life," said the double bass player Jack Lesberg, "was when I was doubling at Eddie Condon's night-club and playing in the City Center Symphony under Leonard Bernstein." The period lasted from 1945 to 1948.

Lesberg would finish with the Symphony at 10.30 and dash down to Condon's, where he'd spend the rest of the night swinging with the drummer Dave Tough and the other Condon acolytes. At the same time, although already a virtuoso, he studied with the double bass master Fred Zimmerman.

Condon provided much work for Lesberg over the years. On one occasion they toured Australia with the 20-stone-plus blues singer Jimmy Rushing and the eccentric clarinettist Pee Wee Russell, playing in sports stadiums and using a revolving stage that travelled the country with them. One night Rushing, universally known for his shape as Mister Five-By-Five, stamped his foot to set the tempo. The revolving stage immediately sank into a saucer shape, Russell turned white with fear and Condon shouted, "Save the women and children first!" Rushing went on singing as though nothing had happened.

Australia was to become a second home to Lesberg. He first toured there with Louis Armstrong's All Stars in 1956 (he toured to Britain and Africa with Armstrong and another revolving stage that same year and was in Britain again in 1957 with Jack Teagarden) but returned to stay from 1971 until 1974, working in Sydney with classical and jazz ensembles.

Lesberg was a skilled violinist who changed to the double bass when he was 17. His toured first with Muggsy Spanier in 1941 and from then on his life involved a litany of famous jazz names. He was playing in New York's Cocoanut Grove Club in 1942 when 492 people lost their lives.

A brilliant accompanist, he played, in 1944, on Sarah Vaughan's first recording:

She was just a skinny little kid at the time. We had Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet and we actually recorded the date in someone's office. No studio, the record company couldn't afford one.

Lesberg, a modest and profoundly attractive man, continued to appear at organised jazz parties and to tour the world until the late Eighties. Being so gifted he was always in demand to play for someone in the world of music and was popular in all its fields. He played in Benny Goodman's band in 1946 and was in Goodman's last band in 1985.

In his later years he appeared on the Arbors record label and appeared at the "March of Jazz" event organised by Arbors in 2003. From then onwards he suffered progressively from Alzheimer's disease.

Steve Voce

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