Emil at sunset

For those of us who didn’t get to say goodbye

By Chet Williamson

Emil Haddad is gone. He went in his sleep in the early morning hours on Monday. He was 82.

Rich Croteau, friend and fan.
I first bumped into him 40 years ago. I was 22 years old at the time, just out of the service. He was 42. I found out that his birthday and my birthday were the same day. I became his friend forever. From then on we haven’t missed a birthday in 40 years. Wherever he is I find him. Other musicians just show up. He’d walk the crowd at break time. Everybody was always his friend. He must know a million people. Amazing. You’ll never find a greater friend than that individual. You don’t find friendships like this. I love his music and his friendship is very sacred.

K.C. Jones,
ex-Boston Celtic and singer.

I remember when I first met him back in 1967, out at The Meadows. I was there with Johnny Most. Then I was singing with him from time to time. We became very close friends. There’s no finer person than Emil. I was singing with this group about two months ago outside of Hartford. We asked Emil to come down and play, and man, he just totally mesmerized the musicians. During the break they just stood around and listened to the man talk because he played his horn and during the break they were just all ears. That’s who the man is. He commanded that kind of attention.

David McKenna,
world-renowned pianist.
I think he is one of the most underrated players in the country. I got a chance to play with him over the years, but not very much and not anywhere near as much as I wanted to. He sat in with me many times when I played up in Worcester. It was so beautiful. I just loved the way he played. He is a great musician. I wish there were some miracle to keep him alive a couple more years.

Rich Falco, guitarist and director of jazz studies at WPI. When I saw him at Jazz at Sunset, something told me that that was going to be the last time I was going to see him. I embraced him, gave him a kiss and told him I hoped to see him soon. I’m surprised to hear that he made the gig at the Castle Restaurant after that. He was absolutely, 100% real. His whole loving demeanor was real. That whole part of himself comes through the horn, instantly. He is a master of his instrument. The fact that he nurtured the next generation. He was a mentor. He took the responsibility to create a sense of community.

Ed Gardella, WICN jazz
program, retired Worcester
Chief of Police.
I first met him when I was about 21. I was fresh out of the military. I used to go up to the El Morocco on Wall Street. He waved me in and Gracie Aboody was there and Emil said something like, ‘Why don’t you put him to work?’ So they did. I was busing tables. It seems that in the last 10 to 12 years we got even closer. He played at my wedding. No matter how often or infrequently you might see him, sometimes weeks or months, but it was always like you had just left each other. He looked at you like you had just brightened up his life. That meant a great deal to me.

Bobby Shew, world-renowned trumpeter.
He has been an incredibly loyal fan. He drives down to Providence every time I play there. We used to work at the Aboody’s, you know, the El Morocco, and whenever I worked there Emil had a chair right in front and watched every muscle in my face. He has been a delightful and dear friend and he is a wonderful musician. He’s the kind of player who inspires a player like myself to listen to him as well.

Leo Curran, roadie with Stan Kenton.
We’d always talk about the nights at the El Morocco, when we would have the sessions there with the Kenton band. The thing would go until seven in the morning. It was ridiculous. I remember one night we were on the road with Nat Cole and Sarah Vaughan. We left Boston Symphony Hall and ended up at the El Morocco. They had a session and Emil was at most of those things. He’d just take his horn out and start playing. Emil is so loved. Everybody loves the guy.

Don Asher, pianist, author of Notes from a Battered Grand, a memoir about his days of growing up in Worcester.
He was a very sensitive, lyrical player. His choice of notes was impeccable. I knew him in mainly the 1940s and ‘50s; I never played in any kind of organized group with him. I would play with him occasionally at private parties, where it was a pickup kind of band. The ear was terrific. I always remember him bending his ear to the piano to hear any kind of substitute harmonies going on. If there were, he’d pick them up instantly. Any kind of alternate harmony would be fuel to him. He’d pick up on it and take it. He had a big heart and I think he was maybe the most beloved musician in the city.

Curtis Fuller, trombonist, best known for his work with Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers.
I used to go out to see him. I didn’t even want to play anything. It was my night out. A lot of times they didn’t even know I was there. I would just go and sit quietly in a corner and hear him play. He was a real treasure. Emil played in a natural way. He never reached out of his limit, you know. He was very lyrical. He was not locked into his own little world down here. He knew about all the guys. Some of the guys just get locked into their own little scene. I liked that about him.

When he first received the news that the mysterious disease, which made his skin turn yellow, was liver cancer and it was terminal, he said, “This ain’t supposed to end.”

My sentiments, exactly. As you go gently into that final good night, let us all riff awhile and tell you what you mean to us. This chorus is for you.

You came into our lives on April 23, 1922. For more than seven decades you showered local listeners with an unconditional sound of love. Was it Gabriel himself, who gave you your first trumpet and said, go forth with this God-given talent and make a joyful noise?
You started on the instrument when you were 13. Legend has it that neighbors used to break your windows just to hear you better. How’s that for an auspicious start? Even at an early age, you had a sound that people wanted to hear — a clarion call that reaches out and connects. Right up to your final gig, only a couple of weeks ago, you continued to honor that first break of recognition by playing with heartfelt humanity. Your window was always open.

Your biography may not appear in the Jazz Encyclopedia or the Who’s Who of Famous Trumpeters, but we know who you are. You are the center of gravity in Central New England. Instead of hitting the road and taking your gifts elsewhere, you dug in and made Worcester your stage. As a result, the world came to us to see you.

You could say the glory days were the years spent at the El Morocco. Living right down the street, a high C-note away from this storied restaurant, you were what pianist Dave McKenna called the unofficial greeter.

Photos submitted

Enjoying the high life at the old El Morocco, Emil Haddad grasps his signature instrument while El owner Paul Aboody (below, center right) and comedian Jack Carter (below, far right) pitch in.

Besides sharing the Lebanese background with the Aboody family, who owned the place, you shared their love of people — the rich and famous as well as the rest of us. There, you jammed horn-to-horn with the best, Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers, Red Rodney — all the cats. Then again, remember the nights in the late 1930s at The Saxtrum Club, where Jaki Byard, Howie Jefferson and Barney Price held court with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Anita O’Day. That’s you soloing right along with them.

You spent the 1940s touring the country with The Tommy Reynolds Band, backing up singers like Pearl Bailey and playing the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. Then there were the days after the war, when you lived in New York City. Remember sitting in the trumpet section of Jay McShann’s Orchestra, right next to Miles Davis?

So many fond memories to help you rest in peace.

In 1953, you returned to Worcester and formed one of the greatest bands the city has ever known, the immensely popular Emil Haddad & The Notables, who performed throughout the area for nearly 30 years. The group was in such demand that at one point, 18 years went by without a weekend off. In 1982, you formed the duo with pianist Dick Odgren and, for 22 years, life has been many a splendid gig.

We knew you had been battling with poor health for quite some time. There was that throat thing a couple of years ago and bladder cancer before that, but it wasn’t until we saw you at Jazz at Sunset on July 9 that we realized how serious this new condition was. Here’s what the show’s producer, Jack Wertheimer tells me: “His color was frightening. Anybody who saw him had to worry a little bit. But you know, he still was able to talk on mic and be his humorous self, the same Emil. During the break he should have gone inside and rested but he never left the bandstand. He just stayed there and hugged people as they came up to talk to him.”

Photos Submitted

Pictured from top: Emil sounds off with saxophonist Jim Odgren at Jazz at Sunset; with pianist Dick Odgren, his musical partner of 22 years and looking like Steve Allen with Emil Haddad & the Notables.

I was there. Many of us had the feeling that this might be the last time we’d ever get to see Emil Haddad. That’s probably why you didn’t want to get off the stage. It felt like everyone wanted to say goodbye as much as hello.

“It was the kind of thing where none of us wanted to say it out loud, but we were all thinking it,” says Wertheimer. “He may have also been thinking the same thing. Dick Odgren and I had talked a few days ahead of time. It was questionable whether Emil was even going to be able to play. We just decided that we would go ahead. Boy, no matter what happened to him, Emil could always play the horn. That was just an integral part of his whole being.

“We had a great crowd that night. It was a great night. The weather was good. You know, if that is the last time we saw him play, that would be a great memory for us to remember him.”

“He was unbelievably great,” says pianist Dick Odgren. “But he was so beat. Before the gig, we were cutting up, laughing and joking. Emil was having a ball, howling. Then he just puts his head down on the table and falls asleep. He was that beat.

“It was one of the great nights of his life. My feeling was that if there were 1,000 people there, even if they were out on the fringes, they were all part of the same thing. It was a unique feeling. Sometimes when you are playing and you look out on the far edges, people are tossing Frisbees and doing what they are doing. This was different. Everybody was glued to the maestro.”

As the canopy descended on Jazz at Sunset that night, Wertheimer closed the show by saying, “Next summer, same band.”

“That’s when all the phone calls started,” Odgren says. “When everybody saw him.”

For the past month Emil has been in and out of the hospital. He underwent a chemo treatment that didn’t take. His longtime friend and fan, Paul Holmberg, says, “I was up there [last week]. He woke up, sat up and we were talking and in came [Tony Bennett’s guitarist] Gray Sargent. He just loves Emil. He is just devastated, like all of us. The three of us had a nice talk. We were laughing and telling music stories.”

About the man, Holmberg says, “I consider him one of my best friends, if not my best friend.” About his playing, he says, “One word: soul.”

Although his recorded output amounts to two albums, an appearance on another, videotaped TV shows and a handful of home recordings, his legacy lives and breathes in the hearts and minds of the countless people who witnessed Emil Haddad’s everlasting passion.

Known as the “Hugman” because of his warm and affectionate greetings, Haddad’s trumpet-playing was just as embracing. As fellow trumpeter Mike Metheny says, “He is one of those unique musicians whose music is a direct reflection of the person — his playing was just as positive and lyrical and full of love. You get that sense of love in his playing and just talking to him. Not a lot of musicians are like that; some people play very different from the way they are. Emil and his music are one and the same.”

Haddad’s legacy as a person can be summed up in the lyrics to the song “Nature Boy.” Dick Odgren’s wife, Pat, works in the medical field. One day, she was giving Emil a back rub and she overheard him singing the song. The last line reads: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn / Is just to love and be loved in return.”

Emil Haddad, you were a great student of life who learned his lessons well. The residue of your life continues, and will, long after you are gone. We love you. I love you. Thank you.

Chet Williamson may be reached at chetw@worcestermag.com

A tribute to Emil Haddad has been scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 29, at Union Blues. Dick Odgren, Rebecca Parris, Jim Porcella, Monica Hatch and Toni Ballard, among others, are scheduled to perform. For more information call: 508-767-2587.

The above appeared originally in Worcester Magazine Aug. 12 - 18, 2004 • Volume 29, Number 47|

Reproduced here by permission of the writer.


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