Charlie’s Angel by Arnie Koch

Dick Ruedebusch from Milwaukee was a powerhouse on the trumpet, similar to Al Hirt. In 1965, Dick was playing with the Salt City Six in the Lounge at the Cape Colony Inn in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, led by Sam Donahue with featured vocalist, Frank Sinatra, Jr. was playing in the main ball room.

The band also featured lead trumpet player, Charlie Shavers. Shavers had first joined Tommy Dorsey in1945 to play the jazz chair and sometime lead trumpet. It was the first time an African-American had become a regular member of the band. Peggy Schwartz, a member of Dorsey’s Sentimentalists, recalled that, despite his importance to the band, “Charlie had to go through the backdoor of hotels on the road. He could never eat with the rest of the band. We had to bring him whatever he wanted from the restaurant or diner.”

in Florida in1965, little had changed for Charlie. Segregation was still  alive. The Inn management didn’t allow black people in the bar. Charlie would stand in the kitchen next to the Lounge bandstand between his breaks with the Dorsey band and look out into the room to hear the Six. The  piano player and a jazz fan bartender kept slipping Charlie glasses of gin as he stuck his head out the kitchen door.

Ruedebusch was quite aware of what was going on and, being one helluva a trumpet player himself, decided to take charge and prolong the “bar service” for Shavers by the bartender. Leader Jack Maheu,  featured himself on “Lazy River” which was a big show stopper.  Dick decided he was going to take the bull by the ‘tail’ and protect Charlie’s supply line. He told the pianist, ‘When I start my chorus you keep pumping on the piano and don’t stop until I’m through!”.

After 15 choruses, each one building to a higher fever pitch and intensity, Dick finished his scorching solo.The  place was in an uproar and there was nothing left for Jack to play. He couldn’t follow THAT!! Jack just motioned for the band to take it out.

Dick later went with Woody Herman’s Band but eventually missed his family and returned to Milwaukee. He came back on the road to earn enough money to pay off some debts,   He told a friend he owed around $500 and, when told that was not a lot of money, Dick’s answer was ‘It’s a lot of money if you haven’t got it!‘”.

Dick’s horn went silent too soon. He died at age 42 in 1968 from a heart attack.

Thanks to YouTube, you can see “Dick Ruedebusch and His Underprivileged Five” on the Ed Sullivan Show in ’62 with Sid Caesar introducing the band. Just go to YouTube on your computer and type  “Dick Reudebusch” in the search window.

Comments or questions are welcome.

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