If it hadn't been for the little shoplifting incident in the summer before eighth grade, Eddieboh Paris wouldn't be a professional musician.
It was just a 10-cent Hubig Pie -- apple -- tucked into the waistband of his shorts. But while Paris was walking out of the grocery store, the pie fell -- right in front of veteran jazzman Danny Barker, who had recently retired and moved back to New Orleans from New York City.
Barker looked at him and said, "Boy, you're stealing? I know your mama." The very thought struck fear in Paris' heart. His mother, Lois Joseph, worked long days as a registered nurse, says Paris, and came home to "run the house like a boot camp."
Barker continued, as if nothing had happened. "I have a surprise for you," he said. "I'll be at the church tomorrow with Pepsi and all the hot dogs you can eat -- with mustard, ketchup, chili, anything you want. But I want something from you." And so Barker recruited Paris for the now legendary Fairview Baptist Church jazz band.
The hot dogs were a big draw, Paris admits: "Because I'm the fourth of seven kids and when the food was gone, it was gone." But next to the food was Barker with a bunch of donated band instruments. He told Paris to "put some of that energy to good use" and gave him an E-flat sousaphone. "It was big and ugly, and I hated it," Paris recalls. "Then I thought, 'He's going to tell my mama I stole that pie.'" So Paris stuck with it and eventually learned to play the double B-flat sousaphone, the baritone horn, slide trumpet, and -- his love -- the trombone.
That trombone is in full swing when Paris plays on Jackson Square or with his group Eddieboh Paris & Friends on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street.
Paris was born in 1961 and grew up mainly in the Seventh Ward, in the St. Bernard housing project. Summers were spent in the Lafitte and Iberville projects with his grandfather, Isaac Mason, a tap dancer who was half of the duo Porkchop & Kidney Stew. He, along with his taller counterpart, Ollie Anderson, performed regularly at the Famous Door on Bourbon Street. "My grandfather -- Porkchop -- wore shiny, shiny shoes with steel on the bottom," says Paris. "While he practiced, I'd be in the other room, peeping through the door and practicing his moves on my own."
"Eddieboh still does a lot of his grandfather's steps," explains Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen, who knew both grandpa and grandson. "It's his style, dancing with his horn." Not that he can stand still, anyway, Lacen says. "He's very hyper -- just one big, wild kid."
A few years after Paris had started on the sousaphone, an elderly woman donated an old trombone to Fairview. Barker handed it to Paris and said, "Clean it up; learn how to play it." The bell was dented and the slide didn't work. Luckily, Wellington McKissick, Paris' band director at Edward H. Philips Junior High School, was able to fix it.
Paris went on to Joseph S. Clark High School, where he ran high hurdles and was the drum major three years running. After graduation came regular gigs with the local brass bands: the Majestic, Olympia, Young Tuxedo, Tuba Fats & the Chosen Few, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, of which Paris was an original member.
No matter what band it was, Paris blew hard, says Lacen. "One time we were in the studio and we couldn't get a balance on him," Lacen recalls. "He was so powerful that the engineer put him alone in a booth, away from the rest of the band."
During the 1980s, Paris earned another nickname. "Danny Barker called me 'the trombone player with nine lives' because he knew I'd been shot twice," Paris says. In 1986, he was hospitalized for three months after being car-jacked and shot in the abdomen with a .44 Magnum. Prior to that, on March 22, 1981, on the way home from playing the Super Sunday parade, two guys ambushed him for his new leather shoes and gold chain. One gunshot entered by Paris' upper right jaw and came out near the left side of his left eye. The bullet ruined his left optic nerve; he now has an implanted pupil.
For years, Paris drove a truck in the morning and played music at night. He's now playing music full time, leading two bands, a brass band -- Chops' Original Funky Seven Brass Band, named for the Seventh Ward -- and his jazz band -- Eddieboh Paris & Friends.
Each night, as soon as Paris picks up his horn, his feet begin to move. "I am hyperactive," he admits. He then launches into a childhood story about being told to sweep his mother's bedroom. Let's just say that her tweezers ended up in the outlet.
- Cheryl Gerber
- "While he practiced, I'd be in the other room, peeping through the door and practicing his moves on my own," trombonist Eddieboh Paris says of his tap-dancing grandfather, Isaac "Porkchop" Mason.