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It’s a couple of years at least since I last heard Ed O’Donnell play his trombone and sing, but my admiration for his musicianship goes all the way back to when I was seventeen and in the Sixth form at Lawnswood High School in Leeds. The sessions he ran on Friday nights at ‘Casey’s’ in Woodhouse Street were legendary and not to be missed for anything. My friends and I were intrigued by the fact that this former Bevin Boy now had a ‘day job’ posing as a life model for students at Leeds Art College and sketches of him in all his glory were to be found all over the place. However, and more importantly, I not only learned to appreciate his style of playing but also to dance to it and it was because of Ed and his New Orleans Jazzmen that I made a pilgrimage to the Big Easy. The hours I spent in Preservation Hall were amongst the happiest of my life. Moving on another five or six years, I was at a party somewhere on the Rhine when I was accosted by a German girl called Renate who was very excited to find out that I came from Leeds. All she wanted to know was if I knew Ed O’Donnell and, having established that I did, she went on to enthuse about him all evening.
Ed died in his sleep last month at the ripe old age of 87 and it was very fitting that his funeral today featured a New Orleans style parade band made up of old colleagues. They led the cortege from the gates of Lawnswood Cemetery to the chapel and played for the many mourners assembled there. Some alterations were going on nearby, but the construction workers stopped what they were doing and removed their hard hats. The rain stopped on cue and the sun came out just in time for Ed to be carried inside. As a requiem mass had already been held at Our Lady of Lourdes, the service was a short one, which was a blessing for everyone unable to find a seat.
I wish that I’d been able to go on to the wake, but duty called me elsewhere. However, I’m sure that the afternoon celebration of Ed’s long life, during which he ran his own band for more than six decades, was a memorable one. His wife Anne and daughters Frances and Kate would be left in no doubt of how much Ed was loved and admired.
NB This video clip from the Yorkshire Post website has just come to my attention: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/main-topics/local-stories/video-fond-farewell-to-leeds-jazz-legend-1-6476733
4 March, 2014