Word came out today that New Orleans drummer Albert "Gentleman June" Gardner passed away on November 19 at the age of 79. Gardner was just one of the many great drummers to come out of the Crescent City,
According to Geraldine Wyckoff in her article in the November 22, 2010 Louisiana Weekly "Gardner studied with the influential Professor Valmont Victor and first hit the road with vocalist Lil Green. When he returned to New Orleans he became a regular at the now-infamous Dew Drop Inn playing with Edgar Blanchard & the Gondoliers with whom he also recorded. In his younger days, Gardner was heavily on the rhythm and blues scene both in the studio and on tour. He played and recorded with the greats including spending nine years with Roy "Good Rockin' Tonight" Brown and hitting the drums behind the legendary Sam Cooke from 1960 until the vocalist's death in 1964. It's Gardner laying down the essential rhythm on Lee Dorsey's smash hit "Working in a Coal Mine" and he also performed regularly with Dave Bartholomew's band."
It is also Gardner heard behind Sam Cooke on Cooke's two live albums, "At the Copa" and "Live at the Harlem Square Club." He joined Cooke, replacing another New Orleans drummer Leo Morris (a/k/a Idris Muhammad). After Cooke's death he returned to New Orleans and worked on a number of sessions as a leader. According to Dan Phillips' blog, Home of the Groove, only two singles were released under his name. "99 Plus One”/”Mustard Greens” first came out on Hot Line, one of the NOLA family of labels, but was licensed to Blue Rock when distribution problems arose."
Phillips had this to say about June:
"Gentleman June, as he was sometimes called, could play straight or make it funky, as the situation required. His groove versatility I am sure is why Cooke kept him in his band. I’ve chosen his composition, “Mustard Greens”, for the unusual, proto-funk stick and foot work Gardner demonstrates. On top, the song has a quasi-Latin big band arrangement by producer Wardell Quezergue."
A full CD of these sessions was issued on Tuff City/Night Train CD compilation, 99 Plus One which the Louisiana Music Factory has for sale.
He was an extremely versatile musician, whether anchoring his traditional New Orleans jazz band "The Fellas" on Bourbon Street or at JazzFest, or playing with Lionel Hampton or Alvin Tyler. I saw him at JazzFest in 2008 in the Economy Tent and this past May at Irvin Mayfield's Playhouse as part of a band led by pianist David Torkanowsky and featuring vocalist Germain Bazzle.
He is someone you may not have heard of, but you likely are to have heard.
Here is the link to the Home of the Groove blog entry on him from 2005
Here is the link to Geraldine Wyckoff's obituary of June Gardner: =
And wwoz has a short obit on Gardner: