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Will Johnson Alger

Birth
Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, USA
Death 7 Jul 1992 (aged 66)
Lockport, Niagara County, New York, USA
Burial Pulaski, Oswego County, New York, USA
Plot R 128
Memorial ID 143316955 · View Source
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JAZZ TROMBONIST WILL ALGER DIES AT 66 - ALGER'S MUSICAL PROWESS AND LOYALTY MADE HIM A JAZZ LEGEND IN CENTRAL NEW YORK. <
Post-Standard, The (Syracuse, NY) - July 9, 1992Browse Issues
Fred Hickey remembers what it was like to play music with "Uncle" Will Alger.

"It was exciting in a lot of ways," Hickey said Wednesday. "If Will was playing trombone, you didn't need a bass player. He played all the right notes."

Alger, one of the founding members of longtime Syracuse jazz band The Salt City Five (later called The Salt City Six) died Tuesday morning of respiratory problems at his home in Lockport. He was 66.

Alger is survived by a son, Michael Alger, 39. Lockport attorney David Wendt said Wednesday no decision had been made as to when and where services will be held.

Alger was born Nov. 5, 1925, in Syracuse, but when his father got a job at the Red and White store in Pulaski, he moved north before he started school.

That's where he met Hickey. The two played in the school band together until Alger moved back to Syracuse the summer before his senior year. Alger graduated from the Blodgett Vocational High School in 1943.

He never forgot his friends from Pulaski. Hickey recalls playing USO dances with Alger on East Onondaga Street the summer of 1943, shortly before Hickey went into the Navy and Alger was drafted by the Army.

Alger started the Salt City Five in 1951 with Jack Mahew, Donald Hunt, Charlie Branch and Bob Cousins. They toured the country, and Alger went on to record albums for the Jubilee, Fat Cat, MGM and Audiophile labels. But he always found time to check in on - and play music with - his pianist, Hickey.

The Salt City group disbanded in 1978, and Alger moved to Lockport, where he played in numerous jazz outfits. In May 1991, local jazz promoter Ray Boyce talked Alger into a Salt City Five show at the Dinkler on James Street.

Original band members were not available, so Hickey was part of the outfit. So was local trumpet player Bruce Fairbanks.

"I watched and listened to him play since I was a little boy," Fairbanks said. "It was a thrill to play on the same stage as him for the first time.

That new group played again at the Dinkler in September. Another show was scheduled there for May, but was postponed when Alger was hospitalized for a collapsed lung.

Alger returned to the stage in June with the I Love Jazz band in Buffalo led by Charlie Mussen.

Another longtime friend from Pulaski, Mimi Osmun, said she traveled to Buffalo Monday night to hear Alger play but learned he was too ill to play. The two dated in high school.

"He was my idol. I sat next to him in the Pulaski band 52 years ago," said Osmun, who plays trombone for six local bands and piano for two more. "Will was the epitome of a Dixieland Tailgate trombone player."

Alger's cousin, Nanette Joyce of Sterling, also went to the show Monday. When Mussen announced Alger was ill, Joyce rushed to a phone and called him.

"He said he wasn't feeling well. He said he was going to the doctor's on Tuesday. It was the last time I talked to him. I'm glad I did," Joyce said.

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http://www.saltcity56.com/musicians -
Will Alger - Trombone - While at Pulaski Academy in Pulaski, N.Y., will played trombone in the band. His father once played the drums with Al Fields Minstrels. After moving to Syracuse, he led his own band at Vocational High playing at the USO. Later, while in the Army, he played in a band that traveled wherever the Army decided entertainment was needed, from Florida to California and even Alaska. After the Army, he attended Syracuse University. In the late 40's, he joined the Johnny Campbell ten piece show band and was with them for three years. It was while they were playing at Luigi's Club Flamingo in Syracuse that he got to know Jack Maheu and Bob Cousins who came in to listen. He was the first leader of the Salt City Five and ,over the years with the band, became one of the true tailgate stylists in the dixieland jazz field. Jack Teagarden was his idol. Like Teagarden, Will would often remove the bell of his horn and play St. James Infirmary into a beer glass. Bob Cousin tells how when the band was booked to play the Blue Note in Chicago, the owner had forgotten that he had also booked Teagarden and his band for the two weeks The good sport that he was, the owner decided to have a Battle of the Dixieland Bands ! When Will found out he was in shock. "I can't to that. I can't play on the same stand with That Man ! " Reason prevailed and Will had a wonderful two weeks hanging out with Teagarden and Ray Baduc.

"Will's playing was consistently exciting and highly individual and slavishly devoted to correct ensemble playing", says Bob Cousins. Jack Maheu agrees. "Will was one of the all-time great ensemble players who could lift a band to a degree greater than the sum of its parts no matter how good, or not so good, the other players were. His trombone playing was the bane of other trombone players who tried to challenge him in a cutting contest. If Will was having trouble staying ahead, he could always count on his body english to dispatch even greater flourishes of notes to the rafters humbling even the more formidable contenders. (On rare occassions he would lie on his back and work the slide with his foot.) Like most great artists he was one of a kind."

In 1957, while playing in Cleveland, Will was felled by what doctors' officiallly called a "spontaneious subarachnoid hemorrhage", or, unofficially, a "blow-out." A blood vessel in his brain had burst and he lay blind and paralyzed in a hospital bed for weeks. Playing the trombone, the doctors said, was not the cause. "It could have happened to a harp player," he was told. He graduallly regained his sight and managed a Buffalo restaurant until 1960 when he rejoined the band.

His closest friend was probably banjo and guitarist player, Charlie Mussen, (they can both be heard on the "Live at the Carriage House" album on the "Music" section of this website.) When Will would pick up Charlie for a "gig", if Charlie's wife answered the door, Will would invaribly ask, "Can Charlie come out to play" ? To Charlie, Will was the complete professional. "When someone asked Will what was the most important things a musician could to do be successful, Will replied, 'know your horn, don't drink on the stand, wear clean, neat clothes and shined shoes and get to the job an hour ahead of time."

Another close friend and earlier fellow musician, Fred Hickey, said, "If Will was playing trombone, you didn't need a bass player. He played all the right notes."

Will died of respiratory problems at his home in Lockport, N. Y. on July 7, 1992 at age 66.


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  • Maintained by: af
  • Originally Created by: Half-Shire Historical Society
  • Added: 4 Mar 2015
  • Find A Grave Memorial 143316955
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Will Johnson Alger (5 Nov 1925–7 Jul 1992), Find A Grave Memorial no. 143316955, citing Pulaski Village Cemetery, Pulaski, Oswego County, New York, USA ; Maintained by af (contributor 47059011) .