It’s with a very heavy heart that I have to report the news that one of my favorite human beings, Joe Muranyi, passed away yesterday, April 20, 2012, at the age of 84. Joe was Louis Armstrong’s final clarinetist and an overall champion of all things Pops. I also considered him a friend and if you don’t mind, I’d like to share some of my memories with “Papa Joe.”
First, the man himself, who was born on January 14, 1926 of Hungarian descent, which he really embraced in his later life. He moved to New York in the 1950s and though he studied with Lennie Tristano, he immediately jumped into the city’s dixieland and mainstream swing scene. So many people just think of his associations with Louis and Roy Eldridge but after spending time with him on a road trip in 2010, it was stunning to hear how many people he played with during this period: Max Kaminsky, Ed Allen, Red Allen, Eddie Condon…the names just kept on coming.
In the early 1960s, he was part of a dixieland band, the Village Stompers, that scored an unlikely hit with their instrumental recording, “Washington Square,” which actually hit number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963: