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Happy Goldston


Born in New Orleans on 27 November 1894, son of a Methodist preacher, whose mother played piano and sang in the choir. He was an early musical associate of Louis Armstrong. He was given the name "Happy" because of his cheerful disposition. His early work was in the "Tulane Brass Band". He said that his favourite drummer was Henry Zeno, who played for the "Original Tuxedo Band", with his future boss Papa Celestin.

Goldston used to play alongside Black Benny Williams, who was a renowned bass drum exponent. As well as playing snare, Happy also spent some time on the bass drum.

It appears that he was largely self taught, although he did have lessons in reading from Davy Jones. Eye witnesses stated that Happy played rolls directly from the wrist, indicating a correct technique. He studied Louis Cottrell and second lined with the Excelsior Band when Cottrell was playing in order to observe his drumming style.

Sadly there is little recorded evidence of Goldston's playing. The best examples are on a handful of sides he made around 1950 with Oscar 'Papa' Celestin's Band.

He was also recorded with the Celestin band under Ricard Alexis (with Alcorn replacing Celestin) in 1951 from a Dixieland Jambake radio program and again with the Celestin band under the name Paddock Jazz Band, 1953 (again with Alcorn replacing Celestin) There is a session on snare drum with the Eureka Brass band in 1960 but remains unissued.

Black Happy can be seen and heard playing at two funerals (Celestin's and Picou's) on the video recently issued on American Music AMVD-2 "Sing On - A Film Of New Orleans Brass Bands".

Happy is the snare drummer par excellence. He did not use tom toms, or hi-hat and never played ride cymbal.

His style was parade based, with a two beat bass drum and a whole variety of different snare drum rhythms and rolls. Behind the trombone, for instance he would create a shuffle. His solos were all rudiment based, with rolls, ruffs and shifting beats generating an immense heat. The bass drum plays four beats four beats during the solos. His ride out chorus on an up tempo number was an off beat cymbal.

Listen to a couple of fine solos on "Li'l Liza Jane" and "When The Saints"by Celestin's Band.

Happy Goldston is a primitive root to the early days of Jazz drumming, before drummers discovered the hi-hat or ride cymbals. His style, with a band, is a derivation of the style he would have played in the streets with the marching ensembles.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Jazz critic, Marcel Joly and source material from an interview by William Russell and Richard B Allen.

© John Petters, May 2006

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Li'l Liza Jane
Li'l Liza Jane

When The Saints Go Marchin' In
When The Saints Go Marchin' In

Li'l Liza Jane

Li'l Liza Jane (issued recording)