9th Ward Daily Photo via rl reeves jr

Pony Poindexter’s old jazz group, the Black Panthers of the Figuerettes had a good run in Ibiza back in the fifties. They were booked by Bad Jack Hand, an ex-US soldier who had taken it on the lam before briefly making his way to the white isle. I say briefly because he ended up back on the mainland serving a life sentence in a Spanish penitentiary for a murder rap.

Billy Eckstine joined Pony’s outfit on the island which also counted as its members Jon Hendricks and Magni Wentzel. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back in time a bit.

Voodoo is pretty strong in New Orleans. There all kinds of different powders – mostly love potions – that you buy from midwives and voodoo dealers. It’s against the law of course

That’s Pony Poindexter talking about his song Muddy Dust on his crucial 1963 Prestige Records LP Gumbo. New Orleans native Pony had been on the road playing gigs across three decades when this album came out.

As a child, Poindexter played clarinet in elementary school and picked up a limited repertoire from his first teacher Xavier bandmaster Alegretto Alexander, who in turn had studied at the knee of Osceola Blanchet, the founder of the legendary Osceola Five, a vocal harmony group founded during the Depression that was well-respected in the New Orleans of that era.

Norwood Poindexter was barely a teen when he made his professional debut in New Orleans at the Cave Club playing as sideman to Sidney Desvigne.

The year was 1940.

At 19 years of age, and with five years of study at the prestigious Candell Conservatory in Oakland, California under his belt, Pony would travel to Seattle with Oakland pianist Ernie Lewis. The two were a hit, and Poindexter would fall in love with and marry local girl Marie Mitchell.

Vocalist Ernestine Anderson:

He just took Seattle by storm, he was on everybody’s list.

After returning to the Bay area, Poindexter would join the groundbreaking Billy Eckstine Big Band. He would stay with Billy til 1950 at which point Eckstine would go on a run with stars and future stars like Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon Charlie Parker, and Fats Navarro.

After leaving the Eckstine band, Pony joined up with Lionel Hampton whose group also featured future legend Quincy Jones, but his drug use began to get the best of him.

Quincy Jones:

Pony used to get so high, man, he couldn’t get away from the microphone

.

After a tour through Texas, Poindexter got stranded and had to call back to San Francisco to get Bop City nightclub owner Jimbo Edwards to wire him the funds so he could return home.

Heroin will do that to a body.

Jazz pianist Frank Jackson on Pony:

Pony was a good horn player but he was cocky and egotistical and devious sometimes too.

In 1954, following a performance at the University of Washington, Pony Poindexter was arrested for breaking parole on a burglary charge and was administered a serious beating by Seattle police.

Pony managed to break himself of his heroin habit while serving time in the Washington State Reformatory.

In October, 1959, Pony recorded on the Jon Hendricks LP ‘Good Git-Together’ with fellow luminaries Nat Adderly, Cannonball Adderly, Wes Montgomery et al.

Hendricks, the so-called “James Joyce of jive,” had this to say:

… Pony plays his alto and sings so beautifully he made me ‘shamed of myself. If you don’t feel the spirit movin’ in your heart when Pony shouts the spiritual…then you ain’t got that ol’ time religion…Pony comes from New Orleans, the cradle of all of it, and he knows about marchin’ solemnly to the funerals and swingin’ like crazy on the way back

In 1961, Poindexter started a two-year engagement with the wildly popular vocal trio, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. The group would split up in 1962, and the New Orleans horn man would finally get the chance to record a full-length solo LP Pony’s Express. Check out a few of the sidemen that hit the studio with Pony: Dexter Gordon, Eric Dolphy, Pepper Adams, Elvin Jones, Ron Carter, Clifford Jordan…you get the idea. Pony was not nor would he ever be a household name but he was legend in the inner circles of jazz.

He must have made some waves with his debut as it was just six months later that we find Pony back in the studio to record his sophomore effort Limbo Rock for the Prestige imprint.

Poindexter barely had time to catch his breath before heading back into the studio in January of 1963 to lay down Pony Poindexter Plays The Big Ones for New Jazz, it’s his third full-length.

My favorite of the Poindexter full lengths was recorded in June 1963 for Prestige. It’s called Gumbo and features Booker Ervin, and Count Basie’s long-time trombonist Al Grey. The record is a love letter to New Orleans with odes to such common local joys as: Gumbo Filet, Creole Girls, French Market, and Back O’ Town.

This is the nightclub section where all the sporting girls hang out. All the church people from front o’ town look down on back o’ town. This is also a blues with a South American influence (my grandfather was from Haiti.) It’s fast and frenetic like the section it describes. I do a lot of doubling up here.

Pony talking about the Back o’ Town neighborhood in New Orleans.

After Gumbo, Poindexter would follow in the footsteps of many black US jazz and blues men and migrate to Europe during the darkest days of Jim Crow. While overseas he would record three LPs, and live in France, Germany and Spain. One imagines he sowed quite a few wild oats while performing in those hedonistic days

Pony had a stroke in Europe and returned to the US after his 15 year sabbatical.

The “father of San Francisco Bebop” passed away on this day in 1988.

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Sources
Chord Changes on the Chalkboard: How Public School Teachers Shaped Jazz and …By Al Kennedy
To Do This, You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet … By Lynn Abbot, Doug Seroff
The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz edited by the late Leonard Feather
The White Island By Stephen Armstrong
Blue Notes: Profiles of Jazz Personalities By Robert P. Vande Kappelle
Glorious Days and Nights: A Jazz Memoir By Herb Snitzer
There And Back By Roy Porter

Curious about Bop City, the legendary old San Francisco jazz club? Pony had this to say:

One night, or should I say one morning, Art Tatum was honored with a special party at Bop City. There was lots of food…Up on the piano were cases of liquor. After everyone had stuffed himself or herself, we all settled back to look and listen to some real piano playing. Still, several hours went by and no one moved. It was daybreak. No one moved. Finally it came to an end. When I left there, I was spent – both from playing and listening…The very next weekend we had at Bop City the big three trumpet players of the bop style: Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Kenny Dorham. Dexter (Gordon) was also there. The session went on til early noon the next day. Jimbo honored them all with a special dinner. The next week the Woody Herman band came to into town, and there was another party for them. That night we heard Stan Getz and Zoot Sims stretch out.

This is the best footage I was able to find of Pony Poindexter performing live

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