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Story about Iphigene Sulzberger


My father's cornet and Wynton Marsalis
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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We had a kind of a ritual where- starting maybe when I was only eight or nine years old we would go to the big closet, and this happened maybe once a year, and my father would pull out parts of this uniform that he wore in the First World War and we would each try the blouse on or the boots, the trousers and so forth. It was a kind of a fun kind of trip. And- but I always noticed that way back in the closet there was a tattered old leather case. What was in it I didn't dare ask because somehow I felt there was some sort of a taboo about it. In any case, maybe when I was ten, I remember that both of our eyes cast a- we cast our eyes on this case so that- and we noticed that each of us was looking at it. And so my father went back into the closet, pulled out the case, opened it, and revealed a cornet which he then put to his lips. And I could see the way he manipulated the valves and from the embouchure of his lips that he really knew how to play this instrument. And- but he didn't play it. And he put it back in the case and back in the closet where it remained. Several years later the subject came up with my mother and she explained that- well, you know, your Uncle Sam plays the violin- Yes, I've, I've heard him play that- And your Uncle Joe plays percussion, and your Uncle George, I forget, played another instrument. And the four of them, the four brothers, would play music together. But then- but then they stopped playing when, when George- brother George died. And that was before I was born. And so out of respect for his brother, he just couldn't- he couldn't play the cornet any more. And so that was that. But when my father died when I was 19, that was the big possession that I got from my father. And I've kept it; it's mounted on the wall of my kitchen, and every morning as I'm having breakfast I cast my eye on that cornet and remember my father that way. And one day when I noticed that the cornet needed to be polished I asked the cleaning woman if she would do so. And a few days later I noticed that it seemed to be much cleaner but rather dull. And I walked over to it. I noticed that it had been scratched and, indeed, she must have dropped it because the front end was smashed in. Well, I took the cornet to my studio to see what to do. I-I didn't want to change it in any way; even repairing it seemed to be a kind of a change. But with my mind still open as to what to do about it, it was at a time when we were finishing a film with Wynton Marsalis- famous trumpeter. And he came in to see the film and as he was about to leave I grabbed the cornet and went to the exit door and I began to explain the story of my father and the cornet. And he took the cornet, and as I could see the way he maneuvered his fingers and from his embouchure, was just like my father. And he, he played for five or ten minutes as everybody in the studio gathered around to hear him play. And that was wonderful. It's the only time I've ever heard it played and played properly. And so- as he left and I went back to my desk I though oh, I've got to tell my mother about this but she had already died. And then I sat down and I thought oh, I've got to tell my brother, but this was after 1987 when my brother died. And so there was no one to tell it to at that time and I just had to cry.

Albert Maysles (1926-2015) known for his important documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, pioneered the documentary style known as Direct Cinema. He helped create techniques still widely used in modern documentary production, as well as many of the techniques used in reality TV.

Listeners: Rebekah Maysles Tamara Tracz Sara Maysles

Rebekah Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is an artist living between New York and Philadelphia. She has her own line of clothing, Blackberryrose, and co-runs the store Sodafine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, a vintage and handmade store that sells clothing, books and other products made by artists.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Sara Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is currently doing her BA in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, and working as an Archivist of the photographs and photographic material at Maysles Films Inc., Albert‚s film production company. She spent ten months out of two years working with Tibetan refugees at a center in Nepal, and continues to travel back and forth between America and Asia.

Tags: World War I, Wynton Marsalis

Duration: 5 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008