Jerry was born and raised in Saint Louis, where he lives again today, after having spent much of his life on the road, often with much of his family, as a professional musician. At one point their group was known as “The First Family” and included his wife, three children, and a son in law. Jerry’s wife Lois passed away almost 13 years ago, and he now lives with a wonderful woman who he once went to high school with. He and Lois had four children, including a son who passed away just over seven years ago, and the family is currently blessed with 11 grand- and great grandchildren. Jerry is perhaps best known throughout the Mount Zion community for his clarinet, and in particular, the thrill of hearing him play the closing song at services – Oseh Shalom.
Tell us about your clarinet.
I’ve been playing clarinet for 74 years, 75 years almost. How did I start? I just heard a guy named Benny Goodman who was the ace of all clarinet players, and I told my parents I wanted a clarinet. And they got me a metal clarinet. $36. And I said “Wow. That’s a lot of money”.
And that was it. This was 1940 something, and I’ve been playing ever since.
Editor’s note – by comparison, in 1940 the average monthly rent for an urban apartment was $30, while today the average rent is nearly $900.
What did you do for fun growing up?
Well we just talked about this the other day, some of my friends and cousins and I were sitting around in Saint Louis talking. We played all kinds of neighborhood games. That’s what we did. We really had nothing else to do. I practiced after school, and then my cousins and I, and my neighbors went out. And we’d fill up the yards, and the alleys behind the yards, which there were plenty of. And we played softball and basketball. And those were the things we did.
We would be so enthusiastic about playing things. My cousins and I would play chess on the way to school and we would take turns. Two guys hold the board and two guys play.
What about growing up in Saint Louis?
I grew up in a pretty Jewish neighborhood in St. Louis. Soldan High School was a well known national high school. One of the all American football players, named Tom Lombardo, was the star of the team. He was a great guy. He died in Vietnam, pardon me, he died in Korea.
Editor’s note – Tom Lombardo became a star football player and captain of the team at West Point, and was later killed in action in Ch’ogye, Korea, on September 24, 1950.
We were Orthodox. We kept a Kosher house, and my mother and my father and my brother and I lived with my grandmother. My mother was a great cook. Her meat loaf was to die for, and almost anything else that she made.
What is the most valuable thing I own?
I don’t have a lot of valuable items any more. But my clarinet is a wonderful clarinet. I bought it about 15 years ago from the first clarinet player with the symphony orchestra in Minnesota – Burt Hara. Young man. He left here eventually and went to Philadelphia to be the first clarinet player with the Philadelphia orchestra. Now he’s with the LA orchestra. It was a great time. He was a great teacher and I had great fun.
What single decision had the biggest impact on your life?
Well there’d be two of them. One was marrying my wife. Who was a gorgeous woman, and a glorious person. And the other would have been deciding to go traveling around the world to play music, which I probably shouldn’t have done but my wife encouraged it. She just said “OK … go get ‘em”.
So those are the two things, two paths that I think about. That’s what I care about the most.