Roy J. Carew
by George W. Kay, Washington, D.C.
The World of Jazz lost another respected Senior Citizen with the passing of Roy J. Carew, 83, on August 4th (1967) at Providence Hospital[,] Washington, D.C. Widely recognized as a leading authority on classic ragtime, the blues, and New Orleans life and customs, Roy maintained a keen interest to “his” music throughout his life.
Born in Michigan, Mr. Carew left his hometown when he was 21 years old, and went to live with his two sisters in New Orleans. In answer to a newspaper ad, he landed a bookkeeping job with the New Orleans Acid and Fertilizer Company in Gretna. Labor Day, 1904, stood out in Roy’s memory as a very important date in his life, for on that date he experienced his first taste of New Orleans “Parade Music.” In the winter of that year, he heard Tony Jackson at Madam Gonzales establishment. From then on, he followed Jackson’s career at Frank Early’s (“My Place Saloon”) and other cafes, until Jackson left New Orleans in 1909 to live in Chicago. In 1919, Roy Carew moved to Washington, to accept a position with the Internal Revenue Service, remaining with that agency until he retired.
In 1937, Carew met Jelly Roll Morton, who was trying to eke out an existence running his obscure little night club, “The Music Box,” located on U-Street in Washington. Definitely on the decline, but still proud and optimistic, Jelly Roll attracted a small cult of enthusiasts who were faithful to the grand old sounds of New Orleans jazz. Among the followers who congregated at the shrine of the old maestro were the Ertegen brothers, the late author Robert Ruark, Alan Lomax, Beall (Beale) Riddle and other local devotees.
It was Roy Carew who was responsible for persuading Jelly Roll to revive his lovely “Spanish Tinge” tunes and obscure blues numbers for the Library of Congress recordings. Later, several tunes were included in the memorable “New Orleans Memories” album, recorded by General Records. Concerned over Jelly Roll’s failure to protect his compositions through copyrights, Roy formed the “Tempo Music Publishing Company” to protect Morton’s future interests. The most popular of the series published by “Tempo” were “Mamie’s Blues,” “Winin’ Boy Blues,” “Creepy Feeling.” “The Crave,” “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” and “Animule Ball.” Roy was particularly proud of the published sheet music of these later compositions[,] most of which were note-for-note transcriptions by J. Lawrence Cook of Jelly Roll’s solos recorded for the Library of Congress.
One of the first to spark the revival of ragtime interest in this country after World War II, Roy had acquired a comprehensive library of Joplin rags and rare copies of early ragtime and popular tunes of the day. He expressed the view (not fully shared by other writers and historians) that ragtime, not blues, had exerted the greatest influence on the development of early New Orleans jazz. He liked to quote Jelly Roll, Bunk Johnson and other New Orleans pioneers that “before Jazz, there was Ragtime.”
Always willing and generous, he supplied important historical data and memorabilia for jazz historians and writers, Roy has been mentioned and quoted in numerous books on jazz. His name appears frequently in “They All Played Ragtime” (by Hansi (Harriet) Janis and Rudi Blesh), and “Mr. Jelly Roll” (by Alan Lomax). He also wrote several stories on Scott Joplin, Tony Jackson, and his own New Orleans recollections (“Glimpses of the Past,” The Second Line, July/August, 1958), The Record Changer, Jazz Journal, and other jazz magazines.
Roy Carew’s close friends will remember him as a kind, considerate and gentle person, who held a genuine interest in music, people and places. His highly retentive mind, reflected by his finger-tip references to tunes, composers, publishers and dates of ragtime and early jazz manuscripts, was nothing short of phenomenal. Other endowments not to be overlooked were his pleasant and articulate manner of speech and his delightful sense of humor.
The greater part of Roy’s life has been shared with his devoted wife, Lillian. The two have been inseparable for many years, and the last decade has been especially wonderful, for they were pillars of strength to each other as the infirmities of advancing age took its toll from each. Death at age 83 is not quite an unexpected event. However, we feel that if it had to come to Roy, that both he and his wife were fortunate that the end was not a long, lingering and painful ordeal.
Mrs. Carew should derive some measure of consolation that her husband, as retiring and humble as he was, was one of the historians of the century, and documented innumerable milestones in the history of ragtime and jazz. Here was a man who could have had the world beating a path to his doorstep, but who shunned publicity and glamor, and went about his way quietly and unassumingly.
Roy’s innumerable friends in Washington join with the New Orleans Jazz Club and the Jazz Museum in sending our deepest sympathy to Mrs. Carew. Roy leaves a void that will never be filled. There is not another “Senior Citizen” who can measure up, correct historical data and unbiased information, and above all, in his willingness to share with others!
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EDITOR’S NOTES: Readers of THE SECOND LINE will recognize the name of George W. Kay, of Washington D.C., as one of our most faithful and astute contributors. For many years (starting with “The Gennett Discovery,” in the May/June 1955 issue), hardly 12 months have elapsed without a very fine contribution stemming from Mr. Kay’s typewriter. Other important articles were: “The Guy Who Held Bix’s Horn”; “Peck Kelley: Jazz Myth?”; “Jazz Among the Literati”; “Jazz Dancing on the Way Back?”; “Jazz Vignette with an O. Henry Twist” and innumerable reports on festivals, parades, and important jazz events in and around our Nation’s Capital. He has also contributed extensively to “Jazz Journal” of London, and jazz magazines and publications all over the world. He is a native of Springfield, Ohio and is connected with the American Red Cross in a Supervisory Capacity. He and his lovely wife, Abbie, have been shuffled all over the USA, until the last move, which brought them to Washington, D.C. This seems to be a fairly “stable” assignment for they have been here several years. We are happy to have George do this article on Roy Carew, for Carew never had a better friend in his life. As you probably have come to realize it was a piece written from the heart, because of an intimate friendship over the years.
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The above obituary was first published in The Second Line magazine, dated September—October 1967, Vol. 18, Nos. 9 & 10, pages 108—109 and 118.
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Note: George W. Kay was born in Springfield, Clarke County, Ohio on 22nd February 1910, and died in Saint Petersburg, Pinellas County, Florida on 8th January 1988. He was a World War 2 veteran and was buried at Bay Pines National Cemetery, Florida. He was married to Abbie Arnold Kay, who was born on 14th January 1913 and died on 20th January 1998. As was her right as a veteran’s wife, she was also buried at Bay Pines National Cemetery. [PH 3]
Special thanks to Don Marquis, Jean-Pierre Lion, Daniel Meyer, Peter Hanley and Harold Hopkins.