Jack Maheu, whose career as a top jazz clarinetist spanned more than 50 years and included many appearances in Upstate New York, died on Aug. 27, 2013, in Ithaca. He was 83 years old. Maheu had suffered a severe stroke in 2006 and had been living at an Ithaca nursing home for the past several years.
Knowledgeable critics considered Maheu one of the finest clarinetists in all of jazz. In 1951, he became a co-founder of the popular Dixieland group, the Salt City Five, later known as the Salt City Six. The combo was co-led by trombonist Will Alger and included musicians such as Maheu who were members of the Syracuse University marching band.
Born in Troy, Maheu spent his formative years in Plattsburgh. After graduation from high school, he studied commercial art for two years at the Pratt Art Institute in Brooklyn then transferred to Syracuse University where he studied music, majoring in clarinet. The original Salt City Five – Maheu, trombonist Will Alger, trumpeter Don Hunt, pianist Charlie French and drummer Bob Cousins – made a prize-winning appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1952 and appeared on Godfrey and His Friends as well as Godfrey’s radio programs. As a result, the band was booked for a long-term Sunday-afternoon engagement at Child’s Paramount in Times Square where it often shared the with some of the legends in jazz. During the early-1950s, The Salt City groups recorded two albums for Jubilee Records. In 1957, Maheu left the band and joined the Dukes of Dixieland with whom he recorded eight albums and helped arrange much of the recorded material. He left the Dukes in 1959 and formed his own group at the Preview Lounge in Chicago where he played opposite a band led by New Orleans trombonist George Brunis. In 1961, he re-formed the Salt City Six as co-leader with Will Alger. Fiery jazz cornetist Wild Bill Davison joined the combo in 1962 for a one-year tour. By 1968, the group had become the house band at the Gallery, in Burlington, Vt., a club which Maheu owned. The early-1970s brought a move to Rochester and in 1979, Maheu joined the house band at Eddie Condon’s jazz club in Manhattan, and recorded Condon’s Hot Lunch album with Pee Wee Erwin in 1980. In 1988, Maheu moved to Marco Island, Fla. to help form the Paradise Jazz Band. In 1990, Maheu moved to New Orleans and, using his architectural knowledge from Pratt, designed his own house. He toured for six months with trumpeter Al Hirt and played engagements at the Fairmont Hotel as well as at various Bourbon Street clubs and Mississippi riverboats. He formed the Fire in the Pet Shop Callithumpian Jazz Band, which won first place three years in a row at the French Quarter Jazz Festival Battle of the Bands. Maheu is survived by four children; Joy Maheu, Lisa Hawthorne, Michael Maheu and John Maheu; two sisters: Patti Mooney and Merilee Trudel; three brothers: Robert, Bill and Jim Hargraves and three grandchildren: Jenessa and Devon Maheu and Olivia Hawthorne. A private ceremony is planned. For more information about Maheu’s career, visit saltcity56.com.