Cakewalkin' Jass Band performs at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. The band selected the library to donate the its memorabilia as a way to document an important part of Toledo's musical history.
The Cakewalkin’ Jass Band has been playing gigs in Toledo longer than many of the city’s residents have been alive.
As a result, its members have accumulated quite a collection of memorabilia: newspaper articles, photographs, posters, fan letters, music notes, props, buttons, records, and programs.
“Twenty-two boxes,” Ray Heitger, the band’s founder, said Wednesday. “Pretty much anything with the band’s name on it.”
There are yellowed playlists, rusty music festival buttons, an antique car horn, even a pair of frayed star-spangled suspenders — all stuff that will now become part of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library history department’s Toledo Jazz Archive.
Library officials announced the acquisition Wednesday afternoon at the Main Library downtown, where the hushed atmosphere was temporarily interrupted by the eight-piece band’s rollicking New Orleans-style jazz. Onlookers clapped and nodded their heads. A group of children broke into an impressive Charleston in the lobby downstairs.
It’s the kind of entertainment the band has been providing since 1967. The group is probably best known for its 33-year stint at Tony Packo’s, the East Toledo restaurant popularized by Toledo native Jamie Farr through his character Corporal Max Klinger on M*A*S*H. The band has produced seven albums on its own “Spittune” label, played concerts and festivals from coast to coast, been featured in magazines such as Jazzologist and The Mississipi Rag, and made regular appearances at various clubs around town.
The band has “woven itself into the very fabric” of the city, said Mike Lora, the library’s local history special collections coordinator. He added that the band’s donation represents an important contribution of authentic New Orleans style repertoire.
Ray Heitger, founder of the Cakewalkin' Jass Band, organized in 1967, shows a horn he used to call the band back together after a break during their years at Tony Packo's.
The material also seems to warrant a place in the library for a more basic reason: there’s some good reading. Take, for example, a note written on the back of a Moline, Ill., bank deposit slip: “Dear Sexy Clarinet player,” it reads, referring to Mr. Heitger. “Seeing as how I’ve met both your wife and son this year (they’re both wonderful people, I might add) I will keep this request respectable. I’d like to hear ‘The Good Ship Rock & Rye.’ Just in case, though, my address and phone number is on the back. Love ya.”
“That must be an old one,” the gray-haired Mr. Heitger said with a chuckle.
The collection also includes an antique car horn that was used by Mr. Heitger to call back the band after set breaks at Packo’s. Fans will recognize the horn from the B-side of the band’s second album, “plus 456,”where it gets its own song — a brief two-honk number titled “Honk Honk.”
As for the old suspenders, the late Nancy Packo Horvath purchased them for the band about 40 years ago, adding a splash of color to the traditional ragtime wardrobe of black slacks and white collared shirts. The band is on its third version of those suspenders now, Mr. Heitger said just before dedicating a song—“You Been a Good Old Wagon, But You Done Broke Down”—to the old suspenders.
The memorabilia won’t be available to the public for a few weeks, library officials said; they’ve got to order some special archival boxes and catalogue the items. In the meantime, the band plays on. You can catch them at Toledo Botanical Gardens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.