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Frank “Big Boy” Goudie: Jazz On Three Continents Part 2 of 3, South America 1939-46 and Europe 1946-56

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Also read: Frank “Big Boy” Goudie: Jazz On Three Continents  Part 1 of 3, France and Europe 1924-1939

Goudie at Chikito Club. Bern, Switzerland, 1949. Jazzindex.

Frank “Big Boy” Goudie (b. 1899 Louisiana – d. 1964 California) has been almost completely overlooked by jazz history, a mere footnote in the jazz chronicles until recently.  A skilled musician, he played saxophone, trumpet and clarinet.  He performed jazz, swing, dance, Latin and ethnic music on three continents.

This article traces his intriguing years in South America, centered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Goudie traveled the continent, played music and ran a small cafe with his wife Madeleine.  He played Brazilian samba-swing, Latin and dance music, and encouraged the development of a Brazilian jazz movement.  This chapter also covers his return to Europe, recording in Paris, performing in Switzerland and three years working in Berlin.

The main source for this episode is the excellent biography, BIG BOY: The Life and Music of Frank Goudie by Dan Vernhettes, Christine Goudie (his French daughter) and Tony Baldwin.  Adding color and context is an eyewitness account of Goudie in South America by jazz musician, writer and broadcaster Richard Hadlock — then a young Swing enthusiast.

Goudie’s Brazilian Visa, October, 1939. From BIG BOY, Vernhettes, Goudie, Baldwin.


A Big Life

Tall and handsome, Frank was a cultured gentleman with advanced musical skills.  Fluent in French and Portuguese, he was at least six feet five inches tall, probably over 250 pounds, massive, broad and powerfully built.  His career paralleled the history of jazz itself: origins in Louisiana, migration to Europe, transition to Swing, integration with Latin music and the New Orleans revival.  Traveling the world this master musician lived four distinct musical lives:

New Orleans and the Southwest 1917-24:  A journeyman jazz cornet player, by 1920 he moved to Texas and went on the road working the Southwestern states and northeastern Mexico.  

Paris and Europe 1924-39, 1946-56:  For almost three decades “Big Boy” worked, recorded, played and jammed with the jazz elite of Europe — except during WW II.  Arriving in Paris about the same time as Josephine Baker, he became very popular focusing on trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones.  After the war in Europe he recorded, traveled and played Jazz, Swing and Latin music.  Gradually he built an individual New Orleans style on clarinet.

South America 1939-46:  Stuck on the Southern continent during the war, Frank played Latin dance music, big band samba-swing and jazz when he could.  He and wife Madeleine operated a small cafe in Rio de Janeiro and traveled the region.

San Francisco 1956-64:  Goudie’s expressive New Orleans clarinet was welcomed into the thriving Frisco jazz revival.

Frank and Madeleine in Serra Negra near Sao Paulo, Brazil, early 1940s. Photo is property and courtesy of Christine Goudie, daughter of Frank.

Home, Sweet Rio de Janeiro

Sharing his South American travels and post-war life in Europe was his wife, Madeleine Boissin (1916-2012).  They were wed in Paris on May 30, 1939 after a romance dating back many years.

From an interview not long after Goudie arrived in Rio  we may glean that among his motives for not returning to the United States was his uncertainty how a mixed race couple would be received at home.  And as he suggested in a 1960 interview, “I never did follow the gangs.”  Furthermore, had they stayed in France he could have been pressed into military service at age 40.

“Big Boy” worked music professionally in Rio, at the prestigious Copacabana Palace Hotel and Casino and continued playing tenor saxophone and some trumpet throughout his stay in South America.  He appeared in a 1943 film with various South American stars of music and broadcasting.

Despite living at nine different addresses in Rio, the couple seems to have shared a life of happy domestic stability.  Madeline learned Portuguese and in 1943 they opened a small restaurant-café within the famed Copacabana resort district just steps from the famed beach strip and grand casino.

The Goudie’s café in Rio and Madeleine. Third from left is the singer and guitarist, Henri Salvador. Photo is property and courtesy of Christine Goudie.

The photo of Madeleine at the Goudie’s café was published in a Rio newspaper, Journal O Cruzeiro.  The caption in Portuguese read: “At dinnertime, a discrete light invades the small ‘pensao’ where the wife of Big Boy, French by birth, crafted a typically Parisian atmosphere.”

The term pensao has no direct English equivalent.  The closest meaning is ‘hostel’ or ‘pension’ – in the sense of a boarding house.  But it was exclusively a café, according to Madeleine’s daughter Christine Goudie, “a French restaurant very popular with [the] French and entertainers like Henri Savador and Jean Sablon.”

From Rio the couple undertook several travel adventures for work and pleasure.  They journeyed to Uruguay and the Brazilian hinterlands, visiting some of Brazil’s far-flung cities.  Traveling to Argentina twice (1941, 1944-45) the Buenos Aires jaunts were working vacations for Frank who played in the band of saxophonist Fon Fon Romeiro among others.

Goudie continued advancing his formal musical skills, studying harmony and counterpoint.  For his composing and arranging needs he kept a harmonium with him – a portable hand-pumped keyboard.  One writer explained how he stayed current: “Big Boy left the States 17 years ago but keeps up with American music by listening daily to short wave American broadcasts.”

Frank and Madeleine were divorced around 1950 for reasons that are unclear.  Madeleine passed away in 2012 treasuring his memory, as does his surviving daughter, Christine Goudie.

Date and location unknown. Photo is property and courtesy of Christine Goudie.

2 Responses to Frank “Big Boy” Goudie: Jazz On Three Continents Part 2 of 3, South America 1939-46 and Europe 1946-56

  1. Dick Karner says:

    Great series Dave. Thanks!

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