Memories of Paul
By Arthur Luby - Ellingtonia, Vol. XXVIII, Number 8, November 2010
Paul Gonsalves died at a relatively young age (53) some 36 years ago leaving a wife and four children. One of those children is his stepdaughter, Mrs. Colette Lappin, whom Gonsalves formally adopted after he married her mother Joanne in the late 1950s. Joanne was employed as a Las Vegas showgirl when Gonsalves met her during one of the band's many engagements in the city, and the logistical problems of their romance must have been considerable given that the town was, at the time, still strictly segregated by mob edict. However, as Colette stressed throughout our conversation, while Paul considered himself a black man, he never made race an issue with anyone and made clear to his new stepdaughter that he considered her to be his real daughter. "I never knew my real father," said Mrs. Lappin, "and from everything I was told I didn't miss anything, so Paul was the only father I've ever known. He always wanted me to call him 'Daddy' and I always did."
Colette quickly understood that her father had a unique calling and unique talents. "I saw him play frequently, including on the Ed Sullivan show, which was a very big deal back then. I also remember the band playing a big concert at Freedomland, which was an amusement park, with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Paul took several solos that night, and it always made me nervous when he played because I wanted him to do well and not make mistakes. And, of course, he played extremely well and I was very proud." "He also used to let me ride in his lap on the band bus. That was fun and all the musicians were very friendly. And Duke used to go out of his way to make me feel special. He always knew how to treat ladies, even little ladies. In fact, I used to talk to Duke a fair amount because Paul was always late and Duke called our house frequently to find him.
Unfortunately, while Gonsalves was an openly affectionate man and never abusive to those around him, his daughter over time became aware of his substance abuse issues. "Duke once sent him to a place where he could be treated for his addictions, but he hated being there and was trying to get out the entire time, so I can't imagine how the staff could have helped him very much. And towards the end of his life he began having seizures which
I am sure were caused by drugs or alcohol, or both. In fact, recently I saw a DVD of him performing a year or so before he died [I believe she is referring to the recording of the orchestra at the Tivoli Gardens in Denmark] and he had white hair and looked so old and unkempt that it was hard to watch ... But, he would never drink in front of us. When he came home he would talk to me until late in the night and would chain smoke cigarettes, but not drink. He did that out of our sight."
Still, while fully aware of his weaknesses, Colette looks back on her father and the years spent with him with fondness and love. "He never cursed-in fact he was very straight laced about cursing and didn't want to hear it around the house--and was never mean, and I always looked forward to him coming home. To me that's when our home was happiest. One of the great things about him being home was that he was a wonderful cook ... I still remember a Cape Verdean dish he used to make ... linquiso. It was seafood sausage and it was absolutely delicious. "We lived in Cambria Heights when I was a teenager and that was where a lot of jazz musicians lived, mostly
I think because the neighborhood was accepting of interracial families. In the early seventies, though, my mother threw him out of the house and he moved down to the Edison Hotel. I used to visit him there, but that was the end of our family. When Paul moved out our family basically crumbled. My mother sold the house and the kids dispersed. I went to live with the man who I married and my brother and sister left too. In the end, as much as he was gone and on the road, it turned out that Paul had been the one who really kept the family together. "It's funny... after all of the Ellington and Strayhorn compositions he played, his favourite pieces were 'Laura' and 'When Joanna Loved Me'--both very romantic compositions. But, he loved Duke and loved being part of his orchestra. It was his life and nothing else was as important. The final months were difficult, his physical condition got worse, and he didn't take care of himself. But, I truly think the reason for that was that he knew
Duke was dying and he simply didn't want to be alive if Duke wasn't around and he couldn't play for him."