“The more flexible you are, the more you work—that’s the way it’s done down here,” saxophonist Eric Traub once said. He lived his life by those words, adeptly blowing modern and traditional jazz, R&B, blues and soul, as well as performing what he described as “tuxedo jobs”—shows, weddings and conventions. Eric Traub, who grew up in Buffalo, New York and landed in New Orleans in 1982, died on Friday, February 15, 2019 at the age of 72.
By age 14, Traub already knew he was destined to be a musician. His hometown boasted a healthy jazz scene and Traub checked out artists like saxophonist John Coltrane and organist Jack McDuff and studied music at school and with private teachers. He attended the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he majored in music education, and was drafted into the army following graduation, becoming a member of the field band. He received his master’s degree from the University of Miami and soon after headed out to tour with the noted bandleader and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. Traub remained with Ferguson for four years and is heard on his 1977 album New Vintage.
After touring with Ferguson, Traub was looking for a place to land and was encouraged to come to New Orleans to join the swampy rock band Lil’ Queenie and the Percolators. “It was the best introduction to the city,” Traub once remembered, “because they were playin’ all the joints.”
Through the years, Traub’s horn was heard in numerous settings and he quickly discovered spots like Tyler’s Beer Garden, where some of this city’s top jazzers frequently performed, to get down on some modern jazz. At the Storyville Jazz Hall (now B.B. King’s Blues Club), the saxophonist would riff in the horn section behind blues shouter Luther Kent. Traub enjoyed the spirit of traditional jazz and was a regular playing with drummer Bob French’s band on Monday nights at Donna’s Bar and Grill.
Sticking to his philosophy of remaining flexible, Traub was a much called upon sideman with notables such as drummer Johnny Vidacovich and bassist/vocalist George French. He would also fill out the ranks of the funk/jam band Galactic and the brassy New Orleans Nightcrawlers.
Traub’s recording credits—which include Dr. John’s masterpiece, Goin’ Back to New Orleans; vocalist Johnny Adams’ Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus: The Real Me; trumpeter Kermit Ruffins’ Swing This!; renowned vocalist Solomon Burke’s Soul of the Blues; and albums by the legendary Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and the collaborative brass ensemble the Forgotten Souls—speak volumes of both his talent and versatility.
A humble man, Traub once described playing music as “an act of giving.“ “I personally feel that the most important thing is that the audience walks out with more than they walked in with.”