Ricky Paulin, the seventh of 13 children of trumpeter Ernest “Doc” Paulin and his wife Betty, loved the clarinet, traditional jazz music and people. That was evident in the joy he brought to his beloved instrument and lively vocals as he entertained folks while performing with his late father’s band, with his siblings in the Paulin Brothers Brass Band and on the streets of the French Quarter. Ricky Paulin died on Sunday, February 10 at the age of 59.
As he did with all of his five musical sons, Doc Paulin selected which instrument Ricky would play. He chose the clarinet for Ricky, who began blowing it in elementary school and continued while in the marching and concert bands at Cohn and John McDonogh High Schools.
“We all played multiple instruments,” says his brother, trombonist Dwayne, adding that Ricky was sometimes on snare drum with Doc, blew bass clarinet during his school years and occasionally picked up the saxophone. “He found his niche on the clarinet. He was the bomb on that clarinet,” Dwayne exclaims.
“He really was a helluva musician,” declares saxophonist/educator Kidd Jordan, who held great esteem for Ricky. “Ricky could do anything he wanted to do which is beautiful. He loved the clarinet like Alvin Batiste did and he was one who stuck with it. Alvin used to talk about him and would say, ‘If that boy Ricky really wanted to play modern music, he wouldn’t have any problem at all.’”
It was traditional New Orleans jazz and its classic songs like “Panama” and “High Society,” however, that held Ricky’s heart. “We have fun doing those old songs because they’re timeless,” Ricky once said. “Those songs aren’t goin’ anywhere.”
Ricky’s jovial personality came out through his horn and vocals, embracing folks in a crowd who he was eager to please. He was an entertainer and damn funny, too, attributes that were advantageous when he performed, often alone, in Jackson Square.
“I like to be on the street,” Ricky once declared. “I do what I can, I make some money and I’m my own boss so that makes it even better. I’m gonna come like I want and not answer to anyone but God.”
“He was happy to just play his instrument, especially around quality musicians,” says Dwayne, who describes his brother’s clarinet style as fervent and displaying much dexterity. “When he couldn’t get the right kind of musicians and he’s on a hustle, he’s going to play by himself. He was very independent like our dad. He was an open spirit, animated and a family man.”
“He loved what he what he was doing,” says Jordan, who, as a creative jazz musician, shared that aspect with the traditional clarinetist. “He was sincere.”