Visceral vocalist and trumpeter Elmer "Coo Coo" Talbert is mainly remembered for the recordings he made with the George Lewis Jazz Band during the years 1949 and 1950. Talbert was born in New Orleans, LA, on August 8, 1900. His first regular job as a professional musician was as a member of the Olympia Brass Band with Lewis (who had replaced clarinetist Alphonse Picou), trombonist Ike Robertson, pianist Lester Santiago, banjoist Benny Benoit, bassist Thomas Copland, and drummer/leader Arnold DePass. The year was 1929, and the band spent much of its time serenading white audiences at the Southern Yacht Club and the Ponchartrain Hotel. Unfortunately, no recordings have survived from this chapter in their respective careers, and it would be nearly two decades before Lewis and Talbert would have a chance to collaborate again. Following his final recording session with Bunk Johnson in 1946, George Lewis returned to New Orleans and formed his own working band using core members of the Johnson group with the addition of Talbert and drummer Joe Watkins. The band, which also included at times trumpeters Herb Morand and Avery "Kid" Howard, gigged regularly at Manny's Tavern, located at 3129 St. Roch Avenue near Benefit Street. The earliest known recordings of Talbert with the George Lewis band were made during the years 1948-1949 at Manny's and in radio station WTPS with Kid Howard sitting in.
On August 15, 1949, the group was recorded in live performance at the Parisian Room on Royal Street; a more extensive amount of recording also occurred during a private party thrown at 1111 Bourbon Street by one Herbert Otto. On this occasion Talbert sang "Heebie Jeebies," "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," and (in duet with Herb Morand) "When the Saints Go Marching In." Two more broadcasts took place in January and March 1950, and the Lewis band opened at the El Morocco, 200 Bourbon Street, on May 9. Perhaps the greatest session of Elmer Talbert's brief recording career took place on May 22, 1950, at Filiberto's Music Store, 325 Baronne Street. Forever identified with the phrase "George Lewis Jam Session," this exciting material has been issued and reissued over the years by a surprisingly complex swarm of small-time labels. Talbert bellowed three gale force vocals: "Chicken," "2:19 Blues," and "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor." On June 5, 1950, George Lewis & His New Orleans Music cut several titles for the Good Time Jazz record company at Cosimo Matassa's studio on North Rampart Street. Talbert's big vocal number on this date was "Mama Don't Allow." The June 6, 1950, issue of Look magazine contained a feature article called "Dixieland Jazz is Hot Again" with an often reproduced photo (taken by a young Stanley Kubrick!) of Talbert puffing his horn with great fortitude in front of the band in live performance. In the text, Talbert was identified as a nighttime musician whose regular work consisted of handling laundry. The only remaining Talbert/Lewis recordings exist in the form of airchecks from WDSU's Dixieland Jambake music show.
Elmer Talbert died suddenly on December 13, 1950, in his hometown of New Orleans. Preceded in the George Lewis discography by Bunk Johnson and Louis "Kid Shots" Madison, he would be succeeded by Percy Humphrey, Henry "Red" Allen, Alvin Alcorn, and Kid Howard. Rightly compared with Wooden Joe Nicholas yet often saddled with the adjective "rough," Talbert was a living embodiment of full-throttle New Orleans polyphony, regularly urging his bandmates to achieve and maintain a collective state of improvisational exhilaration that still astounds. Most of the surviving studio, live, and broadcast recordings have been systematically released on compact disc by the American Music label. In the words of George Lewis: "Elmer Talbert, he was working all the time. You can hear that on the some of the records, he's underneath, or doing something. It hasn't got to be fancy because you listen at the rhythm of it, that's what counts." ~ arwulf arwulf, Rovi