Cajun Man

by | Jul 3, 2022 | Writing

My story takes place in 1989. Back then I was a full-time flutist, and one of the groups I played with was a woodwind quintet, the Quintet of the Americas. Besides our regular New York concert series, once a year we toured the United States, usually performing for a city’s Community Concert series. We would fly into a city, get a van at the airport and then drive from town to town for two weeks playing concerts most evenings, then drop off the van at a different city and fly home. The five of us were great friends and we always had a wonderful time. Since the concerts were at night, in the day besides driving to the next town, we often had time for sightseeing.

One day we found ourselves in Lake Charles Louisiana. Three of the members of the quintet went into New Orleans, but the French horn player, Barbara Oldham, and I stayed behind to admire the fine Victorian architecture and impressive live oaks of this quintessentially southern city. As we were driving around we saw on the side of the road a hand-painted sign that had a picture of an alligator and the words “Cajun Man Swamp Tours.” No way we were going to pass up this adventure! We followed the alligator signs further and further into the wilderness and finally found ourselves face to face with Cajun Man himself, a handsome gentleman in his fifties. He told us his name was Black Guidry. A Caucasian, he was named for his shiny black hair and sparkling black eyes. After a quick introduction, he helped us into his motor boat, and we slowly puttered through the bayous. We soon found ourselves passing many a fallen log, which on closer examination turned out to be an alligator.

After the tour we sat down at a table on the marina and were served a huge bowl of boiled crawfish which some local fishermen had prepared for us while we were in the boat. We started talking and told Mr. Guidry the reason for our visit to Louisiana. He said he was a guitarist and suggested we play something together. I couldn’t imagine how this could be done – Barbara and I were strictly classically trained and never improvised. But since Mr. Guidry was such a kind and generous man we couldn’t refuse him

Fortunately we were between hotels, so the flute and French horn were locked in the quintet van. What to play? I’ve forgotten whose idea it was, but it ended up being “Summertime.” We played it over and over, with Mr. Guidry playing chords and Barbara and me playing the melody in octaves. Gradually Barbara and I began to experiment, playing notes that went with the melody in imitation, descant. or harmony. On and on it went, the fisherman-cooks looking on entranced. When we finally stopped Mr. Guidry, with tears in his eyes, remarked “that is the best musical experience I ever had.” We left Lake Charles the next day, but when we got home we both sent our pictures to Mr. Guidry and he sent us his.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Barbara and I were concerned about Mr. Guidry. She found him on the internet and phoned him.  He reassured her and once more told her that our  jam session had been the best musical experience of his life.  I have long forgotten the concert we played in Lake Charles, but the memory of the music we made with Black Guidry is still fresh. 

Barbara Oldham, Black Guidry and Barrett Cobb