All Over the Map
If I do a second segment of “All Over the Map,” I’d include this chapter on Gil Askey who was 85 in February when I interviewed him.
GIL ASKEY COMES HOME
Gilbert Askey left Austin for good at age 17 in 1942, but the former Motown arranger, who received an Oscar nomination for his work with Diana Ross on “Lady Sings the Blues,” says “Austin has never left me.”
Although he has lived for 30 years in Australia, where his wife, Hellen, is from, the L.C. Anderson High School graduate comes back to visit once a year. Gil’s nickname is “Brother,” and when he comes back to Austin, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes said, “Brother makes an effort to see everyone around from the old days.” His two older sisters, Grace and Velma Jo, are still alive, as are friends that go as far back with Askey as the first grade at the Olive Street School.
Timing smiled when the 85-year-old trumpet player was in town in early February, just three weeks before Ross, his boss for more than 10 years, was set to appear at ACL Live at the Moody Theater . Love a local tie-in to the most successful female recording artist in history.
Over coffee at Denny’s, however, Askey put off questions about his glitzy musical résumé and instead told long stories of growing up dirt poor in East Austin. He made imaginary street maps with the side of his hand — “Hackberry, Juniper, Willow…” he’d recite.
Askey helped discover the Jackson 5 and was musical director on tours by the Four Tops, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Supremes. He co-wrote hits for Curtis Mayfield and Linda Clifford, and yet he wanted to talk more about musicians he played with on the Anderson High Yellow Jackets marching band, including Kenny Dorham, Roy and Alvin Patterson, Ray Murphy, Paris Jones, Warner “Rip” Ross and Buford Banks (trumpeter Martin’s dad). They all used to get together at the Pattersons’ house and play jazz, which was frowned upon by Anderson High band director B.L. Joyce. Askey grew up idolizing Harry James of Beaumont, while Dorham, who would go on to replace Miles Davis in Charlie Parker’s band, knew every Erskine Hawkins lick.
But the authoritative Joyce was all about John Philip Sousa marches. Outfitting his band with uniforms he tailored himself, Joyce led the Yellow Jackets to state marching band championships during Askey’s last two years at Anderson, which was then located at 1607 Pennsylvania Ave., near where Kealing Middle School is today.
Askey does not go easily from memories of Rip Ross to Diana Ross. It’s as if he’s written a book about his life in his head and when asked about it, he doesn’t want to be rushed