Click here for Charlie Howze playing Duke Ellington's "Drop Me Off in
Click here for Charlie Howze playing Duke Ellington's "Tishomingo Blues"
The Piano Was Where He Lived
Many of us at Western around
1945-46 remember a good-looking guy who played great piano. Most will not
know that playing the piano was more than a party thing for Charlie Howze
--- "C.P. Howze, Jr." as he liked to style himself. The piano was where he
lived, though it took a number of years before he came to accept that fact
Charles Perry Howze, Jr., Class
'46, had more than one life. Born on July 3, 1928, to a socially prominent
Virginian family, Charlie was raised to become a successful professional.
Right after graduation from Western, Charlie chose to be drafted when Yale
initially placed him on their waiting list. Though Yale changed its mind
and sent an acceptance for 1946, Charlie elected to 'get it over with' and
spent the next two years as a medic. He was assigned to the U.S. Army of
Occupation in Japan where he provided medical services to Japanese war
prisoners, including the 'notorious' Tojo.
Entering Yale in 1948 Charlie
again became known as the piano player and party guy but even so gained a
solid intellectual base and appreciation for learning that he applied
throughout his very successful legal career. He followed up Yale by
attending the University of Virginia's School of Law. While in
Charlottesville, Virginia, he married Ann Pickford, whom he met while at
Yale; Charlie and Ann had two daughters, Perry and Randi. After a few
years with a Boston law firm, Charlie was recruited to work as an
investigative attorney for the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce
Committee. One of his first investigations, in 1959-60, was of the famous
"$64,000 Challenge" quiz show, recently re-created in the movie "Quiz
Show". He was instrumental in locating the elusive Charles Van Doren whose
testimony exposed the fraud. By 1963 he was Chief Counsel to the committee
and led the investigation that exposed radio "payola" practices.
But all the while Charlie's heart
had remained with the piano and the great "stride" style of Fats Waller,
James P. Johnson, and Ralph Sutton. He took every chance he could find to
sit in with local jazz groups, playing both solo and with bands. Charlie
was a frequent visitor to spots, such as the old Bayou on K Street in
'Wild Bill' Whelan ('47) led a band that often included other Western
grads such as Wally Garner ('46), Walt Coombs ('44), and Gary Wilkinson
('47). The Charles Hotel, on R near 14th Street, for years offered good
live jazz where Charlie sat in. Later, he was often heard at Billy
Martin's Carriage House, sitting in for John Eaton, who recalls Charlie as
a gifted natural player with a remarkable perception of the music and what
he was doing. In the mid-1960's Charlie went through a divorce and
remarried, to a co-worker on the House Committee staff. Dorothy Howze
recalls that she left that position and moved to the EEOC, and soon after
Charlie also moved --- first to the USIA (U.S. Information Agency) and,
later, the EEOC. But increasingly Charlie was feeling dissatisfied, in
spite his successes and reputation as a keen legal analyst.
By the early 1970's, his
dissatisfaction was acute and, in 1974, he made up his mind to make the
break --- to resign from the EEOC and attempt to make a living in the
practice of music, somehow. A change of professions is not unusual for
folks in their '40's but trying to break into playing professionally is
It took Charlie about six months
and a few false starts, but he did succeed in landing a series of gigs as
a professional pianist. Well known to the prominent jazz pianists in New
York, he was invited by Maxine Sullivan in 1975 to participate in a Jazz
Salute at the opening of "The House That Jazz Built". His first break was with the Joe Rinaldi Trio at the
Gaslight Club on 16th Street, where he played for a year. It was followed
by gigs with the Hot Mustard Jazz Band and a variety of spots around town.
In 1977 he got a regular gig playing solo piano at the National Press Club
lounge, then primarily a watering hole for journalists.
Charlie was proud of his effort to
pursue playing the music he had loved and studied since his early teens,
when he would persuade the family houseworker to take him to the Howard
Theatre to hear the great jazzmen playing there. "It was financially
disastrous", he wrote in a Yale reunion book in 1977, "but I think things
are looking up (as Ira Gershwin once said)."
Charlie was still with the
Club in 1979 when his cancer was diagnosed, and it was only some eight
months later that he died. But not before one of his oldest friends, the
mail order catalog entrepreneur, S. Roger Horchow, arranged to have
Charlie spend several days recording as much as he could. Horchow issued
the tunes Charlie himself selected as "Charlie Howze On The Piano", just
weeks after Charlie's death on August 1, 1980. It was the perfect tribute
to a man who lived to play jazz piano and finally got his wish to make it
Westerners who recall that
carefree guy at the piano, especially members of the Class of 1946, who
would be interested in having a tape of Charlie's playing, to be drawn
from Horchow-produced sides not included on the issued recording, are
urged to be in touch with Myles Johnson (1400 Floral St. NW, DC 20012).
The only other recording made by Charlie is still available on "Dixie
Dance" (The Hot Mustard Jazz Band), sold by Dave Burns Music, 1712 19th
St. NW, DC 20009.
It seems like the 'Western' of
today, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, should have some tangible
reminder of this earlier graduate who made one art, music, his real life.