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Luigi Waites

Percussionist Luigi Waites was born Lewis Waites, on July 10, 1927, in Omaha, Nebraska. Waites’ mother, Ione Lewis, married his stepfather, Grant Wallace, after Wallace’s arrival in Omaha in the 1940s. Waites attended Omaha’s Lake Elementary, Central High School and graduated from Technical High School. He also attended the Midwestern Conservatory of Music. Waites began performing music while he was still in high school. At the onset of World War II, more Americans enlisted into the U.S. military, and Waites was limited to playing with musicians his own age. Dropping out of Omaha Technical High School, Waites was drafted in 1945. While in the services, Waites was taught to play drum licks by the great Elvin Jones at Camp Lee, Virginia. It was not until the end of the war that Waites began touring locally with adult musicians.

In 1947, Waites returned to Omaha and continued his career as a local musician. In addition, Waites toured regionally, performing in Iowa, North Dakota, Kansas and other parts of Nebraska. After briefly attending school in California in 1949, Waites enrolled at the Midwestern Conservatory of Music in downtown Chicago; that following year, he married Eva Jean Little. In the 1950s, Waites continued his career in music, but also worked daily at local factories. After working as stock personnel for the Omaha National Bank, Waites began teaching private lessons to aspiring artists. In the 1960s and 1970s, Waites was the organizer of a youth group called the Contemporaries which performed as a marching band for local and regional events.

Waites was the first jazz instructor in the Omaha Public Schools and at Creighton University. Waites also helped found Phyllis Hicks’s “Steppin Saints.” Waites was named Nebraska Arts Council’s Artist of the Year in 1996; he is still playing and teaching, while enjoying his eighties. Waites, who toured internationally and performed in Europe during the 1990s, lived in Omaha, Nebraska and had six grown children.

Waites passed away on April 6, 2010 at the age of 82.

Luigi Waites was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 7, 2007.

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Technical High School

Lake Elementary School

Omaha Central High School

Howard Kennedy Elementary School

Lothrop Magnet Center

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Short Description

Music instructor and jazz drummer Luigi Waites (1927 - 2010 ) was the first jazz instructor in Omaha Public Schools and at Creighton University. Luigi Waites also has enjoyed a long and successful performing career, touring nationally and internationally, as well as playing with jazz legends such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Jean-Luc Ponty, James Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie.


Omaha National Bank

Swoboda Music Center

Omaha Public Schools

Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Luigi Waites' interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Luigi Waites lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Luigi Waites describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Luigi Waites describes his mother's profession</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Luigi Waites talks about his father and stepfathers</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Luigi Waites describes his mother's personality</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Luigi Waites describes his living arrangements in Omaha, Nebraska</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Luigi Waites describes the sights and smells of his childhood in Omaha, Nebraska</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Luigi Waites remembers listening to the radio as a child</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Luigi Waites describes his early personality and interests</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Luigi Waites talks about his early musical interests</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Luigi Waites describes his favorite radio programs</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Luigi Waites remembers Count Basie and Duke Ellington</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Luigi Waites talks about his grade school experiences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Luigi Waites recalls the encouragement of his teacher</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Luigi Waites recalls learning to be a musician</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Luigi Waites remembers his mentor, Basie Givens</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Luigi Waites describes his high school experiences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Luigi Waites remembers World War II</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Luigi Waites describes his experiences at Technical High School in Omaha, Nebraska</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Luigi Waites recalls being drafted at the end of World War II</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Luigi Waites describes his experiences in the U.S. Army</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Luigi Waites remembers his studies at the Midwestern Conservatory of Music in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Luigi Waites remembers meeting his wife</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Luigi Waites recalls his early life lessons about music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Luigi Waites describes his various jobs</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Luigi Waites recalls performing at night while working at the First National Bank of Omaha</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Luigi Waites describes the segregated nightclubs in Omaha, Nebraska</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Luigi Waites remembers Cliff Dudley</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Luigi Waites recalls becoming a drum company spokesman</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Luigi Waites recalls meeting Elvin Jones</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Luigi Waites recalls meeting Roy Haynes and Max Roach</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Luigi Waites describes The Contemporaries drum corps</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Luigi Waites talks about his busy schedule</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Luigi Waites recalls his instructional assemblies at schools across the United States</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Luigi Waites talks about his teaching career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Luigi Waites recalls meeting notable jazz musicians</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Luigi Waites describes the M&M lounge in Omaha, Nebraska</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Luigi Waites talks about skin color discrimination in the black community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Luigi Waites talks about racial discrimination in the music industry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Luigi Waites talks about his awards</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Luigi Waites reflects upon his music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Luigi Waites talks about his interest in various percussion instruments</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Luigi Waites describes his hopes for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Luigi Waites reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Luigi Waites reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Luigi Waites talks about his family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Luigi Waites remembers sharing his success with his mother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Luigi Waites describes how he would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Luigi Waites narrates his photographs</a>







Luigi Waites recalls his early life lessons about music
Luigi Waites recalls meeting Elvin Jones
That, that same thing happened back in the years when I was, when I was just playing music, you know, and couldn't go into places 'cause say, "He's not young, he's, he's too young to come into, in here and play. He's got to be a certain age, you know." My mother [Ione Lewis Kelley] would say, "Well, I'll sit with him," and she would sit there with me all night long while I played, you know, they could do that then. They can't do that now, but you could do that then and I'd--and all that would happen and everybody'd say, "Oh, great, you're good," you know, like that. And we'd get home and my mother would say, "Well, that's great but you ought to really learn to do something of value." Now, that was that double standard but I realize now what she was trying to instill in me. She didn't realize that music could be of value and, and you could learn to do this and you--like kids today that I teach, I tell 'em one thing. Yeah, it's gonna be rough doing--if you're gonna do music alone, you know, but if you learn everything, everything you can possibly learn about music and do it all, you could maybe make it work. Because what they do to us musicians and artists they--even today they do this, they'll say, "Well, that's great but don't you think you ought to learn to be a plumber and get something in case your music fails." They do not tell lawyers, "Hey, you should learn to do something else in case you don't pass the bar." They don't tell doctors that, why do they tell us musicians that? So, I constantly reinforce that with kids and say, "Hey, you can do that, but, you got to work your butt off and you gotta learn everything. Things you like, things you don't like but if you learn it all, you don't have to learn something else." But nobody told me that. They did, but the way they told it to me, it didn't register that way. But they didn't tell me that, 'cause the old guys that I used to work with used to tell me, "Son, you need to complete your formal training, you need to complete your formal training." They were saying that, but it was in a different way, so.$I was asking you about your technique I think (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah.$$--before we cut, and so, so what is your--and you, you shared with me during the break after we ate a piece of pie that you actually met Elvin Jones--$$Yeah.$$--and he even taught you some licks, some drum licks at Camp Lee, Virginia [Fort Lee, Virginia], right (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, he did, yes, yeah, yes, yeah.$$So tell us about that experience, how did you meet him and?$$Well, I was in, I was in--had just finished basic training and they put us in a holding company in Virginia at that time, right after I got out of basic training. And they had a bunch of us recruits, as they called us, and then old soldiers, people that they were getting rid of, and Elvin was going out and I was going in. And I had no idea of who he was at that time. And he had the lower bunk and I had the upper bunk, and everybody there--'cause, see, I was the only one out, at that time, I was the only one from the North. And it seemed like there was a great prejudice against people from the North. And here I'm amongst all blacks. And it was a great prejudice. "Oh, you're from the North." I had three strikes against me. I was a recruit, I was from the North, and I was a musician. And seemed like every black non-com [non-commissioned officer] there and everybody else was against that. I got all, every crappy detail and everything. But, anyhow, there was Elvin and so Elvin would sit and talk with me every day. And say, "Hey, you do this, that and--nah, you don't do it that, try this, do it this way." He opened up my mind to thinking, you know, and that kind of thing. And I spent six months with him. And then come back home, didn't think any more about it and about five, ten years later Elvin started becoming prominent in the world, you know. 'Cause, at that time, everybody there at, at the camp was--the joke was, they say, "Where are you from?" And I said, "I'm from Nebraska." "You from Knee-bras-kee?" I said, "Well, yeah, you know. And, where you from?" And this was the answer I'd get, "I's from New York [New York]." I said, "Right, yeah, right, yeah, you know." And Elvin just said to me, "I got a brother that plays a little music." That's all he ever said. And come to be Hank Jones. Oh, my god, you know. And I hadn't even heard about Thad [Thad Jones] at that time, you know. And, well, that, that's basically--so I met fifty years later in, in Nashville [Nashville], I run across Elvin again and so I asked him if he remembered Camp Lee, Virginia and stuff like that. And this was the first time we had seen each other in fifty years. And he said to me, "I know you, you from Omaha [Nebraska]." But he didn't know my name, but he knew who I was and where I was from. And don't you think that didn't make my day because it did.$$Yeah, I would say so. Now, can you remember--well, you can't remember exactly what he taught you I guess or showed you, but$$Well, no. What, what he taught me was a concept, it wasn't an individual thing. We use individual things (unclear) but it's a concept. In other words, like you say, you open the door with you right hand. Okay, now open the door with your left hand. Now put both hands together and open the door. You don't confine it to one, just one hand alone. And that was the concept. Here's a piece of music, you approach it this way and then you approach it this way--that's the same piece of--and the same piece of music and once you start approaching it these different ways, it changes. But the music doesn't change. But it changes the concept of it. Like, I think you and I was talking about earlier--I think I was saying--oh, shit what was I saying now, ah, something I said to you. One of the normal things that I say to everybody I got--I'm at a loss right now. I'll think of it.$$Okay.$$But, but they--it, it's, it's how you--oh, it's how you do something. This is the right way to do it, and that's what I--that Elvin taught me. The right way is the way that you do it and it works, it's not--most people that say, well, it's the right way. Meaning, if you doing it the way I know it, then that's right. If you're not doing it the way I know it, then it's wrong. And Elvin taught me to open up my mind.