||Midway Airport: The First Seventy-Five
by Christopher Lynch
Lake Claremont Press
Midway Airport has always been a magnet for characters, and one of the most appealing during the 1940's was Natty Dominique. Redcaps carried passengers luggage through the terminal, working for tips, and with an engaging personality and a million stories, Dominique was one of the best. However, being a redcap was not his first profession; in fact Natty was a famous jazz musician, and even though he did not work as a pilot at the airport, when he played his cornet, he could fly with the best of them.
Anatole "Natty" Dominique was born in New Orleans in 1896 and grew up with the emerging sound of his city, jazz. Dominique first trained as a drummer, but would eventually switch to the trumpet. He played in an orchestra in New Orleans before moving to Chicago in 1913. Like many jazz musicians from New Orleans, he was drawn to the clubs on Chicago's south side, playing with Art Stewart and later with Jimmy Noone at 35th and Prairie at the Paradise café. Eventually after a long gig with the Carl Dickerson orchestra, he wound up playing at the Sunset Café at 35th and Calumet Avenue, alongside fellow New Orleans cornet musician Louis Armstrong.
Other jazz greats that Dominique accompanied were Jelly Roll Morton, and Dominique would make a recording with Morton playing his own original compositions. But it would be Natty's relationship with drummer Baby Dodds that was the most lasting. Baby Dodds, and his older brother Johnny who played clarinet, were both members of the legendary King Oliver's Creole Dance Band and with Louis Armstrong on cornet, tore up the Lincoln Garden's café on the south side of Chicago in the early 1920's. Dominque, the trained drummer, recognized Dodd's talent, commenting that Baby was the best drummer he had ever heard.
Natty would continue to play in bands until a medical condition sidelined his career, forcing him to seek work as a redcap at Chicago Municipal Airport in 1940. At the terminal, Natty met Officer Tom O'Hara, the cop assigned to the airport. Officer O'Hara's son, Jim remembers hearing stories from Natty about the legendary days of jazz, even though his father Tom thought Natty was full of Blarney. It is ironic to think that Dominiuqe carried the luggage and instruments through the airport of far less talented musicians than himself.
But Natty couldn't stray too far from his music, and in the 1950's formed the "Natty Dominique's Creole Dance Band". His band reached back to the early days of New Orleans Jazz, playing the sound of Natty's youth.
By 1951, Baby Dodds, the legendary drummer, had suffered two strokes, but still wanted to make music. Natty invited him to play in his band, even though his drumming had suffered due to the strokes. In his autobiography, Dodds remembered that Natty's outfit "...was billed as one that played `Slow Drag' music and that was because of me. I just couldn't beat drums fast, and to bring me into it Natty used to play lots of slow numbers. That way I could drum very well. Nobody but Natty Dominique would have done something like that."
Natty advised aspiring musicians to "Be original, be yourself." Natty Dominique was indeed a true original, and it is a testament to his musicial legacy that his recordings are still available over half a century after they were made. To this writer, Natty's music has become the soundtrack of the airport's glory days, the notes of his trumpet flying as fast and as high as departing aircraft on takeoff.
AMCD-18. Published by American Music Records, 1206 Decator Street,
New Olreans, LA 70118.
The Baby Dodds Story, as told to Larry Gara.
1959. Contemporary Press, Los Angeles CA