Edgar ‘Dooky’ Chase Jr., who with his wife, Leah, turned the family’s Treme sandwich shop into a world-renowned restaurant and a beacon of civility, died Tuesday (Nov. 22). A family member confirmed the death. Mr. Chase was 88.Mr. Chase, born March 23, 1928, in New Orleans, grew up in a musical family. A jazz trumpeter, Mr. Chase delivered sandwiches for his parents’ shop while honing his musical skills, according to a bio posted by the Chase Family Foundation.
After attending Booker T. Washington High School, Mr. Chase, only 16 at the time, founded Dooky Chase’s Rhythm Playboys, a jazz band. Later, he create the Dooky Chase Orchestra, a 16-member big band that included his sister, Doris, on vocals. The band traveled throughout the region. Members included trombonist Benny Powell, who played with Lionel Hampton and Count Basie, and drummer Vernel Fournier, who was a member of Ahmed Jamal’s trio.
Mr. Chase, according to the foundation’s page, also became active in the Musicians Union and helped increase the pay of local performers. When he was only 19, Mr. Chase promoted the first racially integrated concert performed at the Municipal Auditorium.
In 1945, the Dooky Chase Orchestra played a Mardi Gras ball, where Mr. Chase met Leah. The couple married a year later.
The orchestra played its last show in 1949, but Mr. Chase remained devoted to music. It was only in the last decade that he stopped playing his trumpet for family members. At Leah’s 90th birthday party in 2013, Mr. Chase sang for the crowd.
“We remember him vividly playing his trumpet. That was his first love,” said Kimberly Reese, Mr. Chase’s granddaughter.
He would recommend songs for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and test them to see if they had musical ability (most didn’t).
Mr. Chase, however, early in his life focused his main attention on the family business. Mr. Chase and Leah went on to turn the humble restaurant into a white-tablecloth restaurant admired and celebrated around the world.
The restaurant became a meeting place for civil rights leaders. In an upstairs room, the Chases allowed black and white civil rights activists to eat and plan, in violation of the law. The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., James Meredith and Thurgood Marshall all passed through the doors on Orleans Avenue.
“He was a man who took his obligations seriously,” Reese said.
African-American musicians, who were barred at the time from white establishments, also frequented Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. The list of notable customers included Lena Horne, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan and Ray Charles, who mentioned the restaurant in his song “Early in the Morning.”
Later, presidents would come to the Treme restaurant for gumbo and hospitality.