Nov 12, 2017

Paul Pone, clarinetist

A few days ago I received an email with a subject line reading “Paul Pone,” from someone I didn’t know. I took private lessons from “Mr. Pone” through middle school and high school, back in the 1960s. All I knew about his background was that he had received his musical training in Italy, and had come to the United States as a young man. He passed away in 1984 at the age of 90.

The email was from a local guy, Dave, who had acquired some of Paul’s personal documents at an estate sale (not Paul's estate, though). Dave thought the documents should go to Paul's family, but he had no luck locating them (Paul had no children). On my studio website I had listed Paul Pone as one of my teachers, so Dave contacted me, and decided I should have the documents.

The documents are really interesting - in particular, a two-page memoir that Paul typed up in 1977. He wrote about both his family background, and the story of how he came to the U.S. and became a music teacher. It’s a great story. Here’s a summary:

Paulo Pone was born in 1894. The Pone family lived in Pacentro, Italy. Paul was one of five children. He attended school through high school, also apprenticed to be a tailor, and studied music at the Sulmona Conservatory. After high school he studied in Naples at the Music Conservatory of San Pietro A Majella, and also studied tailoring in Naples at the “Italo-American School of Cutting.”

When he got back to Pacentro he decided he didn’t want to stay. Two of his sisters had emigrated to the United States. His mother told him that he could go to the U.S. also, as long as he stayed with his sister Christina and her husband Joe. Paul embarked for the U.S. from Naples in March, 1913.

Joe lived in a coal mining camp in Brilliant, New Mexico. The camp supplied coal for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (Brilliant is now a ghost town). Joe was working as the manager of a company saloon, but had bought a saloon in Suffield, Colorado, and was about to move. Paul describes his work:

I began to work with Joe in the saloon, from 7 am to 10 pm, first had to put beer on tap then fill bottles of liquor to serve, put bottle beer on ice, two different kinds, then sweep the saloon, wash and clean spitoons, wash all glasses behind the bar. The saloon was about a quarter of a mile North from camp in the valley close to the railroad track. I slept in it at night. I used to hear bumps and knocks on the door at night, but I was not afraid…had two .45 pistols with me.
After about four months in Suffield the 1913 miners' strike now known as the Colorado Coalfield War occurred, culminating in the Ludlow MassacreJoe, Christina and Paul moved again, to Raton, New Mexico, where Joe opened up another saloon. Paul was in debt, and worked even longer days for Joe, including playing a show at the saloon until 11 at night:
…got up at five and did the same job, janitor and bartending, for 50 per month…sweep and wash the floor with the rest of the work, also wash the big mirror back of the bar, 5 to 7 a bite to eat and then play the show at night till 11, then to bed and up at 5 the next morning. By working day and night I paid my bills and sent money to mother and dad in Italy.
When the US declared war in 1917, Paul "thought I should do something for my adopted country." He joined the Army, and was assigned to an Army band. The armistice was signed in 1918, so he never was sent overseas. He was discharged in 1919, and at the suggestion of a fellow musician, came to San Francisco.

Through the 1920s and 1930s, Paul played in Bay Area theatres, with the Golden Gate Park Band (it still exists today), and in occasional radio performances. He married his wife, Edith, who I remember, in 1923.

Around 1940, with music jobs scarce due to the depression, he drew on his tailoring training, and took a job as foreman of the clothing factory at Alcatraz Penitentiary for a couple of years. During WWII he worked at the Oakland shipyards. In 1943, Paul saw a notice in the AFM Musician paper advertising a teaching position with the San Francisco School District. He auditioned for a professor at SF State, obtained an emergency teaching credential, and “that was the beginning of my teaching career.”

Paul's memoir ends there. When I studied with Mr. Pone in the 1960s, he had moved to Los Altos, and had a busy private teaching schedule. I'm pretty sure that he still played with the Golden Gate Park Band in SF on Sundays.

Paul was a fine classical clarinetist. He showed me the basics of saxophone, and could read jazz charts well, but classical clarinet was really his forte. He was an incredibly patient teacher, and never gave me a hard time for a bad practice week. 

San Francisco State University offers a scholarship for talented music students called the "Paul Pone Forgivable Loan." I'm guessing that he endowed this program in his will. I recall that Paul liked to play the stock market; I think he started early.

It was pretty amazing that those papers found their way to me (many thanks, Dave!). The company that staged the estate sale had no idea how the papers came into their possession. The memoir goes into more detail than I have summarized here, and there are a few other interesting documents dating from as early as 1913. 
If anyone in Paul’s family reads this post, I hope you will contact me. My contact info is here.