Martin Manuel Gabriel (1898-1982)
Martin Manuel Gabriel — also known as “Little Manny” — started out as a drummer but spent the majority of his career as a clarinet player. Martin Manuel, in later years known simply as “Manny,” studied clarinet under the revered Professor Jim Humphrey (grandfather of the renowned brothers Percy and Willie Humphrey). He played in Big Manny’s National Jazz Orchestra of New Orleans, The Work Progress Administration Band (WPA), and The Gabriel Trio Band with brothers Percy and Clarence. He continued the family legacy by teaching his children and giving music lessons. In the 1940s he moved his family to Detroit and continued playing New Orleans music in the Motor City.
Clarence Gabriel (1905-1981)
Clarence Gabriel became a valuable rhythm section player, adept at piano, guitar and banjo, in several different ensembles fronted by his father Martin Joseph. He was known to play piano in nickel- and dime-a-dance halls. He also taught his younger brother Percy how to play the guitar and in the 1940s played piano in Percy’s band at the Club Moulin Rouge.
Percy Gabriel (1915-1993)
Percy Gabriel was a bassist and singer for the majority of his career. Early on he played tenor saxophone but switched to bass, playing his first gig with his brother Clarence after one lesson. In the mid-1930s he worked regularly with trumpeter Kid Rena and in about 1936 joined saxophonist Harold Dejan playing on a pleasure boat traviling between New Orleans and New York.
The idea to jump ship and stay in the Big Apple occurred to many a jazzman in these circumstances. Percy did just that, adjusting to a new life in Harlem working with players such as Bob Robinson. He also went on tour to Florida with Jack Sneed, a guitarist and vocalist. When that broke up Percy returned to New Orleans and lead his own band at the Club Moulin Rouge and working with ensembles led by Hubert Leary, Papa Celestin, and Sidney Desvigne among others. Don Albert pulled him west to Texas for a stint in a territorial band and later he traveled across the United States with pianist as bassist and band manager for pianist Jay McShann. He was also on the road with drummers Jesse price and Paul Barbarin, as well as with banjo man Danny Barker and with Lucky Millender’s orchestra
Percy moved to Detroit in 1951 where he lead various small combos before he and his brother Manny joined the Kats and Jammers led by trumpeter Jimmie “Deacon” Jones. When Jones retired it became the Gabriel Brothers New Orleans Jazz Band which was in demand in Detroit and elsewhere for the next three decades until Percy’s death in 1993.
In his old age Percy Gabriel became a valuable resource for music historians, providing anecdotes from eras when he worked for only a dollar a night at New Orleans Clubs.