Equal Time


I want to thank Pacific magazine, and writer Linda Keene, for giving me the opportunity to personally clarify some statements in your March 24 article ("A Powerful Weakness").

My friend, Linda Navarro, agreed to be interviewed for a story on her lifelong heroin addiction, in the hope that it might be a help to others with similar drug problems.

Trumpet great Fats Navarro, and his wife Rena, both junkies, passed their addiction on to Linda at birth. That same year Fats died at 26.

Several years prior to this, I had graduated from Wenatchee High School at age 16 in 1945. I'd done a bit of drinking through my senior year, but when I left little Wenatchee for big Chicago to attend Northwestern University, one of my high-school teachers told me to search out some of that "good Chicago Light Green." It didn't take long to locate this high-grade marijuana, and less time to believe, "If you think that's good, try this." My classmates, coming back from World War II to take advantage of college on the GI Bill, introduced me to "life." They were 26, 27, 28 years old and had seen the world. I had just turned 17, and had seen Central Washington.

After a couple of years I quit school, a confirmed junkie, and left for New York City. Having had work offered in one of the top jazz clubs in Harlem, I started work the night I arrived in town. Within a few weeks I was hired to record with a group that included Charlie Parker's drummer, Max Roach, and Fats Navarro. Max has led a clean life, but both Fats and I had, as Pacific magazine stated, two things in common: "their love of jazz and their addiction to heroin."

We did other record dates together before Fats' death, and he took me to many places where my playing was heard, leading me into a series of traveling jobs with the bands of Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Artie Shaw, Charlie Barnet, Claude Thornhill and others. All of this was fine and exciting on the outside, but sick on the inside.

A bust in Detroit while traveling with the Bob Hope show sent me home to Wenatchee, a "failure." This was in 1951. I met my wife, Midge, in 1952 and we're still together nearly 40 years later. The first years included another shot at "one-nighters," again with top bands but this time as an alcoholic. After several years back in New York, another bust, and home again, having "failed" a second time.

From '61 to '69, alcohol and psychedelics cushioned in marijuana smoke were the drugs of choice.

All of this verifies one part of your article: "Lanphere eventually is busted and sent back to Wenatchee. Navarro eventually breaks down and dies." Later you said, "Lanphere, who now lives in Bellevue, is still recording music."

This was all true, but incomplete. To people who don't know me, it evidently appeared that I might still be a junkie. Since much of my current business includes not only playing, but also working with 55 private students, and doing assemblies, improvisation clinics, and concerts in high schools and colleges, it is necessary that I get to include the "happy ending" that has brought about 21 beautiful and rewarding years for Midge and me.

In November 1969, I was unexpectedly asked by a hippie in a Denny's restaurant, "Hey, what do you think of Jesus?" I tried to get away. I didn't make it. The heroin addiction had ended in 1951, all else on Nov. 5, 1969.

These last 21 years have included an interview on the 700 Club, innumerable appearances in church, plus anti-drug talks in schools, prisons and hospitals. I have seen and been part of a number of situations where the Lord Jesus removed drug addiction without withdrawal symptoms. My own case was one.

I hope that the many who have called asking, "What are you going to do about that article in Pacific magazine?" will see this letter and will give you credit for giving me equal time. It is appreciated.

I also hope that Linda Navarro will be able to get back to her work. This is her strongest desire.

In closing, I quote from an article that appeared in the London Sunday Telegraph. It was part of a review of a playing engagement I had there:

"He spoke of two sojourns in New York City ` . . . musically fruitful but a personal failure. From '48 to '51 I was a heroin addict . . . from '58 to '61, an alcoholic.' He speaks of these things with undramatised matter-of-factness, the way another man might recall the jobs he has had. He describes his conversion to Christianity in 1969 in similarly casual terms; he doesn't metaphorically speaking, harrangue you on your doorstop, but simply tells you what happened to him. Then, he picks up his tenor saxophone, goes on the stand, and demonstrates that the fire, speed and imagination that he once believed could be acquired through a small hole in the arm, actually comes from somewhere else entirely."

Thanks again. - Don Lanphere Bellevue