May 15, 2013

98-year-old recalls big band days

PLATTSBURGH — Chet Lavalley has spent his life doing what he loves.

The 98-year-old was born in Champlain in 1915.

Lavalley began playing the saxophone when he was about 15 years old.

“I’m still playing,” he said.


He was instantly attracted to music, and it eventually became central to his life.

“I fell in love with that,” Lavalley said. “That’s what I made up my mind to study.

“It wasn’t very long after I got my first job at Meridian Hotel during the bootlegging days.”

He was a member of a 16-piece band at the Meridian, which was north of Champlain across the border.

“The (bars) were all secret,” he said.

Lavalley said he loves the sound of big band music, his favorite genre.

Over the years, he played in various bands in countless nightclubs on the West Coast.


Even though tobacco and alcohol were plentiful in his work environment, he never smoked or drank, he said.

“I didn’t care for it,” Lavalley said.

But he doesn’t push his views on others.

“I don’t like to give advice,” he said, chuckling. “It wouldn’t be right. It’s their life.”


His healthy choices likely contributed to his longevity, though, he said.

“I’m pretty lucky. I’m supposed to go golfing tomorrow,” Lavalley said on Saturday.

For years, he has played golf at the North Country Golf Club in Rouses Point with his son, Bruce Lavalley of Cumberland Head.

These days, though, he sticks to nine holes.

“It’s not like it used to be,” he said.

Lavalley also enjoys bowling.

“I bowled just as good as any of them. As a matter of fact, I’m next to the highest in average (with those he plays with),” he said.

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