[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ot a seat was empty in the bottom level of Margaritaville’s Paradise Theater on the evening of March 27. On stage, musicians of the Bill Causey Big Band were ready — brass instruments reflected the theater’s lights and a lone rose and trumpet sat on an empty stool. Emotions were heavy. This wasn’t a typical Big Band Tuesday at the Bossier City casino.
Dedicated to the man who started it all, the night gave tribute to the late Bill Causey — musician, educator, friend and legend. Bill died Feb. 28 but the impact he made on the community continues. Emceed by Paul Tinker, also a musician, he read memories from loved ones between each song.
“He was an educator, working musician and band leader. And he loved to teach students,” Tinker said. “From the Centenary Oyster House, Casino Magic, Chicky’s, Lee’s to Margaritaville, this band was a dream of his. This band has been together for over 40 years. What a legacy he started.”
Born in Natchitoches but raised in Shreveport, Bill Causey graduated from C. E. Byrd High School and then earned a B.S. in music and a M.S. in business administration from Centenary College. Judy, his wife of 51 years, said that music was in his blood.
“His dad (Billie Causey, Sr.) being a trumpet player himself, had him playing the trumpet by the time he could walk but his dad was his primary teacher,” she said.
Judy played the French horn but attended Fair Park High School. She played in Bill’s father’s summer band at Centenary and became acquainted with Bill through music. Judy was a year ahead in school and although she was Bill’s date for his senior prom, the two wouldn’t officially date for another four or five years.
Bill proposed to Judy at Smith’s Cross Lake Inn over dinner and in the coming years they would raise three children — Andrew Causey, Chad Causey and Megan Frederick.
After a year directing band at Broadmoor Junior High, he went to Captain Shreve High School where he worked as the band director for 25 years. His son Chad said he started a jazz band at Captain Shreve because his students wanted one.
“They were like, can we have a jazz band?’ And he said ‘well I’ve never done that before. Ok, we’ll learn it together,” Chad said. “Dad learned with his first band. So he started playing jazz and fell in love with it pretty quick. All those guys in that band fell in love with it. And they’re still playing.” Some of his students from that first jazz band, such as George Hancock, became members of the Bill Causey Big Band Orchestra.
Bill’s love for jazz was only surpassed by his love for family and his students. A man with endless energy and a fondness for speed, it made sense that jazz and big band would be his preferred styles of music. In fact, one of his favorite songs in recent years was Groovin’ Hard. It was the first song played by the Big Band at Bill’s funeral service.
“It’s just a driving, swing chart with lots of energy. Very much like him,” Chad said. “It doesn’t mess around. It has this big loud opening and he loved seeing people jump on that first note. There’s no warning.”
When Bill retired from teaching, he began working at The Band House, a local store that sells musical instruments. He took over the business and opened two more locations. Meanwhile, he continued to lead the Bill Causey Big Band and as Judy said, one of his strengths was his ability to spot strong musical talent.
“That’s the thing. He found the musicians and built the band himself,” she said. “If you’re asked to be in that band, you’re good.”
And according to Chad, who often works the sound booth at Margaritaville’s Big Band Tuesday, the band sounded as good as ever during the tribute to Bill. However, something was absent that evening.
“When dad was up in front, he just had a presence that you really don’t get from anybody else,” Chad said. “I didn’t realize he was unique in that way because he had been up there my whole life and I was used to that. But with him not being there, it’s missing.”
Like the empty stool on the stage, a void is left in the Bill Causey Big Band, but the Big Band will continue to play — just as Bill would have wanted.
To honor his memory, the Causeys have created the Bill Causey Scholarship Fund for graduating seniors pursuing a college degree in music. Donations can be made through The Band House, 925 Westgate Lane in Bossier City.