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Final Chorus: Expanding the Map

I am grateful for the considerable response from readers to my June column, “Uncovering Jazz Trails.” My hope is that as local newspapers, radio and television stations, and Web sites discover the depth of their cities’ and regions’ jazz roots, there will be more work for emerging local jazz musicians and for their elders who are still an active part of the scene. Along with more of the population, jazz players are lasting longer.

Dana Gioia, head of the National Endowment for the Arts, who has done far more for this music than any of his predecessors, shows no interest in this project. But maybe the International Association for Jazz Education and a consortium of freestanding jazz schools, like the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and the growing number of colleges and universities seriously involved in jazz education, could coordinate further research expanding the map of cities that have made vital contributions to jazz, and still do.

For one of many such examples of how much I didn’t know, I am indebted to Joe Mosbrook of Cleveland Heights who, since 1988, has been conducting a weekly Cleveland jazz history radio series on Cleveland’s NPR affiliate. He sent me a 252-page paperback book, Cleveland Jazz History, published by the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, but only a few copies are left.

One of its many pleasures for me is a chapter on the late Benny Bailey, an extraordinary trumpet player whom I was privileged to record for Candid (Big Brass and Newport Rebels). I hardly see him mentioned anymore. There at least ought to be a street named for him in Cleveland.

And Dr. Ronald Tikofsky wrote me about a city that is being awakened to its past and present jazz history through a group, the Milwaukee Jazz Experience, which, he adds, “supports jazz education in the public and private schools in the greater Milwaukee region, and also sponsors a jazz band made up from students from around the city.”

The Milwaukee Jazz Experience can be reached at P.O. Box 13534, Wauwatosa, WI 53213, and puts out a newsletter. The city also has an enviable 24-hour jazz radio station, WYMS, while many other cities remain bereft of that cultural stimulation heralded in a George Gershwin quote in the Milwaukee Jazz Experience’s newsletter: “True music must repeat the thought and inspiration of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today.” Of course, since Gershwin’s music is still being played, like Duke Ellington’s, it’s worth mentioning William Faulkner’s “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

And from St. Louis, where my daughter, Jessica, directs and performs in the Everyday Circus, featuring the only circus band I know of that includes jazz, klezmer, Japanese, Chinese and Persian musicians, Dr. Dennis C. Owsley has sent me a 200-page paperback: City of Gabriels: The History of Jazz in St. Louis, 1895-1973, with a foreword by Clark Terry. It’s published by the Reedy Press, P.O. Box 5131, St. Louis, MO 63139. Owsley has a long-running jazz program on KWMU.

I suggest to JazzTimes that it might publish Clark’s concise but vivid foreword. And did you know that Duke Ellington discovered Jimmy Blanton in St. Louis when Rex Stewart ran to Duke’s hotel and got him out of bed to hear that astounding young bassist?

City of Gabriels is an oral history, based on Dr. Owsley’s interviews. As he says, “Going directly to the source can lead to the subject placing himself or herself in a favorable light, but sometimes the people on the ground have a better perspective than the professional historian.”

More than sometimes. One of my greatest regrets is that after I got to be friends with Rex Stewart, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Frankie Newton and Jimmy Rowles, I didn’t bring a tape recorder during some of our conversations.

Who but Clark Terry can tell us firsthand in this book about such very early jazz originals as the Mississippi riverboat trumpet players Charlie Creath, “The King of the Cornets,” and Dewey “Squirrel” Jackson? (All parents knew it was time to pick up their kids because they could hear Dewey playing all the way down the river as the boat came in.)

And Milt Krieger is finding much jazz lore in the state of Washington. He’s writing a jazz history of Bellingham and Whatcom County: “Mid-20th century players, with stories of their predecessors, some on audiotape, join a host of currently active local musicians and other jazz people as sources.” He’s at 1313 Heritage Hill Court, Bellingham, WA 98226.

I plan to contribute on these jazz trails, and I am eager to get works-in-progress from other cities and regions. There has to be a lot more source material in the Southwest (Ornette Coleman would be a prime source, but also the players who stayed home).

And not enough has been heard from musicians on the jazz scenes, then and now, in Memphis, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Atlanta, parts of Florida and more. (You can e-mail me c/o JazzTimes.)

I’d also like to know more about city and state organizations devoted to this life force, such as Jazz in Arizona, Inc., in Scottsdale, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Its Jazz Notes newsletter includes a story on the Jazz in Arizona scholarships “to assist emerging jazz musicians ages 14 to 22, who have a goal of continuing the study and performance of jazz throughout their lifetimes.” Jazz in Arizona is at P.O. Box 9651, Scottsdale, AZ 85352.

There’s a very active disability rights organization I write about called Not Dead Yet. Neither is jazz. Originally Published

Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

Over more than 60 years, Nat Hentoff (1925-2017) wrote about music, politics, and many other subjects for a variety of publications, including DownBeat (which he edited from 1953 to 1957), the Village Voice (where he was a weekly columnist from 1958 to 2009), the Wall Street Journal, and JazzTimes, to which he regularly contributed the Final Chorus column from 1998 to 2012. Of the 32 books that he wrote, co-wrote, or edited, 10 focus on jazz. In 2004, Hentoff became the first recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Masters award for jazz advocacy.