Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Such Sweet Sorrow

Shakespeare had it right about parting— so sorry to come to the end of my online Jazz History class, so sweet that I got to do it with such lovely people. By the end, there were 10 or so that stayed with it the whole year, a spirited and diverse group of folks that got to enjoy each other even on the distant gridded squares simply because we all were on the same marvelous trip. 


It reminded me of my very first Jazz/Orff Course in 1988 at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Nationally acclaimed Orff teacher Jane Frazee invited me to teach this groundbreaking course and when only six people signed up, we re-negotiated the salary and decided to hold the course. At the end of the five days, the class gifted me with a Lake Wobegon T-Shirt with a little message hand-embroidered on it: The First Six. I took it as a prophecy that they knew there would be more and wanted to be written into the history books as the first six bold explorers. 


Indeed, I have taught such a course every year since in a wide variety of places— over 30 glorious years culminating in the extraordinary New Orleans Jazz Course in 2019. 2020 was an online version and this summer will be the first with neither a live nor an online Jazz Course. But note that the Jazz Course was a hands-on experience of how anyone can play some basic swingin’ jazz and teach their kids the same. I always had a short section each day on Jazz History, but it was the proverbial drop in the bucket of a subject that deserved so much more. And so the chance this year to wholly stretch out, to let go of the active playing so unsatisfying online and delve deeply into the stories, recordings, videos that work just fine on the screen (minus the frustration of wimpy computer speakers for the music) helped compensate for the loss of the live course— at least until next summer, when I hope to revive it back in New Orleans.


And so like that first course in St. Paul, I hope this will be the first of many more Jazz History courses to come, both live and online. As I told the class yesterday, I will always have a special affection in my heart for the “first ten,” the pioneers that stayed on board with me for the whole voyage (and those who also joined for whatever time they could manage). Here’s the little note I wrote to them:


And so we come to the end of the study that has no end. 9 months, 32 classes, 64 hours, just barely enough time to begin this journey into a world that brings us comfort, solace, energy, joy, a world that challenges our mind, opens our heart, gets our bodies dancing, lifts up our spirit  and enlarges our soul. A uniquely American and yet universal art form, born from the worst of who we have been while moving us constantly to the best we might become. 

By participating in this expedition, you have fulfilled a patriotic duty so few of our fellow citizens have even begun or even know exists. You have helped bring healing to the Ancestors, the Descendants and to all of us right here in the present moment. Immeasurable thanks to each and every one of you, to our wonderful guest artists Kofi Gbolonyo, Tom Pierre, T.S. Monk, Regina Carter, Herlin Riley, to the East Coasters staying up so late, to the faraway folks watching the recordings, to Laura Ruppert for hosting the sessions, to SF Orff Course for sponsoring them, to Zoom for making them possible, to the kids in the SF School who shared this work with me for 45 years and most of all, to all the jazz musicians who worked tirelessly to bring so much beauty to the world and make their voices heard  in the face of a culture that tried to shut them down. May they inspire us to make our own voices heard—artistically, politically, humanistically. Hope we all meet again further down the road. Preferably in New Orleans!       

 - Much love, Doug


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