Countdown to Jazz Fest

Chicago loves Jazz Fest, and so do we at STRA.  To get ready for the big weekend, we’ve selected clips of artists remembering their personal and musical influences.

Studs loved talking to musicians, and he was so excited by jazz musicians that he wrote a book about them!  He loved jazz for it’s improvisation, and for its deep roots (along with blues and gospel) in the African-American slave communities. He was fascinated by how jazz musicians worked, often commenting or asking about quirks such as humming while playing.  I have a suspicion that he also liked talking to jazz musicians because he got to stay after hours at the jazz clubs, as he does in the interview with Milt Jackson and Ray Brown.

In 1962, Studs talked with pianist and composer Erroll Garner.  He tells Studs that because he couldn’t read piano music growing up, he was never particularly interested in seeing piano players perform.  It was the big bands that really caught his eye (and ear), and shaped his playing.  As Studs says to him, “In your mind then, you imagine that you are not just playing a piano but that you are a big band!”

Tenor player Lawrence “Bud” Freeman talked with Studs in 1974.  When Studs asks about his influences, Bud Freeman remembers that as a high schooler, he and his friends would visit the jazz clubs in the South Side of Chicago.  He called it “the best education I could have had in music.” He goes on to talk about Jack Pettis and Coleman Hawkins, and how they changed the landscape for the tenor saxophone in jazz.

In 1981, Studs caught up with Milt Jackson and Ray Brown after a performance.  Milt Jackson talks about how his years as a vocalist affect how he plays the vibes.  Ray Brown talks about how important Jimmy Blanton was to his playing, and for bass players in general: “He sounded as interesting playing time as he did playing solos.”

In this clip from a conversation in 1984, singer Lena Horne reflects on her own life experience and seeing the world change as she grew up.  Studs remembers that he and Ms. Horne were both at Paul Robeson’s fiftieth birthday celebration.  She goes on to talk about learning from Paul Robeson: “Paul gave me a sense of my own history.”

A sense of history is perhaps what Studs loved best about jazz – the line of the music, passed from mentor to student, was like a story being retold and reworked for each new generation.


Lena Horne photo By Metro Goldwyn Mayer (ebay front back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
MJQ photo by Philips Records – Billboard, page 21, 7 November 1964, Public Domain,
Erroll Garner photo [Portrait of Erroll Garner, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948] by William P. Gottlieb, courtesy of the Library of Congress –
Bud Freeman photo [Portrait of Bud Freeman, Eddie Condon’s, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948] by William P. Gottlieb, courtesy of the Library of Congress –

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Audio Collage: Civil Rights & Racism

Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to visit the Library of Congress during the opening weekend of the exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Certainly it was inspiring to learn so much about the work of activists, politicians, and everyday people; but it also left me feeling a real grief for our country, that such a thing could have ever taken place here.  And yet it is in having an exchange – a conversation – about this history that may keep us from repeating it.

Studs Terkel understood the power that words and conversation have to affect not only our daily experiences, but the history we choose to make both personally and nationally.  In the conversations I listened to while preparing this collage, Terkel bears witness to the challenges that face underdogs of every stripe, and invites us to do the same.  He asks Muhammad Ali what it was like to read about Emmett Till’s death in the newspaper, when Ali was just a child himself; he talks to a young Puerto Rican activist about his struggles with the local alderman; and he listens to Maya Angelou recall seeing children speak disrespectfully toward her grandmother because she was Black and they were white.

Like the exhibit at the Library of Congress, Terkel’s conversations about civil rights simultaneously reveal the best and worst of human behavior; but through it all, he never loses heart.  He is obviously inspired by the stories he hears; and his speakers’ words, hopeful or heartbreaking, flow clearly through my laptop speakers, as potent as when he first recorded them.

Order of clips:  Pete Seeger; Maya Angelou (reading an excerpt from “When I Think About Myself”); Peter Sellars; three selections from the 1969 “Fiesta: A Chicago Happening” in Lincoln Park (male resident, Terkel, female resident); William Bradford Huie; Charles V. Hamilton; Muhammad Ali; Dr. Neil Sullivan; Terkel and Ali; friend of Paul Robeson at a tribute event; Myles Horton; Terkel and Rosa Parks; John D. Weaver; Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; Pete Seeger (singing).

Thank you to Allison Schein and Sophia Feddersen for their help in building this collage.

-Grace Radkins, Archive Assistant