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The disappearing Cincinnati jazz scene

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Interesting (and rather alarming) article on the disappearing Cincinnati jazz scene.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer today:

http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/art...02260313/-1/rss

A faded jazz scene

Once-swinging clubs are silent, great musicians unappreciated

BY JANELLE GELFAND | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER

It started in the 1920s, when Cincinnati's founding father of jazz, Artie Matthews, introduced ragtime. By the 1930s, crowds shimmied and shook at the Cotton Club on Mound Street. Cincinnati was fertile ground for some of the biggest jazz talent in the country.

Today that legacy is endangered. The days of streets lined with jazz clubs are long gone and players must leave town to find work. Many great players earn less than $100 for an evening of music. And, in a town where at one time blacks couldn't stay at the hotels where they performed, signs of Cincinnati's segregated past are still evident in the jazz clubs, musicians say.

"When I was playing in all these different clubs in Cincinnati, you could walk from club to club. Now, people have forgotten about the music," says local pianist Billie Walker, who studied with Matthews.

"Heroes are not remembered, artists are not praised, and it's really sad," says Arzell Nelson, guitarist, composer and winner of the 1981 Ohio Valley Cool Jazz Festival Award.

Cincinnati was a jazz mecca, a crossroads in the American heartland where jazz greats traveling to New York, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Kansas City passed through on trains and riverboats. WLW radio, the "nation's station" with a 500,000-watt reach in the 1930s, lured virtually every major musician to the Queen City. Fats Waller joined the staff in 1932, and played organ for the station's theme song, "Moon River."

"Even if Cincinnatians had wanted to, they would not have been able to ignore this wonderful music," wrote William Lawless Jones, a Cincinnati jazz historian who died in 2000.

In the music files of the Cincinnati Historical Society, African-American musicians are conspicuously absent.

Names such as bandleader Zack Whyte and his Zanesville-born trumpeter Melvin James "Sy" Oliver - who became one of the finest arrangers in the business - were active in the '20s. Jimmy Mundy, born in Walnut Hills in 1907, left to become an arranger for Earl Hines, Count Basie and Paul Whiteman. Mundy arranged the Big Band classic "Sing Sing Sing" for Benny Goodman.

Frank Foster, a graduate of Walnut Hills High School, achieved fame as a bandleader for the Count Basie Orchestra. In the '30s and '40s, African-Americans jitterbugged to swing bands at Music Hall's Greystone Ballroom.

Many jazz greats came out of Cincinnati's West End, including Sadie Birch, "the Sarah Vaughan of Cincinnati in the '30s and '40s," Nelson says.

Then there's George Russell, 82, who wrote a groundbreaking theory book - a bible for jazz players - and helped establish the jazz program at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

"He did those remarkable arrangements for Dizzy Gillespie - 'Cubano Be, Cubano Bop.' In the second part of 20th century, he ranks with Duke Ellington," says Oscar Treadwell, host of "Jazz with OT" on WVXU-FM (91.7).

"My next door neighbor was the arranger and saxophonist Jimmy Mundy," recalls Russell, who grew up in Walnut Hills. "Another neighbor played the saxophone, and when I heard him, I decided to be a musician."

Russell remembers when most Cincinnati hotels would not allow black artists to book rooms, so they would board with local families.

"One time, my mother took in several of Duke's musicians," he says.

Until the mid-1960s, there were two musicians' unions: one for blacks, one for whites. Today, audiences and players of mostly one race still gravitate to certain clubs. While jazz is an African-American invention, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music jazz department has just one black faculty member, trombonist Marc Fields.

Drummer Art Gore studied with Russell at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In the '70s, Gore toured and recorded with superstar jazz guitarist George Benson. He recalls one exciting night in the '80s when Benson came to town and sat in with him at the Greenwich.

Today, to make a living, musicians play private gigs in country clubs. It's good money, but it doesn't allow freedom to improvise. Walker, who is also a singer, is frustrated that she cannot use her creative powers.

Pianist William Menefield, 25, graduated in June from CCM in composition, but is leaving soon to "see what the scene is like elsewhere."

The musicians wonder why jazz has not caught on in Cincinnati when it thrives in cities such as Dayton, where the great Billy Strayhorn was born. Some cite jazz's reputation - small ensembles playing in smoky dives - and say it was too impure for the Ivory Soap city. Many jazz players have fallen victim to drugs.

One of Cincinnati's finest jazz composers, Odell Jackson, wrote a symphonic composition while he was in prison. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra premiered his "Introduction and Allegro for Jazz Trio" in 1971.

"A lot of guys were unfortunately dabbling in heroin," Nelson says. "When he got out of prison, he did arrangements for Nancy Wilson."

"Jazz has always been considered devil music, or the lowest rung on the musical scale," says Treadwell.

In 1997, jazz lovers Barbara Gould, William Mallory, Sr., Marcus Ware and Nelson founded the Greater Cincinnati Jazz Society. They raised money to bring the "100 Years of Jazz" exhibit to Cincinnati.

"All I wanted was to see these incredible musicians recognized," says Gould of Indian Hill, who co-founded J Curve Records to record Cincinnati's jazz legacy. Today, both the label and the society are defunct. Its founders would like to resurrect the society. They hope that the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center can provide a showcase for Cincinnati's jazz greats.

"In order for jazz to be a part of our culture, it has to be consistently showcased," Mallory, the former Ohio House leader and father of Cincinnati's mayor, says. "Maybe this is the beginning. We want to resurrect all of the history and spirit and creativity that we're losing."

William Menefield

'My father plays saxophone, my mom played violin, and I just grew up around it. I had the privilege of sitting right in my living room, listening to some of Cincinnati's greatest musicians rehearse.

"(My dad) produced the It's Commonly Jazz Series for about four years, and I would go with him.

"I started playing piano at age 8 or 9, when my mom took all the televisions out of the house. Piano became my recreation. It was just fun; something I did after coming home from school and doing homework. It was just playing by ear, enjoying discovering what I believe now to be one of the most beautiful instruments. I started composing around the same time.

"Being an African-American, there are so many things attached to jazz music, for me, that make it important for me to be a part of.

"The music has so much to do with African-American history, stemming from the slavery days. That's when the marriage of the rhythms and drumming of West Africa were brought over here to America.

"It was birthed out of a time of serious oppression: slavery. Those things are very important to me. It's so much more than playing the piano and trying to sound good.

"Unfortunately, I think there is some segregation, as far as the music. The jazz scene is a reflection of what goes on in the city as a whole. We recognize that it is a problem. But things are not as blatant as they were in the '50s and '60s, when it was very clear you could not use certain facilities if you were African-American.

"It's so tough to earn a living. It's definitely more than just, 'I love the music.' It's beyond a passion. It's spiritual. It's something that's inside me that I know I just have to get out. If I could not express myself in this way, I would probably explode."

Pianist/composer William Menefield, 25, a University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music graduate, appears locally at Jazz at the Hyatt, Simone's and other venues.

Billie Walker

'My father had a band, and when Artie Matthews came here, my parents hired him to play piano. I heard them practicing all the time. They played ragtime, and that's the way I started playing.

"We would slip into the Cotton Club on Sunday afternoons. There was a man who would let us in and tell us we had to sit in the corner. We were 15 or 16, and didn't know who the people were up there playing. But it was music.

"My mother took me to (Matthews') Cosmopolitan School, downtown on Ninth Street. I started (lessons) with him ... My next teacher was Helen Gromme from the Conservatory. I studied classical music with her until I started with jazz.

"I just enjoyed playing classical music and I enjoyed playing jazz, too.

"I went to the Hall of Mirrors, and that's where (a talent agency) had auditions. I went down there to try out, and there were about 25 of us, but I was the only one they took. My agent asked me if I could sing. I thought, heavens no.

"The first song I sang was 'Body and Soul.' The job I have now is the only job I've ever had where I don't sing.

"My first job was at the Gypsy Inn in Roselawn. The owner liked that I could play classical music.

"I was hired to go to New York to play, and my agent said, 'Don't tell anyone you're from Cincinnati. Say you're from Detroit.'

"I noticed after I left here, people want you to improvise, to play what you feel. Here in Cincinnati, you play it straight - what I can whistle to.

"I remember working five hours every night, and afterward, we would go to another club and continue playing. And you picked up from other musicians what they were doing. But now, there's nothing. I go home at 11 p.m."

Billie Walker performed for many years in New York and has played with Cannonball Adderley and Burt Bacharach. She appears Friday and Saturday nights at the Cincinnatian Hotel. To hear an MP3 file from "The Legend of Billie Walker (Live at the Cincinnatian)," which will be released next month, go to Cincinnati.Com. Keyword: jazz

Art Gore

'I come from a musical family in the West End. My first education was from my uncles, Edison Gore, a drummer, and Rufus Gore, who played sax. I started hanging around musicians when I was about 9, because my uncles brought musicians to the house.

"My uncle saw that I was fascinated by it, so he just gave me some sticks. That was my first lesson.

"I was playing professionally while I was still in (Taft High) school. We had two unions, a separate union for black musicians. I joined the black union in the 11th grade.

"(Later) I joined the union in New York, a great union. It was more about musicians than it was about race.

"I went to Conservatory of Music on Oak Street for private lessons with the principal percussionist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and I went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

"At Berklee, I didn't have a scholarship and I ran out of money. Uncle Sam drafted me. I was supposed to go to Vietnam, but I auditioned for the band. I tell people, music saved my life. I watched a lot of people get on a train to go to Vietnam. Some sad moments. I returned to Berklee on the GI Bill.

"We don't get a lot of support from the media or the city. Last week, we had (jazz legend) Joe Lovano (at the Blue Wisp). Tapes should have been rolling. It's history. So much is gone up in the air ...

"We don't put any importance on it, like we do the ballet or the Cincinnati Symphony. This multimillion dollar endowment they have - you never heard of any endowment for jazz in the city. But when local jazz musicians do good, they say, 'He's from Cincinnati.'

"When I leave here, I'm famous. I can go to Japan and Europe and people know who I am."

Drummer Art Gore toured and recorded with jazz guitarist George Benson from 1972 to 1975. He returned to his hometown in 1981.

Arzell Nelson

'I was born in the West End ... at home on Clark Street. My greatest influence was my father, Willie Nelson, who played tenor sax.

"He made me my first instrument, a flute out of bamboo. My mom played piano. I kinda started playing the blues at first, because my grandmother played the blues. Later on, my father bought me a set of Spike Jones drums. So I tried to mimic Spike Jones when I was 7, and started playing the violin around that time, too.

"When we moved to East Walnut Hills, that's when I really got a sense of what jazz was all about. I lived right around the corner from a jazz club called Herbie's. As a kid of 9 (in the late '50s and early '60s), we'd go listen to all the great jazz players coming through there.

"One of the greatest musicians I ever heard, and I walked to Mount Adams to see him, was Wes Montgomery. Then I got to hear some of the great people around here, like Champ Childress, a great trombone player who played for Lionel Hampton.

"I spent most of my years as a composer/songwriter. I used to write musicals. I signed a brief contract with Columbia Records as a songwriter, (but) I didn't have enough confidence in myself to take the chance and live in New York full time.

"When you're in Cincinnati, you don't realize how significant it is what you do. The attitude you grew up with is, 'Who cares?'

"We've had some of the greatest people in the music industry come out of Cincinnati. The list is long - major people. And it's had little impact in Cincinnati."

Arzell Nelson, a pianist/guitarist, is retired director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission. His musical, "Little Boy Jazz," premiered at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. He's writing a blues musical with Jymii Crawford titled "Beulah's Kitchen."

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For those who have an interest in this article, Steve Tracy's Going to Cincinnati - A History of the Blues in the Queen City (U. of Illinois Press) may also be of interest.

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brownie,

as a native and current cincinnatian who reads the enquirer every day, i have to ask how you found this article from france?

thanks

kulu

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brownie,

as a native and current cincinnatian who reads the enquirer every day, i have to ask how you found this article from france?

thanks

kulu

France is part of the global village nowadays ;)

Truth is I have worked for years in a job that involved giving a helping hand to US newspapers and I have kept an interest on what many of them publish. A quick internet search for jazz-related articles in those papers did the trick!

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just as an historical addendum - Cleveland and Cincinatti have long been important bases of African American music, from the years just after the Civil War to King Records in the 1940s-50s. Ohio was an early stop on the Underground Railroad, as a border state with Kentucky. In the 1870s a Cincinatti journalist named Lafcadio Hearn wrote a series of articles (called Children of the Levee and reprinted many times since) which represent some of the earliest subtantial descriptions of black musicians performing in dives and other disreputable locations. It's a major and important documenation of the music as it existed between avocation and profession in the years before recordings, as it began to take on it's very particular modern character - fascinating stuff -

Edited by AllenLowe

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While some of Cincinnati's circumstances may be unique, the scenario of a dying jazz scene, unfortunately, is not.

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just as an historical addendum - Cleveland and Cincinatti have long been important bases of African American music, from the years just after the Civil War to King Records in the 1940s-50s. Ohio was an early stop on the Underground Railroad, as a border state with Kentucky. In the 1870s a Cincinatti journalist named Lafcadio Hearn wrote a series of articles (called Children of the Levee and reprinted many times since) which represent some of the earliest subtantial descriptions of black musicians performing in dives and other disreputable locations. It's a major and important documenation of the music as it existed between avocation and profession in the years before recordings, as it began to take on it's very particular modern character - fascinating stuff -

The same Lafcadio Hearn of future Japanese travels?

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just as an historical addendum - Cleveland and Cincinatti have long been important bases of African American music, from the years just after the Civil War to King Records in the 1940s-50s. Ohio was an early stop on the Underground Railroad, as a border state with Kentucky. In the 1870s a Cincinatti journalist named Lafcadio Hearn wrote a series of articles (called Children of the Levee and reprinted many times since) which represent some of the earliest subtantial descriptions of black musicians performing in dives and other disreputable locations. It's a major and important documenation of the music as it existed between avocation and profession in the years before recordings, as it began to take on it's very particular modern character - fascinating stuff -

The same Lafcadio Hearn of future Japanese travels?

Wow--I completely missed the Lafcadio Hearn reference the first time around. My grandfather edited a bunch of Hearn's 1870s writings and published them as a book in 1978 (through his own publishing entity, Woodruff Publications). There are a number of university libraries around the country that have the book in their holdings... I'll have to go home tonight and take a look to see if it contains any of the pieces to which Allen is referring.

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Here's my grandfather's Hearn anthology: Lafcadio Hearn: Selected Writings 1872-77

I really will have to check it for the articles that Allen mentions. My grandfather developed an interest in Hearn when he was serving overseas during World War II, and felt that his Cincinnati writings had been somewhat neglected--hence his project to pull some of them together.

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p.s. Sy Oliver was born in Battle Creek, Michigan.

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Was hunting around on the web for sites featuring old/vintage jazz radio programs and came across this article from last summer about a longtime Cincy jazz DJ:

'OT' and all his jazz to settle in again at WVXU

By Rick Bird

Post staff reporter

Beginning Monday, public radio WVXU-FM (91.7) will turn into a predominately news/talk station, but it will still feature some token vintage music programming, from old-time radio to jazz, that has been part of its heritage.

Longtime listeners will find that most of the station's local talk and music shows will not be retained under the new format. But the new owners are bringing back one of Cincinnati's radio legends, Oscar Treadwell, who will host a two-hour jazz show on Sunday nights.

Cincinnati Public Radio Inc., the owner of WGUC-FM (90.9), purchased the Xavier University station this spring for $15 million. The new owner officially takes over WVXU at midnight Monday.

The new format will rely heavily on programming from National Public Radio and other public radio news syndicators, with details of the news and talk format to be announced in the next couple days by WGUC officials.

The station will retain one-hour old-time radio broadcasts at 9 p.m. weeknights and a two-hour block at 8 p.m. Saturdays. It has picked up the syndicated show "The Golden Age of Radio: When Radio Was" hosted by Stan Freberg, which will feature a mix of old-time broadcasts from Bob Hope and Burns and Allen to Jack Benny and various radio dramas such as "The Shadow."

One of the more exciting moves from the new owners is the return of Treadwell, who will host "Jazz with OT," a weekly two-hour jazz show at 9 p.m. Sundays. It will be followed by the syndicated "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz." The New York-based pianist chats weekly with jazz legends.

Treadwell has a storied career as practically the voice of Cincinnati jazz radio dating to his days at WNOP in the '60s. He hosted a jazz/poetry show on WGUC for 23 years, moving to WVXU in the '90s.

Treadwell, 79, joked, "Yes, I thought I was retired, but they approached me about doing this and I became very excited."

"It became obvious that Oscar would be perfect for a show because of his history with both stations," said Rich Eiswerth, president and CEO of Cincinnati Public Radio, who added that a jazz show scored high in surveys.

"It resonated with WGUC and WVXU listeners. It's the one thing that always bubbled up. People said they wish there could be more jazz music."

Two years ago, Treadwell donated his 6,000-piece music collection to the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. He laughed that he may now need to go check out some of his albums.

Treadwell also retains a large vinyl jazz collection that WGUC officials are helping to transfer onto CD for his show's production. In short, Treadwell said the WGUC people made it so easy to renew his show, he couldn't refuse, noting he can do it all out of his home. He's already recorded six shows for the series, which debuts Aug. 28.

"They brought out a (CD) burner and computer so I could make the transition from old tapes to the CDs. It's really rather amazing," Treadwell said, marveling about the ease of the digital radio age in which his voice tracks will be mixed with the music.

Treadwell plans to use recordings of some old jazz profiles he did on WGUC, updating them when necessary, and he still plans some of his trademark poetry readings on the show. Since jazz has come on such hard times in radio, even the announcement of a weekly two-hour show is getting noticed.

"Since the word got out that I was doing this, Blue Note and other companies have already sent me releases," Treadwell said. "It's almost as if they were waiting for somebody to say, 'Yeah I'm going to play some jazz.' "

While the new owners are continuing old-time radio broadcasts with a national syndicator, it remains unclear if Cincinnati radio preservationist group Media Heritage Inc. has a future role at the new WVXU. The organization had a contract with WVXU to provide such programming, but that ended last month. The group is still in negotiations with WGUC officials.

Media Heritage, which produced the show's Saturday night "Big Broadcast," has specialized in collecting and nurturing Cincinnati's rich radio heritage and has produced award-winning shows for WVXU on the city's radio legacy.

WGUC officials are also dropping locally produced music shows such as "When Swing Was King" and "Audiosyncrasies." But it is keeping the syndicated ambient music show "Echoes" and will still have a big-band presence with "Swing with Bill Cartwright" at 10 p.m. Saturdays.

Publication date: 08-18-2005

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Nice. An Oscar for Treadwell.

Would like to mention, too, that the sluff off of the Cincinnatti Conservatory of Music....pianist Phil DeGregg can play, he's a swinger, and an effective teacher. I've had the chance to record him on a tour of Europe and he's worth more as a jazz musician than the brush-off given here.

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WVXU mourns passing

Also a notice posted to the AAJ bulletin board:

>>Radio Personality, Jazz Historian Oscar Treadwell Dead At 79

Posted: 2006-04-01

I regret to announce that my uncle, Arthur K. Pedersen, A.K.A. OSCAR TREADWELL, passed away today, April 1, 2006. He fell ill on Thursday, and was hospitalized until he passed today. His four children were by his side.

According to his wishes, his remains will be donated to scientific study. I am unaware of any planned memorial services at this time.

Paul Evans Pedersen, Jr.

Hammonton, NJ

COOKBEAUX@aol.com <<

Edited by ghost of miles

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Any updates on the Cincinnati scene? I've got work there in December.

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Up.  Coming back in October, just for a few days, 7th through 15th.  Any information?  Thanks.

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