Darnell Howard: A Musician’s Life, Part One

In jazz history, “Chicago jazz” is often associated with the groundbreaking New Orleans musicians who made the Windy City their home during the twenties. “Chicagoan” usually refers to a group of younger players inspired by those pioneers. Common usage aside, Darnell Howard was a Chicagoan in the most catholic sense of the word. Born and raised in the midwestern capital and flexing talent and musical versatility from an early age, Howard embedded himself in Chicago’s thriving music scene during the twenties. Classical instruction and a knack for picking up instruments and repertoire made him an asset to bandleaders. An exciting style and pleasant personality sustained a decades-long career that brought him all over the world. Later in life, he would inspire new generations of players and listeners on the West Coast and beyond. Through it all, this Chicagoan remained a highly individual exponent of Chicago jazz outside any geographic or temporal borders. Howard crossed paths with jazz’s seminal figures at pivotal points in the music’s history. Yet in addition to these well-known watersheds, Howard’s life reveals multiple sides to a name often read as filler in personnel listings. He was a working musician since before he even finished high school: an orchestral player, a pit band accompanist, a cabaret performer, a section saxophonist, a “Dixieland revivalist,” an
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Andrew J. Sammut has covered music for All About Jazz, The Boston Classical Review, The Boston Musical Intelligencer, Early Music America, The IAJRC Journal, and his blog The Pop of Yestercentury. Andrew also works as a freelance copyeditor and writer. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and his dog.

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