Jazz Jottings: A Supreme Love of Jazz

Music played an integral part in the frequent parties the late Sandra Day O’Connor held in Washington, D.C., when she was a sitting justice in the U.S. Supreme Court and after her retirement. She had a legendary reputation for bringing people together in an informal setting to build friendships and working relationships to advance civil discussion and civic action.

In a 2008 event, a band that included Bob Schulz, John Cocuzzi, Pieter Meijers, Richard Simon, Ray Templin, Eddie Erickson, and Jim Armstrong shared a meal with the then-retired Justice before their performance. She mentioned how impressed she was in the way musicians interact and communicate to produce quality music.

Hot Jazz Jubile

In thanking the band members at the conclusion of the concert for their part in the occasion, she said, “Your performance was especially meaningful to me because jazz musicians communicate with each other and listen to each other in an effort to create a good final product. That is exactly the process that all of us should employ in legislative bodies and in gatherings to resolve important public issues. It is jazz that points the way.”

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center Wynton Marsalis – Photo Credit_Nick Himmel for Jazz at Lincoln Center

In 2017, stride pianists Stephanie Trick and husband Paolo Alderighi were the featured artists for “A Supreme Evening of Jazz,” a scholarship benefit for the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute at Arizona State University, where the retired Supreme Court associate justice was seated in the front row greatly enjoying the music. The Institute “works to build consensus from collaborations that help craft solutions to vital public issues in an environment of mutual respect and shared purpose for a better nation.”

After nearly a dozen years at the helm, Terry Myers announced he will no longer be leading the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. “It’s been a thrill to stand in front of the band for almost 12 years. I never tired of being a part of this great sound. Such great charts and so many wonderful players from all over the country and beyond. This has been a special part of my career which I will always cherish.”

Evergreen

Buddy Morrow, former TDO leader, said about Terry “undoubtedly one of the best all-around reed players in the country today. His versatility and expertise on the clarinet and saxophone are a treat to the ears.”

An Iowa native, Terry was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves for five years. After honing his musical skills in Nashville and New York City, he moved to Florida where he was band leader at Disney World’s Epcot Center and leader of the band at Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Emporium, which was part of the popular Church Street Station entertainment complex in downtown Orlando.

In 1990, he became one of the original members of Bill Allred’s Classic Jazz Band. Two years later, he was invited to form and lead a “Tribute to Benny Goodman” orchestra that performed for many years at such attractions as Busch Gardens, Cypress Gardens and the major concert halls throughout the country.

Some memorable moments from the past were nostalgically recalled last month when fans of the Cakewalkin’ Jass Band celebrated the 80th birthday of Ray Heitger, the only leader in its 56 year existence, at the original Tony Packo’s Café, a Hungarian-style restaurant in Toledo, Ohio, where the band packed the place Friday and Saturday nights for 33 years.

A self-taught clarinetist who plays strictly by ear, Heitger formed his first band, the New Orleans Footwarmers, at the age of 19 in his hometown of Beaver, Pennsylvania. He moved to Toledo to get a Master’s degree in mathematics in 1965 and organized the Cakewalkers two years later.

Nauck

When his children were young, the Heitgers had a family band. Mother Elizabeth was on piano, son Duke on trumpet, and the three daughters sang or played guitar or gutbucket. Duke has been playing professionally since he was 12 and has been based in New Orleans for the past 32 years.

Ray Heitger recalled, “To me, jazz covers every human emotion. We got to see two generations of parents drag their kids to the restaurant kicking and screaming, only for the youngsters to find that Dixieland was a lot more appealing and fun than they originally thought.”

Mention of Packo’s is a story unto itself. Established in 1932, the restaurant’s signature sandwich features a Hungarian sausage called Kolbasz served on rye and flavored with a spicy chilli sausage. Because the sausage was so large, Tony Tacko cut it in half so it was the size of an American hot dog and could be sold for five cents during the Depression. Packo’s was mentioned in six episodes of the M*A*S*H television series by Corporal Klinger, played by Toledo native Jamie Farr.

Elvis

One trait that says a lot about peripatetic drummer Danny Coots is his concern for his fellow man. In 2009, Danny met Danny Matson of Columbus, Wisconsin, at the San Antonio Ragtime Festival. Over the ensuing four years, the two developed a friendship and affinity based essentially on the fact that they both shared the same first name.

A non-musician and self-described “ragtime junkie,” Danny Matson was enamored with early jazz and regularly attended traditional jazz and ragtime events. But in his early 70s, he lost his wife and was beginning to deal with serious health issues, the most significant of which was chronic kidney disease.

On one occasion, the two Dannys were having lunch in Houston, and a conversation developed over the fact that they were almost exactly the same height and weight and wore the same size clothes. Danny Coots continued, “When he asked about my blood type and heard that we both were B negative, I found myself saying, ‘What can I do to give him a kidney?’ Danny Matson couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but after discussing with their families and doctors, they decided to proceed with the donation process.

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Kidney Transplant in 2013

Kimberly Coots drove her husband to Madison from their home in Nashville in early December of 2013 with a set of drums in the back seat so Danny could practice during his recuperation. The procedure took place at the University of Wisconsin Transplant Center. Danny the donor obviously went first, followed immediately by the transplant to Matson by a different surgical team. Danny C’s ever-present sense of humor was evident even during the operation when he asked his surgeon to take a photo of the donated kidney with his iPhone in the few moments it sat outside his body on the table.

The capper to this feel-good story is that Danny Coots’ donation of a kidney undoubtedly added 10 years to Danny Matson’s life. Drummer Danny played in Madison, a few weeks before Danny Matson died this past April. Always a smart dresser, Matson’s desire was to give Coots all of the suits that he prized so dearly. His daughter brought 20 of them to the extended care facility where the ailing Danny was smiling from ear to ear as Danny Coots accepted his generous gift.

The latest in tee shirt slogans: “Yes, I’m Old School. I have good manners. I show others respect, and I always help those who need me. It’s not because I’m Old School. It’s because I was raised properly.”

Lew Shaw started writing about music as the publicist for the famous Berkshire Music Barn in the 1960s. He joined the West Coast Rag in 1989 and has been a guiding light to this paper through the two name changes since then as we grew to become The Syncopated Times.  47 of his profiles of today's top musicians are collected in Jazz Beat: Notes on Classic Jazz.Volume two, Jazz Beat Encore: More Notes on Classic Jazz contains 43 more! Lew taps his extensive network of connections and friends throughout the traditional jazz world to bring us his Jazz Jottings column every month.

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