Letters to the Editor October 2019

The Dreaded D-word

To the Editor:

Your editorial on the term “Dixieland” was right on.

I have been lobbying the Portland Dixieland Jazz Society to change its name back to Traditional Jazz Society, with no success. In my attempts to reach out to high school and college music educators, I learned that the word “Dixieland” is a definite turn-off.

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If we are going to reach a younger generation, we had better brand ourselves with terms that are acceptable to our target audience. Otherwise, it is like going to bat with two strikes against you. That is simply pragmatic marketing.

But like you, I hate what the PC crowd is doing to our language.

For me, the irony is that during the “Jazz Age” of the 1920s, young women in flapper dresses where liberated—drinking, smoking, discarding their girdles, rolling down their hose. And in the honky-tonks, there was considerable mixing of the races. I’ve always thought that hedonistic spirit was suited to our modern era, so perhaps I’m too old to understand.

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Excellent issue as always!

Rick Campbell
Tigard, Oregon

Ed: Thank you so much for your kind note—and for understanding my dilemma as publisher.

The fact is, trying to be ecumenical and all-inclusive is giving me a headache, and one that I don’t see going away any time soon.

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I absolutely do get the objections to “Dixieland” on racist grounds, though. After I published my column, I found a copy of the second Dukes of Dixieland album—and there’s the Confederate battle flag. It was a genuine thrift-store epiphany, cheap at $1.99. So, I understand the paroxysms of righteous outrage. I also understand the old-timers holding onto something they love and can’t see anything wrong with.

My Associate Editor, Joe Bebco, wrote a much more nuanced piece about the term than I possibly could have done. That essay is HERE, and I commend it to your attention. It’s a magnificent piece of writing.

I feel my (somewhat) advanced age is against me as what they call an “influencer” of young people likely to discover the music. Over the course of the next few years, Joe will have an increasingly greater role in determining the editorial direction of The Syncopated Times. Joe is 40; I’m 57. His relative youth makes him more sensitive to the sensibilities of those bound to carry the music forward.

I honestly try not to hurt people’s feelings but I often send forth my observations unfiltered. I’ve always been this way. Twenty-five years ago I was already getting comments on how patently offensive many of my songs and poems were, but this was in the age before some vindictive crusader could go on Twitter and ruin someone’s career and life in a matter of minutes.

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I don’t want to destroy what I’ve worked so hard to create, nor do I want to hurt the cause of Early Jazz itself. We may delight in pushing the envelope; when the envelope pushes back, we’re doomed.

The Davenport Bix Fest

To the Editor:
I am respectfully disagreeing with some of Bill Hoffman’s statements in his Jazz Travels column in the September 2019 issue. Bill and I are friends and enthusiasts of early trad jazz but I apparently will accept a wider range of styles in order to bring in an audience not so narrowly focused. There has been an outcry by younger music fans for more diversity instead of every band playing “Dixieland.” Whether they showed up is the question but many told board members that they liked the band selection. What is the ideal mix of bands? It boils down to one mans opinion. Just a few more things…

Manny Lopez has not been in the festival proper for years and he had to replace his pianist on very short notice with the versatile Jeff Barnhart for the one set that Manny was scheduled to play.

The lack of a key at the museum was due to a car problem. Bill already said that the festival was well run.
It was my understanding that the “festival” in Chicago involving Andy Schumm bands was more of a rehearsal than a festival and was not promoted as such.

The overwhelming issue as to what bands can be selected and how many sets they play is economics. With the disappearance of 33 festivals, it becomes a balancing act of hiring bands that can drive in yet are “good” with a following. I think the Bix Board has balanced all this pretty well.

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Bruce Thorburn
Pleasant Valley, IA

Ed: I’m glad your disagreement with Bill is respectful. (I’ve gotten a few letters of the other kind.) I value Bill as a contributor (and a friend) because he is unswervingly honest in his assessments. He pays his own way to events and calls ’em as he sees ’em. Others may see ’em differently.

Stop the War, Already!

To the Editor:
Dave Doyle’s article on anti-war songs in the September issue of TST left out two “Make Love Not War” songs: “I Don’t Want to Set The World On Fire, I Just Want To Start A Flame In Your Heart” from the WWII era and “Lay Down Your Arms and Surrender To Mine” from the Korean War era. Of course the Viet Nam war had many anti-war songs, but my favorite, actually from 1962, is Phil Ochs’ “Draft Dodger Rag.” It was the song on which I learned to play a moving bass line against a ragtime guitar melody.

Now comes one of my favorite stories. Kenneth Rexroth’s anti-war poem, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” from 1955, ends with the lines, “You killed him! You killed him. / In your God damned Brooks Brothers suit, / You son of a bitch.” When I was a student at the University of Chicago in ’57-’58 everyone there appeared to be familiar with Beat poetry, as it was called then. Our dormitory head resident, as his title was, came into dinner one evening wearing what was obviously a brand new Brooks Brothers suit. He smiled and said, “I killed him,” and sat down to eat. Keep up the good work.

Eliot Kenin
Martinez, CA

Ed: Thank you for the sidelight on this issue. As for Brooks Brothers, I believe they now have a bouncer specifically to keep the likes of me from entering their establishment. And somehow, I don’t think “You killed him! You killed him. / In your K-Mart Basic Essentials” has quite the same effect. – Ed.

 

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