Dallas — We’re at the end of June and for those of you who may not know this, June is Black Music Month all around the United States. I thought I’d spend a moment thinking about America’s classical music, often called jazz. It’s no secret that I’m a passionate fan of the music having grown up in a household where it was played daily. It’s the music to which I create all my own art and it’s the music I played for my children as they were growing up, although they’ve chosen other genres to be passionate about (for now at least!).
When I moved to Dallas in 1980, there were a couple of things I thought I’d miss immensely. One was my family (that hasn’t stopped) and the other was live jazz. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the one music genre I can’t live without was plentiful and quite excellent in Dallas. In the early ’80s there were still some excellent clubs that featured live jazz and I became friends with many of the wonderful and highly talented musicians this city produced. Too many are no longer with us, like the greats such as Shirley McFatter, Marchel Ivery, Eugene Hornsby, James Clay, Claude Johnson, and Jeanette Brantley.
As the years went by, Dallas, like so many other American cities, began to lose its jazz venues and the ability to see live jazz in an appreciative environment became more and more difficult. But there was one spot I could always count on to get my fix and that was Sandaga Market owned by Darryl Thomas. Sandaga was a place that provided me with two of my loves under one roof, jazz and African art, the latter of which in the early ’80s was as scarce as hens’ teeth in our city. Darryl Thomas provided a space for local musicians to play to an attentive audience in an environment replete with beautiful African art. He also routinely presented big national jazz names like Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove and Wes Anderson, with our local musicians often sitting in on the gig.
Some years later, when I took over the South Dallas Cultural Center, I was able to expand the venue options for jazz to gain an appreciative and attentive audience by starting Jammin’ At the Center, a monthly jazz jam aimed at replacing the late-night jam sessions that were once held at the now defunct Green Parrot in South Dallas. I scheduled the jam to start at midnight primarily so as not to cut in on Darryl’s event and to keep the idea of the jam alive since I remembered how important such sessions were to my musician brother in Philly when he was first cutting his teeth in the music.
Last month we lost a man who was jazz’s best friend in North Texas when Darryl Thomas finally succumbed to cancer. His death came exactly five months after Teddy Davey’s transition, Teddy being the second person to also commit to the music in a commercial setting by providing The Balcony Club as a listening room. I mourn both of these wonderful men because with their deaths comes a loss of jazz listening rooms, an absolute requirement for jazz lovers, as far as I’m concerned. There’s nothing more annoying to me than going out to hear the music and having to endure clinking glasses, forks scraping across plates, people laughing and talking loudly because they want to hold conversations over the music. In short, there’s nothing more annoying than how most of the venues in Dallas that offer jazz don’t maintain an inviting atmosphere for a true jazz lover.
I don’t consider myself a Northeastern snob about most things because I’ve been in Texas for over 38 years, so I hope that East Coast snobbery has rubbed off (admittedly, I had it for the first five years!). But I am pretty intolerant of venues calling themselves jazz clubs that aren’t adamant about a code of silence while musicians are playing onstage. Try talking through a set at the Village Vanguard or The Blue Note in New York City and you’ll find yourself escorted out, sometimes politely, sometimes not. Moreover, the dirty looks you’d get from the patrons along with the shushes will shame you into silence! I can’t say I’ve always found this respect for the music with every visit to Sandaga or The Balcony Club but for the most part, they were both pretty respectful rooms for a listening experience, due in large part because both Darryl and Teddy demanded it. They both booked some of our finest musicians on a regular basis and you could rely on having a wonderful evening of jazz that would rival any you’d have in jazz capitols around the world.
I am going to miss both of these jazz impresarios They were ten years apart (both way too young to die; Teddy at 54 years and Darryl at 64) but they shared the same passion for the straight-ahead jazz form and the musicians who play it. The Balcony Club in Lakewood continues to offer jazz thanks to Teddy’s wife Lorena and we still can hear jazz at Sandaga, now called Sandaga 813 in South Dallas. But we are missing two of the best ambassadors for the music in the loss of Darryl Thomas and Teddy Davey, so I want to give a huge shout out to these two brothers in jazz as we come to a close of Black Music Month. You honored the music with class and we thank you for that. Jazz lives!
P.S.: In case you missed it jazz lovers, Lorraine Gordon, owner of the Village Vanguard and the Doyenne of Jazz in New York City died this month at the age of 95. RIP Mrs. Gordon; I’m sure you’re with all your beloved jazz greats now enjoying some fabulous celestial jam session!
» Vicki Meek is a former arts manager, a practicing artist and activist splitting her time between Dallas and Costa Rica. ART-iculate explores issues around race, politics and the arts. You can also keep up with Meek's musings in her blog Art & Racenotes.
» ART-iculate runs on the last Wednesday of the month. (However, because of an editor's error, the April 2018 ART-iculate is running a few weeks late. We'll get back on schedule on May 30.)
- April: Vicki Meek ART-iculates
- May: On Dallas and Cultural Equity
- June: Equity vs. Diversity
- July: An Arts Super PAC?
- August: Too Big to Fail?
- September: It Isn't Us Against Them
- October: Another Missed Opportunity
- November: Neighborhood Arts Center: Not a New Idea
- December: Save Our Summer Programs
- January: The Creative Community in the Trump Era
- February: Being a Black Artist in a White World
- March: Expanding Our Cultural Horizons
- April: Intercultural Self-Determination
- May: A New Cultural Plan
- June: Working for Good
- July: Into the Forest
- August: Saved by Art
- September: Immersed in Cultural Equity
- October: The Artist as Citizen
- November: Understanding Your Roots
- December: No column