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Unsung Heroes: 20th-Century High School Jazz Teachers

Jefferson High School Los AngelesA Los Angeles City Beat article sings the praises of Jefferson High, the school that gave us alto saxophonist Marshall and trumpeter Ernie Royal, drummer Chico Hamilton, saxophonist Jackie Kelso, drummer Bill Douglass, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, trumpeter Lamar Wright, singer Ernie Andrews, violinist Ginger Smock, alto saxophonist Sonny Criss, trumpeter Art and bassist Addison Farmer, alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, trombonist Horace Tapscott, and singers Jesse Belvin and O.C. Smith. (You can hear L.A. jazz historian Steven Isoardi talk about Jefferson’s impact as well as its influential music instructor, Samuel Browne, in our program Come On Down to Central Avenue.)

Captain Walter DyettI’ve long thought that the African-American high school music teachers of the 1930s, 40s and 50s such as Samuel Browne, Chicago’s Du Sable instructor Captain Walter Dyett, the music department of Detroit’s Cass Tech, and Indianapolis’ Crispus Attucks music master Russell Brown were the unsung heroes of 20th-century American jazz. Somebody should write a book documenting the contributions of these quiet but demanding men and women who did so much to shape the musical minds of several generations of jazz artists. The teachers themselves are long gone, but some of their students are still with us.

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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