Eddie Durham Jazz Festival is tomorrow on TxSt campus
On Friday, Texas State will host a free concert honoring the life and legacy of a San Marcos native who various jazz experts call “the unrecognized genius” of his genre.
The 15th annual Eddie Durham Celebration, which will be held in Evans Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., will take part alongside the following evening’s Hill Country Jazz Festival. Both events will feature musicians who played with Durham: at the celebration, an all-star big band made up of various world-renowned jazz musicians. At the festival, the distinguished Count Basie Orchestra, which Durham was once part of.
Additionally, Loren Schoenberg will be the celebration’s featured speaker. Schoenberg is the former executive director and current senior scholar of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. He was an 18 year-old saxophone student when he met Durham in New York and joined his quartet.
However, Durham hasn’t always been recognized around the world or even locally. Unbeknownst to many San Marcos residents, this small town was once the backdrop for events that would change the trajectory of not only jazz, but the history of all contemporary music.
In August of 1906, Eddie Durham was born to a family of musicians believed to have resided where the outlet mall sits today. With help from his eldest brother, Durham learned to play trombone and guitar by the age of 10.
Not long after, Durham would begin pioneering various great styles and writing various great songs other musicians would reap fame from.
“When I hear his music, I hear people who came after him realizing that they got it from him,” Keith Winking, jazz professor and organizer of the events says. “He was at the forefront of so many things that I didn’t hear anyone else do until years later.”
According to Linda Kelsey-Jones, board member of San Marcos’ Calaboose African-American Museum which has a permanent Durham exhibit, his biggest contributions include pioneering the popular swing style known as Kansas City jazz and being the first jazz musician to record on an electric guitar.
Durham was also an instrumental part of Count Basie’s music. He wrote, arranged and played with the Count Basie Orchestra for a significant part of his career.
“It’s tremendously significant that Eddie and Count Basie first played together 90 years ago in 1929 when they met in Oklahoma City and started playing in a band called Walter Page’s Blue Devils,” Schoenberg says. “Now, the Count Basie Orchestra is coming to his hometown to pay tribute 90 years after Basie and Durham first collaborated. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Additionally, Durham arranged songs like the enormously famous “In the Mood” for Glenn Miller, receiving little to no recognition.
Schoenberg says this was not unusual and the story of American popular music is, in fact, largely characterized by the white appropriation of African-American music. Still, Durham never let any lack of recognition sour his life.
“There wasn’t a trace of bitterness in him,” Schoenberg says. “Somehow, he managed to turn everything into this sheer love of music and musicians. It’s always a reminder that the glass is always at least half full.”
For more information about the Eddie Durham Celebration or the Hill Country Jazz Festival, visit Texas State's website.