Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wendell Logan

I never knew Wendell Logan while I was at Oberlin, but I was still moved when I saw his obituary today in the NY Times. Jazz studies became a major while I was there "more than two decades ago," as the article so kindly reminds me.

That's not that long ago. Especially when you note that Logan began offering jazz studies in 1973, more than three decades ago, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded their seminal album Jazz At Oberlin in 1953, more than half a century ago. (That's still my favorite jazz album, and I don't think it's because it was recorded in Finney Chapel.)

My flute teacher at Oberlin also played saxophone. If I'm remembering correctly, I believe he told us that back in the day, students were fined for playing jazz in the practice rooms. None of the official sources talk about that. I hope I'm not just making that up. Does anyone out there have the straight scoop on that?

Whether or not that's true, it is true that up until a couple of months ago, the jazz studies department was housed in the basement of what used to be the gym. On May 1, Oberlin dedicated a new building dedicated to jazz studies. It is beautiful, in Oberlin's typical architecturally incoherent way.

I learned from the write-up about it "that Oberlin did not allow the jazz piano pioneer Dave Brubeck to use its best Steinway for his now-legendary 1953 concert."

[C]onservatory Dean David Stull '89 asked, "How do you get from there to here?" The answer, he said, was Wendell Logan, professor of African American music and jazz studies chair. Stull then announced that the building's commons area would be named for the revered professor. Logan ended the ceremony with advice: "Make sure the focus is on the music."

You know what I love about that? To me what that says is that Professor Logan didn't need a building to prove jazz was legitimate; jazz is legitimate all on its own, whether or not other people believe it. To be able to keep that attitude for the 10+ years that jazz wasn't accepted as a major and the 20+ years when jazz there wasn't room for jazz groups to rehearse in the conservatory building...well, that takes an amazing spirit, I think. And when the major is in place and the building is built, to still say it's the music that's important--surely there's a lesson in that. What really matters here. It's a question I need to ask.

I'm glad Professor Logan got to see the building. I hope, even more fervently, that he gets to hear the music. Blessings and peace.

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