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Daddy was a jazz musician

Updated on January 1, 2016

He played tenor sax. When I was very young, we lived in Detroit in a tiny apartment, my mom, my dad, my sister and me. Daddy practiced all day long and played in clubs all night, except when he went fishing or hunting, his two favorite past times.

He never went to music school or took lessons of any kind. He was self taught and started playing when he was just a kid. He went on the road when he was a teenager. That started a life-long career as a musician. I guess it helped that he had perfect pitch (see definition below), cause he taught himself to play all the single reed instruments and the piano too. All you had to do was hum a tune for him and he could sit down and play it. Not just the melody, but also the chords, rhythmic accompaniment, and all kinds of runs up and down the keyboard. I was fascinated. He had a wonderful "ear" (see definition below).

I remember watching him practice in front of a mirror. Why in front of the mirror? I had no idea. I always thought he was trying to make his cheeks stay flat. They puffed out like a puffer fish whenever he played the saxophone.

When my sister and I were young, we took tap dancing lessons, and so when friends (usually other musicians) came to visit, daddy sat down at the piano and we did our little "singing/tap-dancing" sister act. We didn't always want to do it, but we were expected to, since we'd been born into a family of entertainers. My other was a singer and a writer.

Daddy would often play from a "fake book". We had lots of them around the house. They contained just about every song ever written. Eventually I learned how to read the chord symbols and would sit for hours and try to play the pages of "standards". It never sounded like daddy, but I kept at it anyway.

By the time my sister and I got to high school, we were allowed to occasionally go to the night clubs where daddy worked with mom. The place I remember so well, in Detroit, was the Penobscot Club. It was beautiful and the food was awesome. Daddy was the leader of the band and he had a girl singer. I don't think my mom liked her too much. Sometimes well-known musicians, who were in town, would come into the club and "sit in". I got to meet Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and other "big band" musicians. They would come and sit at our table. We have lots of pictures of both Dorsey brothers with my mom and daddy.

This was the 1940s and it was very common for musicians to go around town and "sit in" for nothing with each other, especially late at night after their paying "gigs" (see definition below) were over. This was a way of socializing, communicating with each other and working off the stresses of their "money making" jobs. It was indeed a great era for jazz and for me, as well, as I got to be a part of the continued growth of a fascinating music genre.

additional definitions and pitch test

Pitch: the property of sound that varies with variation in the frequency of vibrations.

Perfect pitch: the ability to hear and identify a note without any musical support

Absolute pitch: same as perfect pitch

Relative pitch: the ability to recogize one pitch with reference to another given pitch

Musical ear: Being able to detect pitch changes and to hear different musical intervals and chords, and even develop the skill to write down music that you are listening to. These abilities may be trained.

gig: live performance

Test your musical ear


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    • Dink96 profile image

      Dink96 8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      What great memories that you have committed here! My dad grew up in Detroit before he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in WWII. I would bet that he and his buddies probably heard your dad swing, as he was a big jazz fan. My g-pa was a (blind) piano tuner in Detroit; was written up a few times in the Free Press. He had some great stories of the city. Thank you for writing about this.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks for the nice comment. Please join my list of fans. I'm looking forward to reading your hubs

    • KCC Big Country profile image

      KCC Big Country 8 years ago from Central Texas

      What great memories! It's nice to grow up around music, isn't it? Thank you for sharing. My dad had great ear for music as well. He could play guitar along with anyone. One of my most cherished memories will always be when my current husband and my daddy sat down and played guitars together. I may have to write a hub about it!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks for the nice comment. Yes growing up surrounded my music had a profound effect on me. I ended up getting a masters in voice and choral from the Chicago Musical College,at Roosevelt University, and teaching music for the Chicago Public Schools for 25 years.

    • profile image

      O'Brien 8 years ago

      Your post inspires so much imagery! Your childhood seems infintely bigger and brighter than mine. The city, the jazz scene, the tap dancing! It all sounds so exciting. Thank you for sharing.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Wow! Thanks for the nice comments.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Super memories, Alek. My brother was a jazz musi and I've written some stuff about him - more in the pipeline!

      Thanks for sharing

      Love and peace


    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks, Tony. Love to hear about your brother...looking forward to it.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I am blown away - both by your writing style (yes, tons of imagery) and how similar it is to the life of a friend of mine who plays tenor sax. I think he should have been born several decades earlier, but maybe it is in a divine plan that he keep the jazz flame burning for up and coming musicians. If I may ask, what was your dad's name?

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 6 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks, Maren, for commenting. Very interesting...about your friend. My father's stage name was Babe Ruth (real spelling: Babe Routh) (real name: Clarence LeRoy Routh) Thanks for asking. Let me know if your friend knows him. BTW what is your friend's name? And did he play in Detroit?

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      The friend is Pete Souders - born in 1943 and was always in the Philadelphia area. Pete is really honing his playing skills now. He always played at jam sessions, but his BIG contribution was opening a jazz club in north Phila. which was appreciated by many musicians. The club was called Ortlieb's Jazzhaus and Pete ran it from 1987 til 2007. New owners couldn't keep it afloat and it folded a year ago.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Very interesting piece about your dad, and this almost sounds like it would make an interesting movie.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 6 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      OK, Julia...wanna write the screen play and move to L A with me? Maybe we could make a fortune...LOL

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