The Beale Street Six
The two of us have been good friends for 66 years and counting. We played together in a swing band led by Charlie in junior high and high school, and we pledged Delta Tau Delta at OWU two years apart.
Charlie founded the Beale Street Six, a traditional jazz band, in the fall of 1954, at the start of his freshman year. Charlie’s instrument is clarinet. By a remarkable turn of luck, his Delt pledge class included Dick Hottel ’58, a fine jazz trumpeter, and Willie Coles ’58, an equally fine jazz trombonist. The three formed the band’s front line. They were joined from the outset by banjo player Manny Haynes ’58.
The personnel of the rhythm section changed a couple of times. Vick, the bassist, signed up in the fall of 1956. Drummer Bill Weinig ’60 also enlisted that year.
Wayne Shannon, from the Kenyon College Class of 1958, a great stride pianist, played with the band whenever he could hitch a ride from Gambier, Ohio, in which case we became the Beale Street Seven. (Wayne couldn’t make it to the photo shoot.)
Traditional jazz, also called Dixieland, is the exuberant music of collective improvisation invented by young African-Americans in New Orleans in the first decades of the last century. Louis Armstrong, the brilliant trumpeter and composer, was an exemplar. Inspired by performances and recordings of the New Orleans originals, a dozen variants and subgenres sprang up overnight. Among the best was the music of several bands in the Midwest and New York that featured the gifted cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. We thought of the Beale Street Six as part of a storied musical continuity.
Our theme song was Beale Street Blues. A small sample of our repertoire included Royal Garden Blues, Muskrat Ramble, Tin Roof Blues, Basin Street Blues, Doctor Jazz, Electric Chair Blues, and Careless Love.
For four years, the Beale Street Six played fraternity and sorority parties on campus. We also staged two concerts in Gray Chapel, and The Transcript featured the band in several articles. Demand grew. In our third and fourth years, we often played two weekend gigs, and we became an indelible feature of campus social life. As word spread, fraternities at other colleges in central Ohio booked us. We recall gigs at Kenyon, for example, that were neither sedate nor decorous but great fun!
Sixty years on, do any of us still play? Only a couple of us have kept our chops, but we’ve never forgotten our marvelous undergraduate jazz venture.
Were you in a band at OWU? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Charles V. Brown ’58 and Verrick O. French ’60