Lunch With Books Program Discusses Big Band Jazz

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Big Band Jazz in West Virginia was the surprising topic of the Lunch With Books program at the Ohio County Library Tuesday.

The author, Christopher Wilkinson, is professor emeritus of music history at WVU.

Wilkinson said African-American jazz bands toured many times in West Virginia in the 1930s.

People came from hundreds of miles around to hear them play in National Guard armories, sometimes until three in the morning.

They drove over rough roads, and paid 85 cents to a dollar to hear jazz artists who are now considered the greatest.

“They played music that was hot jazz, they played music that was sweet in nature, and they did so to very enthusiastic audiences and we know this because they were invited back again and again,” said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said the band members often stayed in people’s homes, rather than in hotels.

Also, the bands actually made more money in West Virginia than they did in large metropolitan areas.

He said jazz was spread by the three R’s–radio, recordings and on the road when big bands would tour and take their music to the people. 

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