A Little bit of History about the jazz music in Birmingham…. and then some!
By Gwen DeRu
This is for… ‘all’ the ‘music lovers’ young or ‘young at heart.’ You will learn something even if you know a little (if not a lot) already. Read about some of Birmingham’s finest musicians and bandleaders in this book by Carol. See how it took some of the musicians out of the steel mills of Ensley, Pratt City, and Fairfield as well as surrounding areas to become some of the greatest entertainers in the world.
Tuxedo Junction – Right Back Where I Belong
By: Carol P. Ealons
This book takes one back to the ‘Functions at the Junction’ and the music of those days.
Carol makes everything come to life – the sounds, the outfits, the dances and the good times had at Tuxedo Junction. You start living in the moments with them. You feel ‘a part’ of it all… the history ‘and’ the times as she describes the background and the players that made music in Birmingham then, and throughout the world.
Carol interviewed many of the famous legendary jazz musicians such as Dr. Frank ‘Doc’ Adams author of ‘DOC: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man’ and family members of some of the other world famous musicians such as Samuel ‘Sammy’ Lowe nicknamed the Quincy Jones of his day (before there was a Quincy Jones.) He was a writer, musician, composer, producer, conductor and arranger.
This book takes one back to the “functions” and the music of the Tuxedo Junction. Almost everyone who loves music…jazz… has heard of the song ‘Function at the Junction.’ It takes you back to what you may have heard about Birmingham Alabama’s historic jazz scene.
Erskine Hawkins wrote the song. He first began playing at the Tuxedo Park Dance Pavilion when he was 12 years old to entertain the visitors and later in clubs and social events as a member of Fess Whatley’s orchestra and other bands in Birmingham.
As a matter of fact, there is a Function at the Tuxedo Junction at the Erskine Hawkins Park held annually (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) a day-long music festival on the fourth Saturday of July with music, food, entertainment, parades and lots of people. People from around the world come to attend or to perform. Even the young children share a day of music, laughter, food, celebration and have fun as they learn about music, participate and hear from world-renowned bands of the past…and present. Vendors of all kinds show up.
‘The Function’ started years ago in Ensley in a ballroom on the second floor of the Nixon Building in the community called Tuxedo Junction during the early 20th century. People came from near and far. They dressed up. They met others and went to the place where they let their hair down and enjoyed themselves at the end of a long hard week and then they planned to go ‘right back’ again, the following weekend.
The song itself helped to put Birmingham on the map of the music world. The community of’ ‘Tuxedo Junction’ is known for the songs, music, dances, the musicians and vocalists that came to perform or to enjoy the performances.
The book will share the history of those musicians as educators and band directors that made their names, first, during the Big Band/Swing Era when they had their own orchestras or when they played with orchestra leaders such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway or Benny Goodman to name a few. Some of these musicians were Erskine Hawkins, Joe Briton, Leon Scott, Teddy Hill, Ethel Ernestine Harper, Herman Blount, Hooper Abrams, Amos Gordon, J.L. Lowe, Walter Blythe, John S. Springer, Sr., William Johnson, III, Iva B. Williams, E. W. Williams, Frank Green, Calvin Ivory, Rosetta Johnson Scovil and Jothan Callins. All of these musicians learned from the apprenticeships under John T. “Fess” Whatley.
From the beginning of jazz, Birmingham was home to a very active network of jazz practitioners and its jazz apprentices that were rooted in the city’s segregated schools. They were indeed a large and colorful group of people taught under Fess who is known as the ‘Maker of Musicians.’ They made very significant marks on the music of jazz and the history of jazz. They were educators and bandleaders. The students that are still being taught at the Alabama Jazz of Fame in the famous Carver Theatre in downtown Birmingham are keeping the love of music alive and in our city as others perform all the time around town. It still goes on, today, with John McAphee, Jr., Foxxy Fatts, Rickey Powell, Bo Berry, Jose’ Carr, Eric Essix, Cleve Eaton and others. (I even noticed that we have a lot of other musicians that come here to hang out and jam with such as Wynton Marselis. Without some of it, where would we be?)
It is a compelling read and if you love music, you will be very familiar with a lot of the names and the bands in the book. You will enjoy reading and learning more about the people, the community and the history of the music that was created from the hard work put in by Fess Whatley as he was determined to make his students the best in the world. AND…they were!
Birmingham’s history in the music world includes those such as Eddie Kendrick of The Temptations, The Commodores and an American Idol Reuben Studdard… just to name a few. I say….’Appreciate where you came from or reminisce about the past, as you read the ‘Function in the Junction!’)