Traditional jazz—the Dixieland and ragtime jazz styles of the early 20th century played by trumpeter Louis Armstrong and other legendary musicians—may be dying.
Why? The musicians are getting old and dying. Those attending trad-jazz festivals are, likewise, getting old and dying. Lest someone takes action, one of America's great art forms will likely die, too.
A "someone" is Bill Dendle, a fine banjo player and the director of the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society Teagarden Jazz Camp. The camp consists of a two-week school each summer for young musicians who are enthusiastic about learning traditional jazz.
The students, aged 12-18, are taught by eight professional jazz musicians at an education center and amphitheater in the Sly Park Recreation Area in Pollock Pines, a forest-ringed community in the Sierra foothills of Northern California.
Not only do the students often go on to perform at trad-jazz festivals, but some go on to become professional musicians and return to the camp as professors. In this way, Dendle and the camp are helping to pass the torch to younger traditional-jazz enthusiasts.
I have played trad jazz since picking up a trumpet and banjo at the age of 14, near the end of World War II. The music has been a special part of my personal and professional life for more than 70 years.
My wife and I are committed to keeping trad jazz alive. We've given money and musical instruments to the camp and have donated our time to it. The "music school in the woods," as it were, is going on its third decade of existence. It is our dream that the camp and trad jazz will go on forever.