By Claudia Ruiz
Although quarantine may have put a dent in all of our 2020 plans, especially those of us in the performing arts and general music scene, we choose to embrace the memories we’ve made in live shows and concerts and remind ourselves why we find music so comforting, especially in these trying times.
The local music scene of San Marcos, in particular, can take credit for one historical innovator in the jazz and electric guitar community, and that artist is Eddie Durham.
Jazz trombonist for the Texas State University Jazz Ensemble and Texas State University Music Studies major and Jazz minor Daniel Ripplinger says that “Eddie Durham strikes [him] as one of the underrated names in jazz; [and that he may] not really [be] a household name outside of San Marcos, but he has worked with many people who are and had a major influence on jazz, mostly notably being one of the first to use the electric guitar in the genre.”
San Marcos honors Eddie Durham by throwing an annual Eddie Durham Jazz Celebration concert series right here on campus.
“All four years I was in Jazz Ensemble, the band played the Friday of the Eddie Durham Concerts to precede the professional/faculty Saturday concert,” Ripplinger said. “I usually attended the Saturday concert afterwards. I always enjoyed getting to see Texas State faculty perform in the concert.”
I had the chance to interview Dr. Keith Winking, faculty member of the Texas State University Music department and the director of the Texas State University Jazz Orchestra, on Eddie Durham and the current local jazz scene.
Claudia Ruiz: In your own words, who was Eddie Durham?
Dr. Keith Winking: In the history of jazz, Eddie Durham was an important and innovative composer, arranger, trombonist, and guitarist and he is also credited with being the inventor of the electric guitar.
CR: If you could choose one word to describe Eddie, what would it be and why?
KW: Genius– due to all the innovations he brought to jazz
CR: What was/continues to be Eddie Durham’s significance to San Marcos, Texas?
KW: The significance is that he is from San Marcos and was a major figure in the development of jazz. He wrote for many of the great artists including Glenn Miller, Aerie Shaw, Count Basie and many others. He was one of the first arrangers writing for big bands which is what school jazz programs perform.
CR: Do you have a personal favorite solo performance by Eddie Durham?
KW: Most of the recordings are of his music and not of his solo performances so I don’t have a favorite solo performance.
CR: Let’s say you’re in a scenario in which someone tells you “Oh, I’ve never heard of Eddie Durham!” What are the tracks you’re selecting and why?
KW: I would probably have them listen to Moten Swing which was written for Benny Moten Band and it is still performed by the Count Basie Orchestra and many others. Although it is not my favorite song, I would also point out that he wrote Glenn Miller’s hit record “In the Mood” which is probably the best known piece from the big band era.
CR: What exactly is the Eddie Durham concert series?
KW: It is a time to honor Eddie Durham with lectures about his life and contributions and to hear performances of his music.
CR: Why should people attend the Eddie Durham concert series?
KW: Eddie Durham is one of the most important figures in American Music History . The Eddie Durham Celebration is an opportunity to learn about his life and contributions and hear some of his music.
CR: Where do you see the genre of jazz progressing to in a decade from now? Do you notice a specific trend occurring in the jazz world?
KW: I don’t feel like I can really predict where it will be in a decade but I am confident it will continue to move forward.
CR: What would you say were some of Eddie’s biggest contributions to the jazz world as we know it?
KW: His composing and arranging. As I said above, school programs mostly perform big band music and he was one of the major figures in its development. Also, as the inventor of the electric guitar, think of the impact this instrument has had on jazz, blues, rock, and country music.
CR: Where can people reach out to learn more information about the Eddie Durham concert series?
KW: Information is posted on the jazz studies site.
“For better or for worse, jazz seems to be a fairly niche community now. It exists mostly among dedicated fans and academic institutions. If I had to guess, jazz will continue to honor the entirety of its heritage and existing as a sort of retro genre, and will also evolve by continuing to fuse with contemporary music (such as the recent trend of fusing jazz with hip hop.” –Daniel Ripplinger
Featured image by Claudia Ruiz.