Here are the extraordinary pictures I took documenting the historical magnitude of Richmond’s place in Jazz. Just click on any picture to view in a slideshow. My visit took place near the end of May, 2013.
Imagine being lucky enough to live in a place where these important figures of early recorded Jazz are respected and honoured with such a public and constant display for absolutely anybody to enjoy at any time of the day or night. Wow!
In brief, the recording studio at Gennett was the location of the earliest recordings by such luminaries of Jazz as Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Joe ‘King’ Oliver, Hoagy Carmichael and many others, before the more renowned labels like Victor, Okeh, Brunswick, etc signed up the stars of the 1920s recording industry boom.
It was during this visit that I stopped by Joe’s Pizza in Old Town, on 911 North E Street. There was a delightful pianist by the name of Carol Lou Woodward, playing ‘Louisiana’ solo. We chatted a little after she finished playing and off she went to chat with some patrons. I thought I would embarrass myself in public (not for the first time, I hear you cry) and take the seat while everyone in the place ate their food and talked. After I’d played just a handful of notes (keys…) I received a tap on the left shoulder. “Hey there, you about to play? What’s your name?”. I replied with a friendly smile to the gentleman, who in turn introduced himself as “Bob, Bob Teagarden”. I half turned back to the piano but thought “No.. no way I can’t let this go.” So.. I asked the inevitable question the poor guy was probably sick of answering. In fact, the story proved fascinating. ‘Bob’ told me he was in fact related to Jack and Charlie. Basically, two German ‘Teagarden’s who were blood brothers came to the USA in some previous century. Bob descended from one, Jack and Charlie from the other. Bob even went on to tell me they had played together one time in Vegas when Charlie had turned to him and said “You know, I think we’re related”. Bob was certain they weren’t, adamant in fact. So Charlie drove him to his house and showed Bob the family tree he kept safely tucked away. There indeed was the proof! That was how Bob Teagarden, in Richmond, Indiana, found out he was related to the great Jack and Charlie Teagarden. And here he was sharing his story with me almost like an old friend. I can’t remember if I bothered playing after that. If you’ve heard me play you’ll understand why ‘memorable’ is not the first adjective that springs to mind.
Almost all murals captured in my photos are in a small section of Richmond known as ‘Old Town’. The only mural not in Old Town is the one on the side of the original piano key manufacturing building at the site of the fabled Starr-Gennett piano and recording plant, less than a mile from Old Town. The disc shaped plaques and the metal plates accompanying them form the basis of the Walk Of Fame along the path in front of the site of the original Gennett recording studio.
I was lucky enough, to put it mildly, to find in an antique shop in Old Town, the complete Gennett recording catalogue up to and including January 1st, 1924, for a bargain basement price. It was an incredible find and provides a fascinating document of the breadth and diversity of recording performer that the recording company embraced at the time. For instance, the company recorded on wax such things as car crash special effect sounds for the purposes of movie studios to use. One such record has a car crash special effect sound on the A, with screams of anguish, and on the B side the crash sounds without the ‘vocals’!
I have to say, I was treated like royalty by the President of the Starr-Gennett Foundation, Mr Bob Jacobsen, and cannot let the opportunity pass without not only thanking him, but urging you to contact him if you ever wish to pay this town a visit. He is extremely enthusiastic and accommodating, not to mention thoroughly knowledgeable on the entire history of the Starr-Gennett company, through all its guises from early beginnings to the end. Here is the website where you can find out more about that wonderful organization : http://www.starrgennett.org/the-foundation