Center honors big band great

February 11, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

Don Redman's big band kicks it up a notch, clinking glasses hurriedly placed on tables by excited revelers as the pull of the dance floor intensifies.

A combination of smoke and sweat fills the air as the raucous swing of an up-tempo jazz jam segues into a smooth, sexy slow number.

Bodies are close, music is hot, and both can be traced to Redman, rocking away as he leads his house band at Connie's Inn in Harlem.


But wait. This is not Connie's place. The music continues to play, but it emanates from speakers built into the ceiling of a classroom.

This is a spare room at the Eastern Management Development Center (EMDC) in Shepherdstown, W.Va. It's a long way from 1930s Harlem, where Piedmont, W.Va., native Redman cut his teeth in the big band scene.

During February, though, the EMDC, an executive and management residential training facility for government leaders, is doing its small part to honor a man called by some the "Little Giant of Jazz."

"Throughout American history, there are a lot of people who have not gotten the notoriety and fame they are really due," says Charles W. Cranford, associate director of the center. "We thought this was another way to unearth another person who hadn't really gotten their due."

So, during Black History Month, one classroom has been outfitted with photographs, posters and playbills to illustrate the life of the late Redman, who began his career after graduating the defunct Storer College in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Working with Jefferson High School on a project to teach students about black history, the center will host a Tuesday, Feb. 11, performance by jazz musicians Joe Wilder and Claude Williams to be joined by the Howard Burns Quartet.

Working with Jefferson High School on a project to teach students about black history, the center also will host a Tuesday, Feb. 11, performance by jazz musicians Joe Wilder and Claude Williams, who will be joined by the Howard Burns Quartet.

"Redman was able to penetrate the color barrier to a certain degree, nationally and internationally," says Todd Bolton, branch chief of visitors services at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. The park created the Redman exhibit last year for its Black History Month activities and has since loaned it to Cumberland, Md., and Piedmont museums in addition to the EMDC.

Born in 1900, Redman began as a musician and gained more fame as a composer and arranger. He died in November 1964.

It is a testament to Redman's stature within the jazz community that two legends in their own right, Wilder and Williams, are willing to perform. Wilder, in his 80s, played and recorded with Redman, while Williams, in his 90s, is the last surviving member of Count Basie's original orchestra.

"This is the man (Redman) that charted the course," Bolton says. "When he hit the ground after college, he set the course for the next decade. (Duke) Ellington bowed before him. Basie bowed before him."

Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, the exhibit also features a two-hour video about Redman's life.

Admittedly, the exhibit is modest. But Cranford says it is the first of a planned series of EMDC-sponsored events.

The history is too powerful to ignore. This year, it's music. Next year, Cranford hopes to highlight someone from another field.

"We thought this was a diamond in the rough," he says, "a real treasure we have here we want everyone to know about."

If you go...

Joe Wilder and Claude Williams, backed by the Howard Burns Quartet

6:30 to 9 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 11

Salon A

Clarion Hotel and Conference Center

17 Lowe Drive

Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Free, but seating is limited. RSVP required.

For information or tickets, call 1-304-870-8000.

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