A journey through jazz: Celebration of musical art form set

DOVER — A musician performing a jazz number tends to travel musically wherever the journey opts to take him or her.

Nena Todd, historic site supervisor for the state of Delaware’s Historical and Cultural Affairs, is hoping “A Jazz Tale: A Celebration of Jazz” will lead people to journey to the Johnson Victrola Museum and the Dover Public Library this weekend.

“Jazz and that genre is the foundation for a lot of the music that we listen to today,” Ms. Todd said. “There were so many things that spun off from jazz music. You have rock and roll and everything else, like rhythm and blues. All of that actually has an early jazz beginning and component to it.”

The Johnson Victrola Museum, at 375 South New Street, will be the main site of a dual celebration this weekend. The events are free of charge.

The museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is also honoring the 100th anniversary of the first commercially released jazz recording, Victor Records’ “Livery Stable Blues — Fox Trot” by the Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band.

Historic Sites Director, Nena Todd plays a record on a Johnson Victrola player at the Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We’re excited … 50 years for a museum, that’s a really good run,” said Todd. “We are so excited about it. It’s a one-of-a-kind museum and we really, really hope that the public will come out and appreciate this wonderful museum.”

The Johnson Victrola Museum highlights the life and achievements of Dover’s native son, Eldridge Reeves Johnson, founder of The Victor Talking Machine Company.
The museum celebrates Mr. Johnson, his company and the development of the sound-recording industry.

While it might be a little bit off the beaten path from most of the historic attractions of downtown Dover, Ms. Todd said it still has plenty to offer.

“As far as people being aware of it, I would say it’s underrated, but as far as the quality of it as museums go I would give it a high rating,” she said. “Because it’s not in the downtown historic sector, it’s on the edge (of it), sometimes people just miss it.”

A record plays on a Johnson Victrola player at the Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Ms. Todd is determined not to let that happen this weekend.

The three-day jazz celebration will begin Friday at both the museum and the library with presentations, recorded music and films.

The museum, in partnership with the Dover Public Library and DonDel Productions, will feature six programs on the theme of jazz throughout the weekend.

The highlight of the weekend, Ms. Todd said, will be a live performance at the museum by the DonDel Ensemble on Saturday at 1 p.m. They will be performing some of jazz music’s most memorable songs.

“Their ensemble is going to be performing live some jazz favorites for everyone and they are absolutely wonderful,” she said. “They sing and they dance and they’re such an incredibly talented ensemble and I’m so looking forward to that.”

The DelDon Ensemble includes former State Rep. Donald Blakey.

He said his jazz group includes around six singers and added, with a chuckle, “everybody’s over the age of 50 … maybe even 60.”

“We are wonderfully excited about this jazz event,” Mr. Blakey said. “We are trying to introduce, and reintroduce, the public to the periods of jazz beginning around World War I and moving straight through to today.

A display at the Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I think what we’re really doing is to reproduce the music that was performed during those periods. This is more vocalizing and adding some jazz components to it. There will be some scatting going on and some back and forth kinds of exchanges between the performers and things like that.”

The Dover Public Library will feature films throughout the day from Friday through Sunday featuring the origins and legends of jazz music.

Mr. Blakey said that jazz isn’t going anywhere, that it’s simply changing along with the times.

“I think it’s evolving and there are strong pockets of jazz enthusiasts from way back that are still in existence that the general public doesn’t get a chance to listen to or see,” he said.

“That’s because music and entertainment is a sales item and people are trying to sell something.”

And although jazz might not always be a best-seller, it persists as an extremely influential art form that has left a lasting impact on many other forms of music.

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