For much of the twentieth century, Birmingham, Alabama, was home to a thriving and unique jazz tradition, one whose influence on American music has been long overlooked. In the decades before the Civil Rights Movement, African American teachers in Birmingham's segregated schools pioneered an instrumental music program that trained generations of professional jazz players, composers, and arrangers. Applying Booker T. Washington's principles of industrial education to the high school band room, instructor John T. "Fess" Whatley launched a far-reaching local tradition that spanned most of the twentieth century. Birmingham musicians helped shape the sound of swing nationwide and played key roles in the birth of bebop. The city's influence can even be heard in the "otherworldly" experiments of Sun Ra, a musician who claimed to have come from outer space but whose music was steeped in Birmingham tradition. This article examines Birmingham's contributions to making the world of jazz—and the ways in which jazz, in turn, shaped the culture of Birmingham.


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pp. 108-127
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