with the bold text in the example below: The Skychi Travel Guide : Dorothy Donegan Remembers DuSable High School Walter Dyett's Jazz Orchestra

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dorothy Donegan Remembers DuSable High School Walter Dyett's Jazz Orchestra

"I was born in Cook County Hospital on the West Side of Chicago in 1922. My parents were living on the South Side at 4801 South Evans at that time. My mother worked as a domestic and my father worked as a chef on the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad. They called my Dad "Bad Foot" Donegan. He had real bad feet but he could bake his buns off.

My folks started me taking piano lessons in 1928, the same year I enrolled in Willard Elementary School at 4915 South St. Lawrence Avenue. My first music teacher was Mr. Alfred Simms, whose music studio was located in his second floor apartment at 5301 South Calumet Avenue. Mr. Simms was an excellent teacher. He had me playing well enough after two years to do recital work, and before I reached the age of eleven he had brought me along far enough to do professional work as an organist and pianist in churches, lodges and house parties around the neighborhood.  At the suggestion of my cousin, Addison Mosley, I left Mr. Simms had started studying with E. Sterling Todd, who was a pianist and organist at Savoy Ballroom. He introduced me to the three B's: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahams. I devoured the classics at such a rapid pace that Mr. Todd suggested that I go downtown and study at the Chicago Convervatory of Music under Lillian Brown, who had a reputation of being one of the best classical teachers in the city of Chicago. By the time I graduated from elementary school in 1935, I was considered both an excellent classical pianist and a very good jazz piano player. Therefore, when I entered DuSable High School at 49th and Wabash, I had no problems qualifying for Captain Walter Dyett's Booster orchestra. Thomas Rigsby,  Dyett's favorite piano player, was graduating and the Captain was looking for replacements. The competition was stiff for that piano seat because there was Rudy Martin, who was a tall, good-looking, yellow fellow who played pretty good piano. Then there was Martha Davis, who came in from Kansas City,  playing like both Count Basie and Fats Waller. Entering the door of the band room was John "The Terrible" Young, the Earl Hines protege. The DuSable piano field was crowded with talent but I managed to share that piano seat with John Young and the others over the four year period that I was at DuSable High.  Nat "King" Cole dropped out of DuSable two months after I arrived to take his first band on the road.

Captain Dyett was an excellent musician and a hard taskmaster.  He would always say, "When you're right,  you can afford to keep quiet." But he also made you very conscious of being a good musician. He could hear a mosquito urinate on a bale of cotton. His musical ear was that sensitive. Sometimes we could  make Captain Dyett so mad, that he would call us all kinds of S.O.B.'s and M.F.'s, and he would say to me, "Hit it! It's a B-flat chord." And I would say, "Oh, it's still a B-flat chord." He would, retort, "You've got to hit that B-flat, C-7th and F-7th." And sometimes I would cuss back at him and Dyett never liked it. He had such a terrific ear. Out of a 150 piece concert band, he could tell exactly which instrument had made the mistake, and you would know it because he would stare at you with that one good eye and make you feel smaller than a snail. On the other hand, he had a good band and he always produced an excellent Hi  Jinks show from the student talent at DuSable.

Dyett had to use the proceeds from the annual Hi Jinks affair to buy instruments for the band because the Board of Education would never furnish instruments for the students. Dyett gave each member of the booster orchestra one dollar per night for the four nights that we played the Hi Jinks....."

Dorothy Donegan, Jazz Pianist from An Autobiography of Black Jazz by Dempsey J. Travis

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