History Podcasts

Meet Nathaniel Clark Smith, the Melchizidek of Jazz-Bill McKemy

Meet Nathaniel Clark Smith, the Melchizidek of Jazz-Bill McKemy

Jazz is the most American of musical genres. But its origins are shrouded in mystery. Some like to think that Louis Armstrong and his bluesmen friends were sitting at a bar in New Orleans, when a solar eclipse and Haley's Comet occurred at the same time, causing the musical troupe to start using a swing rhythm.

But musicologist Bill McKemy thinks that the origins of jazz can be traced more directly to one man. That is Nathaniel Clark Smith.

Smith was African-American musician, composer, and music educator in the United States during the early decades of the 1900s. Over the next 30 years he would lead bands in Chicago, Wichita, Kansas City, the Tuskegee Institute, and in St. Louis. He was an important educator for many of the prominent early Jazz musicians from Kansas City, Chicago, and St. Louis.

And man was his life hard. To make ends meet he played in a minstrel show in the 1890s. He threatened lynching by having Tuskegee students play classical music and other forms of “non-black” music, against the wishes of Booker T. Washington. He risked his life to embrace the slowly emerging new opportunities for non-whites in the United States.

ABOUT BILL MCKENY

Bill was the former director of jazz studies at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a Kansas City based musician and composer who has performed or recorded across North America with a number of prominent figures on the contemporary jazz scene including: Grammy winners/nominees Randy Brecker, Karrin Allyson, Maceo Parker and John Abercrombie, Gold record award winner Pablo Batista and many others including Benny Green, Gregory Hutchinson, Sam Dockery, Khan Jamal, and Bobby Durham. McKemy has released three solo CDs which have enjoyed critical acclaim

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

The American Jazz Museum

Bill's website

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