Spencer Cave Lecture brings jazz to Park

Michael Dinwiddie talks about James Reese Europe at the Gem Theater

Michael Dinwiddie talks about James Reese Europe at the Gem Theater

Carin Bublitz

Carin Bublitz

Michael Dinwiddie talks about James Reese Europe at the Gem Theater

Carin Bublitz, Reporter

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February 26, 2018, marked the 17th annual Spencer Cave lecture. This year it was held at the Gem Theater in the 18th and Vine district of Kansas City, Mo. Michael Dinwiddie, associate professor at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study presented “From ‘Bandana Land’ to ‘No Man’s Land’: James Reese Europe’s Musical Journey.” The name of the presentation came from a popular play released in 1908 called “Bandana Land” and the area between two enemy military trench systems in WWI which neither side wished to cross out fear of being attacked which is called no man’s land. The lecture was well suited for Kansas City. According to European History senior Alexander Ishmael, “Kansas City has always been a central hub of jazz.”
Dinwiddie began his lecture with the song “Castle House Rag” composed by James Reese Europe. When the song began the audience became engaged by tapping their feet and nodding their heads to the beat’s rhythm, but it also entranced Dinwiddie who enthusiastically bobbed his head along with the music.
Following the music, Dinwiddie launched into Europe’s family history. His father was a slave and his mother was a free African American school teacher who taught children to read music. After his father died, Europe quit school and followed his brother to New York to play the violin before switching to the mandolin and then the piano.
Dinwiddie then said when WWI broke out Europe was asked to be the regiment band leader for the 15th New York. They were commonly referred to as the Harlem Hellfighters by the French Army because the Americans handed them over to the French to fight. They were the first African Americans to see combat.
“I have a special weakness for the Harlem Hellfighters, so the parts where he started talking about Europe and the 15th New York and going over and being a Harlem Hellfighter. It was actually the Germans who called them the hellfighters first and then the French picked it up because they fought so fiercely, so I have a special weakness for that” said Debra Sheffer, professor of history at Park University.
The lecture finished with a great live jazz performance by the Washington High School Jazz Band directed by Christopher Green. They played a few of James Reese Europe’s songs followed by some of their own numbers.
After the lecture everyone in attendance was invited over to the Blue Room, a jazz club, to enjoy local jazz musicians performing.

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Spencer Cave Lecture brings jazz to Park