“That’s real American music,” or How Uncle Dick Saved My Reading Class

My daughter, a school teacher in Wisconsin, wrote the following:

Uncle Dick was my Grandmother’s sister’s husband, which makes him my great-uncle by marriage. Naughty children (we were all naughty children, once) called him “Duncle Ick” behind his back. And snickered. He was a man with an appreciation if nice things, in particular of nice jazz albums on vinyl. Vinyl was all there was, at the time. He had an extensive collection of jazz albums, which he kept in a tidy place in a tidy room in a tidy house. He would set you down on one of the tidy chairs, put on a record (carefully!) and snap his fingers to the beat of the music. One leg crossed over the other, he would always say the same thing,

“Yes sir, that’s real American music.”

To be honest, I’m not even sure if I ever witnessed this myself. Yet, I can see it all quite clearly in my mind. It was the Legend of Duncle Ick.

After I grew up, he died. I heard of it from far away. The notorious record collection was scattered among various relatives. In my mid-twenties, during a brief stint of couch surfing with relatives in Pennsylvania, I acquired some of the jazz records. Most of them were Count Bassie and Duke Ellington.

Fast forward to now. I’m teaching a rambunctious group of kids reading, directly after lunch recess. They’re really a mess when they come in. It’s difficult to even get their attention, much less get them to read.

A girl in the class, a soft spoken fourteen year old girl, has professed a love of jazz and begun reading a biography of Duke Ellington.
I inquired of the school librarian a few days ago about a record player.

“Do we have a record player that I could borrow?”

“Uh… what?”

“Record player?”

I guess it’s too archaic, even for a public school.
I brought in my own record player. It weighs twenty pounds and I hauled it in the locked front door. It was awkward.

When class began, I gave a brief lesson on what a record player was. I showed them the Duke Ellington record (a live in Paris 1963 recording, two record set). I explained it was fragile. They asked if they could play it backwards and hear Satan speak. I said they could not. Then, I played the record.

And, apparently– I never knew this before– but, apparently, Duke Ellington is magic. Those wild children were so good. They just read, and read, and read, and listened to the Duke and his orchestra.

P.S. Yes, I realize I could have just used a school computer to go to this youtube and play the music– but where would be the fun in that?

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