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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Jazz Hero

It’s spring. And as you probably already know, this spring is a very special spring. Leaving the Morningstar Baptist Community Center, one recent Sunday morning, after being jabbed with the J & J by a uniformed U.S. Army doctor, I walked a little taller, had a little spring in my step.

Our friend and colleague, Gerald Dunn was honored by the Jazz Journalist’s Association this spring and nominated as a 2021 Jazz Hero. The Jazz Journalist’s Association Jazz Heroes Awards are especially meaningful this spring.

All around the world, artists and musicians have been coming up with creative ways to respond to the unthinkable ramifications of this global pandemic. Someone said jazz musicians are especially suited to a pandemic—because they are expected make something out of nothing, and they live life keeping a positive attitude in the face of daunting adversity.

This spring is a world away from last spring.

My first Zoom meeting was last spring. In March of 2020, I joined several members of the Jazz Journalist’s Association in a tentative and somber conversation. The conversation: How to help the jazz musicians.

Suddenly, a woman screamed and ran away from her computer. I don’t recall her name, but I remember the scene vividly, during our Zoom meeting a clamoring arose outside of her 9th floor apartment balcony.

She lived in Spain. While we sat quietly, we heard sirens, someone with a bullhorn and a crowd gathering. When she returned, she explained to us that authorities were coming by at a certain time each day to inquire of the wellbeing of citizens by hollering up from the streets to wait for a vocal response from every apartment balcony in the neighborhood.

She hollered from the balcony and returned to the meeting. To me, the ritual seemed akin to the call and response at the base of jazz and blues music, it was a field holler of wellbeing and of the joy of being alive.

Our own Jazz Hero, Gerald Dunn set aside the spotlight to serve Kansas City’s jazz scene as a steadfast presence at 18th and Vine. He is known for honoring those whose days were coming to an end and for welcoming the Monday night youngsters, wanting so badly to be accepted by those who came before them. All the while, for over 20 years now, Gerald Dunn, hosting the party that never ends, and picking up his horn from time to time to raise the bar a bit.

We all know Gerald Dunn is the real deal. He carries on a proud musical linage. He made a sensational 2 saxophone recording, entitled Soliloquy with Matt Otto. I’ve always loved the sound of Gerald Dunn playing the alto saxophone.

He studied with alto saxophonist, Gary Foster while still at UMKC. Foster had attended KU with trumpeter Carmell Jones in the 1950s and became the first call saxophonist in LA for most of his long career.

On a personal note, Gerald urged me, in casual conversation over the years to stoke my ties to family and friends in Nebraska, as he had done in Texas. Over the past decade I have nurtured those family bonds and traveled to Nebraska many times to perform and spend some time. Precious time with my sister, my aunt and uncle and their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

I have been extremely grateful to Gerald this spring, after losing so many friends and family members this past year. Chances are, you’ve lost family, too. With many of them gone, I am honored to publicly thank our Jazz Hero, my longtime friend and colleague, Gerald Dunn for gently nudging me not to forget my deep Nebraska roots.

To read the complete list of the 2021 nominees for the Jazz Journalist’s Association’s Jazz Heroes click here:


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