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Region’s Military Roots Integral to TXK’s Amazing Musical Legacy

Most Texarkanians know about and celebrate our Ragtime legacy from Scott Joplin’s area roots; those who know about Texarkana native Conlon Nancarrow’s innovations also celebrate his  musical legacy (after all, Frank Zappa called Nancarrow the Father of Electronic Music). We celebrate the impact and imprint of the incredible line-up of musical legends who touched the community when playing the Arkansas Municipal Auditorium. What many may not know is the role of our region’s military in the musical legacy of our Texarkana region, one which was passed along by Texarkana jazz musician, Jerry Atkins.

According to Jerry, when he was a young man learning to master the saxophone, one of the main sources of his training and mentorship were the premier military musicians who had been stationed at Red River Army Depot in the 40s.  As the US military did in various posts and bases around the country, they had stationed a whole band-worth of premier musicians at the Depot, as one of their signature military-based performing groups.  As Jerry recounted, because the depot was a 24/7 operation during the war years, there were always depot-based musicians – when off-duty – jamming in clubs all through Texarkana, at all hours. In turns out that these military musicians were always welcoming of young musicians, like Jerry, who thrilled at the opportunity to jam with and learn from some of the best instrumentalists in the country.

Jerry said the impact of these first class, non-stop, musician-filled Texarkana clubs was far-reaching to his generation of budding local musicians, because Jerry was one among many local musicians who carried that legacy forward to the musical riches of Texarkana which we enjoy today.

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So – three cheers to all of those premier military musicians whose rich legacy we enjoy today! Another historical superlative to celebrate as part of TXK150 – and all of What’s to Love about Texarkana!

PS – Jerry’s account of this part of Texarkana’s musical legacy was the final piece of inspiration that yielded the festival name of TRAHC’s Jump, Jive and JamFest in the early 2000s. And anyone who has ever marveled at the outstanding musicianship of the Texarkana Jazz Orchestra and of many of the individuals part of the ensemble can appreciate Jerry’s story.

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