Many years ago, “A young cat made the drive from Dublin, Georgia to Milledgeville and established the Georgia College Jazz Band” (to borrow from Dr. Bob Wilson’s introduction to the concert). That man, who happens to be my uncle James Willoughby, turned over the baton to Dr. Ted Shiver in the mid-nineties who led the band for two decades before another transfer of power was made to Dr. Clifford Towner. The alumni of the band gather a few weeks ago to pay homage to legacy of the band and its directors.
The alumni is as diverse of a group as you would expect from a group of musicians who play a genre known for pushing boundaries. There are plenty of individuals who went on to direct their own middle and high school bands to be sure, but there are also economic developers, politicians, entrepreneurs, and a historian who curates a national historic landmark and museum.
Some of my earliest memories are of attending jazz band concerts and other musical productions. After his retirement, I also became the chauffeur of sorts for my uncle to attend other concerts around the state. It would not be uncommon for me to receive a phone call with the simple question “are you busy?” A negative response would lead to a time, a dress code, and a “it is vital for your cultural well-being.”
This night was indeed vital to my cultural well-being. We combined a night out for my father’s birthday and begin the celebration of Mothers’ Day a week early. After dinner at Longhorns (high class for Milledgeville) we headed to the Alumni Jazz Band Concert. It was a great performance, especially since many of the players had not played together in years, if ever. My uncle was on the program, and saw that the eighty-eight was handled properly for the evening. Dr. Shiver was in the audience and Dr. Towner put the band through its paces.