Letter to a Jazz Man

Dear Jack,

This morning my iPod chose an instrumental track from one of your albums, and at first I admit I didn’t realize who it was. Jack Mitchell and His Big Band. What a talented group of geezers.

Jack Mitchell and His Big Band

I took my iPod out of shuffle mode so that I could hear the rest of your album.

The random selection had been a bit of a coincidence, because my wife and I signed contracts just this past week to sell our home in Texas and return to Bella Vista, Arkansas — the town where you and I met.

I interviewed you for The Weekly Vista, and wrote a review of your CD. Living and working in that retirement village, I met many folks I would have been proud to call my grandparents. Former NASA workers, CEO’s, artists, professors, and musicians. With your soft-spoken demeanor and kindness, and your exuberant drumming, you were tops among them. When you showed up in Bella Vista, you joined and later took the lead in a jazz band that played two presidential inaugural balls.

Curious about getting back in touch with folks after we settle back in Bella Vista, I looked up your name online and was glad to see a Facebook page for your band, a YouTube video, and online articles about your band’s various notable performances.

I hoped you would remember that time that I arranged to have your band play for a Chamber of Commerce fundraiser for the needy. My new friends happily dancing to your band’s smooth tunes, I approached the stage and requested “Big Bad Bill.” You either misunderstood me or just went with what you thought a 30-something might request. The band launched into, “Jump, Jive, and Wail,” a song that The Gap commercial had made popular, and the most dancers all night shook a leg.

Your drum solo that night left me amazed that a man nearly 80 years old could still wield the sticks with such dexterity. Your work on the track “Drummin’ Man” amazes me, too.

As I perused the Google results, I found an article in the Cleveland Banner that indicated you had moved back up north after more than 20 years in Bella Vista. You continued to play drums and joined a jazz band. It also told of how you served in WWII in the Air Force Band, and invented board games including “Know Your America.”

That same article, sadly, also told me that you had passed away in 2011.

I am glad that I got to know you, Jack, even just the least bit. Although I hadn’t seen you in at least 12 years, I felt a loss when I read of your death. The world lost not only a great musician, but a great American and a true family man. Your music lives on in my iPod.

Source of his later life details:
http://clevelandbanner.com/bookmark/16143900-Jack-Mitchell