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By L. Alexis Young - Inland Valley Daily Bulletin - January 25, 2007

Celebrating black entertainers - Century of songs pays tribute to talented pioneers

The goal of the concert was to highlight the accomplishments and contributions of black musicians and Jack Mercer and his show band did just that with a tear-jerking, high energy show.

On Jan. 15, Mercer directed the Ontario/Chaffey Community Show Band in "Black Entertainers of the Century," a concert featuring the music of jazz legend Duke Ellington, Ragtime legend Scott Joplin, and many other famed musicians.  Along with the music, the concert offered a historical lesson about the origins of the styles of music featured.

"The style that Scott Joplin used on the piano turned into ragtime," Mercer explained about the musician who made history in the 1880s.  "He was the father of ragtime.  it became so popular that it just exploded.  Ragtime insists that you get up and dance."

One of the musicians featured in the show was white but Mercer said Hoagy Carmichael was heavily influenced by black musicians.  Dixieland, created by black musicians, also influenced a number of white musicians.

"Hoagy Carmichael took the tools of the black community and used them to write his own," Mercer said.  "It was basically black ideas that he used.  Dixieland began when two or three black musicians got together for fun and relaxation.  It migrated into the church so when the church had a funeral or something of that sort, they would play Dixieland.  The Dixieland band started as a church activity and expanded to the point where you didn't have to go to a funeral to hear it.  It was designed to be toe-tapping and fun.  White musicians took it over because they saw how much fun the black musicians were having."

Show band members were excited about the repertoire of music selected for the show and said though the songs were challenging to learn, they enjoyed revisiting music from the mid 1800s and early 1900s.

"Ragtime is quite difficult in a quartet because you're on your own, you have to play your own part," explained Earl Phares a former music student of Mercer's that played Scott Joplin's music in the show with his group, the "Phares Saxophone Maniacs".  "It's a challenge.  A lot of ragtime came from black musicians and it's a ball to play because of the tempo.  We listened to CD's of the songs to learn our parts but it didn't take us long to get the songs together."

Music by Blind Tom, the first recognized black musician, William Handy, a blues legend, and Ray Charles was featured in the concert.  A slide show of each musician along with biographical information about them was shared and several guest vocalist performed and gospel group "Favor" moved many to tears with their rendition of Amazing Grace.

Mercer created dixieland groups within the band to play dixieland music, a style of jazz developed in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century.  Mercer's Dixieland Saints, Dixieland Jammers, and Big-Beat Dixieland groups had toes-tapping and hands clapping in the crowd.

"I played in two of the Dixieland groups and I had a great time playing in the Dixieland Jam," said Chris McAleer, a show band member that has been playing clarinet for 40 years.  "I don't like any contemporary music but I like all of the '40s Jazz because it has a different feel.  It's usually played by a small group and most of the time the music wasn't written down it was just everybody jamming.  Dixieland makes you think of New Orleans and it's happy music."

The show band's next performance is scheduled for Feb. 12.  All of the band's concerts are free of charge and held at Gardiner Spring Auditorium in Ontario.  For more information call (909) 467-0436.

[L. Alexis Young writes City News. E-mail, call (909) 483-9365 or write to 2041 E. Fourth St., Ontario, CA 91764.]

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