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Back in the middle part of the last century, when jazz was still in the mainstream of popular music, Springfield served as host to some of the genre’s legendary performers. Duke Ellington made several trips to the capital city, including a show at the Orpheum Theatre in 1939. Miles Davis played one of his first professional road gigs here in 1944, getting called up from his home in East St. Louis as a last minute replacement for a touring band’s trumpet player. Then there’s Louis Armstrong who came to town twice in 1958 – to the state fair in August and few months later to play at the Springfield High auditorium.
Armstrong’s influence is still heard in the local jazz scene today – although it comes by way of his hometown. “We call him Pops. To all the trumpet players in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong was the cat. Even today everybody considers Louis the man,” Frank Parker said.
Parker, 66, was born when the music was still in its heyday in a town known as the Birthplace of Jazz, and into a family with a deep love of music. “I grew up in a house where classical music was playing all the time. And gospel, because my people are really into church,” he said.
Parker started playing trumpet when he was about 6, but stresses often that he’s still learning to this day. He eventually discovered jazz and began playing on Bourbon Street at around age 16. “It was stuff like ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ I wasn’t that great, but I got into it,” he said. Parker arrived in Springfield in 1986. He’s carrying on the tradition of Satchmo while doing his part to revive the local scene. Jazz is no longer in the mainstream, a fact that contributes heavily to its fringe status, both locally and throughout the world. While most of the bars today favor classic rock to bebop, it’s not for lack of local talent.