Jazz Scene: An Interview with Donald Gardner
Gardner (far right) playing cocktail drums
Throughout this past semester, we (Georgette Cox, Stefan Doig, George
Hayes, Marcel Pratt, TaNeeka Prioleau, Karon Singleton and Jennifer
Supplee) had the opportunity to experience "World Music" for the
first time. Although we are all fans of various genres of music, it was
not until we all became members of the Music 50- World Music &
Cultures course, offered at the University of Pennsylvania, that we
really developed a greater understanding of music's underlying cultural
context. Ultimately this course taught us how to analyze the actual
sound of music, and how music is transformed through technologies and
mediation as it travels.
part of our final project, we were instructed to conduct an oral
history project on Philadelphia Jazz performances and musicians.
"Philadelphia has a long and important history of Jazz performance, but
one that has largely been ignored in mainstream Jazz circles, with
places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Orleans playing a
much more visible role in the Jazz Cannon" (Professor Carol Muller).
Through the following
interview, we hope to educate the masses and change this sentiment.
we planned on interviewing Dottie "Mother Dot" Smith, after having the
opportunity to meet her in class. Due to extenuating circumstances, she
was not able to commit to this project. In lieu of her participation,
she referred us to her colleague, Don Gardner, former President of the
Philadelphia Clef Club. They began their relationship back in the late
1950s when Mother Dot taught him to play the cocktail drums.
In preparing for this interview, we searched online for the
Philadelphia Clef Club.
Through our initial search, we learned that the Clef Club is the first
institution ever to be completely dedicated to Jazz music, as jazz was
traditionally developed in the commercial sector through bars and
clubs. While we initially searched for information using his full legal
name, it was not long before we realized that Mr. Gardner was only
listed under his abbreviated stage name "Don Gardner". This was the
first big step in the initial preparation and
research. From this point, we were able to find various information on
Gardner and his contributions to the Jazz and then R&B world
through some of his previously distributed records. We were able to
both read about, as well as listen to, some of his albums, such as Need
Your Lovin’, which came out in 1962 and was his most popular
record to date. We have included links to some of his songs on this
website. We saw this preparation as beneficial to the interview because
it showed that our group was interested in what he has done by finding
some of his great accomplishments.
Album Cover for Need Your Lovin', 1962
Description of Interview
The Clef Club, located at
736 S. Broad Street, resembled a miniature
glass high rise. At initial glance, the Clef Club did not embody an
image of “jazz.” The building resembled a museum. It
appeared to be closed down to the public and only open to our group as
a place to conduct the interview. As we arrived at the front door,
someone buzzed us in over the intercom. We were led to a floor full of
offices where we were told to wait for Donald Gardner. After Mr.
Gardner arrived, we were led to a large auditorium. The top portion of
the auditorium resembled a large cafeteria with wooden tables and
chairs. There was a stage in the front of the room. Walking towards the
back of the room, each section grew slightly elevated. We were all
asked to take a seat in the back of the room.
The atmosphere of the interview was extremely conversational. This was
not only displayed through the tone of the conversation but also
through the physical positioning of those involved in the interview. We
all, including Donald Gardner, sat in a circular form and began to
speak about his jazz career and the history of the Clef Club.
Links to Interview:
To read and listen to our
interview, click here.
The interview consisted of
free flowing conversation between our group
and Mr. Gardner. Everyone was invited to ask questions, and Mr. Gardner
readily responded with candid answers. Overall, the interview was a
success. It was a great culmination to the class and all the musical
concepts that we learned, especially in terms of the ethnographic
cycle. It was a pleasure interviewing Don Gardner and we think that it
would be beneficial to all young people to get such an opportunity to
learn about how music transforms over time, both in culture and in