in memory of doug mitchell, jazz drummer

Most people knew Doug Mitchell as the long serving acquisitions editor of the University of Chicago press. I did know him in this role. He gave me a lot of advice on writing and told me to read Bill Germano’s wonderful book on how to write an academic text. But that is not the way I remember him. I knew him mainly as a jazz drummer.

In Hyde Park, there is a musical community based around playing jazz, blues, and funk. Much of it converged at “Jimmy’s,” a local bar that would have open jam sessions on Sunday nights. A life long jazz fan and amateur player, I quickly found myself in this milieu. I sat in and played (badly) with some folks who went on to become well regarded musicians and music scholars, like Matana Roberts and Paul Steinbeck. The guy behind the trap set a lot of the time was Doug Mitchell.

One day, I was trying to get people together for a gig and I said, “we need a drummer.” Through a friend of a friend, we got Doug Mitchell. For a year or so, he was the guy we’d ask to sit behind the trap set for a gig in Hyde Park. And it was fun. He was a very solid “inside” drummer and a seriously cool dude. He told me the story of how Miles Davis hit on his wife at a Chicago club in the 1960s. He told me about his wild intellectual interests. And, perhaps most crucially, he told me how to sit properly while drumming so that you won’t get back problems. After I graduated, I rarely saw Doug, except at ASA and only in passing, though he once did invite me to a big party people threw for him at the now defunct Hot House music space. It was a good party and his friends chipped in to get him a trip to Paris.

This jazz tune, Sugar by Stanley Turrentine, is a common song that beginners like me enjoy playing. When Doug played it, he was smiling and sweating hard, and he knew when to drop a big hit for dramatic effect. So thanks for memories. I am glad music allowed our paths to cross.



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Written by fabiorojas

September 15, 2019 at 12:09 am

Posted in uncategorized

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