The Gift of Jazz

I was thrilled to read about the $5 million gift to Oberlin’s Jazz Studies Program (Winter 2005-06). As a budding jazz pianist in high school, the prospect of studying at Oberlin’s famed Conservatory was why I chose Oberlin. After arriving, I was granted an audition with a renowned European piano professor. With great gusto and a little trepidation, I launched into Lullaby of Birdland. After two choruses, he said, “Tell me, Mr. Arnold, what does your father do?” “He’s in the shoe business,” I said. “Don’t you like the shoe business?” he asked, explaining that jazz had no place in a Conservatory dedicated to serious music, thus ending my piano studies at Oberlin. But not my jazz education. I became active in the Oberlin Jazz Club run by two cool cats, Gil Williams ’57 and Bob Blackburn ’57. The club had brought Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond to campus the previous year, resulting in their acclaimed album, Jazz at Oberlin. During my four years, we welcomed the Stan Kenton band, among other musical groups, and educated ourselves by analyzing Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Miles Davis. By the way, at age 61, two friends and I started Jazmen, a trio composed of keyboard (me), guitar, and bass. With a repertoire of bebop, blues, ballads, and Latin tunes, we gig a couple of times a month at jazz brunches and cocktail parties. In December, at age 69, my partners and I released our first CD. God bless Stewart and Donna Kohl for their generosity. May jazz continue to flourish at Oberlin. Would I were a student there now!

How wonderful to read of the Kohls’ generous gift to Oberlin, inspired by Mel and Phyllis Weisbart Litoff. The story touched on Mr. Litoff’s background and connection to the Leonia Alternative School, an alternative public high school in Leonia, New Jersey. As a graduate of that school, I can say this school was a beacon of inspiration and enlightenment. It was created through Mel Litoff’s incredible foresight, humanity, and perseverance. Breaking from tradition, the school stressed responsibility, accountability, and intensive student involvement. It fostered close, ongoing collaborations among students, between students and faculty, and with the community. While the school eventually succumbed to forces of intransigence and close-mindedness, it had a vital impact on the lives of many. How appropriate that Oberlin is honored and connected, through the Kohls’ generosity, to such a brilliant and visionary humanitarian and educator as Mel Litoff.

Oberlin First

The article on the women’s field hockey team (Winter 2005-06) should have been titled “Oberlin First,” for it was about the vision, dedication, and intent of a group of people that set momentum in a new direction.
I’m the proud parent of senior tri-captain Rosemary Mudry, and it has been my privilege to watch the group evolve from a casual sports team into regional champions and national competitors. The NCAA championship game in Salisbury, Maryland, had a HUGE turnout of Oberlin alumni—more spectators than the Salisbury stands! When my daughter first started at Oberlin, she expressed concern that playing sports was “looked down upon” by the “intellectuals” on campus. Ironically, for all the “liberal-minded” rhetoric, apparently folks weren’t very open-minded about sports! She was particularly troubled because she has always valued both a strong mind and body. After the game in Maryland, she commented about how exciting it was to have all those Obie supporters in the stands. It was as if a new door had finally been opened!

Mr. Haass, I Disagree
How revealing. The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass ’73, has written a book titled The Opportunity: America’s Moment to Alter History’s Course (Fall 2005). Mr. Haass believes the stage is set for what he terms “integration,” the binding together of countries with a common purpose, governed, of course, by the institutions of the G-8 nations (or clubs, as former Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker charmingly put it a few years back). One wonders what the nature of this undefined common purpose might be. It assuredly cannot be based on truth, for our ruling “elite” no longer believes in objective truth. Rather, what is meant by a common purpose is the pursuit of the pecuniary benefits of global commerce, nothing more. The effort to attain global integration based on commerce and trade is a futile fool’s errand. Such are the seductions of fleeting, temporal power. The hubris of deluded men such as Mr. Haass, who believe it is within their power to alter history’s course, is presumptuous and laughable.
The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from the mighty city, will stand far off in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, “Alas, alas, for the great city, that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, bedecked with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! In one hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”—Revelation 18:15-17.

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