Harold Meehan (1925-2000) was the orchestra and "stage band" director at South Park High School in Beaumont, Texas. It was Mr. Meehan who introduced Dave to jazz and classical music, both of which became his passion, along with poetry--this, of course, was before his having met María. Mr. Meehan had had a profound influence on Dave's life and Dave kept in touch with his mentor up to the latter's death in 2000. Dave's favorite teacher, Mr. Meehan was originally from St. Louis, Missouri, where he had heard in person the bebop giants Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Mr. Meehan would purchase jazz and classical recordings with school funds so that his students could listen to them. Dave began to buy recordings on his own, and would build up a sizable collection that served him well as a future writer. In the coming years, Dave would write two poems about Mr. Meehan, one in the first section of a three-part poem entitled "Jazz God & Freshman English" and the second a section in Dave's "Teachers at South Park High."
The South Park High School "stage band" was called such because dancing was frowned on in the Bible Belt. Seated in the middle of the front row is Hubert Campbell on lead alto sax; he would also occupy the same position in the Lamar State College dance band, The Technicians, and would marry Martha Sanders, who was on the staff of the Lamar student literary magazine, Pulse (see below).
After Harold Meehan had taught for years in Beaumont and later in Temple, Texas, he retired with his wife Marge to property near Nacogcoches, which she had inherited from her family. Dave visited the couple on several occasions and thoroughly enjoyed Marge's piano playing and her sense of humor and Harold's improvising on his alto sax and performing fiddle tunes that he had learned from local musicians. Unfortunately, Harold developed macular degeneration and had to depend on the services of Reading for the Blind and the Talking Book program. He ordered an audio copy of Dave's Texan Jazz and could hear his former student's tribute to him in the Preface. When Dave and his son Darío visited the Meehans circa 1995, Darío photographed Harold looking through a book entitled Bebop: The Music and the Players, by Thomas Owen, which Dave had brought along to show to his mentor. Harold has remained for Dave one of the most important persons in his life.
As a first-semester freshman at Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Dave was an English major, but the second semester he switched his major to music. He greatly enjoyed playing in the college dance band, The Technicians, and being recorded in 1958 on its album, Take Four. In fact, performing with the Technicians was one of the most memorable experiences of Dave's life. Nevertheless, he still feels distress from having missed notes on the recording, which can be heard during the tune entitled "Dancing on the Ceiling." His range of notes was always limited and he "fluffed" several in that piece. He realized at the time that he would never become a professional musician.
Professor Richard Burkart (the last figure on the far right in the top row) formed The Technicians on arriving in Beaumont in 1956 to begin his teaching career at Lamar Tech. To the professor's left is Worley Hines, who worked in the oil fields but performed with the band as "screech" trumpet, meaning that he could play very high notes. At one time Worley was with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, and in 1968 he and Dave would start a student band at New Mexico Junior College, in Hobbs, NM, where Dave was then teaching and Worley was there working in the oil fields.
Side 2 - April in Paris and Dancing on the Ceiling
Professor Burkart had given Dave private trumpet lessons when he was still in high school. As a member of The Technicians, Dave developed further his love for jazz that he had first felt in high school, and the experience of playing with the group would influence his subsequent writings on the music. Professor Burkart later became director of brass instruments at Ohio State University; he was an outstanding and patient teacher and did his best to help Dave improve his playing, but Dave realized that he did not have the talent to be a musician, so he returned to majoring in English. It was then that he discovered that if he could not perform music, he could write about it. In 1999, Dr. Burkart recommended Dave to an editor-friend as a writer on jazz, and as a result Dave wrote for Greenwood Press his book The Early Swing Era, published in 2002.
Dave's first and favorite English professor in college was Dr. Francis Abernethy. After teaching at Lamar Tech for a number of years, "Ab," as he was called by his colleagues, took a position at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he became the Secretary of the Texas Folklore Society. Dave visited Ab on several occasions, and circa 1995, Dave's son Darío photographed the professor and his dad in Ab's office at SFA. Some of Ab's books, a Texas map, and a few of his many artifacts are visible on the walls and shelves. Dave's poem on Ab is the third part of his "Jazz God & Freshman English" in the revised Memories collection (2019).
Four other Lamar Tech English professors who made lasting impressions on Dave were: Dr. Robert Nossen; Dr. Winfred Emmons; Professor Alexander Viner; and Dr. William Whipple. Dr. Nossen was head of the English Department when Dave attended the college, and it was the professor's second-semester freshman English class and his first half of British Literature course that gave Dave his introduction to poetry. Dr. Emmons' second half of British Lit awakened Dave to the work of William Blake, Wordsworth's "Michael," and William Butler Yeats, and Win's Chaucer course instilled in him a lifetime love of Geoffrey's verse. Dave's poem on Dr. Emmons is in the Beaumont section of his revised Memories collection. Professor Viner's World Lit course was fundamental to Dave's awareness of classic European and Russian writings. Dr. Whipple critiqued Dave's early poems and challenged him as no other professor. Dave's poem on him, entitled "A Little Something for William Whipple," is also in the revised Memories collection.
Under the influence of Dave’s high school composer-friend, Andrew Rudin, he became enamored of the music of Charles Ives and was inspired to write an essay on that New England composer. Two years later he would write a poem on Ives, entitled “Order of Worship," which he included in his self-published chapbook, doubt & Redoute, of 1962. In 2001, he would write a second poem on Ives, entitled “The Pilgrimage,” with both titles indicating the same type of secular idolatry found in his essay in Pulse. Rereading his essay (reproduced below), Dave was chagrined to find his writing so awkward and his incorrect use of the word “realized,” instead of “recognized.” But the object of having a student literary magazine is to give a fledgling writer a chance to try his wings and learn from the experience of going into print. In the past Dave had been unable to understand why he had quoted from W.H. Auden's poem, "The Letter," other than to show off his readings, but this time he “realized” that in writing the essay he had tried to make a connection between the Auden lines and critics who faulted Ives wIth being blind and lost in terms of music composition. Dave was surprised to see that at the time of writing his essay in 1959 that he already knew La Création du Monde, the jazz-influenced composition by Darius Milhaud. He says that it has been painful but fun to revisit his early writings.
Editors James Mellard and Carroll Black and Professor Winfred Emmons were important figures in Dave's life, and he would write poems on both Carroll and Dr. Emmons.
Martha Sanders was a fellow English major who subsequently became a longtime friend, sharing with Dave a love of poetry.
Charles Ives Essay in Pulse Magazine.
Charles Ives Essay in Pulse Magazine
Charles Ives Essay in Pulse Magazine.
During Dave's final semester before completing his B.A. degree at the end of 1962, he submitted several poems to Pulse, and his "An Afternoon of Debussy" won 1st place in the Eleanor Weinbaum poetry contest. For reasons he could not recall, he never included the poem in any of his collections. Reading the poem after many years, he found his phrase "manly wire" to be a poor, unclear metaphor for the chest hair of the young father described in the poem. Another of his poems was also included in the same issue, a piece entitled "Death of a Beat," which he discovered years later was inaccurate in referring to a buffalo on a Great Northern railroad boxcar, since it should have been a Rocky Mountain goat. Despite the weaknesses of the two early poems, he remembered how proud he was to have them both printed in Pulse, and of course to have won the Weinbaum prize.