It was standing room only at the Sherman Jazz Museum Saturday afternoon as locals got their chance to interact with Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson’s longtime band leader on the “Tonight Show.”
Severinsen and Alan Baylock, director of the University of North Texas’s One O’Clock Lab Jazz Band, fielded questions from more than 100 jazz fans on everything from the “Tonight Show” to the importance of preserving big band music. Severinsen’s appearance at the museum was part of the first Sherman Jazz Festival, which took place Friday and Saturday. The festival culminated with Severinsen and the UNT One O’Clock Lab Jazz Band performing at Kidd-Key Auditorium Saturday evening.
“Johnny was the last of the Mohicans when it came to presenting a television show,” Severinsen said of Carson. “NBC wanted it to be anything from (a) three piece (band) to seven (pieces) and Johnny said, ‘No, it’s going to be a big band.’ Once in a while, the network would get ideas how to cut corners and Johnny would say, ‘I guess you didn’t hear me the first time. I like big band music and as long as I’m here that band will be up there.’”
The festival got off to an enthusiastic start for the crowd Friday night at Old Iron Post with the weekend’s first set of jazz music by Three River Jazz Band featuring Victoria Cook.
“They are very good,” Richard Fair said of the band, who played everything from Blondie’s “Call Me” to classics like “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Fair said he and his wife frequent Old Iron Post on Fridays and they were pleasantly surprised by the change of pace from the recorded music the restaurant usually plays.
“It’s different from what we normally do, but it’s some nice music and a nice change up for downtown Sherman,” Old Iron Post Manager Troy Lankford said.
Lankford estimated Friday night’s crowd “was about 40 percent people” he hadn’t seen before and he attributed that to the Jazz Festival.
On Saturday, Severinsen was asked about what he would say to the next generation of musicians coming up.
“I always try to be encouraging to young people in high schools and some in college, when they don’t know what they’re going to do with a career in music,” Severinsen said. “I say get in touch with the (U.S.) Air Force Band and go take an audition and see if you’ve got what it takes to get in. If I had it to do over again, that’s what I would do.”
Severinsen also praised Baylock for his work in preserving big band jazz music.
“There’s a lot of people that are trying on some level to keep big band music going and at some point they’ve got to get some feedback from the American public,” Severinsen said. “It has to be put back in the mainstream of American music. Big band music is, as we sit here, it’s moment by moment, going down, down, down. It needs to be preserved in some way.”
He praised the Sherman Jazz Museum and the weekend’s jazz festival as signs that there’s still interest in the music.
“But there has to be some promotion of it and this kind of music brought back to the mainstream American public,” Severinsen said.
Baylock said the best presentation for the music is live on stage.
“The music is alive and you’ll hear it tonight,” Baylock said.