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Montana’s jazz roots discussed

POLSON — Although one might think of Montana as a haven for country and western music, it wasn’t always that way.

Wilbur Rehmann, a Helena jazz musician and lecturer for the Montana Humanities Speakers Bureau, came to Polson last week to talk about the history of jazz in the state.

Rehmann played his saxophone at various times throughout the evening event at North Lake County Public Library. “We weren’t originally a country and western state,” he said. “Montana was open to all kinds of music.”

Jazz and blues developed separately out of field hollers and work and spiritual songs, he said.

W.C. Handy, the “father of the blues,” performed in Billings in 1903, Rehmann said. Handy performed along with a minstrel show that featured blacks, as opposed to whites with “black face.”

Polson got into the action with the Polson Cowboy Band, which played a “western swing” in the 1910s until the 1930s.

Famous jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong performed in Helena in 1951 and Missoula in 1968, Rehmann said. Armstrong and his King Oliver Band were unable to procure a hotel in Missoula, but were put up by some local jazz lovers.

The Ozark Jazz Club had a house jazz band that performed in the 1950s, catering to black Armed Forces members stationed at what was then known as Great Falls Air Force Base, Rehmann said.

Keeping with a jazz theme, the library will host the Navy Band Northwest Brass Quintet on Friday, March 24, at 1:30 p.m.

The band, which is based out of Silverdale, Washington, near Naval Base Kitsap, is comprised of two trumpets, a French horn, trombone and tuba.


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