The Journal of Provincial Thought

jpt is honored to share some of the recollections he is currently weaving into a book (the latest in a series of memoirs of his life and work), and we are running a curriculum vitae to document the remarkable range and variety of his jazz life. Over the next issues we will continue the record of his work and hope to run more episodes from his memoirs. He is still playing with a jazz quartet, now more often clarinet than soprano sax, but always in the vein of the pure Creole New Orleans style.

By Henry Blackburn,
Copyright 2007

Jimmy McPartland’s Case of Nerves

Wednesday, July 2nd, 1947

After a long day of interviews, I returned to the loop via fast electric coach from the University of Chicago on the South Side and stopped down a few yards from a movie house billing “The Lionel Hampton Show.”  The old-fashioned stage show was sorrowfully unmusical, insufferably loud, and soon over.  I left without catching the Roy Rogers flick and was immediately attracted by interesting sounds from a corner bar, The Brass Rail. The zoot-suited young clarinetist played well and thoughtfully.  A strikingly attractive and dignified woman played exciting piano, punctuated by a witty line of patter delivered in an elegant British accent.  She closed the set with a flourishing “Limehouse Blues.”

I finished a beer and left the bar, strolling west on Randolph Street, where at the corner two musicians were talking shop.  As they parted, I asked them where good jazz might be found. Two sheets to the wind, but navigating rather well, one of them replied, “The Brass Rail.”  When I indicated that I had just dropped in there and had found the band “good in spots,” he looked amused, and said: “That’s my band, name’s McPartland,”

I quickly replied, “Oh, yes, and that lady on piano was putting out some especially nice stuff.”  He grunted, “Yeah, that’s my wife!” 

Despite this horrid beginning, the musician apparently took a liking to a fresh and naif med student—more likely he needed a good-listener—and invited me for a drink “down the street a ways,” justifying his heavy consumption that evening by the “weight of the world” on his shoulders. The light dawned belatedly on me that he was cornetist Jimmy McPartland, along with his connection to the pianist, Marian McPartland.

I then recalled that Jimmy was a former member of the Ben Pollock and Benny Goodman bands and was now on his own. When I told him I was a medical student from New Orleans, he mentioned with enthusiasm being on a show the previous week with Bunk Johnson.  I was pleased at his obvious respect for that Louisiana legend, a rare regard for traditional musicians among white jazz and swing musicians of the day.

By now, to my neophyte doctor’s eye, Jimmy seemed a victim of painful anxiety; my heart reached out to him. We talked music, New Orleans, sports, medicine, and having “foreign” wives, he interjecting his down-home philosophy from time to time. 

McPartland physically was a powerful man, a tense, mesomorphic Irish coil. By this time, over our second drink, he was showing photographs of his stunning 17-year-old daughter and of his second wife, Marian.  I hardly knew how to respond to such an intense yet gregarious, idealistic yet troubled, musician-showman but simply tried to be an attentive and sympathetic listener.

Because of his great physical presence and musical competence, it was a surprise when he confided that he still got terrible stage fright, “particularly when friends are in the audience.” This after 25 years in the big time!  He was obviously searching, but his philosophy was poorly organized at three o’clock in the morning.  After a night of performing and putting down a few,  it was mainly platitudes: “Generalities are the thing. Everything is comparative!”  Indeed.

As we headed down the street toward his gym, I begged off from joining him in the sauna, and we parted in the smoggy, pre-dawn damp, he to work off his panic and me to a temporary bed at Wesley Hospital.  By a remarkable coincidence, a May 5th, 1947, issue of Time magazine lay on a table when I entered the dormitory.  It featured Jimmy McPartland. ###

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Musical Chronology. A Sometimes Painful, often Ecstatic Life on the Fringe (1931-2007)

                                       PART I. Birth-Age 17

Played triangle in the “Anvil Chorus” during a first grade musical production in Tampa in 1931, age 6.

Played violin with an excruciating youth orchestra, 1933-34, touring CCC Camps in the Florida wilderness, age 8-9. Discontinued violin immediately following a St. Patrick’s Day recital for a new teacher who required my dressing in a Lord Fauntleroy suit and playing “Londonderry Air.” Age 10.

Exposed from age 8 to 12 to Thelma Smith, a wonderful nanny for my infant brother in small-town Bradenton, Florida. Thelma spontaneously sang, hummed, grunted, chanted, hollered, and moaned beautiful bits of field chants and gospel phrases while she labored. She imparted a deeply warm and natural feeling, with African phrasing and tonalities, in our toneless Methodist home.

Took up clarinet at age 14 in a competitive high school band in Ocala, Florida in 1939 and won a Class C (lowest experience) solo award despite a judge’s perspicacious criticism:  “Attack too strong, probably from playing too much jazz!” (Turned out the judge walked his dog past my house each evening and thus had “outside” information.) The Ocala High band played and marched atrociously in the Orange Bowl State Band Contest, New Year’s Day, 1939, in perfect alignment, but at a 20 degree angle to the yard lines. We disgraced our institution.

Technical advance arrested after move to Gainesville in 1940, without a public school music program. Through intercession of a member of my father’s congregation, I was able to audition for second chair clarinet, University of Florida Symphony Orchestra, where I subsequently gained an appreciation for “serious music” (at the level of The Barber of Seville Overture and the Italian Symphony of Mendelssohn). Age 16.

Played in University of Florida Marching Band in 1941-42, gaining a reputation for success of military band inspections by introducing the lacquering of brass uniform buttons and fixtures with clear nail polish to preserve their brilliant luster.

Gainesville High School, 1941-42, organized a truly awful five-piece band that played for student assemblies, doing such unswinging ballads as, “Careless,” “Chloe,” and “I’m Confessing That I Love You,” to standing ovations, nevertheless, by swing-starved student body.  Age 17.

Attended an “all-colored dance” in an Asheville, North Carolina cotton warehouse with Jimmy Lunceford’s Band at its August, 1941 heights, with group of us boys working in mountain resort hotels. We were segregated behind chicken wire; admission of 55 cents included a half pint of moonshine. We watched moves and heard sounds (Sy Oliver arrangements) never dreamed possible and were admonished as we left, “You ain’t never lived if you ain’t been a n*gg*h on Saturday night!” We were strongly inclined to agree. 

At Florida Southern College, as a freshman in 1942-43, drafted into George Toy’s infamous dance band, mainly because the good musicians were gone to war. Played college cotillions, sleazy country dances, park board performances, and Saturday night officers’ club dances at Florida military bases. In winter of 1942-43 played “White Christmas” 143 times for drunken and soon-to-depart second lieutenants. Traveled out of George Toy’s ice cream shop with instruments in his truck freezer. (The world is fortunate that no record was ever made of the baleful sounds of the George Toy dance orchestra and that only one very fuzzy photograph of it survives.) Age 17.

First out-of-town Saturday night club gig, 1943, in a dangerous nite-spot in Tampa, Florida. Pianist played all night while reading his history text open on the music stand, and where hard earned, hockshop-purchased, 21-key vintage Selmer clarinet was kicked off the band stand and seriously damaged by a drunk during intermission. The job paid $4. Age 17.

                                       PART II. Ages 17-23

College dance band success at Florida Southern College in 1942-43, playing “Dark Eyes” and “Sheik of Araby,” rapidly, roundly and repeatedly, mainly in the lower register. Band “made out” with the coeds after such performances. Age 17-18.

Helped organize a U.S. Navy swing band of 20 pieces at University of Miami, V-12 officer training unit in 1943-44, playing full Glen Miller, Dorsey Brothers and Lunceford arrangements, in a six-man sax section, playing tenor and bass sax and E flat clarinet, band driving the sailor audiences out of their skulls with delight. Age 18-19.

Played second tenor saxophone with U.S. Navy Swing Band at Biltmore Hotel Veterans Benefit Gala in 1944, the sax section 12 inches from Sally Rand’s posterior (whose age at the time was about 45, based on a reasonable guess of her age at her more famous performance in the Chicago 1933 World’s Fair). She danced totally nude, never covered her back side, and had reason to be pleased with herself in middle age. Age 19.

Attended Flamingo Gardens of Miami on weekend leaves through 1943-44; entertainment for the largest number of servicemen in training in the history of the world, and where every great swing band of the 1940s performed. While soldiers and sailors danced, band colleagues rested our chins on the bandstand, “dug” the music, and usually fell madly in love with the female vocalist of each band. This wartime era was the most elegant and romantic period of the big bands. Age 19.

U.S. Navy Marching Band at the Admiral of the Fleets inspection, 1944, while hundreds of mates stood at full attention a dog and a bitch were hung up with frantic contortions a few yards behind the admiral out of his view. Never has a military force in history maintained full dress attention and demeanor so well under such an overwhelming provocation. Several who collapsed from choked mirth were reported to have perforated diaphragms. Age 19.

U.S. Naval Unit, Tulane University Medical School, New Orleans played with the Tulanians, at the 1945 Sugar Bowl game, a band that performed buoyantly as Johnny Lujack of Notre Dame connected with his receivers on almost every pass and crushed the Tulane Green Wave. Age 19-21.

As swing died post-war, I made a rapid evolution to traditional jazz of the Dixie ilk, influenced by Bob Crosby’s Bobcats and the New Orleans clarinetist, Irving Fazola, as well as by Louis Prima and Fats Pichon.

Played jazz standards with black New Orleans musicians in white fraternity house Saturday night parties, in trios and quartets. Was exposed to, but not then infected with, the sounds of “authentic” traditional New Orleans jazz by George Lewis and Bunk Johnson, etc. Their sounds then seemed to me much “too rough.” Age 20.

Attended the famous Hall of Fame concert nationally broadcast as a Parade of Stars at the Orchestra Hall in New Orleans with Bunk, Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet, JC Higginbottom, et al. 1946, age 21.

A whole night of pub crawling and jazz seeking (Victory Club and Lee Collins) on Chicago’s near-northside in 1947 with Muggsy Spanier, famous cornetist and former patient of Alton Ocshner, who saved Muggsy’s life from a bleeding ulcer (memorialized in “Touro Infirmary Blues”). age 22.

During Chicago internship 1948-49, exposed at the elegant club, Jazz Limited, to Bill and Mary Reinhardt, Sidney Bechet, Doc Evans, Art Hodes, Don Ewell, Bill Price (later St. Paul broker and colleague), Manny Sayles, and a parade of visiting “dixieland” stars. Visited with the McPartlands and Lady Day at the Blue Note and with Lee Collins on most Friday nights at the Victory Club on North Clark Street. Thought him the greatest trumpeter then alive after Satchmo; facilitated his alcohol dependence while he effectively protected my health and welfare from aggressive hookers and homicidal drunks — and occasionally let me sit in. Age 23.

Jazz history continued next issue. . .

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Another Life: Professional CV of
Henry Blackburn M.D. (1925-  )

Henry Blackburn was educated at the University of Miami and the Tulane University School of Medicine, and served internships and residencies at Chicago Northwestern Memorial, the American Hospital of Paris, and the University of Minnesota. He established clinics for Methodist Missions in Oriente Province, Cuba in 1949 and served as US Public Health Service officer for the Displaced Persons Act in Austria from 1950 to 1953. After a research rotation at the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at Minnesota in 1954 he joined its faculty in 1956, becoming Project Officer for the Seven Countries Study of Heart Diseases in Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan,and USA from 1957 to 1972. That year he became Director of the Laboratory upon Ancel Keys’s retirement. He became chairman of the Division of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health at Minnesota in 1983, where he remains in active retirement since 1996.

The Seven Countries role and two signature publications initiated his research career: “The Electrocardiogram in Population Studies” (aka The Minnesota Code: Circulation, 1960) and “Cardiovascular Survey Methods” with Geoffrey Rose (World Health Organization, 1968). From an initial focus on survey methods his interests developed in risk prediction with the resting and exercise electrocardiogram and with physiological testing, during which studies he became involved with design and analysis of pilot trials in physical activity, in the University Group Diabetes Program, the Coronary Drug Project, and eventually with the several NIH-sponsored multicenter preventive trials of the 1970s and 80s.

His Seven Countries Study experience led him to propose community-wide, population strategies of surveillance and preventive interventions, culminating in the Minnesota Heart Survey, operated continuously since 1978, and the Minnesota Heart Health Program, begun in 1979, each advancing the methods and concepts of surveillance and public health promotions.

Blackburn served in several leadership roles in CVD epidemiology and prevention, including Scientific Councils of international and U.S. heart foundations, Ten-day Seminars in CVD Epidemiology, steering committees of national prevention trials, as W.H.O. consultant, and on the Advisory Council of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. He retired as Director of  Epidemiology at the U. of Minnesota School of Public Health in 1990 and as Mayo Chair in Public Health in 1996.

In retirement he prepares a history of research in CVD epidemiology and prevention under a book contract with Oxford University Press and an Archive and Website contract with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health:

Select publications:

Blackburn, H, Keys, A, Simonson, E, Rautaharju, P, Punsar, S:  The electrocardiogram in population studies.  A classification system.  Circulation 21:1160, 1960.

Blackburn, H, Brozek, J, Taylor, HL:  Common circulatory measurements in smokers and non-smokers. Circulation 22:1091, 1960.

Rose, GA, Blackburn, H:  Cardiovascular Survey Methods.  W.H.O.

Monograph Series No. 56, W.H.O. Press, Geneva, 1968.

Blackburn, H and Tominaga, S. The prognostic importance of the  electrocardiogram after myocardial infarction.  Experience in the Coronary Drug Project.  Ann. Intern. Med. 77:677, 1972.

Blackburn, H:  Research and demonstration projects in community cardiovascular disease prevention.  J. Pub. Health Pol. 4 (4):398-421, 1983.

Blackburn, H, Epstein, FH. History of the Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, American Heart Association: The pursuit of epidemiology within the American Heart Association: Prehistory and early organization. Circulation 4:1253-1262, 1995.

Blackburn, H. Epidemiological basis of a community strategy for the prevention of cardiopulmonary diseases.  Ann Epidemiol 1997;S7:S8-S13.

Blackburn, H, Haines J. Cardiovascular diseases and their prevention in Minnesota. Minnesota Medicine. 2003; 86(5): 42-8, 2003.

Blackburn, H. The slavery hypothesis of hypertension among African Americans. Epidemiology, 2003;14: 118-119.


Cardiovascular Survey Methods.  W.H.O. Press, Geneva, 1968 (with Geoffrey Rose), second edition 1982.

On the Trail of Heart Attacks in Seven Countries. University of Minnesota, 1996

“PK.” Irreverent Memoirs of a Preacher’s Kid. Coastal Press, 1999

If It Isn’t Fun. . . Memoirs of a Different Kind of Medical Life: Vol 1, 1942-1972, Transcontinental Press, 2001

It Isn’t Always Fun. Memoirs of a Different Kind of Medical Life: Vol. 2, 1972-2002, Transcontinental Press, 2004

Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease.  Diet, Lifestyle and Risk Factors in the Seven Countries Study, Eds. Daan Kromhout, Alessandro Menotti, Henry Blackburn.  Brouwer, The Netherlands, 2002.

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jptHOME Issue 4

Copyright 2007- WJ Schafer & WC Smith - All Rights Reserved

Cogito Ergo Nix--Pigasus, the jpt winged pig
jptHome Issue 4
Henry Blackburn, in the interstices of an extraordinarily busy and productive 60-year career as a pioneer heart researcher, found time to master the nearly untameable soprano saxophone (as well as its cousins the clarinet and alto sax), to become proficient and widely experienced in playing New Orleans jazz, including many pilgrimages from his Minnesota home to the Crescent City. A jazz fan from youth onward, Henry has heard the best of golden age musicians, played with many of them, marched the streets of the city in brass bands, played at or near Preservation Hall, led his own bands around the Twin Cities and accumulated a lifetime of jazz memories.
HB with soprano sax, copyright 2007 Henry Blackburn all rights reserved
Jimmy McPartland's Case of Nerves
Musical Life of Henry Blackburn
Another Life: Medical Career CV