Swingin’ the Blues: 21 Years of the Georgia College Jazz Band with Dr. Bob Wilson

Now let’s go back to 1943, and if some of the jokes are a bit corny and sexist by 1990s standards, put it in a historical perspective.

— “Georgia College USO Show” script, 1995

Twenty one short years ago the Georgia College Jazz Band, with special guest appearances from the Georgia College Show Choir and Georgia College Theatre Department, performed the Georgia College USO Show on February 24 and 25, 1995. With a show titled “Music from World War II,” the band went on to swing some iconic tunes, such as “Moonlight Serenade” from Glenn Miller, and the perennial classic, “Sing, Sing, Sing” from Louis Prima. This tribute was especially fitting; Georgia College, or Georgia State College for Women, was the site of a broadcast from Bob Hope and his whole troop on May 18, 1943. Why? Because of the brave women receiving training on campus from the Navy WAVES program. The one thing missing from this triple threat of musical talent was the history. Band director Todd Shiver needed someone to take the helm as emcee and provide some historical perspective to the show — a newly promoted Associate Professor in the Department of History and Geography, Dr. Bob Wilson.

Even after retiring from teaching, Dr. Bob has continued to be the voice of the Georgia College Jazz Band, delighting jazz band members and audiences alike. However, on November 3 and 4, 2016, the jazz band paid tribute to Dr. Bob’s “swinging” as announcer at his final shows. Full of stories of jazz legends, jazz history, and a whole lot of love for the band, Dr. Bob’s scripts represent a large part of the institutional history of Georgia College and the end of an era to current and former band members, as well as those returning audience members. Thankfully Dr. Bob kept all of these materials since 1995; Director of Georgia College Bands Dr. Cliff Towner received four folders of scripts, programs, newspaper clippings, notes — everything imaginable about the band — from Dr. Bob, and these materials were promptly passed on to Special Collections.

Before going on, I must admit the personal joy I have gotten out of handling this collection. I was a member of the band from 2012-2016, playing alto and tenor saxophone, and experienced firsthand the pride Dr. Bob has for the students, the band, and the music. Reading his scripts over the past few days has made me relive the concerts of my past, dating back to 2012, my first semester of undergrad at Georgia College. I’m sure that other former members of the band will get this same joy out of seeing themselves, their names, and their memories in this amazing collection.

It’s definitely a “sentimental journey” to look back on the past twenty one years of Dr. Bob’s legacy with the Jazz Band. Here’s a look back at Dr. Bob and the GC Jazz Band along with our institutional history:

1995. The Georgia College USO Show is in full swing. Dr. Barbara Chandler, a former Navy WAVE at Georgia College attended the show. Georgia College is one year away from our sixth official name change – to Georgia College and State University.

2001. Georgia College Jazz Band welcomes Ken Burns to the stage this Fall. Dr. Bob also says perhaps my new favorite quote about jazz music:

Jazz music, like the American experiment, is all about freedom, improvisation, respect, and working together. Jazz, not surprisingly, was discouraged in Stalinist Russia, Hitler thought it was decadent, and Osama Bin Laden rarely gets groovy.

–Fall 2001 Jazz Band Concert

2003. Upon the 60th Anniversary of the Bob Hope Show coming to campus (1943-2003), the band performs the show in its entirety from the original script. Students portrayed Bob Hope, Frances Langford, Jerry Colonna, and the rest of the Hope gang. Dr. Bob once again provided his historical insight, taking the band right back to 1943. He once told me, when the archive was planning to showcase the WAVE uniform donated by Dr. Chandler, how the band dressed one of the show choir singers in the uniform to perform “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” In 2003, Georgia College was growing and preserving, building five new dorms as well as completing a historical renovation of the Old Governor’s Mansion.

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This was also a year that the Jazz Band took their first study abroad tour to the Czech Republic, accompanied and announced by Dr. Bob. Delighting the Czech audiences with his stories, Dr. Bob said “I teach in the History Department of Georgia College way down in the Deep South of the United States – a town called Milledgeville, Georgia. For years I have had the pleasure of combining my love of jazz history with one of the finest swing bands in the American Southeast – the Georgia College & State University Jazz Band under the direction of Dr. Todd Shiver.”

2005. This year marks the Tenth Anniversary of Dr. Bob’s time with the band. The semester prior was the first and only jazz show Dr. Bob has ever missed; however teaching in the Czech Republic was definitely not an opportunity to miss out on! Dr. Tom Toney filled in for Dr. Bob that previous semester, regaling the audience with stories of jazz and history. For this tenth anniversary concert, the band played a great selection of big band tunes, and featured vocals from alumni of the band throughout Dr. Bob’s time as emcee.

2014. Celebrating the college’s quasquicentennial, more commonly known by students around campus as simply the 125th, Dr. Bob chose to tie each of the tunes performed by the band to his work as University Historian by providing a little institutional history to each of the tunes performed. Ranging from the integration of Georgia College in 1964, the death of former President Marvin Parks in 1926, all the way to 2003, the connection between music and college was the kind of connection that only Dr. Bob could provide.

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2015. The GC Jazz Band returned to the Czech Republic, this time missing the expertise, knowledge, and humor of Dr. Bob. However, before sending the band off to Czech, Dr. Bob stopped by McComb to ensure we all had an extensive knowledge of Czech history.

Throughout the years, Dr. Bob has welcomed a number of guest artists to the stage — jazz greats like Victor Goines, Bill Watrous, and Chris Vadala. And throughout the years, Dr. Bob would collect stories from each of them, storing them away to tell at the next show, or perhaps to the next student he meets who has a penchant for swing.final-groovin-poster-10-21-16_0

And finally, 2016. On November 4, Dr. Bob announced his final show, closing the first half of the show with his favorite tune “Swinging the Blues.” For the final half, he finally got the chance to sit back in the audience, and hear some, as he called it, “music therapy.”

 

So, current and former jazz students, directors, and audiences all thank you, Dr. Bob, for your amazing contribution to Georgia College history and tradition. Louis Armstrong once said that “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” And clearly, Dr. Bob never has to ask…he just knows.

The archive is currently processing Dr. Bob’s papers, but if “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” for you as well, remember to stop by the archive to see other items from the Georgia College Jazz Band, or about the World War II era at Georgia College.

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