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Faculty Research Spotlight

Hank Hehmsoth, School of Music

Music Professor Preserves and Celebrates Music History


Morgenstern's “unique knowledge of and personal experiences with Jazz musicians in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s must be recorded and preserved so that this important history can be shared with generations to come.”

Dan Morgenstern
Dan Morgenstern

Dan Morgenstern, “A National Treasure”

For the last 12 years, the Jazz Department in Texas State University’s School of Music has sponsored National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master Dan Morgenstern as featured speaker at our annual Eddie Durham Celebration Concert in Evans Auditorium. Each year the program features performances, including an all-star big band with many original players of the Count Basie Orchestra, and a talk with Dan Morgenstern on different aspects of the amazing jazz arranger/performer Eddie Durham (a San Marcos native) and his pioneering contributions to jazz. However, Dan Morgenstern turns 90 this year and has trouble traveling from New York City, so in his place we invited Loren Schoenberg, Senior Scholar and founder of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

It is extremely important now to chronicle and preserve Morgenstern’s unique personal experiences and research, as travel is becoming increasingly difficult for him. While he is currently in excellent health, his unique knowledge of and personal experiences with Jazz musicians in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s must be recorded and preserved so that this important history can be shared with generations to come. Morgenstern’s extensive knowledge of early Jazz artists combined with his unique talent for storytelling truly make him a national treasure who can engage audiences of all ages.

Hank Hehmsoth
Hank Hehmsoth

On becoming a “niche historian”

As project director of a 2018-2019 funded NEA Grant, I travelled to New York City in August 2018 to record interviews with Dan Morgenstern and his lifelong friends and internationally recognized jazz historians. These included Loren Schoenberg, this year’s keynote speaker and founder of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and Phil Schaap, Jazz radio broadcaster and Curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center. From September 2018 through December 2019, I will research and produce videos on the various topics and subjects discussed. A website dedicated to Dan Morgenstern’s research and recollections will preserve this unique heritage while safeguarding and codifying Morgenstern’s large body of knowledge. I will also send press releases about the website to national and state associations for music education as well as local, regional, and national radio stations, and news outlets, where I will introduce the website and recordings available for free download and public distribution.

The website preservation project, a major part of the NEA grant project, will be hosted by Texas State and is expected to be available to the public during summer 2019. It will include recordings of the annual Eddie Durham Celebration Concerts with MP3s available for download, along with each year’s program PDFs, in addition to the videos I am currently working on. Those videos, by the way, have earned me the title of “niche historian.” In fact, Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies is interested in my video work, and we are working on a Netflix pilot documentary on Dan Morgenstern. If you would like a sneak peek of the videos before the website goes live, take a look below.

Hank Hehmsoth

If at first you don’t succeed…

Federal grants require much preparation. My current 2018/2019 NEA grant took three years of effort. First, I had to compete with other Texas State colleges to win approval. A university may only apply for one NEA grant per year. There were 14 contestants, and I worked with Lisa Westerbeck, Research Coordinator, College of Fine Arts and Communication, in applying. I made a point that it is important to do this work now because of NEA Jazz Master Dan Morgenstern’s advanced age, and that it is critical to preserve his knowledge. I won approval from Texas State, but that was just the start of it. We worked with NEA Jazz Specialist Katja von Schuttenbach who initially turned us down for the grant. I remember she said, “Why would the NEA fund an event that is primarily about Texas and Texas Jazz artist Eddie Durham?” So instead we steered the project to encompass the life and reminiscences of NEA Jazz Master Dan Morgenstern and his research on Kansas City Jazz, which included his particular interest in San Marcos native Eddie Durham.

*Hehmsoth is the MacDowell Norton Stevens Fellow in Composition and two-time NEA Fellow in Jazz. He’s a two-time Fulbright Senior Specialist and a lifetime voting member for the GRAMMY© Awards, and, in a previous life, won five Grammy Awards as well as an Academy Award for best song as a member of the Christopher Cross group.