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2/15/12

Sam Wooding, Part I - Early 1900s


You may not be familiar with Sam Wooding or his music, but he was an important part of jazz history, as you will realize if you listen to his recollections. This is the first of a five-part interview Sam and I did for the Smithsonian during April of 1975. Here, he talks about his childhood, growing up in Philadelphia and spending time in Atlantic City, where many pioneers of black American music worked at the beginning of the 20th century.

As his account continues, you will hear Sam talk about Harlem, which became his stepping stone to a whole new world: Europe. In fact, Sam Wooding spent many  years working in other countries, which is why his name is not as familiar to American jazz followers as it ought to have been.

Eubie Blake (here with his partner, Noble Sissle, 
was an early influence on Sam.
Born June 17, 1895, Sam was approaching his 80th birthday when we sat down in my living room to make these tapes. As you will probably notice, he was very relaxed, for we had become friends a few years earlier, so he and his wife were no strangers to my apartment. This was also not the first time we had come together for an interview. A few years earlier, we did a rather unusual one-hour TV special wherein we conversed casually over a meal on a Trenton studio set that was a remarkable recreation of Sam's actual Harlem apartment. Striving for authenticity (and unable to comfortably fit a crew and three full-sized TV cameras into the actual apartment, our set decorators worked from photos and borrowed objects. We even had a glimpse of the kitchen, from which Rae Harrison (Sam's trusty companion and, later, wife) popped back and forth, serving her fried chicken (actually ordered from Chicken Delight).

I never had a copy of that show on tape, but I hope that one exists, somewhere, because Sam and Rae were marvelous.


Studio recreation of Sam Wooding's Morningside Ave, apartment.
Here is the first hour and a half of the interview. Part II can be found here.


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