At 11 a.m. every Monday on WWOZ, Don "Moose" Jamison would sign on for his New Orleans Music Show with a "Good morning, Big Easy." The show that followed would feature a wide array of music, along with birthday sets and memorial tributes to celebrate and honor the musicians. In recent days, the memorial tributes on WWOZ have honored Jamison, who passed away Dec. 2 after a long illness. The loss to the city and the music community is immense.
Jamison knew this city's music and musicians equally well. He had been a saxophonist in his youth, playing with bands at spots such as the Dew Drop Inn, The Club Tijuana and the Forest Inn. As a social activist, he worked with the Revs. Avery Alexander and A.L. Davis. "He was not a selfish man," musician and teacher Edward "Kidd" Jordan recalls. "He loved music and was always trying to help people."
For Jamison, music and activism were one and the same. As a New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival board member, he conceived the program "Strike Up the Band" to get instruments to New Orleans area school bands. He helped start the Heritage School of Music Band that teaches big-band playing to grade school musicians. He also put together the Workshop Series, which has brought musicians into schools and auditoriums to help students understand their music and its history.
Jamison's concern with music history also led him to start several Jazz Fest programs, including the celebrated Dew Drop Inn Revisited shows. Here, musicians could honor the days of the Dew Drop Inn, the black-owned nightclub/hotel/restaurant/barbershop on La Salle Street. "Nobody at Jazz Fest had thought about doing a show like that, and it became one of the most profitable and popular shows of the festival," says Foundation board member Johnny Jackson Jr. "That was the kind of vision he left us." Also during Jazz Fest, on behalf of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Jamison would bestow the Legends Awards to New Orleans musicians who had been under-recognized for their contributions to the culture.
Moose Jamison's funeral was held Dec. 8 at Treme's St. Augustine Church, where he had been a member. Among those attending were WWOZ volunteers, community activists, board members of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, and many musicians. During the service, both Kidd Jordan and Clyde Kerr Jr. played solos, and bassist Chuck Badie, former Fire Chief Warren McDaniels, Foundation staff member Badi Murphy, Alcee Fortier High School band director Elijah Brimmer and others spoke eloquently of what Jamison had meant to them.
"Moose's passing reminds us that our riches lie in the wisdom of our elders," said Mary-se Dejean, operations manager for WWOZ. "He was a historian in the African oral tradition. His archives were his memories, his stories and his 76 years of living life in a time of tremendous social change. I believe there's a proverb which states that the death of our elders is like a library burning to the ground. Every time we lose a bit of our history, we lose a piece of our soul."
After the service, a small parade wound its way down St. Claude Avenue and back up Rampart Street. In the bright but fading afternoon sunshine, Wanda Rouzan led the parade with the traditional white dove on her shoulder. About a dozen musicians played dirges as mourners walked behind. These were the streets where Jamison had done his good work, taking inspiration from the music that he kept alive and vital. The solemn procession reflected Jordan's words: "He was a gentle giant. He loved music and he was always trying to help the music and the musicians."