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Music Inn — film screening

March 28 @ 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm

The bell of a trumpet reflects the town and trees around the player.
Photo by udosie

There was a time in the 1950s when musical giants gathered the Berkshires. Be-boppers, folk singers, African drummers, blues singers, jazz legends, poets, and musicologists gathered at a place called Music Inn in Lenox, close by classical music’s famous summer festival at Tanglewood, to share their converging traditions and go looking for shared roots.

Race Brook Lodge holds a monthly gathering to meet, reminisce and share stories of the Music Inn. At this month’s gathering, they will be screening the Music Inn documentary film that focuses on the 1950s era.

“They’re doing wonderful things up there.
They’re really helping make music history.”
– Louis Armstrong

In their search, the filmmakers explain, the musicians of the Music Inn created not only the first summer-long Jazz Festival, and the First School of Jazz, but a new movement in American music.

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“It was that kind of unique, magical configuration of people and ideas that rarely occurs in the arts, but permanently alters the cultural landscape. In this case, it changed the world of American music, how we understand the meaning of America, and how the world came to appreciate the art of jazz.

“During a decade rife with paranoia, in the middle of the McCarthy era, Music Inn was a bold experiment. Halfway between the Second World War and The Civil Rights Movement, Phil and Stephanie Barber created an oasis where aspiring musicians came to learn from the very best. Students and faculty, young and old, rich and poor, white, black, and brown convened together and learned from each other. Defying the surrounding environment, Music Inn harbored a racial and cultural harmony where music was all that mattered.”

Music Inn documentary film

On a summer evening in July 1950, Philip and Stephanie Barber opened the doors of the renovated farm buildings they had named Music Inn. Alan Lomax, Rev. Gary Davis, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were the first performers to play to a small audience of about 50 Inn guests.

The first night, the country pipes ran out of water and the Barbers had to send their guests to their rooms with bottles of ginger ale to flush the toilets. Despite a series of such trials, these new innkeepers persevered and created a celebrated haven for musicians and music lovers alike.

The Barbers initially invited jazz and folk artists to perform for and entertain their other guests, and they invited Professor Marshall Stearns to talk about jazz and musical traditions. The lively give and take among the musicians, the audience, and Stearns led to formal discussions called “Roundtables” and later to a formalized “Jazz Workshop” exploring the roots and nuances of jazz, folk and blues.

Musicians included Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Eubie Blake, Candido, Tony Scott, Michael Olatunji, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Tom Glazer, John Lee Hooker, and Randy Weston.

Internationally acclaimed poet Langston Hughes participated in the roundtables, read poetry, and introduced gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to the Barbers. A famed singer in the black church world, her performance at Music Inn marked her introduction to white audiences. Music Inn quickly gained a reputation in the jazz and folk communities as a unique place where musicians could bring their families and enjoy a relaxed environment, and where people were genuinely interested in their music and what they had to say about it.

The popularity of the “Roundtable” discussions and performances soared among musicians, as Music Inn gained a reputation as a relaxed, family-friendly environment, and as a center of serious musical exploration. To accommodate the larger audience clamoring to hear the music, in 1955 the Barbers created the Berkshire Music Barn, setting up 600 seats in the courtyard of the hay barn.

The Berkshire Music Barn became the first venue of its kind devoted solely to the presentation of jazz and folk. Tapping contacts and connections gathered from the years of “Roundtables”, Stephanie was able to program summer concerts featuring the top artists of the day – people like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. (See Appendix for list of Performers).

A kind of magic was captured at Music Inn, Stephanie Barber said — musicians who had never played anywhere but in bars and clubs were given due attention and respect at last: “It was the first theater for jazz where people weren’t drinking and talking – they were paying attention to the music.”

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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Event Details

Details

Date:
March 28
Time:
5:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Event Categories:
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Event Location

Race Brook Lodge
864 Undermountain Road
Sheffield, MA
413-229-2916

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