All That Jazz: Meet Our Resident Jazz Legend

As a special treat for our Dallas Museum of Art jazz (and other music) lovers—and in celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month—we will showcase the music of the great composer, pianist, and bandleader Duke Ellington in the Atrium (part of Thursday Night Live!) during April.

We thought that this would be a great time to spotlight Wendell Sneed, our Coordinator of Jazz in the Atrium. Wendell is a long-time employee of the DMA (18 years!), but more than that he is our own local celebrity and Dallas jazz legend! Wendell was a member of the popular 1970s Dallas funk group Soul Seven and was featured in the 2008 KERA documentary South Dallas Pop—When Funk Was King (visit this link to listen to a clip of Wendell — on drums — and Soul Seven performing with Eddie Purrell).

Soul Seven Album Cover (Wendell is the one on the far left)

I sat down to chat with Wendell about what influenced him to become a jazz musician and to get a bit more information about the great line-up for April.

Wendell Sneed, Jazz in the Atrium Coordinator

What got you interested in jazz to begin with? When did you start playing?
My high school band director, Mr. Allison Tucker, was a jazz drummer. He got me interested in music and was my first mentor. I originally wanted to be an athlete in school but hated all the running! By the late 50s I was totally hooked on the drums and jazz and was playing with several bands around town. By the time I was 17, I was touring all around the Southwest and beyond.

What was your favorite gig while you were out on the road touring?
Besides my time with Soul Seven, my favorite gig was when I was the Music Director for a group called “The Honey Combs” in the late 70s. We had a couple of singles that went “gold.” One of them was the tune “Want Ads.”

What is your favorite Duke Ellington tune?
My favorite Ellington tune is a little obscure. It’s called “Come Sunday.” It actually is one of his sacred music compositions. Of course, I like many of the more well known Ellington tunes also.

What is your favorite work of art in the DMA’s collections?
Leadbelly, by Michael G. Owen, Jr., in the American sculpture collection is my favorite. I think about Mr. Owen creating this work and wonder what it was like to talk to Leadbelly himself as he worked on it. Leadbelly’s music became a very important influence on many musicians from many different genres—from blues, to folk and even rock. I wonder sometimes why Mr. Owen chose to portray Leadbelly in this light—solitary and without his guitar in sight.

Michael G. Owen Jr.'s Leadbelly (1943)

Tell us a bit more about the acts you have booked for the April Ellington Showcase.
We will kick off the month on April 7 with the UNT Repertory Ensemble, which is a group dedicated to playing and preserving the art of “classic jazz.” Next, on the 14th, we have pianist Dave Zoller and his group Daybreak Express. They specialize in doing exclusively Ellington material. On the 21st, we will feature the top student jazz band from Carroll Senior High School. They were the finalists for the Essentially Ellington Competition, founded and judged by Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center in New York City.

I am most excited about the performance planned for April 28. We will feature Shelley Carrol, who was a member of the Ellington Orchestra for many years after graduating from the University of North Texas. He will be joined by a very special guest, Duke Ellington’s grandson, Paul Ellington. Paul will share stories of Duke and his compositions that Shelley and his quartet will perform.

Viktor Schreckengost and the Cowan Pottery Studio's Jazz Bowl (c. 1930 -1931)

In addition to the acts Wendell mentioned, on April 14 and 21 we will offer tours of jazz-related artworks in the DMA’s collections, including the Jazz Bowl (pictured above), led by curators and other staff.

Denise Helbing is Manager of Partner Programs at the Dallas Museum of Art.


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