Tag Archives: World War 1

OT: Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Today, IBIT strays somewhat from the topic of travel to mark the passing of an American jazz legend.

We lost Dave Brubeck today, and for anyone who grew up with a love and respect for jazz, the loss is immense.

If you’re of my generation and come out of New Orleans, jazz almost seems to be coded into your DNA. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and so many others.

You may even have jazz notes hanging like musical fruit from your own family tree, as I do.

But as a kid, I didn’t really connect with jazz on a gut level until I heard “Take Five” for the first time in 1962 — courtesy of an AM radio station in San Francisco.

I heard it while clutching a cheap plastic transistor radio the size of a small shoe, with “made in Japan” in raised letters on the bottom and a small, tinny-sounding speaker not fit for “elevator music.” The alternative was to plug in the somewhat uncomfortable oversized earphone, which in those days went into only one ear.

For me, none of that mattered. “Take Five” was the song that turned “cool” from a state of mind into a sound. More than that, it was the signal that my musical tastes were no longer those of a child — even though I still was one.

Most artists want to be known and respected for their body of work, not just one piece of it. In Brubeck’s case, though, it’s probably unavoidable, for “Take Five” is not just his song. It’s his signature.

I grew up thinking this was strictly an American thing, that we were the only ones who loved jazz. How wrong I was.

Black American musicians first exposed the rest of the world to jazz in Europe, just before and especially during World War 1, when Parisians listened to the Army bands of America’s racially segregated black units, a pattern repeated in Europe and occupied Japan after World War 2.

Which is one big reason why today, you can find a jazz club in the capital city of every major nation on Earth.

Another reason was the Cold War.

Back then, both sides tried to use culture as a weapon of sorts. When the Soviet Union was trotting out classical orchestras and the Bolshoi Ballet on worldwide tours as cultural proof of its superiority, Washington countered with the likes of Ellington, Armstrong, Basie…and Dave Brubeck.

Fast-forward to 1976. Tokyo, Japan. I’m sitting in a second-floor nightclub wedged into a small office building in the Ginza, drinking Kirin beers from a glass boot…and listening to young Japanese musicians playing American jazz.

Including Brubeck’s “Take Five.”

Soon after, I learned that there were countries all over the world with jazz radio stations — and even more, hosting their own jazz festival lasting days.

Montreal and Toronto, Canada. Paris and Nice, France. Copenhagen. Vienna. Montreux, Switzerland. Havana. Jakarta, Indonesia. Macedonia, Moldova, Algeria and Azerbaijan.

Jazz. For days.

Regular IBIT readers know I’m not big on traveling the world to experience American culture. My skin crawls at the sight of a McDonald’s on the Champs Elysee or all over the Recoleta in Buenos Aires.

For music, however, I make an exception.

I delight at listening to black African choirs put their own interpretations on black American gospel music. I truly enjoy listening to hip-hop and rhythm ‘n blues via London or Marseilles or Salvador in Brazil’s Bahia state.

Above all, I love hearing everybody’s spin on jazz.

Dave Brubeck was one of the geniuses who brought this uniquely American creation to the world, and the world has never let go of it, or him. Play this cut on the streets of almost any big city, anywhere, and someone will stop to listen. Not just because they like it, but because they know it.

David Warren Brubeck would have been 92 years old tomorrow. His music will live on a lot longer than that.

The good stuff never dies.


Never forget

Today is Memorial Day, a day we set aside to remember those who served and died for this country.

As Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

But my Memorial Day may feel a bit different from yours. There are specific people I need to honor.

Like the ones in the video above, marching across France.

They are the Harlem Hellfighters of World War 1, the all-black, all-volunteer 369th Infantry Regiment, who fought with the French army — after the US Army concluded they couldn’t fight.

In 191 straight days of combat, the most of any American unit in the war, they never took a backward step.

If you ever visit the French Champagne region, stop by Sechault, one of the towns they liberated from the Germans. There’s a granite obelisk there, dedicated to the 369th.

Perhaps their greatest tribute, though, is their nickname, the Hellfighters.

The Germans gave them that.

Few soldiers ever win any nation’s highest decoration for valor. Fewer still get a battle named after them.

A member in the 369th Infantry, Henry Johnson and fellow private Needham Roberts were on a two-man sentry post when they were attacked by German trench raiders, numbering between 20 and 24.

With Roberts quickly disabled, Johnson fought on alone, throwing grenades, firing his rifle until it jammed, then clubbing the Germans with it.

When they still kept coming, he reached for his bolo knife. He singlehandedly killed four German soldiers, wounded and routed the rest. When two German soldiers tried to drag off the wounded Roberts, Johnson, already wounded 21 times, went after them with his bolo until they dropped his friend and fled.

The outpost remained in his bleeding hands.

He was awarded France’s highest medal for bravery, the Croix de Guerre. Back in the United States, however, he was still a second-class citizen who couldn’t get a job.

He died a broken man in a Veterans Hospital in 1929.

Since then, Johnson has been posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. A campaign is underway in Congress to award him the Medal of Honor.

The small but desperate night action that brought him fame as a soldier but no respect as a man, has been known ever since as the Battle of Henry Johnson.

He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with the rank of sergeant. Section 25, Lot 64.

Black Americans fought against Francisco Franco and his Nazi-supported Fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

Others went to Ethiopia to help Emperor Haile Selassie resist the invasion by Italy.

Then there were the 11 black GIs from Alabama, captured by Nazi SS troops in the Belgian town of Wereth during World War 2.

They were mutilated with bayonets, shot and their bodies left in the snow.

For two months.

One of them was Pvt. Curtis Adams, recently married and with a newborn son.

Pvt. Curtis Adams, 333rd Field Arty Bn | © The Ardennes Group, LLC

The Army forcefully prosecuted the massacre of white American soldiers at Malmedy during the Nuremburg war crimes trials after the war. Of Wereth, the Army said nothing. Not a word.

In published government lists of atrocities committed against American servicemen by the German military, it was not even mentioned.

Today, Wereth survives as one of those picturesque little European villes nestled amid green fields and forested hills, not far from Brussels.

There, you’ll find a memorial to the Wereth 11, placed there by townspeople who have chosen not to forget. You’ll also find the graves of seven of those Alabama GIs.

Including Curtis Adams.

There are others, of all races, who deserve memory this day — the merchant seamen lost with the more than 2,700 ships torpedoed by German U-boats in World War 2. They never wore uniforms or fired a shot. But the war would’ve been lost without them.

We’ll never know exactly how many perished; the Pentagon apparently didn’t feel their deaths merited detailed records. We do know there were an awful lot of them, including my grandfather.

They have few monuments, and no graves except for the bottom of the cold Atlantic.

For me, this is a day to honor men like Curtis Adams and my grandfather, who also died, again in Lincoln’s words, “that freedom might live.”

Someday, God willing, it will.

Have you ever wondered how the French, especially in Paris, acquired their love for jazz?

It was the Harlem Hellfighters’ regimental band, led by James Reese Europe, who introduced them, and the rest of Europe, to it.

The same regimental band in the video above.


All that JAZZ!

© Ashestosky | Dreamstime.com

If you love jazz and long to travel, are you ever in luck. Every year, hundreds of the world’s best travel destinations also just happen to host some of the world’s best jazz festivals.

Jazz is one of the few cultural creations America can truly call its own, a lively, soulful, passionately expressive style of music that has spread and is respected the world over.

Why then does it seem that people in other parts of the world have more respect for jazz than we do? These, it’s all about rock, country and hip-hop.

Among black kids in particular, jazz seems to be thought of as old folks’ music. When you consider that it was black America that gave jazz to the world in the first place, there’s something especially sad about that.

These days, you often have to hunt for a good jazz station on commercial radio — and in much of America, you won’t find one. Were it not for Internet radio, a lot of Americans might never hear a jazz broadcast.

In your typical music shop, the jazz section will be among the smallest in the store…and you may have noticed it shrinking over time.

But jazz was more than just America’s first homegrown cultural artifact. It also was America’s first cultural export, and it has spread just about everywhere.

Outside the United States, there is no generation gap when it comes to jazz. It’s as popular with the young as it is with their parents, and new waves of jazz musicians around the world are pushing it forward.

What does all this mean to you as a traveler?

It means that if you want to pack your bags and see the world while you listen to some of its greatest jazz artists in the world — old and new — at the same time, you have a delightfully dizzying array of destinations from which to choose.

All over the world, virtually any time of the year. Straight ahead jazz, Dixieland jazz, “smooth” jazz, Latin jazz, acid jazz, and everything in between. It’s all out there for you.


My first plan for this blog entry was to count up all the major jazz festivals around the world so you could have your own list of options. When I got to a hundred with no end in sight, I stopped.

Your best bet is to choose a region and pick a season, then do a Web search on your chosen destination along with the term “jazz festivals.” Unless you’re contemplating a vacation in Antarctica or North Korea, you’ll probably find at least one.

© Cristina Bernhardsen | Dreamstime.com

One? Between them, the United Kingdom and France at least 30.

Theoretically, you could easily do a summer jazz fest in Britain one night, then hop the Eurostar train under the English Channel the next morning and catch one somewhere in France the next.

After stopping for a leisurely lunch and a kir in a Paris cafe.

Equally short rail runs could take you to major jazz gatherings in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria.

Denmark? Norway? Sweden? Russia? Ja, ja, ja and da. Finland? Jep! Montreux, Switzerland and island of Malta. Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Europe is awash in jazz.

Not in the mood for Europe? What about Asia or the Pacific? China. Japan. The Philippines. Thailand. India. Indonesia. Hong Kong. Australia. New Zealand.

Prefer to stay a just closer to home? The Caribbean is dotted with gorgeous destinations — and jazz festivals. The Dominican Republic, Aruba, Jamaica, Barbados, Anguilla, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba.

Want to catch a major jazz festival on the Mother Continent? The Cape Town Jazz Festival in South Africa has got you covered.

If you’ve got some favorite jazz artists, and a part of the world you’ve always wanted to see, the odds are pretty good that at least one of them is playing in festival in at least one of those places in any given year.

If the timing of your vacation won’t allow you to hit the big jazz fests — and given the number of options you have on both side of the Equator, that’s frankly hard to believe — the world’s great cities also are home to many of the world’s great jazz clubs. Especially London and Paris.

Paris, in particular, has a love affair with jazz that goes back to the days of World War 1, when black American soldiers and expatriates introduced it to them, along with gospel music (and you’ll find festivals in Paris for that, too).

For black Americans, Paris is as much the City of Sound as it is the City of Light.

At these varied festivals around the planet, you’ll hear the best jazz artists on the planet — not just the established superstars of the music world, but local and regional greats, up-and-comers whom you might never hear if you had to rely strictly on American commercial radio.

The only downside to that is that your monthly budget for music may go drastically up. But really, is that such a bad thing?

So when you’re ready, start packing, pick your destination, and go take a listen to the sound that America gave to the world!


A Bridge Made of Water

I didn’t think I’d have a reason to go back to Germany. A simple-looking but spectacular piece of engineering is threatening to make a liar out of me.

The Magdeburg Water Bridge over the river Elbe, NE Germany
The Magdeburg Water Bridge over the river Elbe, NE Germany

If you follow this blog, you know I’m both a sucker for examples of slick European engineering and kind of a history buff. Had I known about a certain 70-mile stretch of the Elbe River in eastern Germany, I could’ve satisfied both those passions in one shot.

Start at this overpass over the Elbe, about 20 miles north of the town of Magdeburg.

From the air, it looks like any other overpass over a river — straight as a string, carrying traffic. Only this overpass is full of water, and its traffic rides on hulls instead of wheels.

This is the Magdeburg Water Bridge. Nearly a half-mile long, 111 feet wide and 14 feet deep. It took five years to build and opened in 2003. Depending on who you ask, it’s either the largest such bridge in Europe, or in the world. This short Discovery Channel video will give a short glimpse of the bridge in action.

It’s a link meant to help ship traffic connect between a couple of important canals — especially in the summer, when water levels in the Elbe drop too low for anything much bigger than an innertube. It’s also one of many projects the German government launched since the fall of the Berlin Wall to reconnect the former East and West Germanys.

My friend Jeanne sent me an image of this, taken on the day the bridge formally opened. I took one look and was immediately fascinated — and thoroughly bummed.

Why bummed? Because it’s a mere 79 miles from Berlin, which is where I was back in July. A local train could’ve had me there in less than two hours!

Take a closer look at the pic above. See all those people lining the bridge? You can walk or ride your bike across the thing, right along with the ship traffic. I would’ve loved that! But even without a passing ship to gawk at, it would’ve been incredibly cool.

I mean, how many places in the world do you get the chance to cross one stream of water…on another?

Massive concrete cradles hold up the Magdeburg Water Bridge as it passes over land.  Photo by Nicholas Janberg.
Massive concrete cradles hold up the Magdeburg Water Bridge as it passes over land. Photo by Nicholas Janberg.

The view from underneath may be as spectacular as the one up top. The portion of the bridge that passes over land is supported by massive concrete cradles. From ground level, it looks as if the thing is being held aloft by a series of giant hands.

Allstate, eat your heart out!

The Germans had wanted to build the water bridge for nearly a century, but kept getting interrupted — you know, World War 1, World War 2, the Cold War.

Which brings up the Elbe’s connection to history. Near the town of Torgau, about 65 miles south of where the water bridge now stands, U.S. and British forces fighting the Nazis linked up with Red Army troops blasting in from the east, right there at the river.

The moment those two armies met, Hitler and his Third Reich were done.

Having had a glimpse of Nazi evil at their prototype concentration camp just outside Berlin, it would’ve been nice to wrap up my Berlin trip at the place where a simple meeting between ordinary soldiers signaled the Nazis’ downfall — and maybe celebrate it with a spin across the water bridge.

Maybe next time.