"JAZZ from the Belly of the BLUES" by D. Price


  -   my Rosedale Beach

My bedroom window Jazz and Blues music floated a mile or so up river, cut across the growing green fields of corn, soybeans, tomatoes, cucumbers, cow pastures, apple orchards and such. With a will of its own, Jazz entered my second floor farmhouse bedroom window and locked onto my heart.

During my preteen and early teen days (evenings) I lay diagonally across the pineapple posted Montgomery Ward bed with my ear pressed against the cool screen. My head was dangerously positioned beneath a window known to suddenly fall shut for no apparent reason - but I chanced it! Over the evening sounds of the crickets, the owl, the barking dogs and the distant highway drone, there intermittently wafted music . . . American Jazz music.

The Jazz music came from Rosedale Beach, which was sprawled on the bank of a river with a lost Indian name. This approximately fifteen miles of river with a varied width (seldom more than half a mile wide) was, and is known simply as "Indian" River.

The Nanticoke people - sometimes historically included with the Lenni-Lenape people - had always lived and roamed in the area. People from across The Great Waters came. Years of skirmishes and protests over private land usage and a foreign concept of "ownership" resulted. With the powerful intrusion of "the gun", the newcomers gained the upper hand. Eventually, in 1711 the colonial government surveyed and reserved boundaries for the original inhabitants on the river's southern shores. This reserved territory was to be used communally by the Nanticoke/Lenape people.

Accustomed to being seasonally transient, and now being told that someone from their people must occupy the land at all times, the people felt cornered. They lost their short-lived communal ownership, some say within two years, and were unceremoniously dispersed. The lands were then assigned or sold to the descendants of the European colonists .  .  .  . But that is another story.

About 200 years later, when the 1930's and I were in our infancy, a certain section of the river's shores gained the new name of "Rosedale", being changed from "Noah's Park".

My parents still called it "Uncle Noah's Park" for quite some time. Noah was my great uncle. Uncle Noah had inherited the land from my grandmother's father, Isaac Harmon (1829-1900). "Grandpop Isaac", my mother always called him. "Old Man Isaac", my father called him - with a rare touch of reverence. It seems Great grandfather Isaac spent all of his hard earned money building his farming, lumbering and crabbing businesses. Otherwise, he steadfastlly purchased land.

Apparently determined to become as assimilated and as "American" as possible in his own land, Grandpop Isaac and a few others of his relatives and neighbors were able to gain an economic foothold. "Grandpop Isaac" is remembered for passing out pennies to little children in his community. His wife, with thirteen living children, promised to provide clothing for any baby girl  given her name of Sarah Jane. Consequently, there became quite a few little girls in the community named Sarah Jane, including my father's sister.

Playing down his prosperity, as it increased, "Grandpop Isaac" made it a point to drive fifteen miles with his horse and buckboard (type of wagon) to the county courthouse in Georgetown, whereupon he entered the courthouse barefooted to make his land purchases, parcel by parcel.

I like to think he strode in with a balancing act of  honest humility and determined pride as he took each step.

County records have shown that he variously owned between eight hundred and one thousand acres in the Warwick area of Sussex county. I say "variously" because as he continued to buy, he also sold to family and community members (suggestive of his having served as an informal banker).

This could not have been easy in this lower portion of Delaware, which even in the 1950's smugly declared itself as being akin to its "sister state" of Mississippi. As a matter of fact, "lost" papers have been seen showing that "Grandpop Isaac" even owned some exclusive water rights to Indian River. . . .. But, of course, that would be another story.

Now we will go back to Isaac Harmon's son, Uncle Noah, who inherited a good stretch of the bank of Indian River. Part of the river bank was cleared to make a local park area for bathing, playing baseball and preaching from a small pavilion. (Others in the family inherited or bought portions of the river bank and created family parks which were called Winkett's Park, Uncle Willie's Park and Harmon's Park (later called Lincoln's Park).

Uncle Noah's Park was the most enduring, however. 

In the early 1930's Uncle Noah sold the riverbank to a local entrepreneur named David E. Street, sometimes called "Dale". His wife"s name was "Rosetta". Hence, the names were combined into "Rosedale". (Yes, I know. Other places have been called "Rosedale" for whatever reasons. But, this is the origin of the name as told to me by an elderly distant cousin, Hersel Davis.)

This new buyer and the next buyer, Mr. Jesse Vause from Philadelphia, managed to retain the concept of a park, while offering exciting dance hall music, that is: Jazz and The Blues. Thereby, American Jazz flourished on the banks of Rosedale Beach!

Since my parents continued to occasionally call it Uncle Noah's park, so did I. At least I would think of it that way. I felt a more personal connection to it by doing so. Time went by and a new hotel was built with a space used for the activity of ping-pong. Never required to pay an entry fee for the ping-pong or the dance hall, I went as often as my busy work days permitted. I had the nerve to look upon the people there as my guests.

The new hotel offered food and basic accomodations for short term vacations.

People from far afield found this place on weekends, especially Saturday nights. When I say "afield", I mean really from fields, and also from factories and, for the women, from their employers' kitchens.

It was a place to let off steam. Plodding people came but they no longer plodded. They moon walked long before the era of man's walking on the moon; or the popular Michael Jackson performed his special fancy dance steps of moon walking.

The excited and exciting people were transformed. They sizzled with energy and glided with precision.

Some were beautiful. Others managed with legs bowed with rickets; bodies overweight or underweight or somehow medically mis-shapened; their faces sometimes toothless and scarred.

Even those who tilted the bottle too much seemed to manage a rhythmic lean.

Some, of course, were professionals and business people usually from Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington, DC. Strivers of all types "let down their hair" and enjoyed the release from striving.

From my earliest memories, on a rare Saturday afternoon, in the mid-thirties, I stood with my parents near the entrance to the first dance hall which had been built upon rugged pilings over the river.

As I remember it, there was a bit of extended pier alongside this dancing enclosure. At the back was a window which allowed the dancers a romantic view of the moon and a hasty, though sometimes wet, retreat upon seeing the unexpected presence of a significant other - married or otherwise.

I did not know the word "risque", yet I sensed a special connection with this music.

I remember that Ella and her "A Tisket A Tasket" commanded the attention of all within the four walls and much of the expanse outside on the riverbank..

Her grasped words were clean but they seemed to add up to something a little ornery.

Ella would have been a teenager at the time. I have since read that young Ella ventured forth under the protective guidance of Chick Webb and, at other times, Count Basie.

I believe she was with Count Basie's Band that day. I know that both great performers, Chick Web and Count Basie, were finding  their way to Rosedale during those early years.

Others who, in time, came to honor this rural dance hall with their presence ranged from Fats Waller and Lionel Hampton to Ruth Brown, Loyd Price, Bill Dogget, Illinois Jaquet, Louis Jordan, Ray Charles and Miles Davis, along with many other notables

Certainly remembered is the night that Miles Davis left the bandstand, used his arm to sweep some space clear on the bar, jumped upon it and trumpeted away! That was in the early Fifties when I was a bonafide "adult".

I have since wondered if that was the beginning of his famous attitudinal back-turned-to-the-audience stance.

I have created a painting suggestive of his standing above his band members with his back to the audience. It is titled "Gold On Stage" and seen here.

"Gold On Stage" is available for purchase as an archivally framed reproduction at my online shop:
(Just bookmark this page so you can easily return without getting lost.)

Suffice it to say that with their Philadelphia connection circuit of one and two night stands, the very best Jazz  musicians passed through our little hamlet as - or as they became - great and famous JAZZ MASTERS.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, we had our piano. Could any Jazz possibly come from our piano?
Yes, I know. . . . We could use the mouse-nibbled piano rolls . . . but Live Jazz? That's a story I tell in:

LIVE JAZZ IN THE FARMHOUSE    -    mystery in the closet
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