A Classmate Remembers Phil Elwood

 Jazz critic Phil Elwood died last month. We all remember Phil as a newspaper critic, teacher, and Jazz historian. But how many of us know how musically talented he was from a very young age and how that background gave him insight into the performances he came to write about? A high school classmate recalls Phil's student days.

 In the early forties, one of my classmates at Berkeley High School was Phil Elwood. We all knew him to be musically talented and that he could get music out of any instrument.

One day, a classmate in Dora Dooley O'Neil's music class brought in a trumpetlike brass horn which his father had given him. Dad was just returned from a business trip to Africa. When he saw this horn, he knew his son would like it, but the son couldn't get a peep out of it. So, in frustration the boy brought the horn to music class to see if Mrs. O'Neil might possibly know the secret of how to play it.

Well, Mrs. O'Neil immediately handed it over to her star pupil, Phil Elwood, to see what he could do. Phil looked it over carefully and then put it to his lips and played a recognizable phrase from some popular music of the time. The whole class was impressed. Phil promised to teach the kid who owned the horn how to make music with it, and later we heard that the father was well pleased. We, the class, were not surprised, however, because we knew Phil could play any instrument, piano, drums, woodwinds, brass, whatever.

His true instrument, however, was the snare drum. Later, Phil played in the U.C. Berkeley Marching Band. I used to listen for the band to come marching up Campanile Way to the football stadium on game days in the fall (the way they still do to this day). They came by the chemistry building where Saturday labs were held, and we always recognized Phil's unique sound on the snare drum, sharp, fast, and clear.

 By Paula Hodgson
January 13. 2006

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