Hoover City Schools


SPHS Teacher Debuts Book on Local Jazz Legend back button

 Burgin Mathews
Burgin Mathews

10-19-2012 (SPHS) – Burgin Mathews recently traveled to San Francisco with a group of friends to a wedding. While there, the Spain Park High School English teacher visited the renowned City Lights Bookstore. Beat poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti owns the business; in fact, Burgin’s classes have even studied Ferlinghetti’s work. Prominently displayed near the entrance of this bookstore Burgin noticed his own work: a recently published book titled, Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man.

“To see it so far from home—and prominently displayed in such a place I consider so significant—was a thrill to me,” Mathews said.

Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man has only been out a few weeks. But the autobiography of Birmingham musician Frank “Doc” Adams – chronicling his contributions to the Magic City’s jazz heritage - has quickly gained ground. According to Mathews, who collaborated on the book with Adams, response to the book has been great. John Szwed, a Yale University music historian, gave the book a favorable review. A North Carolina college professor is reportedly using the book in his class. Additionally, a request has come in to have the work translated into Italian. With hundreds of pre-orders, sustained media-interest and great word-of-mouth, Mathews hopes the traction continues.

“Hopefully interest is just starting. We hope it will find a wide audience; it's certainly a universal story,” Mathews said.

That universal story traces Adams’ personal adventure through Birmingham’s largely-untold jazz tradition. An accomplished jazz master and former music director/educator for Birmingham City Schools – Adams apprenticed under John T. “Fess” Whatley and toured with Sun Ra and Duke Ellington.  Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man explores Adams’ first-hand experience with the history of Birmingham’s jazz community. Along the way, the book reflects on Adams’ notable family, including his father, Oscar, editor of the Birmingham Reporter and an outspoken civic leader in the African-American community, and Adams’s brother, Oscar Jr., who would become Alabama’s first black supreme court justice. For Burgin Mathews, “Doc” is a book not just about music, but a conveying a central theme that “everyone matters”.

From his youth, Mathews always held an interest in music. He met Frank “Doc” Adams four years ago at a tour of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. It was that moment his creativity sparked.

“I imagined the book could be a sort of expansion of those tours. Basically a book seemed like a good, and necessary, opportunity to document both the story of Birmingham jazz and the remarkable story and storytelling of this one man,” Mathews said. “Once I started interviewing Doc, I felt a real responsibility for doing this right and sharing it.”

So did Mathews get it right? Doc Adams says yes – without a doubt.

“He’s a little genius, always working at stuff. We had a lot of fun [working on this book],” Adams said. “I started reading it. When you’re involved with a book – it just brings back so quickly, it’s like a movie. The things that happened in the book, I felt them all over again.”

The “things” in the book required quite a literary endeavor on both Mathews’ and Adams’ parts. The Spain Park teacher cites Doc’s story, voice and personality as “great treasures” – having interviewed Doc once a week (with few exceptions) for nearly two-and-a-half years. The process involved hours of tape transcription, editing and writing. The end product? An accomplishment many describe as long-overdue.

“Working with Doc in this manner was certainly one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. The whole thing was a lot of fun for both of us,” Mathews said.

“What he [Mathews] did was open up a part of his experiences to me. At my age, I’ve discovered I’m still learning a lot,” Adams said.

Still learning….and still earning – accolades, that is. The University of Alabama in October honored Adams as a “Living Legend”. The recognition goes to an Alabama native who has “made a lasting impact on the state and national cultural heritage”.

“It’s nice to be a living legend – as opposed to a dead one. I hope it’s not predicting anything. Whatever it was, it’s great to be a legend,” Adams said.

Talk of Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man, doesn’t come up every day in Mathews’ Spain Park classroom – as he says he’s pretty “self-conscious” about doing so. But, Mathews has had Doc come visit his class to speak on all things literature and music. The bond developed between Mathews and Doc has become quite strong.

“Even more than having a book published, the simple experience of spending so much time with Doc Adams, week after week, was the most rewarding, inspiring, transformative experience I could have hoped for,” Mathews said. “I will always be drawing from the lessons I’ve learned through our friendship and collaboration. I also had the opportunity, through this process, to develop relationships with a handful of other new friends, and that has been rewarding.”

The University of Alabama Press published Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man. It is available in most bookstores and online at Amazon. See more at www.facebook.com/docadamsbook 

 

-Jason Gaston, HCS Public Relations, 205.439.1054

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