The late professor Douglass S. Parker was a professional jazz ragtime pianist, but he strayed from his musical career to teach at the University in order to support his family, said Stephen White, Department Chair and professor of Classics.
Douglass S. Parker taught at UT for 40 years and was commemorated Friday by a lecture and performance in light of his passing. The lecture and performance called “The Story of the Music in James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912)” was given by James Tatum, a Dartmouth professor. Tatum played excerpts of classical piano pieces in honor of Parker’s talent for performance.
“There is a connection between the written word and the musical sound,” Tatum said. “Nothing comes out of nothing, and Beethoven knew that which is why he uses the first and second motif as the theme of his last movement.”
The performance collected nine historical pieces, starting with the composer Frederic Chopin and ending with composer Scott Joplin. These pieces were some of Parker’s favorites, Tatum said. Tatum dedicated the last song, “What Might Have Been: Sostenuto” specifically to Parker.
“Music is truly an international language,” Tatum said. “It is hilarious that Joplin would take so much care to put down ‘hoity toity’ white people as he phrases it [in his music].”
Parker intended to be a jazz ragtime pianist, but decided to teach instead, White said. He said Parker was an excellent role model for students in the classical department.
“Professor Parker was a musician, a dramatist and a scholar,” White said. “He taught classics, Greek and Latin, and today we are honoring his 40 years at the University.”
Jazz performance freshman Jonathan Huggins said he loved the way the pieces were performed and explained.
“I think everyone appreciates music in a different form or fashion, which is what makes it such a universal language,” Huggins said.
Undergraduate physics coordinator Lisa Gentry listened to the performance with some of her faculty friends who knew Parker. Gentry said Parker must have been an amazing man.
“I love the music — just hearing about it,” Gentry said. “I didn’t know anything about the gentleman who taught here, but he is obviously very well loved and will be missed and remembered.”