North Texas Daily

More than just jazz: the history of Denton music

More than just jazz: the history of Denton music

More than just jazz: the history of Denton music
July 08
14:56 2014

Nicholas Friedman // Senior Staff Writer

UNT and Denton have carried a vibe of melody. There is this feeling that no matter where you go in the city limits, you’re enveloped in a musical culture that has developed a life of its own.

Whether it’s hearing the sounds of the UNT drum line in the distance from your dorm, or getting your ear canals blown out by a metal cover band at a bar on the square, Denton music has cast a spell, and has done so for the last 70 years.

School of Rock

In the 1940s, UNT, then known as North Texas State Teachers’ College, went through a massive transformation.  After being given its own Board of Regents and with its name changed to North Texas State College, the school would no longer be classified as a teacher’s college, opting instead to develop advanced studies that would make the institution more attractive to college prospects. One of these prospects evolved into the music program that UNT has today.

“There were a few different stages along the way,” Director of Communications at the College of Music Rachel Yoder said. “Originally, they didn’t want to use the word jazz to describe the music program as it was considered an explicit word, hence why they went with laboratory bands.”

Yoder said that these lab bands were in reaction to a larger trend happening all over the country, with more and more schools offering broad specializations instead of teacher-centric degrees.

“The lab bands in the 40s began to grow and from that grew much of the music scene in Denton,” Chuck Voellinger, special collections librarian at the Emily Fowler library said. “Students started to get together and play music with each other. We were no longer just talking about jazz. Now there was rock and blues and funk.”

With this expansion, North Texas State College entered the 60s and 70s, and with them came the starting points for a handful of famous musicians, Voellinger said.

“Don Henley from the Eagles lived here for a few years in Bruce Hall,” Voellinger said. He said he doesn’t quite believe the rumors that Henley wrote Hotel California during his stay there though.

Voellinger also cited Carl Finch and Brave Combo as a tremendous influence on the Denton music scene and its ever-changing sound.

“It was an extremely eclectic time with an eclectic sound.” Veollinger said. “You had Brave Combo’s nuclear polka and then you had rock bands, folk bands, blues bands and tons of jazz.”

After developing its newfound programs and establishing a music scene, the North Texas State College would yet again find itself a new name in 1988 as the University of North Texas. Since then, the school has seen popular artists such as Bowling for Soup, Norah Jones and the Eli Young Band come out of Denton.

Now, the school and the scene attract students from across the country and around the world to pursue music in town.

In and Around the Scene

“Denton and its culture of music is very communal,” clarinet performance graduate student Brian Owens said. Owens moved to Denton last August from Los Angeles after deciding to attend UNT for his master’s program.

“There are so many events in this city that encourage its citizens to be involved in the music scene,” Owens said. “Whether it’s classical or jazz in the park, a local hip hop group in a bar, or an indie rock band in a local restaurant, there is always music around.”

Owens said he is asked on a regular basis what it was that brought him to Denton.

“To which I reply that I came here for school and that I go to UNT,” Owens said. “What’s funny is that immediately after people find out I moved here to attend UNT they always follow it up with, ‘Oh, are you a music major?’”

Owens said that Denton and UNT are associated with music; it’s just that simple. He said that nowhere else in the country will you get asked that question because UNT is the only place where they automatically assume that it is for music.

“I think that Denton just has its own sound,” Denton resident and musician Naomi Kleiwer said.

Kleiwer’s band, The Mothers, is a five-piece indie rock band that has played the Denton venue circuit, frequenting Andy’s Bar, Hailey’s and Banter on the Square. While enjoying these shows, Kleiwer said that she prefers the house show scene, as it is more accessible for college students.

“You don’t have to have a job and pay to get in like you do at a bar,” Kleiwer said. “Most bars have a cost for people under 21 and a lot of college kids can’t pay that all of the time.”

Another fan of the house show scene, anthropology senior Ariel Hartley, said that she enjoys the diversity of music in Denton as part of her band Mink Coats, who formed in September of 2013.

“The venues in Denton are really cool too because they each have their own atmospheres and perks,” Hartley said. “There are so many different groups of people that play instruments and are friends with each other.”

Kleiwer said that with the right resources in Denton venues, the music scene can only get better.

“I am friends with a lot of older musicians in Denton and they talk about how it used to be,” Kleiwer said. “They talk about how they are trying to bring that sound back. I think we’re in the beginning stages of that happening and Denton can definitely be that place.”

Feature Image: Space Camp Death Squad, a punk hip-hop group, performs during 35 Denton at Hailey’s. Photo by Christina Ulsh – Senior Staff Photographer

About Author

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman is the Editor In Chief of the North Texas Daily. In addition, he's had his work published at The Dallas Morning News, GuideLive and the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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