John Henry was a man … was a real man

“Often we can find all of the #motivation and #answers we really need from the #history within our own #family” … 

John Henry Pratt was married to my great aunt Willa Beecham Pratt. Aunt Willa was the sister of my maternal grandmother Mary Jane Beecham Jackson. John and Willa Pratt were leading citizens and well respected among both the black and white communities of Olathe, Kansas.

John Henry worked for the railroad and Willa took in laundry along with cooking for various people and functions around town. By most standards they were considered “well off.” They had no biological children of their own. And I got to know them both pretty well during a good part of my childhood of the 1960s and 1970s after we came back to Kansas when my father’s active duty Air Force service was finished. I loved and respected them very much.



PRATT CONNECTION

When our mother’s mother was killed in an automobile accident in 1930, our mother was only 6 years old and her sister (our aunt) was a toddler.

HISTORIC NOTE: The Oriole – 1922 Paola High School Year Book. I graduated from Paola High School in 1974 as the Panthers. Our maternal grandfather George Jackson is featured prominently throughout the pages of this publication. And, as you see the Paola, Kansas school district was integrated 32 YEARS BEFORE the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka school desegregation case.


ALL HER CHILDREN ROLL CALL

Our family folklore tells that it wasn’t proper for a widowed man to raise two young girls. Thus the reasoning Willa and John Pratt took our mother and her baby sister in to live with them. And our maternal grandfather George Jackson would subsequently die in a house fire several years later, truly leaving the Jackson sisters orphaned. Our mother, Violet, as a very young girl, would naturally remain inconsolable for many years but would ultimately overcome and have a great life in her own right. That’s another story …

HISTORIC PHOTOGRAPH: “Our NCAA Division 1 Athletes” – Richard (d) and Nathaniel at Kivisto Field, University of Kansas where Richard was a music education major, varsity football star, and remains an all-time letterman. He went on to greatness as a successful musician in New York City. Nathaniel was an education major, multi-event varsity track star, and walk-on varsity basketball player at Wichita State University. They were adopted by Willa and John Pratt after our mother divorced their father.

SIBLINGS ROLL CALL: Richard Dean (d); Nathaniel Anthony; Joyce Nadine; Bonnie Jean; Christopher LeRoy; Penny Lynn (d); Mary Jane; Donnie Ray; Michelle Antoine (d); Keith Duane (d).


JOHN HENRY PRATT FAMILY FOLKLORE

John Henry Pratt is a legend in our family and I want to make sure that our children and grandchildren know how significant he is to them too. I hope they tell their assigns about John Henry Pratt for generations to come.

Growing up, we called him “Dilloy” or “Deak.” I still don’t know why or what these nicknames even mean to this day and I’m in my sixties now. My lasting memory of John Henry will be his unpretentious modesty and humbleness. It was clear, even from my perspective as a boy, that the man had his priorities together.

They told me that John Henry was a World War I veteran and he fought in Europe and saw combat duty in Germany. So I asked him about it once and he told me that when his segregated unit encountered the Germans they would not fight the black soldiers. John Henry said a German soldier told him face-to-face that they didn’t have anything against the blacks who were actually politically oppressed peoples like most Germans were then. I was surprised by this but he insisted it was truth.

John Henry built his life around his family, rather than building a family around his life. I liked that. Every successful man I have been in contact with has had their own version of this ethos. At this point in my life, it’s objectively safe to say I have successfully modeled this in my own way. John Henry was a man you could look up to and admire.

They told me he adopted my two older brothers and I asked him why. John Henry told me that it was the right thing to do at the time so he did it. And that was the extent of what he had to say about that topic. John Henry was not at all mean or angry for my asking, but so matter-of-fact about it that my childish curiosity was satisfied and I left it alone.

I recall one terrible argument between my parents and the Pratts were visiting our home. My dad and John Henry used to talk outside by their vehicles. They’d talk about their cars and any other subjects of the day. My dad was frustrated with my mother and was talking lots about their issues to John Henry. John Henry listened and didn’t say anything or interject during my dad’s passionate oration.

When my dad finished, John Henry told him that all of those things were part of being a husband to a woman and a grown ass man. He told my dad that he understood his frustrations as best he could knowing the two of them and their relationship at a distance. John Henry also told my dad that my mom and us children would be taken care of if he were to leave us. That ended the conversation on that topic and they moved on amicably to discussing the football prospects of the Chiefs.


FEATURED PHOTO

“PLAY IT WHERE IT LIES” Father’s Day golf with my youngest brother Keith Duane used to be an annual tradition. He was actually a more than pretty decent golfer. Me not so much. Average at best. Golf is one thing that I actually simply do for “fun.” We simply made a point to do it so we would spend time with each other. That’s cool. I’m almost certain he’d be happy knowing I had my clubs re-gripped and am golfing again.

Focus on your craft…

and refuse to be denied…

Jay McShann Tribute Big Band

Another True Story …

The main photograph of this post is of the Jay McShann tribute big band saxophone section which included (left to right):

Gerald Dunn, Christopher Burnett (yes, with the large Afro hairstyle), Dennis Winslett, Bobby Watson, Ahmed Alaadeen and Kerry Strayer (not shown).

The legendary altoist Bobby Watson soloing…

I had actually met the great Jay McShann and interacted with him several times.

This tribute event was held in early 2007 at the historic Gem Theater in the jazz district of Kansas City.

Alaadeen, who first introduced me to Jay, invited me to play in this tribute – but, I don’t think he was formerly authorized to do so because the cats initially acted somewhat surprised to see me there with my horn.

Even though nobody said anything to me, I figured it out when there were three alto players during the first set. Awkward. Normally I would have left under such circumstances and not even played but I listened to my inner voice and stayed.

And since I had actually met Jay and interacted with him several times enough to have gotten to know him somewhat, I wanted to simply add my musical voice to this tribute.

It turned out to be a very nice event honoring a true master of jazz and blues.

Jay McShann was also the first professional bandleader to hire Charlie Parker.

Playing the lead alto book…

We played two sets. Bobby had to leave after the first and let me play lead the next set.

All of the players were pretty nice to me since I could play the parts and was there unawares and sincerely by invitation of a KC jazz master.

This was my introduction to the realities of life in the music outside of military bands.

Sometimes you just have to make a place for yourself in life and the music industry because others won’t do it for you. What a great opportunity and honor this was.

Those are the types of substantive lessons I learned from the late Ahmed Alaadeen along with the technical aspects of music we studied. He was my last great teacher.

My 2007 JAM cover was in great company…

I’m still going strong and have artistically established myself teaching music in addition to performing and composing.

I began my career by serving 22-years with the professional military bands system.

And 2018 marked another career milestone of being professionally active on the at-large music industry scene for 22-years after military service. That’s pretty cool.

2019 marks entry into new territory of sorts…

As my late brother who was truly a world class musician once told me:

“Focus on your craft and refuse to be denied.”

~ Richie Pratt

Visit: BurnettMusic.biz

Also visit KC Area Youth Jazz at YouthJazz.us

Jayhawk Reunion

+ Degrees of Separation

The featured photograph in this post is a posed picture taken by Terri in 2012.

I’m shown here with our three eldest grandchildren at the conclusion of a visit to our home by Jesse Newman and Curtis McClinton to see our eldest brother, Richie Pratt, who had recently returned home after having lived in Hawaii for nearly thirty years.

“So, I get home from work today and there is a strange car in the driveway. I walk in the house from the garage and Curtis McClinton is sitting in my easy chair and Jesse Newman is sitting on the sofa in the living room. These two Jayhawks came by to visit our Jayhawk, Richard Dean today. It turns out that Curtis was involved in the work of initially setting up the 18th & Vine District and Jesse has been big in community advocacy and education. They plan on visiting regularly. It was cool for our grandchildren to get to meet them too …”
– – –

The three of them played varsity football at the University of Kansas in the 1960s (1960-69 Rosters). Richie ultimately had a shot with the New York Giants and Curtis went on to greatness with the Kansas City Chiefs.

And see: RichiePratt.net