I was born on the fourth day of May 1970, at St. Luke's East hospital, on Delmar Boulevard, in St. Louis, MO. In 1988, I moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music. Although I did some traveling with my family as a kid, this was a real adventure for me. I never experienced summer camp and rarely was I away from my parents for more than a couple of days at a time.
I arrived in New York City during the summer of 1988. The weather was even hotter than it was in St. Louis that summer, and we all know how hot St. Louis can be during the summer. My first experience at music school was a strange one. I was an 18-year-old white kid from the Midwest, and on this August day in New York City, at the Manhattan School of Music, I experienced my first true taste of racism. There was something else odd about this day. I had never been in an educational classroom situation with all white people.
First, some background. I spent my first 18 years in University City, MO. My first childhood memory is of playing in the sandbox with my next-door neighbor, Elizabeth. I must have been around three years old. We were inseparable from six months old until six
years old, when she moved to California. Her father was black, her mother white. Elizabeth was beige. When you're six months old, you don't realize such things...I guess. I started kindergarten in 1975 at Delmar-Harvard school, which was in my neighborhood.
The school was multicultural: Black, White, Vietnamese, Laotian, etc. I went to more Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs as a kid than you could imagine. My twelve (almost thirteen...but they let me out) years in the University City school system were a true lesson in diversity, in tolerance, and most importantly, in being a middle-class, white Protestant in a predominantly un-white environment. I learned one of life's most valuable lessons at a very young age racial equality. Some of my favorite teachers and role models happened to be black.
I never thought about that until my experience at music school in 1988. What made this situation even more ironic was that the people were making racist remarks about Wynton Marsalis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, world-renowned trumpeter. Little did these people know that I was staying at Wynton's apartment until I secured my own place in New York City. Wynton and I had become friends in 1983. I met him while he was making an appearance with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. My dad, who's been a member of the Orchestra since 1964, introduced us. I was in the eighth grade. Needless to say, this was a strange situation to find myself in.
Because of my upbringing, I had never experienced racism. Maybe this was a totally unrealistic way to grow up. Nonetheless, this was my reality. University City gave me a true sense of equality and justice. It gave me the idea that we had progressed as a nation and that all races and religions could coexist in a relatively peaceful environment. University City also gave me a certain sense of optimism.
If I ever get married and have children, I want my children to grow up in an environment that is racially, economically, and religiously diverse. If that turns out not to be in St. Louis, I will try to discover a place that offers this kind of diversity.
Jeremy Davenport is an internationally renowned trumpet player who has played with Harry Connick, Jr., and Dianna Krall, among many others. He's made forays outside the jazz world this year, appearing on the "Emeril" television sitcom and being named one of People Magazine's "Top 50 Bachelors" in America. He lives in New Orleans, but will appear in St. Louis at Jazz at the Bistro on Nov. 23 and 24.