The Dixieland Duke

Larry Schwab wears his conductor’s hat with the High Street Jazz Band logo. Conductors’ hats are commonly worn in New Orleans Jazz bands, and Schwab plays with such a band during the French Quarter Festival each year.

By Jacqueline Delphin, Paige Carver, and Evan McCaffrey 

Imagine a  warm night on High Street in Morgantown, W. Va., the notorious downtown party center of West Virginia University.  Students dressed for the night’s festivities walk along in packs towards their favorite destinations.  In the distance a commotion breaks the crowd as a street band dressed in full Jazz regalia dances and belts out the old Dixieland Jazz tune “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Some students move aside for the out of the ordinary sight, but many follow along and dance in appreciation. If you didn’t look closely at the group, you’d probably miss the man who seems of a different generation than the mostly twenty-something band members.  But then you would miss Larry Schwab, a young at heart 71-year-old trumpeter for the “High Street Jazz Band.”

A member of the WVU marching band, Schwab is no ordinary student, or in any aspect an ordinary person.  Schwab, a native of Arthurdale, W.Va., graduated from West Virginia University with a bachelor’s degree in 1962 and a medical degree in 1966.

As long as he can remember he always had an interest in New Orleans-style Dixieland Jazz.

The jazz style originates from the end of the Spanish-American War when the army bands returned from fighting and sold their instruments at cheap prices in the New Orleans pawn market. African Americans in the city, many of Creole culture, bought these instruments and began creating their unique style of music that has African, French, and Spanish origins. The music evolved into what is now called Dixieland Jazz.

As member of his middle school and high school bands, Schwab began experimenting with the style of music by playing works from  “The Dukes of Dixieland,” a Dixieland revival band that gained popularity in the 1950’s, and the well known trumpeter  “Louis Armstrong” who Schwab places as “the greatest entertainer of all-time.”

In 1956, during a trip with his parents heading to the Western U.S., Schwab stopped in New Orleans, La.  While there, he listened to jazz bands and street musicians and the music forever became part of his life.

After graduating from WVU in 1966, he moved to the birthplace of his beloved music and interned at the Charity Hospital of Louisiana in New Orleans. While working at this inner-city hospital he was able to see and meet the indigenous people of southern Louisiana and New Orleans. While living on St. Charles Ave, he became enveloped in the city’s music scene.

“There’s the advantage of being in one of the most exciting cities in the world and possibly, quite possibly the best city for music anywhere on the planet,” says Schwab.

After only spending a year in New Orleans his life plans came to a halt when he was drafted into the U.S. Army to be sent to the Vietnam War.  This raised a moral predicament for him.

“I was a conscientious objector.  I was opposed to the war before I was forced to go. I had to decide if I was going to resist and go to jail or flee the country, so I decided to go to Vietnam as a non-combatant,” said Schwab.

During his service he served as a general medical officer and then as a battalion surgeon for an artillery unit. He was awarded two bronze stars: for meritorious service and for valor for heroism in ground combat operations as a non-combatant. His military service was documented in depth through interviews by the WVU school of journalism with the Library of Congress’s  Veterans History Project. 

After his discharge from the Army, Schwab began to work for the International Eye Foundation in Ethiopia for two and a half years as a volunteer teaching local medical practitioners medical treatment to help prevent the causes of blindness. After being forced to leave Ethiopia, due to a revolution in the country, he moved with his wife and three children to Kenya and continued working for the IEF.

After living and working in four different African countries, Schwab and his wife returned to Morgantown, W.Va. in 1989.

Larry Schwab, M.D., plays trumpet during rehearsal for the High Street Jazz Band. The local band plays Schwab's favorite music New Orleans Dixieland Style Jazz. He is also adamant that he enjoys all kinds of music.

Schwab works part time at the Louis A. Johnson Veteran’s Administration Hospital, Clarksburg, W.Va. and teaches resident physicians at West Virginia University’s School of Medicine in the Department of Ophthalmology.

He stays active in world activism as a current member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, an organization that “works for a world free of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions.” He has returned to Vietnam several times as part of this organization.

Music is still a large part of his life and every Friday night he joins the High Street Jazz Band’s march down High Street.

“We do know that he spent some time in New Orleans and he knows a lot about that kind of stuff…but I think we have a shared interest in it,” says John Steadman drummer for the High Street Jazz Band.  “But, Larry is definitely a driving force on the band. He is a lot of what keeps it going,”

Drummer John Steadman and Larry on the trumpet practice during rehearsal for the High Street Jazz Band. Larry joins the band every Friday night to parade down High Street in Morgantown, W.Va.

The band is recording its second album and will tour surrounding states to promote music to a younger generation.

“Its happy music. Its music to be used to promote the welfare of the people in a community and the main reason why we do it is because we really do care about the community, “says John Fitzmaurice one of the co-founders of the band who met Schwab at WVU’s marching band practice.  They realized their shared interest in the community and music.

Schwab’s latest venture included as recent trip to the French Quarter Jazz Festival in New Orleans, where on Friday the 13th he joined in a parade with the “second line” which in New Orleans parade and funeral traditions, are those who join in behind the procession and play their instruments.  He played his trumpet.

“Music is the common denominator, it’s really, it’s the only universal language,” Schwab said.

A jazz street band performs on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, one of the the same streets that Larry Schwab paraded down during the recent French Quarter Festival.

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