Documentary of Fort Smith born jazz legend to debut at Museum of History

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 401 views 

Alphonso Trent, Fort Smith native and a well-known jazz musician, will be the subject of a new locally-produced documentary set to debut at the Fort Smith Museum of History on April 29 and 30.

The documentary was produced by Dr. Henry Rinne, John McIntosh, and Fort Smith-based Five Star Productions and features Ryk St. Vincent (“A Time to Kill”) and Chris Cameron, a popular blues musician from the Fort Smith area. The documentary is based on Trent historian Rinne’s screenplay. Prior to moving to Jacksonville University to serve as dean of the College of Fine Arts, Rinne was founding dean of the college of humanities and social sciences at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

Alphonso Trent was born on Oct. 24, 1902, to Professor E.O. and Hattie Trent, prominent citizens of Fort Smith. Trent organized the Alphonso Trent Orchestra, which influenced many young African-American musicians. The orchestra was a sophisticated dance band that played for affluent audiences during the United States’ prosperous “Jazz Age.”

Though Alphonso Trent was not well-known nationally, he was a gifted pianist, natural leader, and contributed significantly to the training of numerous young African-American jazz musicians of the era, including Terrence Holder, Alex Hill, Stuff Smith, Snub Mosley, Charlie Christian, Sweets Edison, Mouse Randolph, and Peanuts Holland.

Jimmie Lunceford, in an article in the 1947 Esquire Jazz Book, said Trent’s orchestra “gave inspiration to more young musicians than any other.”

Quoted in the Jazz Review magazine, Benny Goodman collaborator Budd Johnson said of the Alphonso Trent Orchestra, “Let me tell you about Trent … They were gods back in the twenties, just like Basie was, only many years ahead of him … They worked nothing but the biggest and finest hotels in the South … They were years ahead of their time.”

The documentary will be free with Museum admission. Prices are $7 for adults and $2 for kids. Children under age 6 will be admitted free. The project was supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.