Chandler Library’s Our Stories presentation in April highlights Akimel O’odham jazz musician Russell “Big Chief” Moore

April 2, 2019
Russell Moore

The story of a jazz musician who came from the Gila River Indian Community and played an interesting role in the history of American jazz is the next topic of the Our Stories speaker series. The presentation starts at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 20, at the Basha Library, 5990 S. Val Vista Drive. 

Dr. David Martinez of Arizona State University will present this unique history in “Russell ‘Big Chief’ Moore: How a Pima Jazzman Blew His Way to the Top.” Moore (1912-1983) was a gifted trombonist whose distinctions included playing in Louis Armstrong's All-Star Band, as well as with Lionel Hampton, Sidney Bechet, and Papa Celestin, not to mention starting his own bands. At the end of his career, he had the opportunity to perform for President Reagan at a nationally televised gala event.

Equally important was what his career meant to his family and tribe in the Gila River Indian Community of Arizona. As an Akimel O'odham, “Big Chief,” as his musician friends called him, was indisputably a source of pride. Moore was someone who defied the stereotypes and low expectations that confronted American Indians during this era, which was dominated by images of stagecoaches, war parties and teepees. To the contrary, Russell Moore stands as a symbol of a new era in Indian self-determination.

Dr. David Martinez, an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community and Associate Professor in American Indian Studies at ASU, is the author of Dakota Philosopher: Charles Eastman and American Indian Thought and editor of The American Indian Intellectual Tradition: An Anthology of Writings from 1772 to 1972. He recently completed the book, Life of the Indigenous Mind: Vine Deloria Jr and the Birth of the Red Power Movement, which will be published later this year.

Our Stories presents diverse speakers who share unique Arizona and local history topics to a general audience. This series is produced throughout the year by the Chandler Museum, Chandler Public Library, Chandler Historical Society and Friends of the Chandler Public Library.

In May, the series will feature first-hand accounts from several long-time Japanese American families, sharing their experiences of resettlement after World War II, and the creation of the well-known and much loved flower farms along Baseline Road, at the base of South Mountain. While the farms have since been replaced by housing tracts, the memories of these beautiful fields remain.

For additional information on this program, call 480-782-2717, or visit Chandler Library.