San Diego Review April 1, 1995
Jazzy Movements and Sweet Political Music…
by Dwayne Hunn in San Diego Review
Underlying conditions give roots to movements, but without leadership blossoms seldom fruit. Dr. Haynes planted and politician Hiram Johnson fertilized a movement that bore the fruits of legislative reform in 1911.
For decades citizens used these reforms to debate and vote on legislative improvements they deemed worthy. In time, however, corporate and moneyed interests seized the process by hiring people to do the arduous, time consuming initiative work. By the 1960’s, decades had passed since true grassroots movements had orchestrated a successful major California initiative work. By the 1960’s, decades had passed since true grassroots movements had orchestrated a successful major California initiative.
Edwin Koupal, Jr., born in Eugene, Oregon in 1927, would change that. Ed Koupal learned about social conditions from his church-going folks, the times and jazz. By eight he was playing music in Sacramento’s Penial Mission Church. When not tromboning, he and his violin playing sister were helping “feed the bums and winos in what this day and age would be like a soup kitchen.” At home he worked alongside dad at fixing, building and engineering and fell asleep to the tender and principled story telling of his fragile mother, Laura Ellen. Every night the three brothers and two sisters listened to classics read from Mother’s hallway chair. Their favorites revolved around the Little House in the Big Woods and its eight succeeding books, which became the television classic Little House on the Prairie.
All the Koupal kids learned to cut through problems with hard, long and creative work. For Edwin Koupal, Jr. that mold was cut from church, the Depression, Roosevelt’s fireside chats, the War, chicken ranch-hand work, struggling business ventures, salesmanship, his wife Joyce and music.
In 1941 the youngest manager of Sacramento’s McClathchy Pool traded his balmy job for enlistment in the Marines. The Marines wouldn’t buy his mother’s protestations that this strapping guy was “only 14,” until she returned with his birth certificate. Between 14 and 16 Ed’s band, named the Mickey Donovan Band because their discount-purchased used music stands carried that name, were earning money throughout Sacramento. At 16 Ed left to work in the Merchant Marines as a boiler operator, a skill learned from his dad.
Ed’s skills on the base viola and trombone, however, kept him sweating on bandstands rather in the bowels of a steamy, liberating merchant ship. More than one music aficionado claimed “Snake Koupal was better than Eddie Safranski,” usually voted the best bassist by music magazines. Ed played plenty of “spot fills” with the bands of Phil Harris, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, Tex Benecke and Teddy Jefferson. His charisma also attracted Shirley Temple— for much more than just a dance.
Exposure to good jazz often leads it to becoming people’s preferred music. Jazz has rules, but more importantly it requires playing together, improvising and creativity. In the 60’s Ed Koupal’s jazzy tenants moved people to begin making the tools of direct democracy the people’s preferred political music.