Four Arrows lands in Talent New area resident just hitting his stride — piano
He’s got two doctoral degrees, is Irish-Cherokee-Creek, finished fourth in the world championship among “old-time piano” players in the stride piano tradition (sometimes called honky-tonk), taught college, lived with Indian tribes and is the author of more than 20 books — lately about surviving environmental chaos by returning to the values of indigenous peoples.
A new resident to the valley, the wildly colorful Donald Trent Jacobs or Four Arrows, his Lakota name granted after completing his four sundances, will give a concert of honky-tonk piano hits, such as “It Had to Be You,” “All of Me,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and “Shanty Town.”
The gig, in which he will pound it out on an upright piano and do some dramatic storytelling about the origins of these beloved, pre-1939 tunes, will be from 3-5 p.m., Saturday, March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), at Pebblestone Cellars Winery, 1670 Pioneer Road, Talent. It is free and public.
A native of St. Louis, Four Arrows, 70, taught himself piano as a child, grew to love jazz, became a Marine Corps officer, directed a youth ranch in Idaho, and became dean of education at Oglala Lakota College at Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota.
His 2013 book,“Teaching Truly; A Curriculum to Indigenize Mainstream Education,” is blurbed as “course-specific guidelines … to facilitate greater educational integrity and relevance in the classroom, without waiting for more reforms to policy, standards or curricula. Incorporating reality-based teaching common in traditional Indigenous learning cultures, each chapter first exposes educational hegemony, including that existing within the new common core standards, and then offers alternative, time-tested perspectives and exercises.”
Looking at current climate chaos, Four Arrows says, “We’ve lived according to the laws of nature for 99 percent of human history,” but few indigenous cultures have been able to survive civilization intact, even though “the ultimate wisdom remains in tribal knowledge that we still have access to ... the native-based point of view is still here and until we can look at a tree and call it our living relative, we’re not going to get out of this downward ecological spiral alive.”
As a firefighter in his youth in Marin County, he found himself giving CPR to overweight first responders, leading him to write the 1976 book “Physical Fitness for Public Safety Personnel,” a concept that took off around the world, opening his career as an fitness author and pioneer in the use of auto-suggestion for healing, he says.
After the Marines and a near-death experience rafting into a whirlpool in Mexico, Four Arrows says he began his journey toward reclaiming his native heritage. He speaks of a long list of jazz artists, from Duke Ellington to Jimi Hendrix, who have some Native American genes — and, like him, were told to “be proud of it but be careful who you tell about it.”
Once offered a grand Steinway to play on, Four Arrows says he shook his head and replied he could only play on an old upright, as “they talk to me.” The old-time piano music, he notes, is a mix of Italian, Indian and African-American, forged in the deep South through the 19th century and popularized by white musicians after slavery.
Four Arrows is a professor of Educational Leadership at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, a task he does via streaming. He was a keynote speaker last year at the International Holistic Education Conference at Southern Oregon University. A biography of him, “Fearless Engagement of Four Arrows,” by R. Michael Fisher will be out soon.
A video of him winning the World Championship Duet in 2015 is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nrzk0RNSNWQ. He is also a certified hypnotist and has learned to hypnotize horses, as seen in a movie from the ‘70s at www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxzAm08731c.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.