Viewfinder: Natchez drummer keeps rhythm through ages

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Blake Wadsworth plays the drums in his room at Magnolia Village Assisted Living. Wadsworth has been playing the drums since 1940 at Natchez High School. He started his first big band jazz band in 1948 and has been doing so ever since. Even now as a resident of Magnolia Village, he continues to play with longtime band mates Marvin McDonald, on piano, and Jim Barnett, on bass. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Blake Wadsworth plays the drums in his room at Magnolia Village Assisted Living. Wadsworth has been playing the drums since 1940 at Natchez High School. He started his first big band jazz band in 1948 and has been doing so ever since. Even now as a resident of Magnolia Village, he continues to play with longtime band mates Marvin McDonald, on piano, and Jim Barnett, on bass. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Blake Wadsworth slides a pair of black fingerless gloves over his arthritis stricken hands. He can no longer grip drumsticks or brushes for long periods of time without them.

Wadsworth scoots up to his single snare drum. He doesn’t bother with a whole set anymore.

Blake Wadsworth, center, plays the snare drum while longtime band mates Jim Barnett, left, plays the bass and Marvin McDonald, right, plays the piano at Magnolia Village Assisted Living. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Blake Wadsworth, center, plays the snare drum while longtime band mates Jim Barnett, left, plays the bass and Marvin McDonald, right, plays the piano at Magnolia Village Assisted Living. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

He begins playing with longtime band mates Marvin McDonald, on the piano, and Jim Barnett, on the bass. A big band lover until the end, Wadsworth is not able to wrangle up more than these two musicians.

Their audience is Wadsworth’s fellow residents at Magnolia Village Assisted Living, and even though the audience is much older than they were the first time they heard these songs, heads still bob and bodies still sway in their seats.

A lot of things have changed in Wadsworth’s, 87, life, but his feelings about music have never wavered.

“I just love playing,” Wadsworth said. “I’ve been playing the same songs for over 70 years, and they still haven’t gotten old.

“Aside from my family, it’s been the biggest part of my life.”

Wadsworth began playing the drums in 1940 at Natchez High School.

“Right when I picked them up, I was hooked,” he said.

He went on to Copiah-Lincoln Community College before going to Ole Miss on a music scholarship.

Wadsworth started his first band in 1948 and has been bringing together the talented musicians in his life ever since to perform the big jazz band styling’s of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw.

“He was the guy that got people together,” McDonald said. “We have been playing together since I was in high school, and I have loved all of it.”

Wadsworth does not get to play much anymore, just every second Friday when he plays for the other assisted living residents, but music is ever present in his life.

“I find myself looking through my old scrap books and listening to old recordings a lot,” he said. “Most of my friends and old band members have died or are too sick to play, I tear up sometimes thinking about all of them.”

The ability to still play the drums is important for Wadsworth.

“It helps me remember the old times,” he said. “I miss the old times. I wish I could play the way I used to, but I still get so happy playing the drums with those guys and being a part of our band.”