Doug Hill and Jay McShann

Transcript freelancer Doug Hill, right, poses with jazz legend Jay McShann (1916-2006) at the Deep Deuce Jazz Festival circa 1999. Hill has been a freelancer for The Norman Transcript for 25 years.

This year marks 25 years since I started freelancing for the newspaper you’re either reading in hard copy or at normantranscript.com.

In 1997, there was no Norman Transcript website. That would appear a few years later. The paper has been published since 1889, predating both the city of Norman and the University of Oklahoma.

I brought my young family to Norman from Kansas City in 1983 because of a corporate job opportunity in Oklahoma City. We immediately started a subscription.

After 14 years of enjoying Norman’s cultural vibe and becoming a University of Oklahoma alumnae, I wanted to write about what was going on here. The Transcript’s arts editor, Linda Henley, gave me that break.

My first byline was about a Norman power pop music outfit called The Mimsies. They were an example of what I’d learn was a hotbed of musical creativity in Norman.

Henley encouraged me to write more. Like current editor Emma Keith, she was talented, inspiring and patient. In between those two editors, there have been around 15 others who moved on to other employment, but most remain dear friends. Editor emeritus Andy Rieger continues throughout the entire time as mentor and pal.

Norman was and still is a smorgasbord of fine arts, low arts and attractive entertainment.

In 1997, the music scene was peopled by the Chainsaw Kittens, the Mike Hosty Trio, Terry “Buffalo” Ware and scores of other imaginative and talented musicians with varying levels of ambition. The University of Oklahoma provides for a constantly rotating cast of characters in its various music and arts departments. These people often share their skills outside the academic setting, which engenders creative churn generally found only in larger cities.

For the first nine years, my focus was exclusively on writing live music performance reviews. That involved attending a concert every week in places of rarified sophistication, such as OU’s Catlett Music Center or dive bar The Deli on Campus Corner, where then and now there’s live music every night.

I carried mini legal pads, took notes and often arrived at venues early with the undoubtedly annoying habit of ambushing artists for quick before-show interviews.

Beloved editor Tami Watson Althoff encouraged me to start taking photos at concerts, which added a much welcome dimension to my stringer journalism. For years, I would compose articles on a computer and save them to a floppy disc, which would be hand-delivered to my editor’s newsroom desk along with a 35mm print that she scanned in.

My work has always been part time. I admire, respect and revere full-time journalists who face deadline grind daily.

After several years, editors began assigning me to other beats. Memorable ones include being a member of the White House Press Corps for a day when President Barack Obama gave his 2012 “All the above” energy speech with Cushing oil patch equipment as a background, meeting then Gov. Brad Henry at the state mansion and kissing five-time Olympic Gold Medal winner Nadia Comaneci’s hand after taking her portrait. She turned to her husband, Bart Conner, smiled and said, “That’s what Europeans do.”

But art and music were then and remain my preferred focus. Corporate business experience has been a plus, along with 45 years of collecting visual art, a passion shared with my spouse, Barbara Hill.

Being a father of artistic children also has been an advantage. Taking oldest offspring Dana Hill and friend Katrina Tullius when they were tweens to The Lemonheads concert in Bricktown circa 1992 deserves credit or receives blame for sparking interest in rock music I hadn’t grown up listening to.

I’ve had the opportunity to conduct face-to-face interviews with some of my jazz and rock heroes, including Bo Diddley, Jay McShann and Wanda Jackson. I never would have known my father-in-law, H. Kaufmann, MD, had delivered two of McShann’s grandchildren at Menorah Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, without spending much of an afternoon with the jazz bandleader at the Deep Deuce Jazz Festival.

Opera’s Marilyn Horne, along with country’s Vince Gill and Toby Keith, have endured my nosy questions. Grumpy old rock legend Leon Russell didn’t warm up in an interview until I asked about the best automobile he’d ever owned.

Career highlights include interrogating The White Stripes’ Jack and Meg White in a filthy saloon’s corner booth circa 2001 and, more recently, Japanese Breakfast’s Michele Zauner. Counter to her reticent reputation, Meg White did most of the talking.

Dinner with Joan Jett before her exceptional show at the Oklahoma State Fair seems unlikely, but she had a gaggle of Okie relatives in attendance, and we were drawn in with them.

Observing and chronicling the Norman arts and music scene as it has thrived and grown has been gratifying. Jazz in June, the Norman Music Festival, The Depot, OU’s fine multi-faceted presence, Sooner Theatre, the Norman Arts Council and particularly Art Walk, many private music venues, Resonator Institute and hundreds of artistic individuals make this small city a joy and privilege to write about.

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