March 19, 2014

KITCHELL: Flory gave us our own version of Club Med


---- — His late wife once described him to “Bonanza” star Lorne Greene as the combination of great leading men all cast in one body.

That characterization served Logansport’s Med Flory well in a career that spanned decades as one of the country’s most successful saxophonists. But without the characterization, it might not have been enough to land Med a role in “Bonanza” as a guest in an episode. Med’s wife, who like Greene was a Canadian, had captured Greene’s attention when she was vying to become Miss Toronto. Greene was a judge on the panel that selected the winner. Her words eventually convinced Greene that her husband had talent, and casting directors eventually agreed.

Such was the story or the odyssey that was the life of Logansport’s only Grammy Award winner. Flory, who passed away last week, was a 1944 graduate of Logansport High School where he played clarinet in the band. He began his performance career by playing at a now-defunct roadhouse known as “The Elms” on Burlington Avenue at the city’s southern tip.

After leaving Logansport for Indiana University just before World War II ended, Flory went on to a jazz career that took him to Europe and Asia and culminated in his metamorphosis of jazz to a style known as “Bird” played by Charlie Parker.

After a 30-year career that included his Grammy and several albums, he returned to Logansport for a concert in 1981 at McHale Performing Arts Center. Those who attended that conference may never forget him singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the conclusion when his voice paused and broke as he sang “I long to see my mother in the doorway” as he recalled his own mother. For all the jazz vernacular he spoke, the places he played and the roles he had, for a moment, he was just as much a homespun Logansport guy as anyone else in the audience.

Many Logansport residents knew him or had gone to school with him, and appreciated the fact that he never forgot his hometown. Flory returned for concerts at McHale and at Riverside Park before the Med Flory Jazz and Blues Fest was established in his honor. Unfortunately, health problems prevented him from making appearances in recent years, but to the end, he was proud to have grown up on Horny Creek along Meadlawn Avenue on the north side of the city near the former McKinley Elementary School.

Last year, my wife and I established a website to commemorate his career as a musician and actor. There are links, thanks to Logansport photographer Rich Voorhees, to his career.

But the real tribute to Med that he would appreciate is the knowledge that young people in the community where he grew up can always appreciate music and be able to perform it and enjoy it so that others can as well.

A real tribute to him is to not only establish a scholarship in his honor or to continue the festival named for him, but to foster the kind of music arts education inside and outside the classroom that gives young people the access to music they need to become the next Med Flory.

It’s been said many times that great musicians and actors are born with talent, but Med was always the first person to acknowledge people who nurtured his when he was growing up in this city. Logansport may not have been a factory for professional musicians, but it traditionally has been a place that embraces music and the performing arts, from Frank McHale donating over $2 million for a high school auditorium to the Performing Arts Council that provided programs for adults and students that raised the bar for our community.

Perhaps that’s the new mantra or theme for the Med Flory Festival. As we celebrate the life of a favorite son of Logansport, we should all celebrate what he was given as a young person and what he gave back as an adult every day.

Not every community has a Med Flory, and that’s because not every community could produce one.

There will never be another Med Flory, but because there was one once, there should be plenty of aspiring musicians and actors who can be inspired by what one person from Logansport accomplished in a lifetime.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at