Jerry Dorn, 90, taught ‘the music of speech'

Posted: June 20, 2012

For a man who started out blowing the trombone for Woody Herman, Jerry Dorn's professional career took some unusual turns. From music, he dropped in on the haberdashery business, then found his true calling: teaching kids and adults how to speak well.

To get Philadelphians to say, "How now brown cow," without that nasalized Philly twang, was a challenge, but Jerry met it.

He once told an interviewer, "Vowels are the music of speech. My goal is to teach my students to become better listeners so that they can hear themselves as others hear them."

One of his private students, a pretty good boxer named Joe Frazier, could have attested to Jerry's skill in the vowel business. Joe wanted to be better able to read children's stories minus the drawl of his South Carolina roots and the vocal quirks of his adopted city. In fact, one of Jerry's goals in speech therapy was to deal with accents his students brought with them to his sessions.

Jerry Dorn, born Israel J. Dorn to Polish immigrants, a child of the Depression who wanted to rise above his Brooklyn origins by studying the trombone five or six hours a day until he perfected his talent, then in later years earning a couple of college degrees and working as a speech therapist, died May 21. He was 90 and lived in Center City, but had lived for many years in Rhawnhurst.

Jerry was born in Brooklyn to Morris and Mimi Dorn. His father was a carpenter and his mother a seamstress.

While in high school in Brooklyn, Jerry took trombone lessons and began a regimen of intensive practice. A friend asked him to fill in as a trombonist for Woody Herman's band. He proved to be good enough to go on the road with Woody for a year.

He also played for the Henry Jerome Band, which performed regularly at Childs Restaurant in Times Square. He also played with Johnny Long's Band and other aggregations and played with some of the leading musicians of the Big Band Era.

He was heard on a number of record albums, including Woody Herman's "Starlight Souvenirs" of 1951.

When he decided that touring with the bands was not the best way to make a living, Jerry moved to Philadelphia in 1952 and opened a haberdashery at Broad and South streets with his brother Jack. It was across the street from Pep's, a well-known jazz club, and "Jerry Dorn — Where Styles are Born" became the outfitters for the musicians.

Performers from Pep's and the Showboat around the corner would visit his store, including Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday.

When the business ran into financial setbacks, it closed in the late '50s. Jerry decided to go back to school. He had a liberal-arts degree from Brooklyn College and took it to Temple University, where he earned a master's degree in speech pathology. He started to work for the school district as a speech therapist in 1968. He also saw students privately in his home.

He was married twice, to Patricia Davidson in 1963, and to Helen Shaner in 1977.

In addition to his former wives, he is survived by a son, Joel Dorn; a daughter, Lorraine Dutill; a stepson, David J. Dorn, and one grandchild.

Services: Were Sunday. n

Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or, or on Twitter @johnfmorrison.

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