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Newly Digitized: Vinyls!

The Heartbeats Again, 1972

By Tara Carron, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian.

Recently, the McGovern Historical Collection acquired several items that, as an archivist, I consider to be exciting acquisitions, as they are quite unique in the context of a medical archives: Dr. Denton A. Cooley’s string bass instrument, and two vinyl records wherein Dr. Cooley plays the (very same) string bass in a band made up of physician-musicians (mostly cardiologists) who would eventually call themselves “The Heartstrings”.

Generally, most people in the medical field or profession know that Dr. Cooley performed/participated in the first-ever artificial heart implant or the first-ever successful heart transplant. Maybe some know him for enhancing the technique of artificial valve implants; perhaps others remember him for correcting congenital heart defects in infants and children. Regardless of which medical feat (there are plenty) people associate Dr. Denton Cooley with, there was more to Dr. Cooley than just being a full-time cardiologist, expert heart surgeon, and lifesaver! Somehow, Dr. Cooley managed to find time away from the Texas Heart Institute to pursue additional personal interests and cultivate a few hidden or forgotten talents. These extracurricular activities surprisingly landed him far beyond the realm of the surgical arena and into the spotlight as lead bass in a surprisingly popular band.

The Heart Strings

In 1965, Dr. Cooley began stepping out of his daytime role as physician into that of musician, collaborating with a fellow cardiac surgeon, Dr. Grady Hallman, to establish a unique band cleverly named “The Heart Strings”. Dr. Hallman, with previous musical experience in the University of Texas Longhorn band and University of Texas Symphonic Band, led the group of physician musicians playing stringed instruments. Although Dr. Cooley lacked prior musical training or experience, he was undeterred by this. He purchased a string bass for $35 and promptly began taking music lessons, eventually learning the basics of reading music, playing chords, and maintaining the critical musical element of rhythm.

The Heartbeats

Initially, The Heart Strings entertained at gatherings for medical peers. Their early formal appearances included the surgery department Christmas party, an alumni banquet for the medical fraternity Alpha Kappa Kappa, and an outdoor performance at the Cooley family’s Cool Acres Ranch during the annual surgery summer social. The band’s popularity grew unexpectedly, prompting additional musicians, including non-physicians, to join. As more brass instruments were incorporated, the band changed its name to “The Heartbeats”.

                        The Heartbeats album cover, 1972

Jazz Medics

The expanded and newly branded musical group now comprised of 20 or more members from various medical specialties, and showcased a diverse array of instruments, such as drums, piano, trumpet, trombone, French horn, saxophone, tuba, electric bass, string bass, and guitar. The Heartbeats performed at charity events in Houston and ventured as far as New Orleans, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. for shows. In 1974, The Heartbeats renamed themselves the “Jazz Medics” to better represent the diverse professions of its members. Following Dr. Cooley’s passing in 2017, a Houston CBS network affiliate aired a segment on the Jazz Medics and The Heartbeats, featuring interviews with long-time band members discussing the band’s evolution. The Jazz Medics are still active today, performing for various events and groups in the Houston area.

From Analogue to Digital

The Heartbeats recorded two albums: “Presenting, The Heartbeats” (1968) and “The Heartbeats Again” (1972), both of which were acquired by the McGovern Historical Center.  Despite the fact at least one of the records had never been used before (having been received in its original cellophane wrapper), one album (“Presenting, The Heartbeats”) had technical issues playing the first track on both sides; therefore, these two tracks (“Tijuana Taxi” from Side 1 and “Georgy Girl” from Side 2) were not digitized. Aside from this minor glitch, the rest of the digitization process went surprisingly well—with every soft crackle and pop of the vinyl accounted for and beautifully captured in the digital version!

You can find and access the digitized audio and scanned images of both vinyl records here. Enjoy listening to The Heartbeats, brought to you by Dr. Denton Cooley and the gang!