[Dixielandjazz] Re: West Coast Revival Style

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 27 11:04:22 PDT 2003

> Rebecca Thompson  wrote:

> Suggest you go to www.redhotjazz.com and search for the Dixie Syncopators
> and listen to some of the music found there. (Farewell Blues, Dr. Jazz and
> others) My point is that this music has the "West Coast" feel long before Lu
> Watters came along.

Well, maybe that's reversed? Like you mean "West Coasters" are just using the feel
that Oliver had? But even that is not what I hear. As far as my ears are concerned,
there was absolutely no West Coast "feel", or "Style", or anything much resembling it
until Lu Watters came along and formed the Yerba Buena Jazz Band in 1939. The first
recording of YBJB, pre Bob Helm, with 2 trumpets and 2 banjos is, at least for me, the
definitive beginning of the "West Coast Revival Style."

In fact, as I hear it, the one style of Dixieland that has become virtually extinct in
bands today, is the style that King Oliver played. (Uptown New Orleans?) I have never
heard a current band live or on record that plays in his style. On the other hand,
there are numerous bands around today that play in the West Coast Revival Style of Lu
Watters-Bob Scobey. In fact, they seem to be in the majority at most OKOM Festivals.

Note the following information from the "Stomp Off" records web site. Many of us do
not realize that YBJB and their style started before WW2 and before most of us were
old enough to hear it. As I hear it on records, and live a few times via Turk Murphy
in SF 50 odd years ago, YBJB and then Murphy and Scobey brought back the music of the
1920s, but definitely in their own style, not that of King Oliver.

West Coast Revival
It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Lu Watters in the Dixieland
revival movement. When he organized the two-trumpet Yerba Buena Jazz Band in late
1939, the New Orleans jazz of King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton was not only
considered old hat but worthy of extinction. Over 55 years later there  are a
countless number of trad bands patterned after the two-beat Watters group, which like
its predecessor King Olivers' Creole Jazz Band is now considered classic. Lu Watters
formed his first jazz band in 1925 but he spent most of the 1930s playing in San
Francisco in his own big band. By 1939 (at the height of the swing  era) he had met
fellow trumpeter Bob Scobey, trombonist Turk Murphy and pianist Wally Rose and was
planning to bring back the music of the 1920s which had been  largely neglected for
quite a few years. In December 1939 his new band started playing regularly at the Dawn
Club and by 1941 when they made their first  recordings, the Yerba Buena Jazz Band was
building up a large following in San Francisco. etc., etc.

Characteristics of YBJB "West Coast Style" from the beginning?

1. Constant Power - no dynamics. (They played loud, all the time)

2. Heavyweight rhythm section which moved opposite to the trends in the 1930s towards
    two fisted piano all the time even behind solos- very strong tuba on the beat -  2
banjos - 2 beat.

These were not characteristics of the Oliver bands as I hear them. Far from it.

Moreover, there were those critics, at the time, who were appalled that YBJB  was
rejecting the "advances" in OKOM.
Like swinging in 4/4, using dynamics, following Fatha Hines light piano style, getting
away from banjo-tuba, etc. And it was said, at the time, that YBJB had set jazz back
20 years, did not swing, and was reactionary.

Complicated issue, much to think about and I apologize for the length of this post.

Steve Barbone

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