[Dixielandjazz] The Yerba Buena Jazz Band was 2 beat / 4 beat
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 27 18:06:56 PDT 2003
Following is an EXCERPT from an article published in 1999 in The San
Francisco Traditional Jazz Society Newsletter. It is about the formation
of the Yerba Buena Jazz Band. Even though excerpted, it is very long.
DELETE NOW IF NOT INTERESTED. For the full article, click on:
For jazz heads like me, it is a great article and very insightful,
written by a man a man who was there. Several lessons to be learned
here. Note that this was audience participation muisic, for dancing as
well as for listening. And note especially the last sentence in Mr.
Lu Wattersí Yerba Buena Jazz Band
by Jerry Stanton
Before I start I should say that on this subject The Source, capital S,
is Bob Helm. Of those of us from the dinosaur days still around, heís
the one who lived and knew it all. He has to: heís ten or more years
ahead of me, as Wally was, and knew Lu in the bandís formative stage in
the late 1930s.
When did I come into the movie? It seems like a movie now looking backóa
long one and a very memorable one. I came in the summer of ë39 . . .
I left the close of the daily Benny Goodman big band open air concert in
the Temple Compound on the south side of the island and strolled along a
road full of fairground attractions. Across from one of them, Sally
Randís Nude Ranch, was another: The Corral. Drinking, eating, and jazz
from a trio consisting of Bob Helm, pianist Forrest Brown and Freddy
Higuera drums. I stayed, of course, then introduced myself, and that was
the start of friendships which in Bobís case have lasted sixty years to
the present writing.
I didnít talk long enough to Bob that day to hear what was coming in the
Bay Area jazz sceneómaybe Luís plans werenít quite finalized. But a
couple of months later, September or October, l939, the equivalent of a
musical atomic bomb detonated Bay Area, Californiaómake it all of U. S.
A.: righteous jazz. The Yerba Buena Jazz Band opened at the Dawn Club,
20 Annie Street in San Francisco.
Nothing like it had ever hit town before. Itís true that the King Oliver
Band played The City in the mid-1920s, maybe more than once, on their
West Coast tours. But they werenít there long enough to make the impact
they deserved, and anyway by 1939, with the advent of the big band era
and hundreds of smaller bands the classic Oliver sounds were forgotten,
if theyíd ever been remembered long in rousting, live-it-up San
Francisco balling the livelong nights.
The Dawn Club changed all that, because Lu had really done his homework.
The band was brilliant, without making a fuss about being that way. It
was highly professional, disciplined, with a fabulous repertoire
including Luís originals and arrangements, yet still gave you the
feeling they were fresh on the scene and playing for your New Yearís Eve
party. Spontaneity was in the air, not least because Lu had selected the
Dawn Club for its spacious dance flooróthe ë30s on the way out had been
a great dancing era all over America, in thousands of clubs, halls,
ballrooms, hotels, fairgroundsóyou name it. They even got up and did it
in theater aisles when the band on stage got hot enough. Me included . .
Brass players stayed constant in the band, both before and after World
War Two: Lu, Bob Scobey and Turk, but clarinet duties were divided
between Ellis Horne and Helm, more Ellis in ë39 and ë40, and more Helm
in ë41, ë46 and ë47. Wally, too, was a constant, though Forrest Brown
was in before the war on piano awhile at the Dawn. Bill Dart was a
constant on drums, Dick Lammi on tuba and string bass as well, but there
were several banjo men on duty: the inimitable and unforgettable Clancy
Hayes, doing his great jazz singing, and Harry Mordecai and Russ
The Dawn Club, as you no doubt know, was not invented suddenly in 1939.
It had a pretty riotous life as a Prohibition speakeasy, or ìSpeak,î all
through the ë20s and early ë30s behind it. The long brass rail bar was
one of the longest, if not the longest in San Francisco. . . .
The atmosphere with the band was infectious at the Dawn, and it was
always full of dancers and listeners. There was a lot of dark wood there
and a mellow dim decoró plenty of tables and oodles of atmosphere in the
style of the times. The whole cast of Dashiell Hammettís ìThe Maltese
Falcon,î that director John Huston was filming on location in The City
was often there: Huston, Humph Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sidney
Greenstreet etc. Probably not only for the music but because they felt
they hadnít left the movie sets: the Dawn was just like one of them.
After the war in 1947 Orson Welles was often there, with his current
flame Rita Hayworth. Welles loved the music. I can remember seeing and
hearing him cry out ìThatís the Black and White Rag!î when Wally was
playing it, then grab Rita and swing her high, wide and handsome around
the floor. And he shouted: Thatís-a-Plenty! Great!ì
A whole lot of other notable people, not only Hollywood but from the
professions, big business and politics etc. came regularly to the Dawn.
And of course Herb Caen, a legend in his own lifetime. He often put some
anecdote about the club in his columns, in the Examiner and the
Chronicle (he shifted gears several times in his life). Everybody
danced. Lu said the foundation of everything was to have people dancing,
and when he moved the band in 1948 to El Cerrito he stayed firm to that
A word must be said at this point about Lu Watters the man, because he
was as well put-together as a human being as he was as a jazz musician.
You could call him the Rock of Gibraltar: while all the waves and storms
and winds lapped and whirled around him, he was always unflappable and
unruffled. Heíd gone through the rough-and-tough mill of the orchestra
business as it was in the ë20s when he started at 16 with his first job
as second or third trumpet in a section, Anno Domini 1926. He toured the
country with various bands of all sizes and styles of the time. He built
up a lot of general musical savvy until he gradually separated the wheat
from the chaff and knew what he wanted to do on his own.
That time didnít come till much later, in the late 1930s, but by then
Luíd found the players he wanted and knew exactly the results he wanted:
continuation, with his own refreshments, of the great New Orleans Oliver
and Armstrong two-trumpet tradition in an eight-man band with banjo,
tuba, support but not solo drums, and ragtime-tinged piano. And of
course a clarinetist in the Dodds, Simeon, Nicholas traditions deeply
embedded in the best New Orleans bands. In Turk heíd found the ideal
driving bottom line for the front line.
It was a carefully thought-out band, but as already mentioned it had
that great feeling of right now, freshness and spontaneity that got
people up from their tables right now and out on the dance floor. In the
first great flourish of the YBJB at the Dawnóí39, ë40 and ë41óa lot of
young and very impressionable starting-out musicians, our gang included,
formed an enthusiastic and faithful fan support element, which
translated out in many ways, the most important being there every night
the band played and if possible memorizing every tune they played. That
was no easy job since most of the tunes were three and four part
numbers, with introductions, interludes, repeats, breaks and codas
All the guys in the YBJB had a lot of previous experience in
improvising, but Lu wrote out all his numbers and rehearsed them that
way before he let the improvising take wing, as it should in the middle
of the tunes. In this way the band stood out from all the
Dixieland-style bands that were often good, but long on jamming and
short on substance and ensemble quality. It canít be emphasized enough
in a resume of Luís impact on the Bay Area, California and national jazz
scenes. The band was unique, the band was organized, the band swung, the
band was great. Period.
To see the full article click http://www.sftradjazz.org/lu-watters.html
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