[Dixielandjazz] Front Line / Back line Yerba Buena

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Jan 25 12:52:22 PST 2005

Phil Crumley <pcrumley at compuserve.com>

> Someone recently posted:  "There always seems to be a debate about YBJB set
> up. Does anybody have
> anecdotal or published insight from the originals themselves?"  And I think
> Bob Ringwald said somethig about putting the rhythm section in front so
> they could hear the horns.
> I remember someone of importance in San Francisco jazz history telling me,
> many years ago, that "Lu put the rhythm section in front because one of
> them did NOT have a good sense of rhythm."  Sitting in front of two
> trumpets, a tromb., and clarinet would certainly tend to keep one on the
> beat  - at least until deafness set in.  :-)
> Lu was a very loyal friend to a lot of musicians and it would not surprise
> me a bit that he decided to handle a band personnel problem this way
> instead of replacing the individual.   However,  "one will never know, will
> one?"

Thank you Phil. The reason I asked the question in the first place is
because in NYC in the 1940s and 50s, there was much discussion about YBJB,
Turk Murphy and the odd placement of the musicians.

Deep in my dim memory is a discussion with one of the NYC trombonists at the
time, either Cutshall, McGarity, or Conrad Janis about it.(don't remember
which) And I was told that it was because Turk could not be relied upon to
remain on the bandstand all the time, getting into tiffs with customers
every so often, if he was close to them. So they penned him in.

In NYC, we all marveled at the set-up. It may be as you describe, but then,
it brings up the question about who was keeping the time? The horns? That
seems to me, to be putting the cart before the horse, and a very dangerous
way to lead a band. None of us ever went to the YBJB set-up.

YBJB was a fantastic band. Many say they reprised King Oliver but that is
not 100 percent accurate. They may have been influenced by Oliver, BUT they
changed the time from Oliver's New Orleans 4 beat to their own 2 beat. That
was a radical change and seems to me to be of such import that Lu Watters
would want to have a steady rhythm section setting the time, rather than the

The NYC trombonists above were all playing in 4 beat bands and very much
interested in what YBJB had accomplished. We all seemed to feel back then
that 2 beat was, for the most part, "Mickey Mouse", but also that YBJB had
risen above its limitations with a wonderfully musical jazz band.

Steve Barbone

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