LU WATTERS: 1947 Previously unissued selections by the Yerba Buena Jazz Band
Lu Watters (tp) Bob Scobey (tp) Turk Murphy (tb) Bob Helm (cl) Wally Rose (p) Harry Mordecai (bj) Dick Lammi (tu) Bill Dart (drs)
Vocal on Beale Street blues by Murphy
San Francisco; August 16 1947
1 Cake Walking Babies from Home (3'19") (Williams – Smith – Troy)
2 Antigua Blues (3'03") (Lu Watters)
3 Beale Street Blues (vcl) (3'04") (W. C. Handy)
4 Chattanooga Stomp (3:08) (Oliver – Picou)
5 Jazzin' Babies Blues (2:47) (Richard M. Jones)
6 Snake Rag (3:14) (Joe Oliver)
It was 10 A.M. in San Francisco, on what must be considered a memorable Saturday in the summer of 1947. Eight musicians, certainly unused to being up and playing so soon after the preceding night's work, were assembled before a bevy of microphones and a studio-full of early rising jazz fans. (The network broadcast had an early afternoon air time in the Eastern time zone.) A burst of technical signals issued from an engineer; then an anticipatory silence fell. An announcer bellowed: "This Is Jazz!" And the band burst forth with as triumphant sound as ever shook the coast-to coast airways.
There are some who say that the skies, being invigorated in so many places at once, sent sun and rain where each was needed most and relaxed to enjoy the new feeling of birds flying a Charleston dance. There are others who say that the gods of music were so infuriated by the brashness of the Californians that they created be-bop. The skies and gods act in lesser ways, too. They send music critics into the arenas of mass communications to stir up unrest where unrest is needed least. The eight young men of Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band were praised and damned until their band was no more. They passed into other bands, bearing the Yerba Buena message and scars. Now, in 1955, the message is still more vivid than the scars and while many new bands have heard it, none convey it in quite the same way.
The Yerba Buena message was that the music called ragtime and the musical called jazz were things worth keeping. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band built the road in the very early 1920s. Jelly Roll Morton paved the surface. Lu Watters and the Yerba Buenans established a community on the road and gave it new life. They did not, as many critics say and as any fool can see, simply copy or add nothings to the works of the past. They were not, as many other critics say and many other fools can see, the ultimate in musical perfection. Musical styles need not be outmoded any more than they need remain unchanging. Each of the many kinds of jazz in the traditional and modern idioms were born of a particular time and social outlook, but they do not end with the time and outlook. In every age man finds new ways to enjoy himself and new things to create. These add to the cumulative library of living. They should not be preserved for the sake of worshipping antiquity, but rather for the sake of adding to the ways from which each man may choose his own path.
The Yerba Buena band bore the mark of Lu Watters more brightly than that or any of its members or any of its traditional ancestors. It also bore the mark of San Francisco and the Pacific coast, where the merry qualities of Western bands were not yet lost. Watters and the Yerba Buena Jazz Band are regarded as the founders of the "West Coast style" of traditional jazz and the principal instigators of the jazz revival of the 1940s and '50s. The band's members were picked for their ensemble musicianship and it is here that they excelled. In jazz there is hardly a more important skill, or one requiring more sensitive cooperation, or one in which so many other bands have failed. The Yerba Buena concept prevailed even into the so-called solo instrumental passages. If one instrument was featured for a time, the rhythm section was not an accompanying background but simply a smaller ensemble.
The year 1940 marked the birth of the Yerba Buena Jazz Band and 1951 its demise. In its time it knew the talents of innumerable West Coast jazz stars - men like Benny Strickler, Clancy Hayes, Ellis Horne, and Paul Lingle, but it is in terms of the team of Watters, Scobey, Murphy, Helm, Rose, Modecai, Lammi and Dart that history best remembers it. At the time of the broadcast that has finally reached the immortality the phonograph record via this album, these men ranged in age from 29 to 36. Each had many years of diverse musical training and experience behind him and in the jazz of Lu Watters and the Yerba Buena band, each found an at least temporary meeting of minds that fostered a unique and influential musical phenomenon. Watters is in retirement now, a living legend and to many people (including this writer) a share of the throne occupied by Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. In 1954 Turk Murphy featured Helm and Rose in perhaps the greatest jazz band of its day. Scobey leads a famed band of his own and other Yerba Buenans roam in and out. Wally Rose has also achieved status as the present master of the precise and scholarly art of ragtime piano playing.
Cake Walking Babies, co-authored by jazz immortal Clarence Williams, was a popular minstrel show and vaudeville tune of the '20s. The ensemble sections convey the burly exuberance and brilliant intensity of Barbary Coast jazz. The solo passages by trombone and trumpet should leave none doubting the position of Murphy and Watters as jazz masters.
Antigua Blues was named after the ship on which Watters composed this and other jazz classics during the war years. Each of the two strains carry the solemn and majestic qualities of the traditional blues in a manner so rarely realized in full jazz bands. The trombone work of Turk Murphy is particularly noticeable as a major force in its melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic functions in the closing chorus and preceding solo.
Beale Street Blues, the famous W. C. Handy tune, features a moving clarinet solo by Helm and a warm, rough-hewn vocal by Murphy, behind which Watters trumpet work adds force and depth.
Chattanooga Stomp, composed by King Oliver and Alphonse Picou, was, like the next two selections, originally recorded by Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Displaying the march structure from which many early New Orleans jazz bands evolved their material, it features whimsical trombone breaks in the first strain. The third or trio strain has an anthem-like quality representative of another of the numerous moods of classic jazz.
Jazzin' Babies Blues is another typical jazz blues in which the elements of orchestral scoring are perfectly combined with the raw folk material of the basic blues idiom. The collaboration of the two trumpets on the final chorus is a noteworthy example of polished, yet spontaneous, jazz workmanship.
Snake Rag, another notable Olive composition, is highlighted by the exciting drive of the three brass. Such overall band enthusiasm has seldom been captured on record. An extended section of the third strain, based upon a single unchanging chord, points up the importance of contrapuntal and rhythmic development at a time when much of contemporary jazz tends to place a premium on frequent and complex harmonic changes per se.
LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Robert L. Thompson
Cover by Gene Gogerty
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.