On this edition of Riverwalk jazz, it's an informal jam session as The Jim Cullum Jazz Band invites two leading lights of the traditional jazz revival to the stage of The Landing. Veteran San Francisco Bay Area cornetist Leon Oakley and tuba player Mike Walbridge join the Band to interpret classic jazz compositions from Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Clarence Williams and more.
In early 1920s’ Chicago, New Orleans-style jazz caught on as dance music for Prohibition-era fun-seekers. Before the day of electric microphones and amplified sound, the bass instrument of choice for bands playing for boisterous dance hall crowds was the tuba, the bass of brass family instruments. Short, punchy notes played on the tuba, usually ‘two to the bar,’ are often identified with the sound of 20s jazz.
Born in 1937 in Los Angeles, tuba player Mike Walbridge was exposed to classic jazz at an early age through his father’s record collection. Mike pursued jazz as a profession and became a charter member of the Chicago Stompers. When the Stompers disbanded, he worked with Lil Hardin Armstrong’s group in a long run at the historic Red Arrow jazz club near Chicago. After discharge from military service, Mike joined the Original Salty Dogs and became a mainstay of that iconic traditional-style jazz band. He led his own ensemble and also worked or recorded with respected hot jazz players including, George Brunis, Art Hodes, Turk Murphy, Albert Nicholas, Clancy Hayes and more.
Cornetist Leon Oakley is one of America’s great hot players. Originally from New York he moved to San Francisco to play with trombone legend Turk Murphy’s jazz band in the 60s. He now lives near San Francisco and is an avid jazz historian as well as a much sought after cornetist and trumpet player. Oakley played with the South Frisco Jazz Band from 1979 to 1998 and can be heard on numerous recordings, including eight LPs with Turk Murphy and several under his own leadership. A master of the hot blues playing of King Oliver and Red Allen, he frequently appears with the Yerba Buena Stompers.
In the spirit of a free wheeling jam session, on this show the players depart from familiar San Francisco-style revivalist fare to foray into other music popular before WWII and favored by interpreters of traditional jazz today. Mike Walbridge is featured on "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" by Harold Arlen, and Sidney Bechet's "Egyptian Fantasy," two tunes that seem especially well-chosen for the sound of the tuba playing the melody. Leon Oakley shows his deep respect for Louis Armstrong on two numbers Armstrong helped popularize, "Squeeze Me," and “Lazy 'Sippi Steamer Goin' Home."
"Melancholy Blues" is often identified with New Orleans clarinetist Johnny Dodds, a first generation jazzman heard on early Chicago recordings by King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. "All By Myself," composed by Irving Berlin in 1921, entered the jazz world via a famous hot recording by the Bob Crosby Bob Cats in the late 1930s, and is a favorite of The Jim Cullum Jazz Band. Other jam session standards heard here include, "Wang Wang Blues," "Careless Love," " Some of These Days," and a 1934 romantic classic by Sigmund Romberg, "When I Grow Too Old to Dream."
Photo credit for Home Page image: Jim Cullum Jr. photo courtesy Riverwalk Jazz.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©1993