In the winter of 1940 if you looked down the alley in back of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco you'd see a hot pink neon sign shining through the fog. In big capital letters it advertised, "DANCING, COCKTAILS, ENTERTAINMENT."
Number 20 Annie Street was the address of a basement dive called The Dawn Club. The décor was funky, with lots of dark wood and dim light. But it was a magnet for celebrities, writers and artists.
Fans packed the club every Saturday night to dance to the gutsy, back-to-the-roots music of Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz Band. The matchbooks at The Dawn Club had a slogan that said it all: "No Tune Played Written after 1929."
Phil Elwood, jazz critic for the San Francisco Examiner, was a regular on the scene and he described The Dawn Club as: "...a joint with a left-over speakeasy atmosphere, a big dance floor and a downtown location."
He said, "Lu Watters' San Francisco style jazz had a brassy heavy beat—a sound that swung in a muscular way with spirit and good humor." The Dawn Club was a favorite nightspot for the college crowd and the growing number of traditional jazz fans who'd grown tired of the big Swing Band sound.
This week on Riverwalk Jazz we'll re-visit that San Francisco jazz scene in the 1940s and revive the hot, driving sounds of the Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz Band. Our special guest band is The Yerba Buena Stompers, an ensemble of outstanding jazz musicians from around the country. They've set out to re-create and celebrate the legacy of Lu Watters.
Jazz journalist Floyd Levin writes, "The [Yerba Buena] Stompers, listening carefully to the original [King] Oliver recordings that inspired Lu Watters, have achieved the acoustic quality of those early recordings that he admired and tried to emulate."
Photo credit for Home Page: The Dawn Club, San Francisco 1940's. Photo courtesy SF Trad Jazz Foundation.
Based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2002