Forty years ago, when most young people in America were fascinated with rock and roll, a young college student in San Antonio launched a professional jazz band in a classic style. This week on Riverwalk Jazz friends and fans across the country honor Jim Cullum and the Jazz Band he founded with his father in 1962. We'll dip into the archives of our radio show for favorite live performances, and salute the fine musicians who've performed in the band through the years.
We collected messages of congratulations from many of our friends and colleagues for this show, including: actor and singer Vernel Bagneris, singer Rebecca Kilgore, pianist Dick Hyman, actor Brendan Fraser, jazz historians John Edward Hasse and Dan Morgenstern.
Actor Brendan Fraser starred in the independent film, Still Breathing. The film was shot mainly in San Antonio in 1996 and featured an on-camera and soundtrack appearance by the Jim Cullum Jazz Band.
SNAPSHOTS OF THE EARLY YEARS
by Jim Cullum Jr.
The Happy Jazz Band
The photo at the top of this page is of the original Happy Jazz Band that started at the Landing in 1963. I was much younger than the other guys. This band was together more or less for about ten years, up until the time of my father's death in 1973. The style of the band was very much the same as the style is now, except for the tuba which made it more of a two-beat feel. But the approach, philosophy and overall style and type of material is the same as the present-day band.
The band worked on Friday and Saturday nights at the Landing and played for other functions around town on an average of about one night a week. This picture was taken in the fall of 1963 right after we had made our first record, The Happy Jazz Band. We were standing in front of Sile's Music Company, a record store in San Antonio. The record came out between Thanksgiving and Christmas and we sold slightly under 2,000 units, a truly amazing accomplishment!
From the start the Happy Jazz Band began to make at least one recording a year. Several years later Dad and I acquired Audiophile Records, and records of the Band and other jazz groups came rolling out. One of the best was a 1967 LP called Goose Pimples, made with the great cornetist Bobby Hackett. Hackett, a jazz legend, worked with Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller and for a while was a staff musician at NBC. We recorded the album on the stage of the auditorium at Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, which had the best acoustics in town. After that session Hackett continued to visit the Landing and we all became friends.
"World Series of Jazz" Concerts
My father's association with Yank Lawson went back to the 1930s during Yank's days with the Crosby Band. He befriended Mom and Dad, who would burn up a lot of telephone time with him conversing and playing records over the phone. After the war Yank was willing to set Dad up in the music business by providing valuable contacts, but Dad took a job in Venezuela working for Nelson Rockefeller instead.
I met Yank when I first went to New York. Yank took me with him to his gig on the Tonight Show, where I also got to meet Doc Severinsen, Sarah Vaughn and Clark Terry. On another trip to New York—about 1964 or so, Yank took me to a Jean Goldkette re-creation recording session he was on. Dad and I also visited Yank at his home in Massapequa, NY, where I met Bud Freeman who was staying with him at the time.
Yank's first appearance at the Landing was in 1968 in conjunction with the first World Series of Jazz concert put on by Dad and me in San Antonio at the Theater for the Performing Arts—now the Lilla Cockrell Theater. This concert was conceived as a Battle of the Bands between the World's Greatest Jazz Band—we wanted to keep them honest—and our band. The World's Greatest was Yank, Billy Butterfield, Bob Haggart, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Lou McGarrity, Carl Fontana, Ralph Sutton and Gus Johnson. Our band had Ernie Caceres and Rich Matteson as "secret weapons."
This concert, and the huge pre-concert jam sessions at the Landing, proved to be so successful (it sold out) that we decided to do it again in 1971. We used the same lineup except instead of Ernie and Rich we had Emilio Caceres, Haggart, Bobby Hackett and Butterfield and they had Eddie Hubbell and Vic Dickenson on trombones.
Photo credit for Home Page: 1967 LP dust jacket for Goose Pimples. L to R: Jim Cullum Sr., Jim Cullum Jr., Bobby Hackett. Photo courtesy Jim Cullum Jr.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2002