This week on Riverwalk Jazz we celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Jim Cullum Jazz Band, and revisit definitive musical moments at The Landing with performances by saxophone giant Benny Carter, reed virtuoso Ken Peplowski, pioneering jazz bassists Milt Hinton and Bob Haggart, and piano legend Dick Hyman. Also on tap, hot new performances by Jim and the Band, recorded live on stage at The Landing in San Antonio.
Jim Cullum’s original band, known as The Happy Jazz Band, sprang to life in 1962 and included his father, Jim Cullum Sr. on clarinet. Its classic sound inspired Jim Jr. to dedicate his life to jazz. As a teenager, Cullum poured over his father's 78-rpm record collection, listening attentively to the music of Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong.
Before he owned a horn, Jim memorized the famous cornet solos of these jazz giants, note-for-note, and learned to whistle them! In the 1950s, when everyone else his age was listening to Elvis Presley, Jim Cullum immersed himself in the sounds of early jazz greats Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. Early jazz soon became Jim's lifelong passion.
Defying all odds, the Cullum father and son team realized their mutual dream and opened the first Landing jazz club on the San Antonio River in 1963. Thirty-five years later it remains true to its mission of preserving and presenting hot jazz and blues in their classic forms. This authentic American music sounds familiar even if you've never heard it before.
The Jim Cullum Jazz Band’s personnel have remained remarkably stable over the decades. In 1979 three key players joined the Band: pianist and arranger John Sheridan, banjo and guitarist Howard Elkins and trombonist Mike Pittsley. Many years later, all three remain on the bandstand at The Landing, presenting their unique arrangements and hot jazz collective improvisations, six nights a week.
You can hear Howard Elkins playing his 1936 Gibson tenor banjo and his 1920s Epiphone arch top tenor guitar every week on our radio show, and the Riverwalk Jazz theme song "Nightspell" was composed by Howard. Allan Vaché held forth on clarinet with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band from 1976 to 1992. This week, Allan and Jim Cullum swing out on an Eddie Condon tune, "Liza."
Bassist Don Mopsick began providing the foundation in the rhythm section of the Band in 1991. On this anniversary celebration, he steps up front and sings a favorite, “The Day the Bass Players Took Over the World,” with instrumental support from fellow bassists Bob Haggart and Milt Hinton.
Jelly Roll Morton’s composition "Wild Man Blues" is performed here as a duet with Jim Cullum on cornet and John Sheridan on piano. Louis Armstrong made this number famous with his 1927 Hot Seven recordings in Chicago for the Okeh label. Though Armstrong is credited as co-composer along with Morton on the record label, Louis was quick to point out that he never composed anything with Jelly Roll.
"At a Georgia Camp Meeting" is a ragtime march composed by Kerry Mills in 1897, based on themes found in 19thcentury minstrelsy. The number was intended for the "Cake Walk," a popular dance craze in the early 1900s with its origins on southern slave plantations a hundred years earlier. "At a Georgia Camp Meeting" was popular with early 20thcentury hot jazz bands and a favorite on The Jim Cullum Jazz Band playlist since 1962.
Joe "King" Oliver has always been a hero of bandleader Jim Cullum, and Jim acknowledges the influence Oliver has exerted on his cornet style through the years. This week the Band plays Oliver's "Camp Meeting Blues," another good, old tune from The Jim Cullum Jazz Band playlist.
Piano legend Dick Hyman is often featured with Cullum Band pianist John Sheridan. Together this “dynamic duo” has raised two-piano jazz to a high art. For our 35th anniversary special, Hyman and Sheridan stomp Fats Waller's stride piano classic "Stealin' Apples."
The walls of The Landing jazz club in San Antonio are covered with photographs of visiting musicians sitting in with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band proof that the club has been a magnet for jazzmen since its earliest days. At the first Landing location on the river, the Cullums played host to cornetist Bobby Hackett, tenor saxophonists Bud Freeman and Eddie Miller, trumpeter Doc Severinsen and clarinetist Pete Fountain, among others.
The Landing became a regular stopping-off point for musicians touring from New York to Los Angeles. Beginning with our first Riverwalk radio broadcast in 1989, Jim Cullum Jr. has welcomed jazz giants Doc Cheatham, Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Sweets Edison and the legendary Benny Carter. Cullum Band trombonist Mike Pittsley recalls playing a duet with the legendary reedman on Benny Carter’s own composition "Wonderland" as a truly memorable and inspiring event. This rarely heard live performance is offered on our anniversary concert.
Another all-time favorite hot Riverwalk Jazz performance heard here teams up Cullum Band clarinetist Brian Ogilvie and special guest, virtuoso reedman Ken Peplowski on Sidney Bechet's "Black Stick."
Bassist Milt Hinton is one of the most remarkable jazz musicians of the 20th century. He's played on historic sessions and hit recordings with artists from Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington to Frank Sinatra and Quincy Jones. On this week’s radio show, Milt "The Judge" Hinton shares his thoughts on how the music is passed with care from generation to generation.
“When I look back on where I came from, I still can't believe how my life has turned out, what I have experienced in eight decades on this earth and how good things have been for me. I was pretty young when I realized that music involves more than just playing an instrument. It's really about cohesiveness and sharing. All my life I've felt obliged to teach anyone who would listen. I've always believed that you truly don't know anything yourself until you can take it from your mind and put it in someone else's. I believe that we can only achieve immortality by giving our talents to the younger generation.”
Over The Jim Cullum Jazz Band’s lifespan of 35 years, music-lovers and jazz critics have written about the transport they’ve experienced while listening to the music at The Landing in San Antonio. In 1969 jazz enthusiast and renowned Texas architect O'Neil Ford put it this way:
“In New Orleans, New York, Kansas City, Chicago and Paris I have hunted down places where I can hear the old music. I have looked and listened to some great ones. So I believe that our old town has Jim Cullum as kind of a living treasure. There's the Alamo and the beautiful Ursuline Convent on the river. There are those strong Spanish mission churches and the sounds of Polish, Spanish, German and Lebanese on the streets. In a city that has produced an incredible list of musicians, Jim Cullum has become a monument. His talent is beautifully reflected in the music at The Landing. It's right and reverent and high-grade music all the way. It belongs to the devoted ones everywhere.”
Photo credit for Home Page. Jim Cullum Jr. Photo courtesy Riverwalk Jazz.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick © 1998