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Doc Severinsen, San Antonio and the Paparazzi

Jim And Doc

Nearing the end of its 3rd month the Landing was taking off. On weekends the place was packed. People stood in line to get in. Many of them drank a lot. They brought in their own bottles in liquor store paper sacks. There was no “liquor by the drink.” They poured their own. The Landing sold buckets of ice, Coke, 7up, club soda, tonic water, etc. We sold beer too. Everything cost 75¢. That was a high price. I had just turned 21 and could legally step up to the Landing bar, put my foot on the brass rail and order a beer.

In a Landing aisle way, gripping the remains of his Chivas Regal by the neck of the bottle, stands this guy. I guess he is about 50 or so―a little large around the middle and with a red blazer and tie. (That was the rule―in those days you didn’t even come into the Landing without a coat and tie.) This guy is sticking out his hand, shaking mine, and telling me how great the band is and how he’s coming back the next night with Doc Severinsen. He’s beaming, and I take it that I’m supposed to know who this Doc is. So I play along, making nice, while he fishes out his business card which reads: “Howard ‘Sandy’ Sandberg, the Getzen Company, Makers of the World’s Finest Brass Instruments.”

Howard “Sandy” Sandberg is a little flushed from the several scotches he has enjoyed, and the flush reaches up and over and down the back of his head. Old jokes about “grass not growing on a busy street,” and a “reverse Mohawk” haircut describe him well. He is jolly, too.

“Yes?” I ask, excitedly reading his card. “If you make the world’s finest brass instruments―do you make a good cornet?”

“Merely the best in the best in the world,” he says, “But right now it’s only in prototype. You gotta try it.” He continues, “Doc is doing a clinic tomorrow afternoon at the Gunter Hotel Ballroom. It’s T.B.A. Here, take this pass. It will get you in.”

I’ve never heard of T.B.A. either, but soon learn it’s the Texas Bandmasters Association. And Texas is such a big state with such an extraordinary number of school bands that the T.B.A. convention has become the 2nd largest music convention held anywhere in the United States―just slightly smaller than the huge National Association of Music Merchants meeting held annually in Chicago.

The next day I hurry over to the Gunter Ballroom which is packed with Texas Bandmasters, and I work my way over to the right side of the stage where Sandy spots me from across the room and starts poking several other guys, and they all start looking at me and waving hellos. After a few more minutes, one of the moguls of the Texas Bandmasters steps to a microphone and introduces one member of Sandy’s troop as “Doc,” and the packed-in Bandmasters go a little crazy!

Tonight Show television fame lies in the future. The general public knows nothing of Doc Severinsen, but these Bandmasters know: Somehow, Doc, a regular scuffling musician, has locked himself away in some hole and practiced ten hours a day―for years. When he comes out, the word is that technically he is the best all around trumpet player, period!

Doc jumps on the stage, starts in, digs in, talking about the practice life, the trumpet life, how strange it is, about the details of how he practices―the Clarke Studies, the Arban book—he bangs the valves down, he says.

This goes on for 20 or 30 minutes and then he plays 3 notes―just 3 whole notes and he is pointing the trumpet in my general direction and, wow, that big sound hits me! It’s not so loud―just big, and it takes about 1? seconds for me hear the 3 notes, process them through my brain and decide absolutely that Doc―describing him as a musician might—is not just a regular B-flat trumpet player. Eventually he talks about the new Getzen Severinsen model trumpet. Then he holds up a short cornet and says, “And this is the new Getzen cornet. It’s just going into production, etc. And by the way, there’s Jim Cullum standing right over there. He plays cornet on the River Walk at the Landing and you should go down and hear him.”

I am flabbergasted that Doc has any idea at all about me or who I am, but it seems that Sandy has already waltzed him through the Landing a couple of nights before. When Doc finishes, he is seriously swarmed by the Bandmasters. Sandy, circling the swarm, works his way over to where I am and hands me a fancy black case with one of those prototype Getzen cornets. A try-out is in the cards.

I’m off with the thing and, well… it’s just hands-down the best cornet I’ve ever touched!

Doc At The Landing

Doc sitting in at the old Landing. Left to right: Benny Valfre, Jim Cullum, Jr., Doc Severinsen,
Cliff Gillette, Jim Cullum, Sr., Gene McKinney. The poster reads, "Jim Cullum's Happy Jazz
featuring the Original Happy Music of the Jazz Age. Listen Closely to the Real Stuff."

That night the Getzen guys are all at the Landing in their Red Blazers and with a fresh bottle of Chivas Regal. The band is just stomping it out! Things tend to get hotter when we know there are musicians in the house! Doc raves about the rhythm. I do too. Willson Davis drives the two-beat with his E-Flat 1927 York Sousaphone. And then there is the kicker: light, crisp 4/4 time, pushed out from Benny Valfre the banjo player. I am turned on by the new Getzen cornet. It adds up to a night of enormous fun with Doc and Sandy and the others hanging on every note.

As he’s leaving, Sandy says to keep the prototype. They have two others, and T.B.A. is ending anyway.

Years pass. Sandy Sandberg has become important in my life and has supplied me with a lot of friendship and several Getzen cornets. I see Doc now and then, too. The years have made him famous.

One day he is on the phone: “Jim, I’m coming to San Antonio to play a concert. Ed Shaughnessy will be with me. (Shaughnessy is the Tonight Show drummer.) How about picking us up at the airport, and let’s get some Mexican food?”

So I go to the airport. This is in the days when you can still park on the curb at the airport for 20 minutes. But, there’s a press conference. Eventually we’re off in the car, and somehow I haven’t gotten a parking ticket. I recommend the Pan American Mexican Restaurant.

“Well,” Doc says “I sat next to this guy on the plane and he talked about a place on the West side—West Commerce Street, I think he said …” and Doc fumbles around in his coat pocket for an envelope on which he has written the address.

So we head for this joint on West Commerce Street. It is a small place. We settle in for some serious Mexican food. Doc starts ordering a lot of food, and I think he must be ordering for the three of us, but, no, he concludes with, “That ought to do it for me!”

Ed Shaughnessy has nicknamed Doc, “The Great Swami.” He looks over his menu: “Eating light again, O Great Swami?”

Doc attacks like Henry VIII at his most ravenous. A bowl of soup to start, then chili con queso, guacamole salad, lots of enchiladas—cheese, beef and chicken, then there are the tacos—both crisp and soft beef and chicken, carne guisada, tamales and other stuff, portions of rice and beans and a little chili con carne. Doc works through all the above while Shaughnessy and I dine at one third Doc’s volume, speed and enthusiasm.

We prepare to leave. Doc pays the bill, steps sideways out onto the sidewalk and calls back to me, over his shoulder, “Jim, now what’s the name of that other place you recommended?”

“The Pan American.”

“Well, let’s go over there.”

I’m not exaggerating! This really happens! We go over to the Pan American, and while Shaughnessy and I have cups of coffee, Doc does it all again!

These days most people hold a fading mental image of Doc Severinsen: the thin and dapper guy on the Tonight Show dressed weirdly in extra colorful suits. To musicians he is known as the world’s greatest trumpet virtuoso, and while his reputation as a serious eater is not as universally known, it is something of a legend too.

A couple of years later I am practicing at the Landing in the afternoon and somebody is knocking at the front door like crazy. I try to ignore the knocking but the knocker is determined. Finally I go to the door and squint at images in the shade bordered by bright sunlight.

“Hi Jim, it’s Doc! I could hear you—knew you were in there,” and he introduces me to an attractive female he has in tow. “Are you playing tonight?”

“Sure, we will be here.” I start to apologize for not coming to the door. But he cuts me off.

“Forget it, forget it,” he insists as he smiles graciously. I have come to know that Doc is a very nice guy. Becoming a big star has hardly affected him at all.

That night about 10:30 Doc walks into the old Landing holding his trumpet case with one hand and the same attractive lady with the other. He sits in for a full set, applying good taste, blending in, not overplaying or any of that.

Meanwhile, I notice his lady friend is anxiously drumming her fingernails on the table. It seems that she is not at all into this stop-over at the Landing.

As the set ends, Doc says, “Jim, I gotta get out of here as fast as I can or the rest of the evening may get pretty messed up,” and I follow his eyes over to the table where the lady continues to drum her fingers. I nod my understanding. However, as we step off the stage the autograph hounds close in, and, of course, being such a nice guy Doc signs and signs. I grab his case and make a suggestion to the lady and soon she and I are waiting by the front door, and yes, she does seem to be a little irritated about the way the evening has played out.

Eventually, Doc makes it to the door. We exchange hurried goodbyes. He and the lady are ready to charge out into the night, when, on the Landing riverside porch we all are stopped short in the face of photographer Butch Garner.

For some years Butch has been quite a friend of the jazz band, hanging out nightly at the Landing, taking lots of photographs and helping out in many other ways as a sort of a band “roadie.”

Butch is on the porch with his camera and he says, “Hey Doc and Jim, pose for a picture.” Doc says, “Sorry, we really have to go now.”

But Butch insists saying, “It’ll only take a second,” and nice guy Doc says, “Well, okay.” He and I quickly pose shaking hands. Butch snaps the picture and the flash bulb fails to go off.

“Rats!”

Doc says, “Look I gotta go!”

“Wait, wait! I’ll lick the flash bulb this time!” So again Doc and I pose, the camera is aimed, snapped and again the flash bulb fails to flash.

We laugh a little as Butch curses. Doc puts his arm around the lady he says “Too bad about the photo. Good night you guys.”

But Butch blocks his way and says “Oh please Mr. Severinsen. Please let me have one more chance, and he is licking and inserting another flash bulb.

I feel the tension. There is no way Doc can be the “nice guy” to the lady and to Butch. But the camera is up and ready.

“Please…pleezee?”

“Okay, okay !” And for a third time we pose. Butch’s finger squeezes down, the shutter opens and closes with its regular click, but again the flash does not go off.

Butch whirls on his heel and hurls the camera which arches up and out and splashes right into the center of the River!

For a second or two we all stand in disbelief. Then while Butch curses the camera, the rest of us including Doc’s lady friend, began pointing, exclaiming, laughing.

This classic Landing story has been told over and over and has even been stretched, making the claim that when the camera hit the water, the flash finally went off by itself! The stretch didn’t happen. But the reality of the camera sailing through the air, amidst Butch’s oaths is good enough.

I remember every detail and can play the scene back in slow motion. The camera travels end over end, like a football on a kickoff.

Splash… and a circle of perfect little droplets rise just above the surface and freeze in my mind’s eye. Then the camera disappears like a piece of lead!

Doc turns in slow motion, too, and waves as he and his friend move off down the empty River Walk. I can still hear him laughing.

Laughter is contagious. Finally even Butch starts to laugh a little.

“Come on Butch. Let me buy you a beer.”

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The Story of Porgy and Bess

Washington Square

Washington Square Arch, New York City

“I’ll take New York in June (how about you?)” Those are famous lyrics, and yes, if you’re in New York in June when the weather is perfect you might take my advice and start a stroll at the foot of 5th Avenue, at the Washington Square Arch. The Arch is much like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, except that it is smaller. It was built to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States.

Here you go. Bearing a bit to the southwest, heading diagonally across Washington Square, enjoy its many charms along the way: Numbers of old men play chess, sometimes with a few stragglers standing alongside, silently studying each move.

There is a little dog park where people let their dogs sniff all around on the other dogs, and somehow there are no dog fights. Bocce balls are cast up and back over long greens. A few citizens nap in the sun. And of course, there are almost always a few lovers in embrace.

Some rush through the Square in a New York hurry. If you follow my suggestions you may take it slow and stop easily a few times and eventually come out on the southwest side of Washington Square where MacDougal Street heads off into Greenwich Village. Keep going. Your great reward is close. Two and one half blocks down on the west side of MacDougal Street you will find Caffe Reggio which has waited for you — waited patiently — and this since 1927. Caffe Reggio has not changed while it has waited.

Entering the cafe you will see the original tin ceiling and dark wood with little wooden statues and oil paintings that are quite dark, and a big old brass espresso machine that they do not use any more, and two-foot-square marble tables where customers must squeeze in even if it’s not crowded. In the center of the back wall there is a table tucked in an alcove. To the side and above the table is a pay telephone. This is my table, and starting with my discovery of Caffe Reggio in 1980 and continuing to this day, this table and telephone have served as my New York office. If another customer gets there before I do, I wait it out. Eventually, my table comes open and I move in. But I don’t suffer while I wait, for Caffe Reggio never fails, and I go after some of the regular menu items — espresso coffee, Italian pastries, real chocolate frappés and other stuff.

Often times however, I have been away from my New York office for as long as a couple of years. It was a coincidence that during one of those sabbaticals we began to work on our jazz band’s version of Porgy and Bess. John Sheridan was our principal arranger. This was in 1985 and 1986. Some of the band members looked on my Porgy and Bess plan with skepticism but work came along, and little by little as the whole thing emerged, it was magnificent. Porgy and Bess is probably the greatest single accomplishment of the band’s 48-year history. To my knowledge no one has ever performed a jazz version of the entire opera. We musically followed the passion, richness, sorrow, laughter, romance, and tragedy — all the moods of Porgy and Bess as they rose and fell. Various jazz band instruments took on character roles.

Reggio Phone

Jim's New York Office at Caffe Reggio

We had barely started when we caught the ear of a renowned San Antonio patron of the arts, Margaret Tobin. Mrs.Tobin was so taken with the first little part of our Porgy and Bess that she dabbed at her eyes and began calling me every few days to ask of our progress. When work was finally complete, our Porgy and Bess was premiered in San Antonio. For this performance I created a narration, to serve as a libretto. The opera, performed as a jazz Instrumental, was helped along by an interspersed explanation of the plot. Eventually Margaret Tobin financed a high-powered studio recording of the work, and I boldly announced that I intended to take the resulting tape recording to New York City and sell it to a major label. Margaret nodded proudly. A few others scoffed at the idea saying such things as, “They can’t even sell the Louis and Ella Porgy and Bess or Miles Davis’ Porgy and Bess. Do you think they are really gonna want this thing of ours?”

Jim Cullum Sr. and Jim Cullum Jr.

Jim Cullum Sr. & Jim Cullum Jr.

My father had drilled it into me. “Even a blind man,” and he said it over and over, “can hit a home run, if he swings at enough baseballs!” And so I was off to New York with my battered L.L. Bean briefcase full of taped copies of the band’s new Porgy and Bess and a stack of copies of the libretto. I checked into the Washington Square Hotel. In those days it had no restaurant and hardly any lobby. There was no telephone in my room. I did not need these things, for the Washington Square Hotel was located just north of the Square, and in my New York salesman’s mode I could stride right down to Caffe Reggio.

On day one, I took my position at my office at the café and sipped coffee and leafed through the latest copy of Applause Magazine which contained a well-written story on George Gershwin, by Edward Jablonski. The article identified Edward Jablonski as the foremost Gershwin scholar/writer in the world.

Do not forget, now, that I was in New York to sell Porgy and Bess to a big label. In this process, I did not have a single contact in the record industry. This seemingly insurmountable circumstance is a lot of what gives the beef to this story.

Hmm . . . . My mind is running through the maze as I tap the rolled up Applause Magazine against my thigh. The coffee at Caffe Reggio goes down easily. The New York telephone book hangs below the pay phone on a chain. I look up Applause Magazine in the business pages. So far, so good. Its office is located on West 46th Street, and I’m off.

“I am trying to locate this man, Mr. Jablonski,” I say to the Applause Magazine receptionist, as I point to his name at the top of the Gershwin article.

“Well,” she says, “he is not here, never comes here. I’ve never met or even seen him, so I can’t help you!”
“Might I speak to the editor?"
“No, I’m sorry.”
“I just think Mr. Jablonski would be very interested in a special version of Porgy and Bess. I have it right here.”

I dig in my briefcase. She jumps back, and it flashes through my mind that she thinks that maybe I am about to pull out a gun. But it is only a cassette tape and my libretto. I give her my best smile. “Just a minute,” she says, and she disappears through a door and in 30 seconds is back with a man in a bow tie. This is luck. I also have on a bow tie, and there is a kind of bow tie brotherhood. I know the bow ties made the odds in my favor go up by 5%.

Mr. Bow-Tie is the editor. He has come out to rescue the receptionist. I turn it on, explain everything about myself, the band, Porgy and Bess and Edward Jablonski. The editor says that Edward Jablonski is a recluse and that I haven’t a snowball’s chance of seeing him, and good luck and good day! I am still smiling and being friendly like crazy. “Well, here’s a copy of Porgy and Bess for you anyway and one for the receptionist here, and thank you so much, and if you wish to contact me here is my card, and I’ll write the phone number of this phone at the Caffe Reggio where I hang out here in New York.”

“Okay, Okay,” he says!

I back out the door and head back to the Caffe Reggio where I order something, settle into my table, and having swung at and missed the first pitch, I start thinking....“What now?” The pay phone starts ringing. It keeps on! No one ever calls in on it. Caffe Reggio has its own phone. Well, okay . . . . and I answer it.

Bandleader Jim Cullum

Bandleader Jim Cullum

“Hello.”
“I am trying to reach a Jim Cullum. Anyone there by that name?"
“I am Jim Cullum!”
“Great! This is Applause Magazine. I listened to that Porgy and Bess and it’s terrific. I have called Edward Jablonski and told him about it and played some of it for him over the phone. He wants to see you at 10:00 tomorrow morning at his apartment. How about it? I’ll send the tape over to him by courier!”

At 9:55 the next morning I am stepping out from a taxi and sizing up Edward Jablonski’s pad, a classic New York brownstone on the Upper Westside. He buzzes me in. The inside looks like a Gershwin museum with lots of memorabilia all over, including framed photographs of Gershwin at the Alvin Theater with the full cast of Porgy and Bess taking bows on opening night in 1935. Gershwin’s water colors are lovingly displayed, and there is one water color of his sparse room at Charleston where he composed Porgy and Bess. His room there was lighted by a single light bulb that hung down on a single cord. He has faithfully painted it in.

Curtain Call

Curtain Call at Alvin Theatre, 1935

Edward Jablonski has already listened twice to our Porgy and Bess. He is knocked out by it. He is beaming. He does not let up, and has the energy and enthusiasm of John Henry the steel drivin’ man. I am wondering, “They say this guy is a recluse?” But he is speaking my language.

"Listen,” he says, “Gershwin would love this thing,” and he goes on for twenty minutes non-stop, and then he says, “It’s gotta be on CBS. You need to take it to Chappell Music. They represent the Gershwin Estate. And they have a new young woman in charge there, a Mary Beth Roberts. I’ll call and set up an appointment,” and he picks up the phone, dials and talks. Mary Beth is out, but he leaves big messages all over Chappell Music including how I may be reached at the pay phone at the Caffe Reggio.

Edward Jablonski prepares a nice lunch for the two of us. Eventually I depart, dropping off a few copies of Porgy and Bess at Chappell Music. The next mid-morning I am in position at Caffe Reggio when again the pay phone goes off.

“Hello?”
“Hello, I am trying to reach Jim Cullum."
“Yes.”

As you can guess, Mary Beth Roberts has now heard our Porgy and Bess. She is also jumping for joy. “Where are you,” she asks?
“Caffe Reggio. In the Village. MacDougal Street.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t know that place, but I need to go down to the Village this afternoon. I’ll meet you there at Caffe Reggio at 2:00. Okay?”

Mary Beth Roberts is a beautiful young blond lady who is sharper than an original Gillette Blue Blade. She removes her sunglasses and blinks at the dark interior.

“Step into my office, Ms. Roberts,” I say, and we begin our strategy meeting. She agrees with Jablonski. Porgy and Bess must appear on CBS.

“It must be CBS Masterworks,” she says and adds that she already has made an appointment for the next morning. However, the next morning, at CBS headquarters on the 51st floor of the Time Life Building, we cannot get very far and retreat to Caffe Reggio.

“I’d like to try Atlantic Records or some other.”

“No,” she insists. “I’m gonna sell this Porgy and Bess to CBS Masterworks one way or the other,” and she pounds the little café table and sloshes the coffee. After another try at CBS I go back to Texas. “Leave it my hands,” she insists!

It takes about two weeks. “Jim?” She’s on the phone. “It’s Mary Beth Roberts from Chappell Music in New York. You had better get up here! CBS Masterworks wants Porgy and Bess big time!!”

“I’ll be there tomorrow. Should I come to your office?”

“No, I’ll meet you at Caffe Reggio,” she chuckles, for she is high on victory.

The next afternoon I am there. “How did you do it,” I ask?

“You know those Sony Walkman tape players they have these days? I bought a new Walkman and cued up a fresh cassette of Porgy and Bess, to that wailing clarinet cut on ‘My Man’s Gone Now.’ The President of CBS Masterworks is Joe Dash. I know his secretary. She tipped me off that he was leaving for Europe and that a limousine was picking him up at 12:00 noon, last Wednesday. At 11:30 I was up there in the foyer by the elevator. As he walked out I stopped him. 'Excuse me, Mr. Dash. 'Oh, Hi, Mary Beth, I’m in a rush,' he said.

'Mr. Dash, you gotta hear this. Take this fresh Walkman, put it in your briefcase, and when you get on the plane, just press the play button. It’s all cued up.' The next morning he was phoning his office from Europe commanding: 'I want that Porgy and Bess!'”

Jim Cullum Sr. and Jim Cullum Jr.

CBS Masterworks Recording

Within a few months I was able to call on Margaret Tobin and hand her a copy of the CBS Masterworks production with all the songs from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess by the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. The whole story, the package, the artwork — all of it was impressive. Mrs. Tobin was not known to break into tears, but again she dabbed her eyes.

Before it was over, we performed Porgy and Bess all over the United States. I was particularly proud when we performed it representing the United States at the famed Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato in Mexico. There we were presented on stage each night by Ambassador John Negroponte. William Warfield, who had played Porgy in the 1953 World Tour Revival, became our Narrator, reading my libretto.

n 1992 our Porgy and Bess became two full hours of radio, broadcast by Riverwalk Jazz and is now set for a radio reprise. This year marks the 75th anniversary of Porgy and Bess. “That Gershwin score,” John Sheridan said, “was like a cookbook. I just followed Gershwin’s recipe.”

There is a little more to this story. Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess now stands before the world as the greatest folk opera ever written by an American. But, in 1935 when Porgy and Bess was ready for its world premier, Gershwin took it to the Metropolitan Opera Company and was shocked by the response:

“You can’t be serious Mr. Gershwin,” they said, “An all Negro cast? We propose white singers in blackface.” Disgusted, George went down the street to The Alvin Theatre, a Broadway house, where Porgy and Bess ran for only 124 performances to mixed reviews. So, Porgy and Bess went down as “Musical Theater,” not Grand Opera. Decades floated by and a few around the country were still smarting at the outrage of the Porgy and Bess race issue. The few included Margaret Tobin and her son Robert Tobin of San Antonio, who, in 1985, contributed a large block of cash to the Metropolitan Opera Company to have Porgy and Bess performed as Grand Opera.

Gershwin never gave up his dream of Porgy and Bess being presented by the Metropolitan Opera Company. The Opera was 50 years old when this finally took place. It required the Tobin money and clout. In 1985 Porgy and Bess finally was presented by the Met.

Alvin Theatre

Alvin Theatre Marquee

Epilogue

We all know that change is constant and the rate of change is exponential ‒ especially in New York.

Years ago CBS sold out to Sony and took our Porgy and Bess out of print. Applause Magazine is out of business. Edward Jablonski has died. For years Joe Dash has been retired. Chappell Music is now Warner Music. Pay telephones are obsolete. Mary Beth Roberts became a mogul with Sony ATV. Margaret Tobin and Robert Tobin have died.

There is one constant. If you would like the finest cup of coffee, walk south across Washington Square to 119 MacDougal

Caffe Reggio on McDougal Street, New York City

Street, 2½ blocks below the Square to the west side of the street where you may step right into my office. Here nothing has changed. Same Caffe Reggio. Same table. Same pay phone. Same phone number.

I am serious. It is all still there. Check it out!

Alvin Theatre

Caffe Reggio on McDougal Street, New York City

Photo Credits:

Photo courtesy commons.wikipedia.org
Photo courtesy flickr.com
Photo courtesy Jim Cullum Jr.
Photo courtesy Jim Cullum
Photo from The Gershwin Years: George & Ira,
by Edwardand Lawrence D. Stewart
Image courtesy amazon.com
Image courtesy wymaninstitute.org
Photo courtesy Greenwich Village Daily Photo

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Jack Teagarden, The Flood and The River Walk

Jack Teagarden

In 1921, jazz was so new. Unknowns Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong were still in New Orleans. King Oliver was still in the process of forming his great Creole Jazz Band. Bix Beiderbecke had dropped out of school and was struggling to master the cornet and become a professional. Duke Ellington, still living in Washington, DC, was working mostly as a sign painter and was beginning to experiment with the professional music business.

These jazz giants had barely begun to discover the powerful artistic potential each of them possessed, and none of them had yet been recorded.

In 1921, trombonist Jack Teagarden, age 16 and on fire with a passion to play jazz, left his native Vernon, Texas and headed for San Antonio. He joined the musician's union, began his brilliant career, and found work and kindred spirits in a San Antonio jazz band. Members of the group included clarinetist Sidney Arodin and pianist Terry Shand. This amazing pioneering group began playing at a local southside bistro, The Horn Palace.

San Antonio in 1921 was a fascinating city where many cultures co-existed. It still retained the flavor of a Spanish colonial outpost and was full of adobe. Not many years had passed since herds of cattle had been driven through its streets by cowboys.

But the city had a modern side, too. It was a commercial and banking center that was by far the largest in Texas. In fact, it was the oasis between New Orleans and California.

San Antonio was growing some tall buildings and boasted many miles of paved streets. Automobiles were now all the rage and young Jack Teagarden was soon to purchase a used Stanley Steamer. For the rest of his life, Jack was fascinated by steam-driven cars.

The sweet life in San Antonio and the idyllic job at the Horn Palace went along beautifully until one night. While the band was in the middle of a hot set, a gangland-style shooting occurred directly in front of the bandstand. The musicians dove out of a close-by window and under the piano as the bullets flew. But Jack, shocked and momentarily frozen in place, stood on the front of the bandstand, taking in the entire scene. He subsequently became the prosecution's star witness.

The case was prepared for trial. Jack was subpoenaed to appear, and then he received an extremely poignant tip: "Don't talk or we'll be forced to silence you, rub you out, you'll sleep with the fishes, etc."

What was he to do? If he didn't show up in court, he would be held in contempt of court. If he did show up he really would be dodging bullets.

Just before the trial, the great flood of 1921 occurred. It was an unprecedented disaster. Parts of downtown San Antonio were under 15 feet of water.

For reasons never completely clear but caused by the flood, the Horn Palace shooting case was dismissed. Jack sighed with relief and very quickly and nervously loaded up his Stanley Steamer and chugged away for Houston and Galveston, where he began a long association with the legendary pianist Peck Kelly.

Jack Teagarden was to become the greatest of all Texas jazzmen. He revolutionized the role of trombone and is still thought of as its greatest exponent. In addition to his virtuosity, he brought a depth of feeling or "soul" which has seldom been equaled.

The San Antonio he left behind was forever changed by the great flood, which was reported by the press as follows:

A cloudburst in the valley of the Olmos Creek and other territory north of the city is held responsible for the flood which literally engulfed San Antonio early Saturday morning. Although the rainfall Friday night and up to early Saturday afternoon was the heaviest in six years for the same length of time, fear of a flood was not general. Even as late as 9:30 o'clock Saturday night, indications were that the river would be able to carry its burden of water.

Then the deluge from the north...the Alazan and San Pedro creeks, as well as the San Antonio River became raging torrents...The water rose almost to the mezzanine floor of the Gunter Hotel...a wall of water, variously described as 10-30 feet high, struck with a rush...Large houses were swept about on the flood's crest as though they were paper boxes.

San Antonio Light, September, 1921

Fifty people perished as the "wall of water" descended upon downtown in the fall of 1921. Property damage was extensive.

Expedient remedies were called for by many of the frightened residents and businessmen, who wanted to ensure that such a disaster would never recur. Studies recommended taking drastic measures, including filling in the river's picturesque horseshoe bend with dirt for use as a thoroughfare.

Fortunately, there was a group who could not bear the thought of losing the old river, and the San Antonio Conservation Society was born. Battle lines were drawn. Eventually, the conservationists prevailed, the riverbend was saved, and flood-control features were added.

Now entered Robert Hugman, a San Antonio architect, who had fished along the banks of the river as a young boy. He approached the leaders of the battle to save the bend with his ideas for the river. Hugman envisioned the river's banks as a world apart from the city's streets--a balance between a commercial and a park-like atmosphere. He entitled his plan, which was presented to the city leaders in 1929, "The Shops of Aragon and Romula."

Gondolas were a part of Hugman's presentation...and he told an amusing story about them:

I called on a public official in 1929 who was a very smart businessman, but had little formal education. I told him of my dreams for developing the river, and I mentioned gondolas quietly gliding on the water as a part of an imaginary setting. He thought the entire idea was fine, but then he said, "Oh, we won't need to buy many gondolas, we can get a pair and raise our own."

Works Progress Administration funds were employed in 1938, and the river's banks gained the gracefully arched footbridges and staircases created by Hugman. Hugman was a man whose attention to detail helped to make the Riverwalk unique. Some thirty-one stairways to the Riverwalk were designed by Hugman, and no two are alike.

The pebbled walkways with inlaid designs must have tested the patience of those who built them, and one is reminded that they were designed by Hugman. During their construction, he often had some of his female acquaintances test these walkways with different styled high-heeled shoes.

An outdoor theater was planned by Hugman for live radio broadcasts of musical and dancing programs. The stage was built on one side of the river and the grass-covered seating on the other.

Even after this extensive beautification of the river's banks, most businesses still treated the river as their back door. The area was perceived as being so unsavory that it was off-limits to armed forces personnel.

But in 1963, all this began to change. A unique new venture, The Landing, began in an old basement on the north bank of the riverbend. It was a tremendous success and drew big crowds. On Saturday evenings, patrons stood in line to get in. Most importantly, The Landing was a tremendous lot of fun! And it had a special integrity that continued the river's legacy. The Landing had no street entrance, and part of its mystique was the difficulty strangers often had locating it.

At about the same time, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce set up a river development department and things began to roll. New clubs and shops followed The Landing. Then in 1968, San Antonio hosted a world's fair and two major hotels were built on the river's edge.

Today, 74 years after the great flood, the Riverwalk is a city park and botanical garden. Brightly colored river taxis now travel under the shade of its trees, and those along the banks enjoy its peaceful places, its shops, restaurants, and night clubs.

The Landing, now at its third river location is, with the exception of restaurant Casa Rio, the river's oldest business. During its 36 years, an incredible number of jazz greats have played there.

Unfortunately, Jack Teagarden was not among them, for he died shortly after The Landing opened. Jack did employ Jim Cullum Sr. in his big band during the 1940's. They became great friends. The present Landing displays, along with some great Teagarden photos, a telegram of congratulations which Jack sent on opening day in 1963.

Terry Shand (the pianist from the 1921 Horn Palace band) did visit and sit in at The Landing several times. On a couple of occasions he got up and made a speech about how the city had hosted one of America's earliest jazz bands in 1921 and how it was strangely wonderful that the the flood which caused such damage had resulted in the present-day river, which again hosted a jazz club, The Landing, and its band in residence.

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The Night Before Christmas or How the Bullet Hole Got in the Landing Bar

Santa

'Twas the night before Christmas, 1971, I think 'twas. Actually, it was about 4:00 AM Christmas morning--the time that old S. Claus, having covered his route all the way down to the bottom of South America somewhere, was on his way home to the North Pole for his long winter's nap.

And I and my cap, I was all settled in for a toasty winter's nap of my own, when I was rudely brought back from those visions of sugar plums by my jangling bedside telephone. "Mr. Cullum," said the phone, "You'd better come down to the Landing. We've caught him red-handed! And do you have a key to the beer box? There was some gunfire and the keg beer is leaking all over the place!" Another break-in! This would make four in a row!

This little "Cat" had been coming along about once a week lately in the wee morning hours. He'd break out one of the small panes of glass next to the Landing entrance and reach in and unbolt the door. (This was at the original Landing down by the Nix building). Once inside, he'd head straight for his target, the Landing cigarette machine, and before anyone could say "Merry Christmas," he'd relieve the machine of its receipts and be on his way. And this was so quick and easy, he just decided to help us out by regularly emptying the cigarette machine take for us.

After three such visits, I asked the Nix building folks (they were our landlords in those early days) to have their security boys keep watch on the Landing. This they did, dispatching a veteran ex-policeman, who, strange as it may seem, looked a lot like Santa Claus, minus the beard. He was complete with snow-white hair, flowing mustache, gold-rimmed spectacles, and it could easily be said that he had hardly missed any meals!

And so, upon leaving for the night, we'd lock him in to await the arrival of our cigarette machine cat burglar. But "Cat" didn't show for several nights and "Santa the Cop" sooner or later discovered the nice soft carpet on the drum riser. Settling in behind the drums, he too was enjoying a blissful winter's nap, when to his wondrous ears did appear but the tinkling, breaking glass of easy access. He woke with a start and peered wide-eyed over the top of the bass drum while Cat Man went about his work, applied his tools (small crowbar and large screw driver), and made his withdrawal from the now battle-scarred cigarette machine.

In order to approach the machine, it was necessary for Cat to travel back and forth in front of the Landing bar.

Assuming that the tension of this story now has you breathless, allow me to back off a little bit while I describe the bar.

Magnificent it was, of carved old dark wood and beveled glass mirrors. It had been built in 1903 for the Nimitz Hotel of Fredricksburg (the same Nimitz family that produced the WWII hero Admiral Chester Nimitz). Anyway, in 1921, with Prohibition under way, the Nimitz stopped serving booze and the bar was put away into dusty storage.

When the Landing came along in 1963, everyone, including yours truly, was out hustling up fixtures and furniture. The contractor had just built interior walls leaving a good, long space where he intended to build a modern bar. At that point, one of the Landing's stockholders happened upon the Nimitz treasure. It was purchased for an unbelievably low fee and shipped quickly to San Antonio. When assembled and worked over with Old English furniture polish, it stood gleaming and in position as though it were built for the space, a perfect fit with one inch clearance at either end.

Back into the action! Our Cat Thief attempts to exit, and as he passes the bar, our Santa Cop stands up behind the drums, gun in hand, and commands, "Hold it right there! You're under arrest!" Cat begins to run for the door, Santa fires a warning shot well behind his target.

Now the old Landing was all concrete and it was loud in there. The band sounded very loud, the customers were loud, the Waring blender was loud. Everything was loud and when a gun went off in there, it was really loud. It sounded more like a cannon. And Cat Thief fainted!

Santa Cop threw is hand to his open mouth with "Oh, no, I've killed him!" The bullet of course had not hit Cat at all, but drilled a nice clean, round bullet hole in the face of the grand old front bar. It had also clipped off a tap beer line and cold beer began spewing up, hitting the ceiling and splashing down on Cat, who was thereby revived. So, as the frantic Santa ran over to inspect the supposedly wounded Cat, he (Cat) suddenly sat up, miraculously unharmed. Santa, trembling with relief, clapped Cat in hand cuffs. And the story ends.

This may sound like a Christmas tall tale from Texas, but I give you my absolute word that it is on the level. I used to point to the bullet hole as proof but the old bar was just too big for the Hyatt Landing and it sadly went back into storage. Some of you may remember Clint Steward, our manager for 19 years. He will bear me out as he arrived on the scene a little before me and was already mopping up beer when I made my entrance with a "What's the trouble here, officer?"

Cat was led off to jail. Santa, still a bit shaky, went off to his bed. But I heard him gruffly exclaim as he shuffled on out of sight, "Well, then, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!"

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The Jazz Disease

Jim Cullum Jr. is the leader of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and proprietor of the Landing Jazz Club on the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio. Jim is also the co-producer of the Riverwalk Jazz public radio series.

Jim began playing cornet in 1955 at age 14. Fascinated with the records of legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Jim was at first self-taught. In high school he organized his fellow musicians into after-the-game dance bands. While attending college, Jim began a partnership with his clarinetist father, the late Jim Cullum, Sr., forming a seven-piece traditional group they called the Happy Jazz Band.

Adrian Rollini

Jim Sr. was born in Dallas and had two careers—one in the family grocery business and another as a jazz reed player. During the 1930s he worked in bands led by Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Dorsey and Adrian Rollini.

Jim Cullum, Sr.

Jim Cullum Sr. in Dallas in the 1940s in Dallas

Part of my fascination with jazz came from a desire to please and win the respect of my father and mother. This desire certainly lay beyond consciousness, for when I began discovering jazz I was a typical early adolescent and would never have voluntarily done what my "prehistoric" parents wanted.

But I always admired them. They were tangled up with jazz in a big way and like any wild adventure, theirs was a life of extremes. They had lived the craziest, wackiest, most romantic life and had the most fun—at least so it seemed to me. Ernest Hemingway had nothing on my fun-loving father. But for a few years beginning in about 1949, life performed one of its inevitable flip-flops and things weren't quite as much fun anymore. Dad was 35 that year.

Oh, he didn't give in easily. In fact, even on an off day, he still seemed to have a lot of fun. He had a built-in ability to laugh at life. An example: one day while we were still living in Dallas, I went along while Dad hung out at the "Pink Elephant Lounge" with his drinking buddy, drummer Bob McClendon. Still young men, they were handsome and well-dressed. They always reminded me of a Hope and Crosby "Road" movie. The Pink Elephant was aptly named as it catered to hard-core drinkers. In compliance with Texas liquor laws of that time, The Pink Elephant served only beer and set-ups, but its owner ran a small liquor store in the building next door so customers bought distilled spirits by the pint or fifth. The Elephant action would start during the late morning, about 11:00 AM, with a few regulars struggling in for "hair of the dog."

One day at the Pink Elephant, I was on hand to witness Dad and McClendon in a classic which started when Dad, laughing and very much in the spirit of the moment, dropped McClendon's hat on the floor and stomped on it. Wow! Take that! (He had been joking about the style of the hat for weeks.) With that, McClendon reached over and picked up a large pair of shears that happened to be lying on the bar and cut off Dad's tie. To make this more interesting, it was a cold day and the heat wasn't on in the Elephant. They stood in their overcoats facing each other in a Laurel and Hardy stance and gradually tore and ripped off each other's coats and shirts. One would stand and look on as though defenseless while the other seized a piece of cloth like a suit breast pocket. In a downward thrust—rrrrrip—off would come the pocket. It went on and on to the astonishment of the bartender and the other Pink Elephant customers.

Eventually we left for home, Dad still laughing to himself. But the other side of all this gradually began to emerge. Dad and McClendon were constantly playing practical jokes on each other. The distributor cap would be taken off the car or the electric power or water would get turned off. Twenty chicken dinners were delivered. At this stage my mother was worn out with all this. She was the responsible one—the balancer of books. Family economics were already strained, and Dad's fine Chesterfield overcoat, his suit coat, shirt, and tie were ruined. Although Dad laughed about this for the rest of his life, that afternoon, as reality set in, it wasn't quite so funny.

Why such zaniness? Why such destruction? The "jazz disease," Dad called it. A little madness seemed to go with the territory. Obsessed with jazz, on fire with youthful exuberance, possessors of inborn musical talent, they were at the same time frustrated eccentrics who tended to have disrespect for the bandleaders who employed them. Of course, they wanted perfection both in music and in the music business, and they rarely got it.

One night, after a commercial gig he could barely tolerate, Bob McClendon quit the business and drove to the middle of the Trinity River Viaduct where he contemptuously threw the drums he loved to play into the Trinity and watched them float away. Two weeks later, desperate to play, he bought a funny-looking old set that had been gathering dust around the Musician's Union. The Union secretary had brought them back from France at the end of World War I. McClendon paid him $5.00 for them, took them away and made music on them. Like any addict, he didn't seem to especially like music while he was playing but he couldn't live without it. The jazz disease, no doubt.

Too much drinking fit right in with all of this. In fact, drinking and driving were standard for those guys in those years. Behind the wheel, they would often take a slug and follow with a quick 7-Up chaser. As a boy, I rode in the back seat and was known to drink up the chaser when nobody was looking.

One day I was rolling along in the back seat of the "Bronze Beauty" (cornetist Garner Clark's very used Packard was painted bronze). Dad was driving, Garner rode in the front seat. As we passed through a Dallas neighborhood, we went by a house with a young boy seated on its front porch, playing a trumpet. Garner blanched and commanded, "Stop the car!" We backed up, and gradually the house and young aspiring trumpeter came back into view. Garner got out, stood on the running board, and called over the top of the Bronze Beauty to the boy, "Don't do it! Give it up, before it's too late!"
In my father's life, this wild, heavy-drinking, jazz-crazy chase was coming to an end. Like any strong beast, all this didn't die easily but struggled on and off until March, 1953, when Dad took his last drink and, at least for a while, put his horn away.

We moved to San Antonio on my 12th birthday. What a drag, man! I didn't want to move to San Antonio. Leave my friends? (I was 12 years old, remember!). Oh, what a terrible drag!

But for my parents, San Antonio was the "promised land." A second chance at life. Dad, now sober, had a wonderful business opportunity, and he meant to make the best of it. He threw himself in with his amazing energy, drive, and determination as he made up for lost time. He used his father and older brother Marvin as his models and worked hard and smart, and as he zoomed along he built a big new business. The jazz that had driven so much of his life was gone. To everyone's surprise, I began to become obsessed with jazz just as Dad was putting it down.

We lived for a while in a modest rent house, and Dad's collection of 78 RPM records, complete in its own large stand-up chest, was placed in my bedroom as the house offered no other practical place for them.

So there I was, blue and lonely, 12 years old, nothing to console me except those old scratchy records. Gradually, they started coming to my aid.

The rest of the family was too busy to notice, but I escaped into Louis Armstrong records. Putting hard mileage on the already worn 78s, I memorized Louis' solos and riffs. Louis to the rescue. Bob Crosby was well-represented in the records as was the great Benny Goodman. Eventually, I discovered Bix.

My musical beginnings were certainly not normal. I wasn't in the Junior High Band and I didn't have a musical instrument of any kind. But I was submerged in this old jazz and was easily memorizing the work of the great masters. I'd go around all day whistling constantly to myself. Bix and his Gang were my companions. "Thou Swell," "Jazz Me Blues," "Ol' Man River," "Royal Garden Blues." I'd whistle the entire record: intros, ensembles, interludes, and solos.

One day I was absent-mindedly doing my whistling thing when my melody (or I should say, Bix's melody) caught my father's ear. "Hey!" he said, not realizing the source of my song, "That's pretty good! Maybe you should take up some kind of horn." That was all I needed. It was just a casual remark, and Dad wouldn't have dreamed he'd just helped set me on the jazz road. Oh, I thought, what an idea—a horn!

I started thinking that maybe I should get a trombone. It looked easy to me: for a lower note just shove the slide out a little more. But I never got a chance to find out about the trombone the hard way, as fate had placed an interesting antique cornet in my path. There it was in a pawn shop window. I had arrived there strictly by chance, and spotted it from a restaurant across the street. It drew me over like a magnet. I could have sooner ignored the Great Wall of China had it suddenly appeared across the street.

After several negotiating sessions with the pawn broker, I became the proud owner of a C. Bruno and Sons Bb cornet; approximate date of issue: 1905, price: $7.00. I bought a book, How to Play the Cornet, for $1.00.

So I was off. In one day I mastered the C scale, and on day two I was able to sort of render the song "Ja-Da." In about two more days I had ready the chorus of "Tin Roof Blues."

My father began to occasionally retrieve his clarinet from its almost-forgotten, lonely residence in the back bedroom closet. It had been patiently waiting there, behind out-of-date double-breasted dinner jackets and two-toned shoes, for its comeback. With a new and different kind of musical spark Dad gave practical suggestions and experimented with different harmonies to my crude attempts at melody.

After about a year of progress, and while attending Alamo Heights High, I formed a "kid's band." Dad would occasionally join us, playing a borrowed tenor saxophone as the clarinet chair was taken. Unlikely opportunities for employment began to come our way. We played some afternoons at the Alamo Heights Dairy Queen in return for a credit line against which burgers, milk shakes, sundaes, and other goodies would be drawn. A few times we played at school, in the halls or after lunch and for assemblies. Eventually we played for a few dances around town, some even at the San Antonio Country Club.
At one point during these High School years, I decided it would be good for me to join the Alamo Heights High School Band, and I called the band director, Mr. Arsers. Enthusiastically, I described my progress, showed off my old, funny-looking cornet, and explained my interest in advancing my skills, learning to read music, etc.

Oh, was I disappointed! Mr. Arsers emphatically refused to let me join, citing a number of objections, mainly that I hadn't come up through the school district's music program. Undaunted, I waited two weeks and approached him again, but was rebuffed this time on grounds that my old cornet was silver-plated. The Alamo Heights Band contained only brass lacquered instruments!

Thus rejected, I went on to my next period class, choral singing (all along I was a member of the high school chorus) and the choral director, Mr. Greenlee, noticed my distress. I told my story about not being accepted by the band. "Why do you want to be in the band anyway?" he asked. "I'll teach you and in return you can be my errand boy."

So it went. I ran errands for Mr. Greenlee and he taught me, mostly on piano, about music theory—chords and scales and a lot of very useful stuff I would never have gotten in the band.

Fats Waller's words ring true: "One never knows, do one?"

Jim Cullum, Sr.

Dad and me in 1973.

Epilogue

During the 1940s, there were some 50 members of the proud Dallas jazz elite. Being of the next generation, I watched them gradually fall away. The last to go was the remarkable Bob McClendon, who was going strong well into his 80s.

Handsome and dapper to the last, he continued to drum around town. All during the 1980s, Bob played twice-weekly at the Greenville Bar & Grill in Dallas and never failed to ignite the band and the crowd. Booze never did get to him like it did some of the others.

I enjoyed seeing him a number of times during his last four years. He had become a mellow reflection of the wild man he once had been. But he still had that laugh and spirit and would get that twinkle in his eye when he talked of the old days...like the time he was with Clyde McCoy's band and the musicians and band bus were assembled early one morning on the sidewalk just outside a hotel where they had worked and slept the night before. McClendon didn't show up at the pre-arranged time to load his drums on top of the bus.

Clyde, impatient and pacing up and down the sidewalk, sent a band member up to McClendon's room on the 6th floor with instructions to get the drums down there at once.

You can easily guess the outcome. McClendon was still asleep and sent word back to McCoy to relax or he'd place the drums "where the sun don't shine!" (He never could stand McCoy's corny trumpet playing anyway.) Of course, McCoy hit the ceiling and sent his messenger back with word to get those drums down there immediately or McClendon was fired. With that, McClendon, true to form, opened the window and heaved the drums out. As they crashed to the sidewalk six floors below and just down from where the band was waiting, they broke all to pieces. McCoy, the musicians, the bus driver, and a few passersby stood open-mouthed as McClendon, laughing, went back to bed and at least for a while entered the ranks of the unemployed. Crazy? No, the jazz disease!

Bob McClendon

Bob McClendon

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The Saga of the Bass Saxophone

'Jelly Roll without the swing is like a martini without the gin," wrote critic/drummer Wayne Jones. I couldn't agree more. Swing is the one essential ingredient in all jazz. What is it, anyway? The answer is most easily found in listening to players who really swing. Number one on most lists is Louis Armstrong. In his wake, there are many other great swingers. We quickly add Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, Earl Hines, Count Basie, and his great wave of sidemen at the top of a long list.

No doubt the relatively obscure name Adrian Rollini must be included in this group. Rollini never rose to great prominence and fame, probably because his main instrument in the 1920's was the awkward and cumbersome bass saxophone. Ah, but what an artist Adrian was! In his master hands, the elephant became a ballerina.

As the generations roll on, we, the inheritors of these traditions, sit in awe as Rollini appears like a polished diamond in priceless recorded treasures: the Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Venuti/Lang groups, all supercharged by Rollini, speak to us from across the years.

Adrian Rollini

In his youth, my father, the late Jim Cullum, Sr., stumbled over this hot music and he never regained his equilibrium. Early on he discovered Rollini, so naturally he couldn't say no when an opportunity to buy a bass sax loomed up. The year was 1946, the price: $50.00. The sax was a Conn, as Rollini's had been. Many of the instruments Conn made in the 20's have never been surpassed, especially those old bass saxophones.

Delighted, Dad lugged the new toy home to our Dallas living room where he played it about twice and then put it back in its huge case and stored it in the only place it would fit: behind the sofa. You see, Dad was mostly a clarinet player and the bass saxophone was way down there at the other end of the reed family. Also, there was absolutely no one hiring bass saxophone players. Even Rollini had abandoned the bass sax 10 years earlier, and during part two of his career he played vibes and chimes exclusively.

But, what do you know? A little later that year, Adrian Rollini and his orchestra appeared for a two-week run at the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas. Apparently, he had adopted early what has now become an industry standard: travel with a few key men and fill out the sections with local players.

Dad got the call to play in the Rollini sax section. Of course, nothing could have pleased him more and nothing would do unless Adrian came to our house for one of Dad's famous late-night jam sessions. Hand-picked Dallas musicians gathered in our living room feigning a casual nonchalance when, in fact, we were all excited. These were players who understood the difference. Wow! Adrian Rollini! The real thing! In person!

Dad and Adrian made their entrance. Introductions and drinks were passed around and the party's noise level made a decided crescendo. The classic Beiderbecke records began to blast form our Magnavox. And then the sofa was moved out a little, Dad and Adrian stood between the sofa and the wall, and the bass saxophone appeared. Adrian balanced it against the back of the sofa and began to play along with himself on the old Bix records. The party fell silent. Everyone stood up or sat around in a circle, just soaking it up.

Having not touched a bass saxophone in years, Adrian was pretty excited. After about four records, he was beaming. He put down the bass sax and, in exuberance, actually jumped over the sofa into the room. Then he jumped back, grabbed the sax, and continued playing along. I, as a child, was unaware of the significance of this once-in-a-lifetime musical experience, but I certainly was impressed by that "crazy" guy jumping back and forth over the couch.

When the party was over, I had become fascinated with the bass sax that lived in its black case behind the sofa, sticking out at one end.

During these years, we lived in a sort of "family compound." My grandparents owned a small farm on the outskirts of Dallas and, as their children married, each was given a lot on which to build a house. Most of our neighbors were aunts and uncles and cousins who, amazingly, seemed to get along very well (although I have heard that the volume from Dad's all-night sessions often strained relations).

Having observed Rollini, I now considered myself an expert on the matter of the bass sax which continued to live behind the sofa. For the next few years, I may have been its only visitor. I could show-off to neighborhood friends (mostly cousins) by opening up the musty case and attaching the neck and mouthpiece. With a big breath, I could produce a healthy honk.

Eventually, Dad quit the professional music business. We moved away to Venezuela, back to Dallas, and finally to San Antonio. The bass sax was stored in my grandfather's chicken house. Neighborhood children led by my cousins dropped in occasionally, shooing chickens and blowing dust off the old black case as they, in my absence, showed off the mysterious piece of silver plumbing.

The years rolled by. We kids grew up. Dad again became a "pro" musician. The scene for us had long before shifted to San Antonio. The family neighborhood was gone. My grandparents' wonderful house was replaced by a Taco Bell. The chicken house collapsed. But somehow, the bass saxophone survived, its case reinforced with several rolls of friction tape.

One night in 1971, it finally, after a 50-year wait, made its professional debut at the Landing. It had been completely overhauled for the occasion. There it stood on the Landing stage, shiny as a new penny, fresh with silver plate and new springs and pads.

We had great fun with it for a few nights, but as the novelty wore off, the bass sax became only a bandstand decoration. Dad was a clarinet player at heart, and even the inspiration of the great Rollini wasn't enough to make him wish to trade in some of his clarinet solo space for solos on the bass sax.

One day, he announced to me that Charlie Boeckman, a clarinet player from Corpus Christi, wanted to buy the bass sax. Dad figured up the price: $50.00 purchase price (in 1946) plus $150 for the recent overhaul--a $200 total. He didn't exactly apply increases form the Consumer Price Index. Off went the bass sax to Corpus Christi where, again, it fell into disuse. Charlie Boeckman was a clarinet player, too.

Fast forward a few years and the Landing had become inspirational to one Drake Mabry, a symphony oboe player. He was there every night and once he said to me that he was drawn to our music because he had heard Adrian Rollini on record, and what he really wanted was a bass saxophone. Did I know where he might find one? I told him to call Charlie Boeckman and in a few nights, here was Drake grinning ear to ear holding the bass sax over his head like a barbell. Charlie Boeckman had applied the Consumer Price Index and then some. Drake had paid $500.00.

Fast forward a little more. Enter tubaist Brian Nalepka who came to San Antonio from New York City to join our band. He had a bass saxophone in tow.

"Where'd ja get that bass sax?" I asked. "Well, they're hard to find." came the answer. "I got this one from a guy up in Connecticut, who only sold it to me because he was able to replace it with a silver-plated Conn from someone down here in Texas. Bought I think he said from some symphony oboe player! Stole it, really--only paid $1,000.00."

And then, after a few more years, our band was playing at the national Ragtime Festival at St. Louis. The great jazz tubaist Mike Walbridge was there. We are longtime friends. Mike reported he had just purchased a bass saxophone that he understood had once belonged to my father. "Bought it from a guy in Connecticut," he said, "Really got it at a bargain price: only $3,500.00."

After thinking a minute I said, "Mike, let me make your day and instantly add a couple of thousand more to the value, because when I was a little boy, I, personally, with my own little ears, listened to Adrian Rollini himself play that saxophone both before and and after he jumped back and forth over our sofa!"

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O'Neil Ford

O'Neil Ford

Because of the lure of the music and the romance of the Landing and the River, O'Neil Ford, the great Texas architect, loomed up large in my life. At first I had no idea of his world-wide fame. He was there in the crowd with his colorful entourage. But my father knew. He had been hearing the O'Neil Ford name since way back in the 40's when sophisticated Dallasites would speak reverently of the great man who plied his craft in San Antonio. "He's one of the great architects of all time," Dad said. "The whole band is invited to go out to his home after the Landing closes."

My sports car made its way to the deep south side following the convoy down Mission Road, and we finally turned into the bushes past a sign that read "Willow Way." The winding road turned into brick, and the cars fell into formation side by side and came to a halt, their headlights illuminating the amazing setting where Neil (as his friends called him) and his wife Wanda held sway.

It was like no other place I'd ever seen. Willow Way was (and still is) situated on several acres, dominated by an old two-story stone house surrounded by sheds, garages, servants quarters, and terraces. It's joined on one side by a lovely pool, and beyond that the San Antonio River gurgling along in its channel. The whole place reflected the lives of Neil and Wanda. It had been her family's home in prior years, and every place my eye fell, pleasing detail came rushing up to greet me. They were both artistic Bohemians.

It was chaos plopped down with a creative eye. Peacocks strutted around the grounds, screeching. There was a large aviary, and barking dogs joined the cacophony of welcome as we paraded in under a canopy of huge trees. Old classic cars stood around in disrepair. Neil was proud of his Bently, which waited patiently in the drive for the day of its restoration which never came. Wanda's 1939 MG touring car was in a nearby shed.

But, of course, the house fascinated me the most. It was set up for the old-style Texas life of my boyhood, with large, screened porches all around. After a few hours I discovered its main secret: it was not air-conditioned. All windows and doors stood open, breathing in the summer night air. Upon our arrival, the place began to throb with life. I prowled around, delighted.

We set up the band at one side of the swimming pool and played a dozen tunes for our own fun, and at the same time gave a command performance for the Fords and their small assembly. We ate and drank and joked and generally soaked up the charm of our hosts and their wonderful old home. Before I knew it, 4:00 AM had come and gone, and I was dragging myself away with many good-byes. As I drove out, I admired the ancient San José mission across the street.

This was the first of many journeys I am still making to Willow Way. The parade of visits now blurs together in my memory. Gradually, I came to know the fascinating Ford family and their patriarch O'Neil, who loved to entertain an avid listener like myself with outrageous stories. One never knew where truth ended, but as Huck said of his creator Mark Twain, "there were some stretchers." At one of the Willow Way parties, I was jamming with pianist Red Camp. We got to talking about Neil's stories, and Red revealed to me a new concept: he said, "A few lies are good! Makes life more fun!" I'd never heard of such an idea, having been raised with the George Washington stereotype.

So I never knew the fact from the fiction, but I think it went this way: Neil and Wanda had met in London just before the war and had returned aboard ship with the beautiful MG. Wanda had acquired it new, and she always says that Neil only married her "to get the MG." His career in architecture was already churning along.

Neil was to embody the old San Antonio flavor like no one else. It was in his spirit and in his drawings. I am not expert, but I can list off a number of Neil's triumphs, such as the restoration of La Villita at the beginning of his career and the restoration of San Fernando Cathedral towards the end. His office was located in two old houses in the King William district. This was years before King William became fashionable.

He designed homes for the more adventurous of the city's elite and in the process developed a "Texas Style," which I understand is copied now around the world. His most famous and extensive work in San Antonio was the architectural design of Trinity University. I learned years after his death that he had designed the Episcopal church at which I was a parishioner, The Church of Reconciliation.

One day, I watched as he quickly drew on a cocktail napkin his idea for the waterfalls and fountains between the Hyatt and the Alamo. The final design was quite faithful to his original idea. I have an idea that Neil often dashed off his first ideas like this, and then it was up to the technicians to make them work.

We became good friends. Neil so admired my father that he wrote the liner notes for Dad's award-winning album, Eloquent Clarinet. He steered me to the newly restored San Fernando Cathedral where we performed the first Catholic Jazz Mass in Texas. We had presented the very first Jazz Mass the year before at the Trinity University Chapel which, of course, Neil had designed.

Lyndon Johnson appointed Neil to the board of the National Endowment for the Arts. I think he very much enjoyed the activities of this group, and because of Neil, their board meeting was held in San Antonio. Of course, the Landing was the unofficial headquarters of this meeting, and Neil held forth nightly hosting famous artists. I specifically remember several visits by Clint Eastwood and Gregory Peck, who were special friends of Neil's.

Neil died unexpectedly in 1981, and our band performed at his funeral at the Trinity Chapel. After the service, the funeral procession wound through the city for an hour, passing one after another of the buildings Neil designed. When it was all over and in accordance with his written instructions, we all went to Willow Way where we had quite a party with jazz, champagne, Virginia ham, and black-eyed peas. Written instructions had been left by Neil which ordered the party and food down to the last detail, including that everyone was to "have a good time" and "not to grieve at the natural ending."

One of my favorite memories is of one very hot Texas afternoon in Austin. I was at my sister's apartment there. A knock came at the door. Neil appeared, and after a few minutes, he stepped into the bathroom, where he stood in the shower fully clothed in a wash-and-wear suit. He emerged soaking wet and announced to us that he was leaving at once for San Antonio and intended to use "evaporative cooling" as his car had no air conditioning.

Wanda says Neil loved those wash-and-wear suits and routinely showered in them, complete with a bar of soap, and washed his suit in this way.

I've known many musicians who are so compelled by the creativity that goes with their music that they live to play. My father was like that. Neil was like that about architecture. He was also in love with life and San Antonio. Fortunately for me, that always included regular doses of jazz by our band.

He sure knew how to live and maybe he was right--maybe life is more fun with a few stretchers.

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Earliest Memories and the Hollywood Club

My grandmother, Eloise Cullum of Dallas, was about as full of life as one could be, I suppose. Her spark reaches down through the generations. What a gal! During her busy life, she found time to raise six children. She was strong-willed, opinionated, and determined that her children would have the best of everything. She and my grandfather Ashley moved their brood to a farm on the outskirts of Dallas so their children could be raised in the country.

Eloise Cullum

Jim and Conoly Cullum (my parents) in Cullumville, 1946. We call this photo "Always Party Time."

Their obviously talented boys included Robert, James (my father), and Charles. As high school approached, each was given some sort of musical instrument. Bob, the oldest, played the saxophone. When time came for Jim to receive his instrument, my grandmother had been influenced by a music teacher or maybe an instrument salesman, and Jim was presented with a new Boehm system clarinet (the old Albert system was becoming obsolete). She had heard the axiom, "If he starts on clarinet, it's easy to double on saxophone, but if he starts on saxophone, doubling will be difficult." So at Christmas 1926, young Jim, age 12, unwrapped a new clarinet and life was never the same. He spent hours facing a corner, practicing. (The corner acted as an acoustic chamber). Oh, he thought, what a sound! For the rest of his life, the woody clarinet sound was the greatest fun life offered.

Jim played his clarinet with a passion through high school and college. Eventually, he began to play professionally.

Meanwhile, his energetic mother began a small-scale land development on the family farm in north Dallas. As her children married in close succession, she gave each a lot on which to build a house. Her one-block street was called Nash Street after son-in-law George Nash, and gradually neighbors began calling the area "Cullumville."

Jim and his bride Conoly (my mother) became part of this happy scene. He began working as his father's apprentice in family wholesale grocery business, and the clarinet got little use for several years.

This is where I came in. I have no recollection of World War II, but by war's end in 1945 I was four years old, and bits and pieces of memory of those years have survived. The Cullumville life was idyllic. My playmates were mostly cousins, and other neighbors often were aunts and uncles. My grandparents lived in the big house at one end of Nash Street. We children played freely up and down Nash, and most spectacular of all was the creek that bounded Cullumville on the north. We dammed it and created small spillways. Life was tree climbing, stickhorse riding, and other similar adventures.

 

By this time, Jim Sr. had yielded to his lifetime desire to be a full-time professional jazz musician. He had gradually increased his musical activities, then in 1944 he resigned his position with the family business and was off and running. In 1945, he joined the Jack Teagarden band and left Dallas for the life of a traveling musician.

Somewhere interwoven with these years, my memory flicks on as follows: it's deep in the middle of the night and a jam session is underway downstairs in our Cullumville living room. The music has awakened me and I climb out of bed in the pajamas that had the the feet built-in, and pad downstairs to the "party," where I am welcomed, especially by the women present. I snuggle on a comfortable lap as the music is mixed together with the talking, smoking, drinking, and laughing.

This scene, which was played over and over, often disturbed the Cullumville neighbors, particularly in the summer when the music floated out through open windows.

grandkids

Cullumville cousins in the snow, 1946. L.to R.:
Jimmy Cullum, Mary Conoly Cullum, Mary Nash,
Danny Cullum, Betsy Cullum, Sally Cullum.

At the end of World War II, my father's good friend Garner Clark, an especially gifted cornetist, returned to Dallas. Garner, who had saved much of his Army pay, wished to invest his "winnings" in a jazz club. A partnership ensued as Dad and Garner established the Hollywood Club on an outlying desolate strip of the Fort Worth Pike. Something had been there before the Hollywood, but I know nothing of the predecessor. The venture seemed doomed to failure almost from the start.

My mother was on hand and spent much of her time mopping up the ladies' room as the club had severe plumbing problems and the toilets regularly overflowed. The place served Cajun-style food and had a full professional jazz band. It was the typical musician's dream. Garner began to almost live there, and had a cot in the liquor storage room. (The fox was really in charge of the chicken coop!).

The club had good music, but nothing else went well. Several months of uncharacteristic rain began and, unbeknownst to our heroes, a large amount of water accumulated on the sunken flat roof. In the night club business, rainy nights always mean poor attendance and the club's location was a severe handicap. As business dropped off, desperate attempts were made to salvage things. The Hollywood was made into a "private club" so that liquor could be served by the drink (at that time prohibited by Texas liquor laws). After a few weeks, the law swooped down, Garner was arrested, and spent a night in jail.

Then a deal was worked out with some professional gamblers who converted a portion of the club into an illegal casino. What a scene! A jazz band and its listeners and dancers occupied approximately one-half of the club, and gambling tables hidden behind a ceiling-to-floor curtain were active in the other half. At this time the water on the roof, trapped for several months, finally worked its way through, and water began to "rain" all over the gambling tables.

Hollywood Club 1

The place had an unpaved parking lot which was turned into a churned mud-hole during the heavy rains. Customers' cars regularly sank to the axles. The porter/janitor often attempted to drive stuck cars out of the muck, and was very skilled in these maneuvers, often succeeding. A couple of times he lost his shoes in the sticky mud. Once, keys were accidentally dropped in the mud in the dark, and the earnest porter (whose name is lost to posterity) dove for them, returning to the light of the Hollywood Club entrance completely covered with mud. For a while, the club resorted to keeping a full-time wrecker on hand to pull cars out of the parking lot.

Ah, memories! I can remember leaving our comfortable home to accompany my father for a Sunday afternoon session at the Hollywood Club. Our route took us across several old rickety wooden bridges across the Trinity River. I was allowed to steer the car down these back roads and over a couple of the bridges. Once at the club, I would hit up the musicians for quarters which I would use to play the gamblers' slot machines. Nothing was more fun. I sometimes think of this when my children come to me for quarters to sink into the ever-present video games of today.

The Hollywood Club's plumbing problems were crudely corrected by running a new sewer line out in the back of the building for about two hundred yards. (The club was situated in open space and was the one lonely inhabitant on a deserted strip of a two-lane highway). A bull dozer was hired to dig a large open pit into which the club's raw sewage was emptied. Even in those years, these methods of sewage disposal were strictly against the law, but no one was watching and Cullum and Clark heartily congratulated themselves.

Then the plot thickened as Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra were appearing for a good long run at the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas. Many nights, after his job ended, Jimmy would journey out to the Hollywood club, sometimes to sit in, as he was an admirer of the band. He had ideas of creating a "band within a band" in his orchestra, and he often brought one or two of his musicians along to hear what the Hollywood Club band was doing. Everybody in both bands became very friendly, and as the Hollywood Club was struggling, Jimmy Dorsey agreed to make a special Sunday afternoon appearance there.

Hollywood Club 2

Now one of the Hollywood regulars was an ardent Jimmy Dorsey fan and had equipped his young son (who was about my age--about five years old) with a shiny curved soprano saxophone. Jimmy Dorsey, of course, was famous for his alto saxophone playing, and a soprano looks very much like a miniature or toy alto. Said regular, upon hearing of the approaching appearance of Jimmy Dorsey at the Hollywood Club, hired a photographer to be on hand to snap a picture of Jimmy Dorsey and his famous alto, together with young son and soprano. The little boy was very dressed up for the picture and the sax hung from his neck on a saxophone strap.

Unfortunately, Jimmy Dorsey was late and as boys will be boys, saxophone-bedecked son and I began playing in the open space behind the club. Eventually, we worked our way out to the secret sewage pit where young son fell in, complete with saxophone. He crawled out as we began to realize that something was terribly wrong, and we began making our way back to the club, where in the meantime Jimmy Dorsey had arrived, the photographer was ready, and the father was searching frantically for young son. Autograph-seekers were upon Jimmy Dorsey, and the photo opportunity was about to slip away when we got back to the club's back door. Father confronted son, tears were shed, and son being thoroughly soaked with raw sewage, the entire photo plan was blown.

Hollywood Club 3

The Hollywood Club met its doom after about six months of operation. Somehow it caught fire and was gutted. Everyone suspected the landlord, who collected handsomely from the fire insurance carrier.

Garner left to become the house cornetist at the famed Jazz Limited Club in Chicago, but he soon returned to Dallas. The Hollywood Club band had dissolved, but was regrouped over and over for unlikely Dallas playing jobs.

My family picked up and moved for two years to Venezuela, where my father accepted an executive position with Nelson Rockefeller interests. But that's another story!

Memories of the Hollywood Club survived, along with a set of shrimp forks with H.C. embossed in the handles. They followed our family for years, gradually being lost one by one until, like the Hollywood Club participants, they have completely disappeared.

But in 1946, these same participants were in full bloom. They demonstrated to, and thoroughly convinced an innocent young five-year-old boy (that's me) that nothing could be more fun or more laughs or more "kicks" than a jazz night club.

Here are some of the players from those days:

cliff bruton

Cliff Bruton

john haynie gilland

John Haynie Gilland

Bob McClendon

Bob McClendon

jesse james

Jesse James

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Jim Cullum & Bob Barnard In Australia 2002

Almost all my musical adventures are tangled up with my efforts to build a great jazz band and then to present the band's wares. So, it is a rare thing to go off to the wilds without the troops, and naturally these very occasional sojourns are filled with a degree of novelty and charm for me. After three tours, I am beginning to find a second home "Down Under." It was in this high good spirit that I sailed through my 38th consecutive New Year's Eve bash at The Landing, and set out for Australia.

After a day in San Francisco I boarded the great silver kangaroo, "Qantas on the wing" and was off on the 14 hour ordeal across the Pacific. Two meals and two movies later I retreated to the extreme rear of the plane which fortunately was mostly empty. With my very quiet Yamaha practice mute, I ran scales on my cornet for a half hour or so. At one point a couple of Qantas stewardesses wandered back in my direction and discovered me with, "Oh, you're a musician!" We began some polite chit-chat and soon a couple of stewards had joined the crowd. I revealed that I was going to Australia to perform a wide ranging string of one nighters with the great Bob Barnard. All heads nodded. Yes, they all knew about Bob Barnard. After a little pause one of the stewards spoke up, "You're going all over Australia with Bob Barnard?"…another pause and then, "Hope your liver is in good shape!"

Bob Barnard

Bob Barnard

These days Bob doesn't live up to his drinking reputation. He is fit and healthy and strides around his Sydney neighborhood with great vigor. I have found that, as is sometimes the case, the stories have got bigger in the telling or Bob has calmed down 80% or so.

After a couple of days of chasing him around "Crow's Nest" (that's the name of his Sydney neighborhood) we headed off, flying to Queensland, mostly to the city of Brisbane which is drop dead charming, I'd say. With a winding lovely river snaking all through town, it is not unlike San Antonio, except the river is some 100 times as wide. Big boats zoom up and down taking citizens up and down, and in typical Aussie fashion they all seem to be having a lovely time, all the time. I know they can't always be having a lovely time and I think maybe they see me coming! "Oh look, here comes an American chap, let's put him on a bit."

We went off to gigs in various Queensland towns. I won't go into all the details, but for example, one was in Toowoomba, a town of about 100,000. When we arrived at the site of the gig, the Toowoomba Jazz Club, it was great stuff for me. The Club is an up-on posts, open windowed little house, of about 800 square feet. It was wall to wall folding chairs, soon filled with wall to wall Australians all fanning themselves against the heat. It's hot in Queensland in January and the locals are still waiting for Captain Cook to return as promised with the first air conditioner! I'm pleased to report that Barnard and Cullum armed with nothing more than two cornets, took the place by storm.

The tour went on, and eventually we were back padding around Sydney, which as the world knows is about as high powered a city as one might find. Just as I was thinking this was the place for me, duty again drove us on, this time in Bob's car, some 350 miles to a southern coastal town called Merimbula where we again dazzled the home folks with our little dance, did a quick U turn and raced back to Sydney.

As painful as this 700 mile back seat drive sounds, it was a roaring good time. We were four in the car, being joined by Bob's brother drummer, Len Barnard and pianist Chris Taparell. Len, a brilliant musician, has, in his seventy or so years, accumulated enough great stories to carry one in a highly entertained state, all around the perimeter of Australia and back.

We also played at Mittagong. How about that? Toowoomba, Merimbula and Mittagong! All along, Len, who is also known as the "center of knowledge" about how and where to find the best meat pies in Australia, kept me on the alert. "Now it is only another 100 kilometers to Cooma," he'd say. "There you'll taste near perfection--a meat pie that will dance on the tongue." After several pies he noticed me chewing on an antacid tablet and commented that meat pies sometimes gave him indigestion too. Bob, pondering, offered that they ought to just crush up a couple of antacid tablets and add them to the pie recipe!

We flew to Melbourne, Australia's number two city, but don't let anyone in Melbourne hear you say that. Once you get there, no matter what you might say about Sydney, Melbourne did it first and did it better. Despite the bragging, Melbourne is a hell of a place with amazing grand old buildings all around, and beautiful wide streets and streetcars, they call trams, running all through the city. Unfortunately, some Swiss salesman got there a few years ago and convinced Melbourne to forgo its charming antique streetcars for modern Swiss streetcars that come with plastic seats and no rattles. I tried to tell them that some places like New Orleans and San Francisco have been snooping around places like Melbourne quietly buying up the antique street- cars and that they must not realize that they are being hoodwinked! After I spoke this way a couple of times, I gave it up as I could see my streetcar thoughts were viewed as revolutionary, as though someone from Sydney had put me up to it! Regardless of all this, Melbourne has romance oozing up out of the storm drains and you have to work very hard not to have a good time there.

But for me the best was last, as we flew from Melbourne to Tasmania, and I'm here to tell you that Tasmania is about as nice as it gets. It's an island off the southern coast of mainland Australia--a big island, about the size of Ireland. Being south, it's cold much of the time. There virtually is not a freeway anywhere. All roads are two lane blacktop and they lace hills and valleys, rivers and coastlines, that reminded me of the best of the Texas Hill country. Of course, in a 30 minute drive one tends to run out of the best of the Texas hills, but Tasmania just goes on and on with one beautiful vista after another, hour after hour. Bob and I played on the north/east coast at a small town named St. Helens and there, as W. C. Fields said, they were so packed in, they couldn't laugh Ha Ha Ha, they had to laugh Ho Ho Ho! It's odd, you can hardly find an audience for jazz in Chicago and you go to the end of the earth, close to the end anyway, and here's this big red hot jazz crowd.

My long time friend Diana Allen had joined the Tasmanian leg of the tour, and the Cullum/Barnard escapades finally having ended, Cullum and Allen set off in a rented Aussie auto for a tour of Tasmania. Diana is a jazz impresario/writer from Melbourne who is seriously in pursuit of jazz wherever it hides. I first met her when she discovered The Landing in 1983.

But, in this case we weren't after more jazz, we were bent on soaking up the atmosphere and a little of the fine wine of the island. Our main destination at the other end of Tasmania was the capital, the city of Hobart. This is another very impressive and well preserved city. It's quite old by Australian standards and is situated on a picturesque harbor. It boasts the best seafood in the world.

Tasmania is best known to Americans for the Tasmanian Devil, made famous by a whirling figure in Warner Brothers' cartoons. In truth the Devil is a cute little animal, a little larger than a squirrel. They are black with a white stripe on their backs and they're called "devil" I suppose, because if one gets a hold of your hand he could mess you up pretty badly and you probably would come away cursing like the devil!

But for me, the most fascinating of all Australian animals is the Tasmanian Tiger. This animal is now almost certainly extinct, as they haven't confirmed a sighting of one since 1936. Still, people keep saying they see them now and then.

Tasmania is partially covered with "bush," as they call it. Mostly it's thick forests of eucalyptus trees. All these forests and some more huge areas of craggy, hard to explore mountains they call wilderness, could well have hidden a few remaining tigers and those of us with too much romance and imagination in our blood, like to think that they just might be out there.

The Tasmanian tiger is a marsupial as are most Australian animals. That is, they carry their young in a pouch, ala the kangaroo. But the tiger is closer to a dog in appearance and is slightly smaller than a Dalmatian, with strong kangaroo-like back haunches. It's called a "tiger" because of the tiger-like stripes across its back.

So, one day I wandered off into the bush in search of the tiger--but found him out for the afternoon. I finally had to be content with a couple of tiger museums. I bought tiger socks (socks with tiger stripes), tiger note paper and a tiger sweater that could be fitted to a tiger-like dog! Upon my subsequent and victorious return to San Antonio, I equipped my dog Peggy with this Tasmanian tiger skin and set her loose in the "bush" at the back of my garden. Photos for inspection are supplied for the non-believers among you!

Bob Barnard

Peggy with Tasmanian tiger skin

Australia is well worth the trouble it takes to get over there. Meat pies, great beer and amazingly friendly people are on every corner. The place is loaded from stem to stern with fine restaurants and quality jazz is lurking in the shadows, waiting to be discovered by addicts like me. The exchange rate makes prices low. If you go, be sure to go to Tasmania and tramp around after the tiger. If you find one, take a photo and you'll be world famous the next day!

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Davenport Blues: Bix And His Hometown

Bix

Eddie Condon was a clever man. He quipped about the boppers, "They flat their fifths, we drink ours!" When his music was criticized by French jazz writer Hughes Panassié, he shot back, "We don't tell him how to jump on a grape!"

But when he talked about Bix Beiderbecke, it was different. Eddie was one of the musicians who had played with Bix. They all were forever his disciples. Condon wrote about hearing Bix's cornet for the first time: "Beiderbecke took out a silver cornet. He put it to his lips and blew a phrase. The sound came out like a girl saying yes."

That Bix sound has been described by others as "a padded mallet striking a chime" or "like pearls falling onto velvet." The sound of Bix's horn is different. It's a "fat" sound, broader and less strident, darker and more mellow than the others. At the same time, it is not just dark and mellow. It has a hollow ring that sometimes reminds one of a bell. Often when he bears down he gets a brass edge on the top of this. It is, for me, the most beautiful musical sound I have yet encountered.

The strength of Bix's attack is a big part of his sound. He tends to tongue more notes (i.e., starting the sound by pronouncing the letter "T") than most cornet players. These tongued notes have little bursts that give the "striking-a-chime effect." Over a period of almost 80 years, players have attempted to figure out how he achieved these results. I have too. I have chased this elusive Holy Grail for my entire life as a musician. Like many other Bix-influenced players, I don't want to simply copy Bix. But I do listen to the master playing in my head, and sometimes I work to see just how fat the sound can get.

To a degree, Bix's magical tone was helped along by the equipment he used. Much of his playing was on Conn Victor cornets. All the old Conns--reeds and brass--were a little heavier and had rich tones, and the bore size of the Victor Cornets was extraordinarily large. The standard bore size for cornets and trumpets is 460 thousandths of an inch. The standard for large bore horns is 468 thousandths of an inch. The Conn Victor bore was 484 thousandths of an inch. Most modern trumpet players have never seen, or even heard of, a horn larger than 470. And, Bix mostly used an old-fashioned cornet mouthpiece that was deep and open, compared to the modern ones. This large bore and open mouthpiece would cause any cornetist to sacrifice some endurance and some upper register accessibility. The payback is an enriched tone.

From listening to his recordings, I can guess that Bix must have played with his upper and lower teeth fairly apart and his jaw relaxed. This created a larger oral cavity as if to say, "Aw." He must have had a forward embouchure that caused him to put a lot of "meat" into the mouthpiece. It sounds like he moved all this with a lot of air. You can hear his good health and vitality at work. Remember, he was only 24 or 25 years old when he did his greatest playing. No doubt he did these physical things unconsciously, because most of the sound he created was a result of the sound he heard in his head.

He had perfect pitch, and his abilities to apply it were phenomenal. In fact, it has been reported that on numerous occasions on a dare or a bet, he could turn his back and have someone bang out a big 10-note chord on the piano--with the notes in any combination. Then, starting at the bottom and going up, he would name every note in the chord. As any musician will tell you, this is an incredible and seemingly impossible feat.

Layer all this God-given talent over Bix's ringing tone and attack and you're halfway there. The rest of the story is the way he improvised--the way he strung the notes together. For Bix was among the most creative and intelligent improvisers in jazz history. Time after time, every performance was new and fresh, as he selected the most interesting notes and intervals. His work was not filled with overwhelming virtuosity. Rather it tended, upon analysis, to be perfectly composed, as though he had spent weeks playing and replaying his solos. Of course, he just tossed them off!

It is amazing that even from his teenage beginnings Bix understood and completely applied musical economy. His goal was to make every note say something. Automatic fingering patterns, full of throwaway notes, were avoided. Sometimes this approach is found in the mellowness of a mature, and therefore extra thoughtful artist. It is almost never combined with the exuberance of youth, as in Bix's playing.

In all this Bix found his unique voice. A personal stamp, instantly recognizable, is often present in the playing of the self-taught jazz musician. And Bix learned to play with countless trial and error attempts. He applied the "lick system:" Play one short pattern a few times, then another and another, in repeated variations over and over until they can be strung together in longer phrases. This was for him the easy way. Also, Bix was not under the tutelage of any professor who demanded scales and etudes. He practiced little ideas and melodies that came to him as he sat fascinated with the result of his own creativity. There were great rewards for him in this self-styled practice, so of course he spent a lot of time at it. Along the way, Bix's sheer musical intelligence made him gradually gain considerable technique. He could play fast, but was too lost in the quality of his instant new melodies to use music merely to display his technique.

A part of Bix's approach to music came from his family and hometown. It came from his boyhood. Much of the story is well known: Bix was from "the heartland," the Midwest farm state of Iowa, the small town of Davenport. His background was one of some privilege. His family lived in comfort in Davenport. He was well educated, at least through high school. He was reasonably handsome. He was white.

All of this--the safe small town, the security, the birthright, the supportive family--gave Bix the room to dream and to practice without specific requirements. In many respects it was luxury, with Bix having no hard goals except the vague one of seeing how far he could take it all.

His family was dismayed, not by his obvious musical talent or his pursuit of it, but by his fascination with a new "low class" music: jazz. Those of us who have come after Bix can easily see the quality of the great art he continues to pour out to us. But Bix's frustrated parents saw only a life of tragedy. In many ways they were right. They had taken delight in their young son's amazing ability to create a little quick music at the piano. They had given encouragement. But now, this jazz was different! There was a wildness in it, and they sensed danger. Bix's father and mother began to pull in a new direction, away from music. Bix was sent away to Lake Forest Academy, an expensive private school near Chicago. It had a reputation for producing ranks of the model citizens the Beiderbeckes wished their son to join.

But it was too late. Bix had tasted the thrill of realizing his abilities to create magnificent music on the spot; this spoke to him and those around him; it said: "Come on! This is life!" He would chase this sweetness to the end. As the years began to slide by, his family hoped against hope that he would somehow grow up and enter a life of "real work and success." They withheld any words of praise for Bix's amazing accomplishments. They turned colder as Bix chased his addictions--his addiction to creating jazz improvisation and his growing addiction to alcohol. Sadly, Agatha and Bismark Beiderbecke misunderstood their son's musical obsessions. They gave their love, which was deep and abiding, but they stubbornly withheld their approval.

One telling incident repeated through the years has become a part of the Bix mythology. As Bix rose to the top of his profession, he made about 160 recordings. It is through these recordings that we are now able to gain access to the Bix mind and the Bix music. He regularly sent copies of his finished records to his parents' home in Davenport, and it was there, during a period when he attempted to escape the horrors of advancing alcohol addiction, that he retreated.

One day he accidentally discovered all the records he had sent home. They were stored in the back of a hall closet, in their original packages--unopened. Of course, this hurt Bix deeply. Still, throughout his life Bix had great love and respect for his parents and his siblings. His letters home to them have now been published and they make obvious this love.

Bix probably would have experienced a similar pattern regardless of his parents' resistance or encouragement. He seemed to have a built-in streak of melancholy in his music and in his life. This bittersweet quality, often not noticed when one first begins listening to Bix, may be the most intriguing ingredient. For while the Beiderbecke sound is filled with joy--and it is hot and it is swinging--it often carries a subtle sadness.

Bix died in 1931. He was 28. His body was shipped back to Davenport for burial. In death he was again enfolded into the bosom of his family, and his grave is there in the dignified Beiderbecke family plot. To family members the day closed the saddest chapter of their lives. His grave is beside his mother Agatha Beiderbecke, and a marker shows her date of death as 1952.

One can't help indulging in a little fantasy: By 1952 the world had come to regard Bix as one of the towering figures of American music. As the cult of admirers grew from a clutch of jazz musicians to a small army worldwide, as Columbia Records in 1946 and 1947 re-issued his work in album form, as critics almost universally cited him as an incomparable genius, and as some highly creditable musicians began unabashedly to speak of him as one of the most inspiring figures, not just of jazz or music, but of all art, what must Agatha Beiderbecke have thought?

It is hard to imagine that she could not have finally taken great pride in her son's work, which completely eclipses all that was done by all the combined Beiderbecke clan and its progeny. She might at first have been amazed at all the fuss, but as it continued and intensified over the twenty-one years that she lived after Bix died, she knew, if nothing else, how the world clamored for her son's music.

However, as the Beiderbecke home on Grand Avenue was sold, Agatha went quietly to spend her last years at a downtown Davenport hotel and left no record of how her feelings might have changed.

The groundswell of admiration and affection for Bix has never slowed. In 1971, on the 40th anniversary of Bix's death, a group of jazz musicians traveled from New Jersey to Davenport and played over Bix's grave. This was a wake-up call to some in Davenport. The next year a Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Festival was begun there, and it has grown to be a huge annual event, drawing about ten thousand to downtown Davenport every July.

A common pattern prevails in the Bix story. It is often easier to see our great men and women from a distance, well past their lives. Bix is now a world figure. Residents of Davenport, while they often know little about the music, are now keenly aware that Bix is by far the most famous product of their city.

Bix's Grave

Jim Cullum at Bix's grave in Davenport.
Photo: Rich Johnson.

The Bix landmarks in Davenport are like shrines. Pilgrims from around the world visit. Usually, they start with Bix's grave. Then there is the Beiderbecke home on Grand Avenue, the Presbyterian church where Bix was baptized, an old upstairs school of dance where Bix played his first gig, and the high school Bix attended before his transfer to Lake Forest Academy.

Other interesting old ballrooms are there with similar claims to fame: Bix played there! There is a statue of Bix, and a major thoroughfare has been named Bix Beiderbecke Drive. Every year some 20,000 long distance runners gather in Davenport to race in Bix's name!

A Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society runs the annual festival, maintains an office and provides "Bix Lives" shirts, stickers, and buttons. The Davenport Library greets the faithful who look over a few old photographs and documents. You can even get a "Bix burger" at a popular downtown restaurant.

 

During the last 75 years, it doesn't seem there has been much economic oomph to Davenport. This must be lamented by many citizens there, but to the Bixophile it makes the place a Mecca. It mostly remains as Bix last saw it, just sitting there slowly rotting, but it's there. Street after street contains Victorian frame houses similar to the Beiderbeckes'. Even Bix's grandfather's imposing home still stands proudly on one of the Davenport hills. The central business district is largely unchanged. It is easy to picture Bix emerging there, a fresh, bright, energetic young man, his mind happily flooded with interesting melodies.

The legend continues. Around the world more people are listening to Bix each year. Every recording he made is now available on CD--even every alternate take.

It is strange that some in Davenport still lag behind the rest of the world. City fathers there, in the face of ever mounting interest in Bix and his hometown, still seem mostly disinterested and are even slow to support the annual festival. To some, Bix's music, so compelling, ranks with the greatest artistic works of history. To others it is just "some old music."

Bix's Grave

Jim Cullum at the Bix Beiderbecke home
in Davenport. Photo: Rich Johnson

But the streets and buildings of Davenport speak to the dreamer in us, just as Bix's horn very clearly speaks across the years. Many of us feel that through his music we know him personally, even though he died years before we were born.

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What About the Cornet?

Jim with cornet

There's a question I hear over and over: "Is that a cornet?" Almost always, it's followed with: "Why a cornet and not a trumpet?"

At the present time, there are quite a number of great cornetists blowing up a storm: Warren Vaché Jr., Tom Pletcher, Tommy Saunders, Randy Reinhart, Peter Ecklund, and my favorite of all, Bob Barnard. Of course there are many others.

But why the cornet?

Louis Armstrong himself, 30 years after his death, now finally acknowledged as the greatest of all contributors to jazz, showed his clear preference for the trumpet. Louis' soaring trumpet was the inspiration for all the great swing era trumpet stars. As a group, they completely dominated jazz brass playing. A list of the most famous in this camp would include Bunny Berrigan, Ziggy Elman, Hot Lips Page, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Erwin, Charlie Shavers, Billy Butterfield, and Harry James. All were serious trumpet players and serious disciples of Louis.

With the exception of Wild Bill Davison, the only well-known jazz cornet players of those days were those who were so captivated by the beautiful cornet tone of Bix Beiderbecke that they chased that elusive holy grail throughout their careers and stuck with their cornets. It was the sound that they were after. There were not many: Bobby Hackett, Maxie Kaminsky, Jimmy McPartland. A few others played the cornet from time to time, but were mostly trumpet players. Rex Stewart and Ray Nance come to mind. None were big stars, although Hackett finally sort of hit it in the 1950s with his solos on the Jackie Gleason records.

Many of us who are followers of both the Armstrong and Beiderbecke traditions end up with collections of cornets and trumpets. At one point I was carrying three gig bags around--one with a trumpet, one with a flugelhorn and one with a cornet.

In 1979, our band made its first visit to Europe where we played for a couple of festivals, including the annual Breda Festival in Holland. There I found a very high-powered flea market selling instruments at high prices. On a whim, I stopped by with my trumpet and flugelhorn and negotiated. They went on sale and were gone in an hour. I've been strictly a cornetist ever since.

My pockets lined with flea market cash, I beaded for Paris and the factory of the Courtois Company, makers of fine cornets. Courtois is the oldest instrument maker in the world, and they will proudly tell you that they made brass instruments as far back as the late 1700s (they even made instruments for Napoleon).

The Courtois factory on Rue de Nancy, Paris is quite amazing. There, about five workmen still hand-hammer bells. It is obvious that everything in the shop is quite old. As I remarked on this, the owner exclaimed, "Oh, this our new place. We moved here in 1860!" Soon I was on my way with two shiny new Courtois Cornets.

That night, my Parisian pal Pierre Atlao took me around to sit in at several "Caves" (basement jazz bistros thick with smoke--there are still some in Paris today). At the famed "Slow Club" we found the even more famed soprano saxophonist Claude Luter and his band.

As I showed off my new Courtois cornets, Luter laughed. The French brass players can't wait to get their hands on American instruments, he said while here I was in Paris chasing Courtois cornets on Rue de Nancy.

Why the cornet? It's the sound, the flexibility, and also I'd say its the magic of the Beiderbecke model.

I now have quite a collection of cornets. In a later Jazz Me News, I'll run down the list. Each comes with an interesting story.

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Lamps and Cornets

After about two years of fascinated blowing with my first cornet, I began to think of a new horn. The original had served me well--a 1910 C. Bruno and Sons model that I purchased from a San Antonio pawn shop. The negotiated price had been $7.

But now I had my eye on a new horn, as one day I walked into the C. Bruno and Sons San Antonio office and came face to face with a brand new French Besson Brevette cornet.

I had briefly met Fred Hoy, absolute ruler at C. Bruno. He was a cornet player himself. He went “mm, mm, mm” and then “yum, yum” as he studied my old horn. “You know," he said slowly, “if you like these short cornets, you should see what we just received,” and with that he whipped out the French Besson. I could only say “wow” and repeated it several times, for to this day I’ve never seen a more beautiful cornet. The story goes that Ed Sonfield, owner of Bruno, was strolling on a Paris street one day in the late 1950s when in amazement he was stopped in his tracks as a cornet lamp was grouped with other oddities in a window display at a small store. The cornet was a pre-war French Besson. Ed rushed in and purchased the lamp with the intention of scrapping the lamp portion and saving the great cornet. As the shop owner counted out the change, Ed asked “Why would anyone make a lamp out of such a great instrument?” “Oh that,” came the reply, “I have twenty-four of those cornets in the basement and can’t sell them, so I finally started making lamps. The lamps at least sell a little!”

Within another 30 minutes C. Bruno and Sons was seriously in the French Besson cornet business. The entire collection was sent to cornet virtuoso Byron Autrey at Michigan State. Byron, an expert, saw to it that all the Bessons were silver plated and that all the valves were lapped perfectly. All were large bore (467 thousandths of an inch), and many consider them among the greatest cornets of all time.

So I was off with my beautiful French Besson and it wasn’t long until, to my delight, I discovered that one of my idols, Bobby Hackett, was playing this same cornet and had used it on his famed Coast Concert recording. These cornets were beautifully engraved and silvered and each came with a case made of genuine alligator.

I would probably have been happy to play the French Besson for the rest of my days had not the Landing audience one night contained Sandy Sandberg, sales manager for the newly organized Getzen Co. of Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Sandy pushed a new Getzen cornet into my hand and bingo, I had a new lover. The Getzen’s design was influenced by a rare 1950s Conn cornet and by the French Besson, and I always thought the designer had been both smart and lucky. Getzen made up a large bore model just for me and I was a Getzen “artist” and advocate for 25 years. During all that time Getzen more or less took over what there was of the American cornet market.

Bobby Hackett

Portrait of Bobby Hackett holding his Getzen cornet. The inscription reads: "To Jim, Jr. With thanks & best wishes, Bobby Hackett."

In 1968 Bobby Hackett arrived in San Antonio to record with our band, and as he unpacked, out came a shiny Getzen cornet. Hackett had been seduced just as I had. But Hackett was fickle about cornets, and the next time I saw him he had a Benge cornet and then an Olds that had belonged to Red Nichols.

At one point, Bobby decided to go into business with some fellows who were developing a sound component store located in New York City. It was called “Bobby Hackett’s Sound Stage.” Bobby would say, “I always wanted to be in business. Come on over and see my office.” Soon, when I was in New York I went to see Bobby, who was set up with a private office at the rear of the sound component store. The investors did the work, Bobby just lent his name for a small part of the ownership. As I was shown in, Bobby rose from a large polished desk. He was in high spirits and we visited. Conversation soon turned from his new business to our mutual fascination, cornets. “I’ve gone back to the French Besson,” he said. He seemed to change about once a week.

In addition to Bobby’s desk, the only furniture in the office was a large filing cabinet. Bobby approached it and pulled on a drawer. Expecting to see a bank of traditional file folders, I did a double take for the entire cabinet was jammed with cornets, six drawers full!

I have never been as nutty as Bobby Hackett about my search for the ultimate cornet. However, I do carry the "cornetaholic" gene, and fascinating cornets seem to be out there waiting for me to chase them down odd pathways.

One evening Bruce McKinley, a friendly “bloke,” approached, giving himself away with his Australian accent. I affected a “g’day” and he gained inner circle access by identifying himself as a friend of Bob Barnard, the great Australian cornetist. Not only is Bob a great cornetist, he is, with the passing of Armstrong and Hackett, clearly the greatest jazz cornetist in the world. At least that is my strong opinion.

So, Bruce and I were off yakking, when he asked, “Do you know of any hock shops around here? I want to buy an old cornet.”

I did a fast mental geography search. “Well, there are hock shops but maybe you should try the Army Navy store. It’s located just a few blocks away and I pass it every night en route to the Landing, and hanging from the rafters are all kinds of old horns--trombones, tubas, saxophones and lots of cornets. I avoid the place like a reformed drunk avoids a bar!”

The next night he was back questioning me, “Have you ever heard of a cornet by C.G. Conn?”

“Of course, they were the greatest makers in the old days.”

“Well over at that Army Navy store they have an odd cornet by C.G. Conn.”

“What’s odd about it?” I asked.

“This one has a vertical tuning slide.”

I jumped a little. “Hey Bruce, that’s a Conn Victor--right at the top of the list. Beiderbecke played a Conn Victor! You’d better go back and grab it!”

“Oh,” he groaned, “my wife has everything planned. She wants me to take her to Austin and then to the Hill Country. I’ll be doing my best just to get back to hear one of your evening sets.”

I protested, “It’s a Conn Victor man, I’ve been looking for one all my life. Maybe I’d better go and get it, and we’ll work it out later!”

The next morning saw me casually looking over cornets at the Army Navy store and feigning disinterest in the old Conn Victor. Finally I asked, “How much for this old Conn?”

“Two hundred dollars,” came the reply.

“Sold,” I cried, no longer able to conceal my excitement.

Bruce showed up that night as I was wailing on the Victor. “I see you got the cornet,” he said, “how is it?”

“Oh Bruce, it’s a gas. I paid $200, but it’s for you. Just give me $200 and it’s yours.”

“No” he said, “you like it, you should keep it.”

We were like Alphonse and Gaston saying, “After you, no you.”

“Look Bruce,” I said, “you found it, you should take it.”

Looking a little sheepish he finally confessed, “Jim, all I’m going to do is make a lamp out of it!”

I stood back soaking in this new information. “Well in that case, I’m keeping it.”

Jim with cornet

Jim Cullum with the
Conn Victor cornet found at the Army Navy store.

The great Conn Victor set my playing off in a new direction. Its huge bore is an amazing 484 thousandths of an inch (the modern standard for cornets and trumpets is 460 thousandths of an inch). So, the Conn Victor was a different blow, as even the most extreme large bore modern horn never exceeds 470 thousands of an inch, and it took a while to get the volume of air just right.

The Conn Victor is easy to spot because of the “vertical tuning slide” Bruce spoke about. So over time, a variety of listeners noticed it and would step forward with old Conn Victor cornets that had belonged to their grandfather or someone, and had been stored in an attic for 50 years.

Generally unable to resist another Conn Victor, I gradually have amassed about twelve of them and the number is still climbing. Still, not one plays as well as the one Bruce found at the Army Navy store.

After Bruce and his wife had seen enough of the bushes and rivers of central Texas they moved on to looking at bushes and rivers in Louisiana and eventually bushed and rivered themselves all the way to New York City. Along the route Bruce had found his lamp cornet, but his forward momentum still had him keeping a sharp cornet eye out.

He was excited on the phone. “I’m in New York City and there’s a music shop that has a gold plated 1928 model Conn Victor.”

“Thanks Bruce,” I answered with a new passion in my voice, “I’ll be in New York in a couple of weeks and if it’s still there I’ll be on it.” Following Bruce’s directions I went to W. 48th Street. In those days that neighborhood was still throbbing with music stores, repair shops and teaching studios, and I always found it charming to wander around there. Usually a trumpet or trombone or two could be heard practicing from some hidden window. I found the address and climbed a steep stair to discover a world of sales and service of used instruments. The name read A. Morini, and Mr. Morini himself was holding forth with his strong immigrant Italian accent.

Finally, I started in, interrupting him as mildly as I could. “I understand that you have a gold plated Conn Victor cornet for sale.” “Well, I did have that cornet for sale for about a year until yesterday, but Wynton Marsalis, he came in and then he bought it.” Later I heard Wynton never plays the Conn and it's probably gathering dust--or maybe he’s made a lamp out of it!

After about ten Conn Victor years, fate took me to Portland, Maine to play two nights with the Portland Symphony. Carl Bradford, a trumpet player, soon to become a good friend, met me at the airport and showed me around Portland. Later, he and his wife provided oil skin slickers and we all went out to the craggy Maine coast where we sat out on the rocks and feasted on steaming Maine lobster just taken from a boiling pot. They were such splendid hosts. Naturally, when Carl asked if I’d give him a quick trumpet lesson I was pleased to comply and soon we were in his basement working on our lowest and highest notes. In the process he showed off a beautiful 1914 Buescher cornet.

Jim with cornet

Top: Pre-war French Besson cornet.
Bottom: 1914 Buescher cornet.

“Play it a little,” he said, “and let me hear how you sound on it.”

It was all innocent enough, but then I went head over heels again over another cornet. “What a horn,” I exclaimed as I handed it back, “What a horn!” Its bore size was .489, even larger than the Conn Victor. But, the Buescher wasn’t for sale, and several years passed before it arrived one day via United Parcel Service. A note was enclosed from Carl: “I’ve finally decided to play only trumpet,” it said, “the Buescher cornet bore is too large for me. If you don’t want it, send it back and I’ll make a lamp out of it.”

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Lamps and Cornets

After about two years of fascinated blowing with my first cornet, I began to think of a new horn. The original had served me well--a 1910 C. Bruno and Sons model that I purchased from a San Antonio pawn shop. The negotiated price had been $7.

But now I had my eye on a new horn, as one day I walked into the C. Bruno and Sons San Antonio office and came face to face with a brand new French Besson Brevette cornet.

I had briefly met Fred Hoy, absolute ruler at C. Bruno. He was a cornet player himself. He went “mm, mm, mm” and then “yum, yum” as he studied my old horn. “You know," he said slowly, “if you like these short cornets, you should see what we just received,” and with that he whipped out the French Besson. I could only say “wow” and repeated it several times, for to this day I’ve never seen a more beautiful cornet. The story goes that Ed Sonfield, owner of Bruno, was strolling on a Paris street one day in the late 1950s when in amazement he was stopped in his tracks as a cornet lamp was grouped with other oddities in a window display at a small store. The cornet was a pre-war French Besson. Ed rushed in and purchased the lamp with the intention of scrapping the lamp portion and saving the great cornet. As the shop owner counted out the change, Ed asked “Why would anyone make a lamp out of such a great instrument?” “Oh that,” came the reply, “I have twenty-four of those cornets in the basement and can’t sell them, so I finally started making lamps. The lamps at least sell a little!”

Within another 30 minutes C. Bruno and Sons was seriously in the French Besson cornet business. The entire collection was sent to cornet virtuoso Byron Autrey at Michigan State. Byron, an expert, saw to it that all the Bessons were silver plated and that all the valves were lapped perfectly. All were large bore (467 thousandths of an inch), and many consider them among the greatest cornets of all time.

So I was off with my beautiful French Besson and it wasn’t long until, to my delight, I discovered that one of my idols, Bobby Hackett, was playing this same cornet and had used it on his famed Coast Concert recording. These cornets were beautifully engraved and silvered and each came with a case made of genuine alligator.

I would probably have been happy to play the French Besson for the rest of my days had not the Landing audience one night contained Sandy Sandberg, sales manager for the newly organized Getzen Co. of Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Sandy pushed a new Getzen cornet into my hand and bingo, I had a new lover. The Getzen’s design was influenced by a rare 1950s Conn cornet and by the French Besson, and I always thought the designer had been both smart and lucky. Getzen made up a large bore model just for me and I was a Getzen “artist” and advocate for 25 years. During all that time Getzen more or less took over what there was of the American cornet market.

Bobby Hackett

Portrait of Bobby Hackett holding his Getzen cornet. The inscription reads: "To Jim, Jr. With thanks & best wishes, Bobby Hackett."

In 1968 Bobby Hackett arrived in San Antonio to record with our band, and as he unpacked, out came a shiny Getzen cornet. Hackett had been seduced just as I had. But Hackett was fickle about cornets, and the next time I saw him he had a Benge cornet and then an Olds that had belonged to Red Nichols.

At one point, Bobby decided to go into business with some fellows who were developing a sound component store located in New York City. It was called “Bobby Hackett’s Sound Stage.” Bobby would say, “I always wanted to be in business. Come on over and see my office.” Soon, when I was in New York I went to see Bobby, who was set up with a private office at the rear of the sound component store. The investors did the work, Bobby just lent his name for a small part of the ownership. As I was shown in, Bobby rose from a large polished desk. He was in high spirits and we visited. Conversation soon turned from his new business to our mutual fascination, cornets. “I’ve gone back to the French Besson,” he said. He seemed to change about once a week.

In addition to Bobby’s desk, the only furniture in the office was a large filing cabinet. Bobby approached it and pulled on a drawer. Expecting to see a bank of traditional file folders, I did a double take for the entire cabinet was jammed with cornets, six drawers full!

I have never been as nutty as Bobby Hackett about my search for the ultimate cornet. However, I do carry the "cornetaholic" gene, and fascinating cornets seem to be out there waiting for me to chase them down odd pathways.

One evening Bruce McKinley, a friendly “bloke,” approached, giving himself away with his Australian accent. I affected a “g’day” and he gained inner circle access by identifying himself as a friend of Bob Barnard, the great Australian cornetist. Not only is Bob a great cornetist, he is, with the passing of Armstrong and Hackett, clearly the greatest jazz cornetist in the world. At least that is my strong opinion.

So, Bruce and I were off yakking, when he asked, “Do you know of any hock shops around here? I want to buy an old cornet.”

I did a fast mental geography search. “Well, there are hock shops but maybe you should try the Army Navy store. It’s located just a few blocks away and I pass it every night en route to the Landing, and hanging from the rafters are all kinds of old horns--trombones, tubas, saxophones and lots of cornets. I avoid the place like a reformed drunk avoids a bar!”

The next night he was back questioning me, “Have you ever heard of a cornet by C.G. Conn?”

“Of course, they were the greatest makers in the old days.”

“Well over at that Army Navy store they have an odd cornet by C.G. Conn.”

“What’s odd about it?” I asked.

“This one has a vertical tuning slide.”

I jumped a little. “Hey Bruce, that’s a Conn Victor--right at the top of the list. Beiderbecke played a Conn Victor! You’d better go back and grab it!”

“Oh,” he groaned, “my wife has everything planned. She wants me to take her to Austin and then to the Hill Country. I’ll be doing my best just to get back to hear one of your evening sets.”

I protested, “It’s a Conn Victor man, I’ve been looking for one all my life. Maybe I’d better go and get it, and we’ll work it out later!”

The next morning saw me casually looking over cornets at the Army Navy store and feigning disinterest in the old Conn Victor. Finally I asked, “How much for this old Conn?”

“Two hundred dollars,” came the reply.

“Sold,” I cried, no longer able to conceal my excitement.

Bruce showed up that night as I was wailing on the Victor. “I see you got the cornet,” he said, “how is it?”

“Oh Bruce, it’s a gas. I paid $200, but it’s for you. Just give me $200 and it’s yours.”

“No” he said, “you like it, you should keep it.”

We were like Alphonse and Gaston saying, “After you, no you.”

“Look Bruce,” I said, “you found it, you should take it.”

Looking a little sheepish he finally confessed, “Jim, all I’m going to do is make a lamp out of it!”

I stood back soaking in this new information. “Well in that case, I’m keeping it.”

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Le Blog Hot - 2010

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