Editor, Webmaster: Phil Cartwright Editor@earlyjas.org
|In Tune -- by Bill Fuller
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contributions to Bill Fuller %Earlyjas, or
San Francisco Jazz -- Part One
A while back Phil Cartwright shared with me a two part
article by, of all people, Eddie Condon. It originally
appeared in a 1954 issue of Holiday Magazine. It
chronicled, in Eddie’s own words, his discovery of San
“…’Turk Murphy is stirring up the commotion these days, uncle,’ said Jack Crystal, one of several
brothers-in-law of the management of the Commodore Music Shop in New York City.
…‘ What does Turk do,’ I asked, ‘wrestle?’
‘ With a trombone,’ said Jack.
‘Where’s he from?’
‘That’s enough for me,’ I said, and told him how I’d got entangled with Gerry Mulligan, a kid from
California who plays fireplug (baritone sax), at the Newport Festival in the summer of ‘54 . ‘This
Mulligan played very advanced music,’ I told Jack.
….Jack explained to me that there are actually two types of California jazz: the intellectual type
played by such fellows as Shorty Rogers, the Mulligan boy, Chet Baker, old Red Norvo (traitor!) and
‘…Then’, said Jack, ‘there is San Francisco jazz as played by Turk and a few other bands.’
He put on a record and I listened.
‘…San Francisco jazz, eh?’ I said. ‘It took that music nearly forty years to get there. At this
rate San Francisco should be enjoying a pronounced mambo swell around 1994…"
Here are a few of the many tunes recorded by Turk Murphy which became associated with San
CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART-written in 1913 by Al Piandatosi, the piano player at Callahan’s
Brewery Saloon in New York City. Lyrics to this popular barroom ballad were written by Henry Fink.
The tune was later made famous by Turk Murphy on the Good Time label. Piandatosi’s popularity at
Callahan’s led directly to a waiter at competitor Mike Salter’s Pelham Café becoming a song-writer at
Mike’s urging. His name was Irving Berlin.
DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN-(1908), by Ted Morse who also wrote “Auntie Skinner’s Chicken
Dinners” (1915). Lyrics by Ed Madden. This was written during a time when there was a fad for
“jungle tunes” which were often performed in leopard skins under palm trees at rapid tempos. This
tune was used for many years as the theme of the King of the Zulus Parade that was the climax of
New Orleans Mardi Gras.
CANAL STREET BLUES- Joe ‘King’ Oliver wrote this in 1923. It’s named after the wide New Orleans
thoroughfare that divides downtown from uptown (Storyville). This tune and Oliver’s “Snake Rag”
made up the two sides of his first recording for the Gennett label on April 6,1923.
MANDY (Make Up Your Mind)-by Grant Clark and George Meyer for the score of “Dixie to
Broadway” in 1924. It was recorded by the Clarence Williams Blue Five with Louis Armstrong and
Sidney Bechet for the Okeh label in New York on December 17, 1924.
OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE – (1902), by Bob Cole and James Rosamond Johnson. This tune was a Cole-
Johnson (under the pseudonym of “Will Handy”) reworking of a folk song entitled “The Darby
Ram.” It was introduced by the minstrel George Primrose, who was the first to sing “Carry Me Back
to Old Virginny” in 1878. It was a rougher tune than most Cole-Johnson creations and it was quickly
picked up by New Orleans bands. This is probably why it appealed to Turk Murphy.
According to Condon:
“…Turk [Murphy] was nicknamed while playing on all possible teams at high school in Williams,
California. He came from a family to which music was no intruder. His grand-father had been a fiddler
for prospectors during the gold rush and also had played in the ‘Hangtown, California, Silver Cornet
Band.’ His father played cornet and drums, and at various times had bands similar to the one Turk leads
today. …Most of Turk’s energy in those [early] days was expended in and around the San Francisco
area. When the music he played for a living weighed too heavily on his nerves, he would quit for awhile
and work as a plumber or electrician.
Around 1937 he dropped into a place one night and heard a band led by a fellow named Lu Watters, who
played trumpet…. Turk was delighted to meet a blood-brother… and the two of them began to think
about organizing their kind of band.
…’The band was very carefully planned,’ Turk says. ‘We rehearsed almost every night during the last
half of 1939 at a place called the Big Bear in Berkley Hills.’ The band was called Lu Watters and the
Yerba Buena Jazz Band. Yerba Buena, Turk explained to me, was the original name of San Francisco.
In December of 1939 they opened at the Dawn Club, located in Annie Alley…. To say that the band and
its music was a sensation would be like saying Marilyn Monroe will do.
…For a time, San Francisco was like Chicago in the twenties, when jazz first came up from New
Orleans,.,,Bands were springing up all over. World War II put the Yerba Buena Band in drydock for a
time, but… the boys reopened at the Dawn Club in 1946 and a year later started their own place:
Here are a few more tunes associated with San Francisco and West Coast jazz:
BIG BEAR STOMP – (1944), by Lu Watters, who also wrote “Sage Hen Strut.” This tune was named
after the Berkley, California roadhouse where Murphy and Watters formed the Yerba Buena Jazz Band.
WILLIE THE WEEPER – was written in 1927 by Walter Melrose and Marty Bloom who also wrote
“Melancholy Blues.” If you listen closely you’ll hear the melodic forerunner of Cab Calloway’s
“Minnie the Moocher.”
(Editor’s note: I’ve just acquired a copy of a 1920 sheet called ‘Willie the Peeper’, compliments of
Audrey VanDyke of the PRJC. It is a voyeuristic tune, and it is the forerunner of ‘Willie the Weeper’!
The 1927 verse is a ‘carbon copy’ of the 1920 melody!!)
NEW ORLEANS STOMP – written in 1922 or ’23 by Alphonse Picou who sent this tune to King
Oliver in Chicago. Oliver recorded the number for Columbia in 1923. It was later recorded by Johnny
Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers in 1927 with Louis Armstrong and Earl “Fatha” Hines.
PEORIA – by Harry Woods who also wrote “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover,” and “What a
Little Moonlight Can Do.”
STORYVILLE BLUES – (1917), Maceo Pinkard gets the credit for this tune under the name “Those
Draftin’ Blues,” but this melody can be traced back to Tom Turpin in 1887. The “Storyville” title was
bestowed on it by New Orleans trumpeter Bunk Johnson. It is sometimes known as “Bienville
Blues,” a name given to it by Lu Watters. Bienville was another name for the Storyville district in
Eddie Condon started out as a banjo player but switched to 4 string guitar when the big band era
embraced the guitar in the 1930’s . By most accounts, Condon was not a soloist on guitar; rather, he
was a solid rhythm player. His forte, though, was organizing and keeping good musicians together,
hustling jobs, fronting the bands, and drinking bourbon.
He will forever be associated with what is known as the ‘Chicago Style’ of traditional jazz even
though much of his career was spent in New York.
He was known for his quips and humor. Here are a few that I found in various places:
“The boppers flat their fifths. We consume ours.”
“Ted Lewis could make the clarinet talk. What it said was ‘put me back in the case!’”
“Paul Desmond sounds like a female alcoholic.”
“Krupa’s drums went through us like a triple bourbon.”
“Someday we may have as many followers as the harpsichord.”