By Hal Smith
DARNELL HOWARD, clarinet
b. 7/25/95, Chicago, IL d. 10/2/66, San Francisco, CA
Darnell Howard learned to play violin as well as reed instruments, and joined W.C. Handy’s Orchestra, on violin, at the age of 22. In the early 1920s, he also played with Charles Elgar’s Orchestra in Chicago and toured overseas with James P. Johnson.
In Chicago, Howard played with Carroll Dickerson, Erskine Tate, and King Oliver. He recorded with King Oliver and also with Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. Howard joined Earl Hines’ Orchestra in 1933 and recorded many outstanding solos on clarinet and also a hot violin chorus on “Cavernism,” which was an inspiration to Duke Ellington’s cornetist/violinst Ray Nance.
Howard’s livelihood was not affected by the New Orleans Revival until he received an invitation to work with Kid Ory, whose career had just been resuscitated. Howard traveled to Los Angeles where he played at various clubs with Ory and also recorded with him for the Crescent label. After a brief stint with Ory, Howard returned to Chicago. He played a few engagements with Bunk Johnson, who was passing through town, and also played with Don Ewell for the first time. Later, Howard and Ewell worked together at the Bee Hive, where Jack Teagarden, Lee Wiley and others sat in on occasion.
In 1950, Howard joined Muggsy Spanier’s Jazz Band. Spanier received an invitation to bring the group to California for an engagement at Club Hangover soon after Howard became the band’s clarinetist. Their initial appearance was a smash, and a return engagement was booked. Howard made the most of his time in the Bay Area, sitting in with the Yerba Buena Jazz Band and playing sessions at Jenny Lind Hall in Oakland with Bob Scobey’s fledgling band. This group recorded for Jazzman in 1950 as Darnell Howard’s Frisco Footwarmers, with Jack Buck, Burt Bales, Clancy Hayes, Squire Girsback, and Gordon Edwards.
Howard was still living in Chicago in the early ‘50s. He played across the U.S. and Canada with Spanier, and freelanced between tours, including a regular engagement at the Hunt Club in Suburban Chicago with The Salty Dogs. This was a young band, greatly influenced by the records of Lu Watters, Turk Murphy, and Bob Scobey. Howard’s clarinet style had a tremendous influence on a young musician, Kim Cusack, who would eventually become the Salty Dogs’ regular clarinetist.
When the Spanier band returned to Club Hangover in 1953, Howard was still in the lineup. However, he left the band in the spring of that year. Shortly thereafter, Howard’s old boss, Earl Hines, opened at Club Hangover with his Esquire All-Stars. The Hangover’s owner, 'Doc' Daugherty, asked Hines to reformat his group to play Dixieland. Hines acquiesced, and Darnell Howard was recruited to play clarinet. He stayed with Hines for seven years, while also taking part in several notable recording sessions with Don Ewell, Pops Foster, Barbara Dane, and Kid Ory. When Hines and Daugherty had a disagreement concerning the musicians’ pay, the band left Club Hangover and played a short stint at the Black Sheep Club in San Francisco. Hines’ band also traveled to Chicago and an engagement at the Bird House, which was recorded for Riverside. During that trip, Howard and Pops Foster made additional recordings with Alberta Hunter and Lil Hardin for Riverside, and Howard also recorded with trombonist Al Wynn.
After Hines’ band broke up, Howard stayed in San Francisco and played with a variety of groups at scattered venues around the Bay Area. Notable engagements from this period include Ralph Gleason’s “Jazz Casual” television program, with Muggsy Spanier’s band (Spanier, Howard, Bob Mielke, Joe Sullivan, Pops Foster, Earl Watkins), a trio with banjoist Elmer Snowden and bassist Pops Foster as an intermission act at Earthquake McGoon’s, and a pickup band at LaVal’s in Berkeley, led by humorist/trombonist Mal Sharpe.(On one of these occasions, Sharpe secretly taped Howard, Amos White, and Pops Foster for a gag. The result is one of the funniest recordings Sharpe ever made). Darnell Howard’s last job was a 1966 European tour with the New Orleans All-Stars (Alvin Alcorn, Jimmy Archey, Alton Purnell, Pops Foster, Cie’ Frazier, and British trumpeter Keith Smith). After returning to San Francisco, Howard became ill and passed away on Oct. 2, 1966.
LISTEN—Audio Samples from the Collection
To listen, click on an image below. When the audio player opens, click on the Play Button (arrow) in the top left corner of the screen.
- Audio 1: Yerba Buena Jazz Band, Hambone Kelly's 1950-04-30 Start: 9:23. See See Rider; Big Butter & Egg Man; Black & Blue; Shake That Thing
- Audio 2: Elmer Snowden Trio - Intermission at Earthquake McGoon's (n.d.) Start 0:26 Sister Kate; Basin Street Blues
Additional Bay Area Recordings by Darnell Howard
Barbara Dane: Trouble In Mind (with P.T. Stanton, Bob Mielke, Don Ewell, Pops Foster, Bill Young) San Francisco Records M 33014Music to Listen to Don Ewell By (with Ewell, Minor Hall) Good Time Jazz CD 12021Don Ewell: Man Here Plays Fine Piano (with Ewell, Minor Hall, Pops Foster) Good Time Jazz CD 10043Don Ewell: Free And Easy (with Ewell, Hall, Foster) Good Time Jazz CD 10046Earl 'Fatha' Hines Featuring Muggsy Spanier: Live in San Francisco, 1957 Grammercy Jazz 388Earl Hines All-Stars Featuring Muggsy Spanier: Live at Club Hangover, San Francisco Apr. – May 1957 Acrobat ADD CD 3174 (two CD set)Earl Hines Dixieland All-Stars: Live Broadcasts From the Hangover Club in San Francisco 1955 Storyville STCD 6036Earl 'Fatha' Hines All-Stars: Live at the Black Sheep, San Francisco 1961 Acrobat ADD CD 3075 (two CD set)Earl 'Fatha' Hines Live at the Crescendo GNP Crescendo GNPD 9054Earl Hines/Muggsy Spanier All Stars: The Chicago Dates Storyville STCD 6037
Note: There is some duplication of material between the CDs listed above. Though Storyville STCD 6037 and GNP Crescendo 9054 indicate different venues, all the tracks were recorded at Club Hangover. The GNP CD is labeled Vol. 2, but there is no Vol. 1 in existence.
Kid Ory: The Original Jazz/Dance With Kid Ory Or Just Listen/Kid Ory In Europe Upbeat URCD 259 (two CD set)
Kid Ory: Song Of The Wanderer/Dance With Kid Ory Or Just Listen Upbeat URCD 241 (two CD set)
Kid Ory: The Kid From New Orleans/Kid Ory In Europe/Red Allen, Kid Ory and Jack Teagarden At Newport Upbeat URCD 236
Note: Dance With Kid Ory Or Just Listen, The Kid From New Orleans, The Original Jazz and Song Of The Wanderer are the sessions on which Darnell Howard participated. They are also included on The Complete Kid Ory Verve Sessions – Mosaic 189 (8 CD set; out of print).
Bob Scobey’s Frisco Jazz Band: The Scobey Story, Vol. 1 Good Time Jazz L 12032
The Unheard Bob Scobey and his Frisco Jazz Band 1950 – 1957 GHB BCD 285
Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtime Band: Live at Club Hangover Apr. – May 1953 Acrobat ADD CD3095 (two CD set)
Muggsy Spanier and his Dixieland All Stars at Club Hangover, San Francisco 1953-54 Storyville STCD 6033
Note: There may be duplication of material between the last two CDs listed above.
Note: Tracks 1-4 come from the television program described in the text, above. The remainder of the performances are piano solos by Joe Sullivan, from a different “Jazz Casual” program.
Chilton, John: Who’s Who Of Jazz. Chilton Book Co., Philadelphia, 1970
Collinson, John and Kramer, Eugene: The Jazz Odyssey of Don Ewell. Storyville Press, Essex, U.K., 1991
Hayakawa, Dr. S.I.: Liner notes to Don Ewell: Man Here Plays Fine Piano Good Time Jazz 10043, 1961
Koenig, Lester: Liner notes to Music To Listen To Don Ewell By Good Time Jazz 12021, 1957
Lucas, John 'Jax': Liner notes to Don Ewell: Free And Easy Good Time Jazz 10046, 1962
Whyatt, Bert: Muggsy Spanier: The Lonesome Road. Jazzology Press, New Orleans, 1995
AUTHOR'S CONVERSATIONS AND CORRESPONDENCE REGARDING DARNELL HOWARD
Baker, Clint (musician); Carter, Nick and Jean (fans); Chace, Frank (musician); Cusack, Kim (musician); Helm, Bob (musician); Jones, Wayne (musician); Karner, Dick (musician); Mielke, Bob (musician); Murphy, Turk (musician); Schumm, Andy (musician); Simmen, Johnny (writer); Skjelbred, Ray (musician)