By Hal Smith
Ellis Horne, reeds
b. California 6/6/15 d. 1995
Ellis Horne is almost a forgotten man in the history of the Great Revival. Although he was one of the original members of the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, his contributions to the San Francisco Style have unfortunately been overlooked.
Horne was a native Californian, although a story persists that he immigrated to the Golden State from the United Kingdom. He began playing music at an early age and was playing professionally by the time he was in high school.
Horne played with a variety of dance bands, theater bands, and studio groups until Lu Watters invited him to a rehearsal of the Yerba Buena Jazz Band.
Bob Helm, the original YBJB clarinetist, quit the band when he saw Horne at the rehearsal. Horne wound up as the Yerba Buena clarinetist, and was with the band when they began regular appearances at the Dawn Club.
In the early days of the band, they still played popular songs of the day and Horne doubled on tenor sax. In a photo of the band broadcasting from the club, part of his tenor sax is visible.
There is also an acetate of the band playing “Two Hearts That Pass In The Night,” a popular song of the day, with Horne on tenor playing a pleasing, Eddie Miller-like style. However, Watters soon abandoned the popular songs and concentrated on the classic jazz repertoire.
The YBJB, with Horne in tow, recorded their first session for Jazz Man in December, 1941 and a second session in March, 1942.
Ellis Horne’s sound on the prewar Yerba Buena records and broadcasts is almost delicate. It is possible to hear the influences of Johnny Dodds, Leon Roppolo, and Larry Shields, although Horne did not directly copy them.
However, Horne continued to play with the wartime Yerba Buena band at the Dawn Club for several months in 1942. A transcription of the band with the marvelous trumpeter Benny Strickler features Horne and Bob Helm on clarinets. Both sound wonderful, in the ensembles and solos.
Bunk's New Orleans Style
After the Dawn Club engagement ended for the duration of the war, Horne was part of the Hot Seven, the ensemble led by the legendary New Orleans trumpeter Bunk Johnson, who was temporarily living in San Francisco.
The Hot Seven, with Bill Bardin on trombone, Pat Patton on banjo, Squire Girsback on bass and tuba, joined by numerous temporary pianists and drummers, played concerts at C.I.O. Hall in San Francisco. Horne later said that “Bunk was the best musician I ever worked with.” Trombonist Bill Bardin recalled that Ellis Horne was the first of the Yerba Buena musicians to catch on to Bunk’s New Orleans style.
Ellis got it straight away and understood what Bunk was doing. His playing improved almost overnight. He was way ahead of the rest of us.
Horne’s clarinet work on the 1943 recordings with Bunk is similar to what he played with the Yerba Buena band in tone and overall sound, but his rhythmic approach is much freer. When Johnson returned to Louisiana, Horne led a trio at Dugan’s in Emeryville with Walter Claudius on piano and Harry Green on drums.
After World War II, when Lu Watters and the Yerba Buena Jazz Band returned to the Dawn Club, Bob Helm was on clarinet. Ellis Horne then spent the rest of his musical career freelancing and filling in as a substitute with many of the Bay Area’s best jazz bands.
After hearing Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band, Horne recalled, “That changed my life forever!” He became more interested in New Orleans style, especially clarinetist George Lewis, and his playing loosened up even more.
Photo credit: Copyright© Ray Avery Photo Archives/CTSIMAGES. Used with permission. All rights are reserved to CTSIMAGES
After 1946 and until his death in 1995, Horne had plenty of work. He played engagements with bands led by Turk Murphy, Bob Scobey, Burt Bales, Bill Dart, Clancy Hayes, Kid Ory, Bob Mielke, Dick Oxtot, Devon Harkins, and also with the Bay City Jazz Band, El Dorado Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Jazz Band, Golden State Jazz Band, and the Magnolia Jazz Band.
Though most of his work was with traditional jazz groups, he occasionally played clarinet and tenor sax in dime-a-dance joints and with commercial orchestras led by Anson Weeks and Carmen Cavallero. Horne’s sound changed even more, adding laid-back Lester Young phrases to own ideas.
Ellis Horne was not a forceful or showy clarinetist. He did not play cascades of notes, but he played from the heart with a pleasant, full sound and imagination, both in ensembles and solos. He deserves to be much better known.
Note about Personnel
The archive contains a copy of this tape featuring two clarinets with Turk Murphy's Jazz Band. Originally from Turk Murphy's own collection, it was labeled "Beverly Cavern, April, 1952" with Darnell Howard listed as the second clarinetist and Don Ewell as the pianist. SFTJF Curator Hal Smith believes that the venue is either the Italian Village or the Tin Angel in San Francisco; the date is 1955; and the second clarinetist is Ellis Horne. Bob Helm, the other clarinetist heard on the session, left the Murphy band before that group's cross-country tour in 1955, and was replaced by Ellis Horne. Smith believes that Horne was sitting in with Turk Murphy's band to rehearse the repertoire for the upcoming tour, while Bob Helm was working out his notice. Don Ewell is definitely the pianist on this session. He also joined Turk Murphy's Jazz Band just before the 1955 tour, but is not known to have worked with the band prior to that time.
Sidney Bechet with Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band: Dixieland Jubilee Vogue EP 7073 (Vinyl 7” EP; out of print).
Clancy Hayes: Satchel Of Song San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation CD 108
Bunk & Lu Good Time Jazz GTCD-12024-2
Bunk Johnson in San Francisco American Music CD 16
Bob Scobey: The Scobey Story vol. 2 CD L 12033 – 2 *
The Odd Brilliance Of P.T. Stanton Vol. 1: Bob Mielke And The Bearcats At The Lark’s Club 1955 Grammercy Records
Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band: Airshots From The Dawn Club Merry Makers CD 16
Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band Vol. 1 1937 – 1943 San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation CD 105
Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band: The Complete Good Time Jazz Recordings (4 CDs) 4GTJCD 4409-2
* George Probert, who played clarinet and soprano sax on many of the Scobey recordings of the early ‘50s, claimed that Ellis Horne was the clarinetist on “Huggin’ And A -Chalkin’.” Horne may also be present on other Scobey recordings from 1953.
Clute, Peter; Goggin, Jim: The Great Jazz Revival. San Rafael, CA., 1994. Donna Ewald Publishing.
Ginell, Cary: Hot Jazz For Sale: Hollywood’s Jazz Man Record Shop. Los Angeles, Self-published, 2010.
Elwood, Philip: Liner notes in booklet accompanying Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band – The Complete Good Time Jazz Recordings. Fantasy Records, 1993.
Goggin, Jim: Some Jazz Friends, Vol. 2. Victoria, B.C., Canada. 2006, Trafford Publishing Co.
Goggin, Jim: Turk Murphy: Just For The Record. San Leandro, CA., 1982. San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation.
Hazeldine, Mike and Martyn, Barry: Bunk Johnson: Song of the Wanderer. Jazzology Press, New Orleans, 2000.
Koenig, Lester: Liner notes to Bunk & Lu, Good Time Jazz L – 12024, 1957.
Koenig, Lester: Original 1954 liner notes reprinted in booklet accompanying Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band – The Complete Good Time Jazz Recordings. Fantasy Records, 1993.
Leigh, James: Heaven on the Side: A Jazz Life. Los Angeles, CA, 2000 XLibris Books.
Various articles in Bunk Information, published by the Swedish Bunk Johnson Society -
Winton, Mal: Ellis Horne: Cream of the White Clarinetists. The Discographical Society
Conversations With the Writer Regarding Ellis Horne
Burt Bales, Bill Bardin, Bill Carroll, Bill Dart, K.O. Eckland, Everett Farey, Richard Hadlock, Bob Helm, Fred Higuera, Ellis Horne, Jim Leigh, Bob Mielke, Turk Murphy, Dick Oxtot, George Probert, Ray Skjelbred.