Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band

Yerba Buena Jazz Band at 1942 recording session in studio
Yerba Buena Jazz Band at 1942 recording session in studio
Yerba Buena Jazz Band at Dawn Club with KYA mic
Yerba Buena Jazz Band at Dawn Club with KYA mic
Yerba Buena Jazz Band at Hambone Kelly's with dancers
Yerba Buena Jazz Band at Hambone Kelly's with dancers

The Yerba Buena Jazz Band was formed around 1938 and performed until 1950. Led by trumpeter Lu Watters, the band was the primary force behind the West Coast portion of the Great Revival.

Lu Watters, trombonist Turk Murphy, and reed player Bob Helm met while on the road touring with diverse swing bands and discovered a shared love of 1920s hot jazz as played by King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Morton and other pioneering jazz musicians.

All three were avid record collectors as well as composers and arrangers, and after jam sessions at the Big Bear Tavern near Berkeley, California, where they honed their skills and developed new material, they moved to downtown San Francisco and began performing as Lu Watter's Yerba Buena Jazz Band at the Dawn Club.

In the photo of a 1942 recording session, on the right in the control booth you can see David Stuart, owner of the Jazz Man record shop and label. Stuart was first to capture the YBJB. His Jazz Man recordings helped bring the group to national attention and were a key element of the Great Revival.

During the war years, the Wartime YBJB continued with substitute players filling in for Watters, Murphy, Helm, and others, who all were active in the military.

After the war, the band re-formed under Watters and continued to record, perform and broadcast with great success.

In 1947 the band relocated across the bay to Hambone Kelly's in El Cerrito, California, outside Oakland.

The club had financial difficulties, Murphy and other key players left in 1948, and on January 1, 1951 the club closed, the band broke up, and Lu Watters retired from playing.

BRASS

LU WATTERS, Leader (Cornet, Trumpet)

TURK MURPHY (Trombone)

BOB SCOBEY (Trumpet)

REEDS

BOB HELM (Clarinet)

ELLIS HORNE (Clarinet)

RHYTHM - Banjo

CLANCY HAYES (Banjo & Vocals)


Turk Murphy scrapbook 1945-51
Turk Murphy scrapbook 1945-51

HARRY MORDECAI

(Banjo) Born San Francisco, June 30, 1918, went to Fairfax Grammar School in Marin County, later to Tamalpais High School where he met pianist Burt Bales (who was “dead aim with a sling shot”). Played harmonica duets with Bales, learned ukelele, then took banjo and guitar lessons from local teachers. Played guitar in the Tamalpais High School orchestra. Quit high school and joined the Musicians Union. In 1938 moved to San Francisco. Interest in classical jazz developed via record collecting: Armstrong's Hot Five, Jelly Roll Morton, and early blues singers. Through record collecting met Lu Watters, who had complete King Oliver, Morton & Armstrong collection. Played a few jobs with Watters in 1940. Later, during war years, played various dime grind jobs with Bill Dart, Danny Alguire (of the - Firehouse Five), Bales, Dick Lammi. When the YBJB reformed in 1946, Mordecai held down the banjo chair. Left jazz in 1949, got married, and took job at the Naval Air Station in Alameda as an electrician and instrument man. In his spare time studies Spanish guitar (classical and Flamenco) and seven string lute.

— Lester Koenig, liner notes on Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band, The San Francisco Style: Vol. 3 (Good Time Jazz 12003).

RHYTHM - Drums

RHYTHM - Piano

RHYTHM - Tuba/String Bass

Publicity photograph of Squire Girsback, during his time with Louis Armstrong
Publicity photograph of Squire Girsback, during his time with Louis Armstrong.
Photograph from Dawn Club with Gordon "Gramps" Edwards, Pat Patton, Squire Girsback
Photograph from Dawn Club with Gordon "Gramps" Edwards, Pat Patton, Squire Girsback.
Paul Lingle, Hots O' Casey, Bob Scobey, Turk Murphy and Squire Girsback at the Club Hangover
Paul Lingle, Hots O' Casey, Bob Scobey, Turk Murphy and Squire Girsback at the Club Hangover.

SQUIRE GIRSBACK

William "Squire" Girsback (1913 - 1983) is primarily known as a string bassist, with Louis Armstrong's All Stars, Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band, Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, the El Dorado Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Jazz Band, Magnolia Jazz Band and others.

However, he was also one of the greatest San Francisco brass bassists playing sousaphone, rather than tuba.

Girsback was associated with Watters, Scobey and Bob Helm in the Sweets Ballroom Orchestra in the late '30s and was a frequent sub for Dick Lammi throughout the existence of the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, including their second recording date, March 29, 1942, and the YBJB recordings with Bunk Johnson, from 1943.

On the Johnson session, and subsequent dates with Bob Scobey and Turk Murphy, Girsback doubled, demonstrating not only his superb string bass playing, but his strutting, jaunty style on sousaphone.

Some good examples of Squire Girsback's great sousaphone work include "Ace In The Hole" with Bunk Johnson, "Wang Wang Blues" by Alexander's Jazz Band, "Irish Black Bottom" with Turk Murphy, and "Pretty Baby" with Bob Scobey.

Girsback played sousaphone infrequently, concentrating on string bass during most of the '50s, '60s and '70s. He returned to the brass bass after a crippling stroke in the early '80s.

— Hal Smith