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The San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation Collection The Charles N. Huggins Project

Paul Lingle


b. Denver, CO 12/3/02 d. Honolulu, HI 10/30/62

Paul Lingle, piano

For longer than I care to remember, I tried to get Paul Lingle into a recording studio. It was in 1941 that I first heard Paul play. In those pre-War days, like many another jazz fan, I would make my pilgrimage to the Dawn Club in San Francisco to hear the great Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz Band, and the return to Los Angeles from each of the Dawn Club weekends was invariably via Santa Cruz, where Paul was then in residence. He was retired from professional piano-playing, and was working full time as a piano tuner. In some way he had become convinced that tuning pianos was a much more sensible and profitable occupation than playing.

When I would visit him in Santa Cruz, he would be most hospitable, but only after hours of repeated urging would he seat himself before the old upright (which he had rebuilt) and favor me with "Yellow Dog Blues," "Whoa Nellie," or a wild number he called "The Dance of the Witch Hazels." After each of these piano sessions, I would plead with Paul to head for the nearest recording studio. But the reply was always, "I'm not ready yet."

Paul Lingle, Hots O' Casey, Jack Minger, Turk Murphy and Squire Girsback at the Club Hangover

For years there was no moving him. Later, in 1949, when Good Time Jazz began operations, one of the first projects was to get the Lingle piano on record. Perhaps it was just our persistence, or perhaps Paul was 'ready' at last, but one day early in February 1952, we received the following communique from him: "Just a note to let you know we are leaving here [Oakland] Saturday night after work and will arrive Sunday the 10th and will call you as soon as we arrive. We will be there Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and will have to start back Thursday a.m. Thought I'd better let you know so you can arrange the studio for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Will see you soon, Paul."

It was characteristic of Paul that after a dozen years of saying no, when he finally said yes, it was for no less than three sessions! The news was greeted with amazement in the jazz circles of San Francisco, where Lingle's resistance to recording had become a legend.

Those who know his work consider Paul one of the finest of traditional jazz pianists. His playing is characterized by full use of the instrument, particularly the expressive dynamic range, from pile-driver attacks on the keyboard (he is said to be able to strike with such force as to break a hammer), to the softest pianissimos. For those who have heard him banging on cheap pianos in cheap night spots, banging to be heard above the clatter of drunks at the bar, this album reveals a new Lingle, sensitive, mature, with depths of feeling not often reached in jazz. Paul is modest and reluctant to talk about himself.

Paul Lingle as a boy at the piano

He was born in Denver, Colorado, December 3, 1902, studied piano from the age of 5, and at 12 accompanied his father, Curt Lingle, cornetist, on the Chautauqua circuit for two years. It was at the World's Fair of 1915 in San Francisco that Paul first became interested in ragtime piano. He heard Mike Bernard and Jay Roberts among others. Toward the end of the Fair he heard Jelly Roll Morton, who was working on the Barbary Coast. From then on he studied ragtime diligently, particularly the works of composers Scott Joplin, James Scott and Morton. For Paul, Morton is the greatest of them all, although he tempers this opinion by adding there are several he hasn't heard.

During 1919, following the nation-wide impact of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Paul became a 'jazz' musician, playing with small Dixieland groups in the mining and oil towns of central California. In 1920 he worked at the Del Mar club in San Francisco, at the same time King Oliver's band was playing the Pergola Ballroom on Market Street. All Paul's spare moments were spent listening and absorbing the first real New Orleans band he'd had a chance to hear. Oliver's was his favorite band then, and still is. Paul worked steadily as a band pianist during the Roaring Twenties. A few highlights of those years: in 1925 he had his own band at Lyman's Tent in Los Angeles, with Larry Shields on clarinet. In '26, he worked in Jimmy Grier's band in Balboa with the late Glenn Miller. He had his own band at Fior D’Italia in San Francisco in '28. He was pianist for Al Jolson's Sonny Boy and Mammy at Warner Brothers in 1929. During these years he also fitted in several voyages as a ship's musician.

Jam session, Paul Lingle, Hots O'Casey, Bob Scobey, Squire Girsback, Turk Murphy

At last, in the Thirties, he settled down in San Francisco as staff pianist at KPO. In the mid-Thirties he played with Al Zohn's jazz band in San Francisco. Zohn, a trumpet player, was one of the first group of San Francisco musicians (Lingle, Lu Watters, Bob Helm, Turk Murphy, etc.) who were to be largely responsible for the world-wide Great Jazz Revival of the Forties, and who fathered what has since become known as "the San Francisco style.”

Although Paul enjoys playing with a band, he worked mainly as a soloist in various nightclubs of the Bay Area since the late '30s. During these years his legend began to take shape among San Francisco jazz musicians. For all of them without exception, Turk Murphy, Wally Rose, Bob Scobey, Lu Watters, he is "the fabulous Lingle.” When Leadbelly heard him at Dugan's Cafe, he asked Paul to become his accompanist. When Bunk Johnson came to San Francisco in ’43, he became extremely friendly with Paul, and taught him many of the old New Orleans tunes.

Final Years

Paul moved to Honolulu, got married, organized a jazz band, and in 1953 opened his own studio to teach the Lingle brand of piano. Paul passed away in 1963 in Hawaii.

Liner Notes by Lester Koenig, They Tore My Playhouse Down, Good Time Jazz, GTCD-12025-2, 1953, revised 1957.