The classic two-cornet South Frisco appeared at festivals and concerts, c. 1979-95. This new
page offers recordings presented in cooperation with
former members, their followers and enthusiasts. A growing archive
presents exceptional performances selected from concert tapes, rare and
unpublished or out-of-print sources.
This page under construction. Additional content, photos and music are forthcoming.
South Frisco Jazz Band was among the finest ensembles dedicated to keeping alive the sound of Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz Band. South Frisco had a strong commitment to ensemble sound and jazz performance style prior to 1930, the ‘real and righteous’ sounds associated with Jelly Roll Morton, the small Louis Armstrong groups of the Twenties, and King Oliver’s band.
Like their model Yerba Buena Jazz Band, South Frisco style was modeled on the classic King Oliver Creole Jazz Band: a two-cornet front line, Johnny Dodds-style clarinet; tuba and banjo ‘two beat’ rhythm and ragtime-influenced piano reflect the Watters influence. South Frisco built a worldwide fan base, recorded a dozen and a half albums, and appeared to acclaim at jazz festivals worldwide.
The South Frisco name is a tribute to the San Francisco jazz of Lu Watters and Turk Murphy, transplanted to Southern California. Originally an Orange County area band, it re-formed as a Watters-style ensemble in its classic two-cornet form in the late 1970s. Because the musicians resided across the US, the band convened only for festival appearances, concerts, overseas travel and recording sessions.
They aspired to high standards of authenticity and musicianship. Like their inspiration the Watters band, South Frisco was one loud ensemble, to which I can testify having recorded them myself. The sheer physical force and dynamic impact of this ensemble is hard to convey in words or recordings.
Vince Saunders led and guided South Frisco from its inception in 1956. A dedicated follower of Lu Watters and Turk Murphy, he is a superb rhythm banjo player and a good singer. Vince is a relaxed and pleasant master of ceremonies onstage . . . plus he’s as modest and unassuming a guy as you’d ever hope to meet.
South Frisco Jazz Band, Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee, 1989 Guest Bob Helm, clarinet and tenor sax Recorded by Dave Radlauer
Cornet player Leon Oakley was among the finest musicians performing Traditional and Classic Jazz in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century. Oakley joined South Frisco in 1979 bringing his flawless technique, exciting improvisational ideas, commitment to ensemble sound, and ease in a wide range of musical styles. An attention-grabbing personal voice of distinction and polish, Leon’s intensity smolders in performances of “Marie,” “Broken Promises” and “Jones Law Blues.”
Oakley was deeply involved in behind-the-scenes organizing of recordings, events and jazz projects of all kinds. He’s comfortable in a wide range of styles and formats: combos, large swing orchestras or the ‘real and righteous’ sounds of classic jazz.
New December, 2016
South Frisco Jazz Band Indian Wells Jazz Festival Indian Wells, CA 12.29.91
A founding member of South Frisco, Mike Baird has long been considered a foremost interpreter of the Johnny Dodds clarinet style. Like Bob Helm and Ellis Horne in Yerba Buena, he managed to carry a tasteful reed part poised against a great deal of brass. Versatile and talented Baird also plays alto and soprano saxophone.
Hanzehof, Zutphen, May 1988
Leon Oakley comments: "These are good recordings. SFJB was in top form . . . the band is hot! I think this needs to become a CD package. The live recording guy did a great job."
Jim Snyder was one of the great jazz trombone players of the revival, or any jazz era. Based in the Chicago area, he was very popular as part of the Original Salty Dogs and other groups. A top session player for Stomp Off Records, Snyder was second to none playing the gutty Frisco tailgate trombone style best exemplified by Turk Murphy and heard on “Trombone Rag” (written by Murphy) and “Marie.”
Robbie Rhodes was unparalleled at emulating and resynthesizing the Wally Rose band piano manner. Like Wally, Robbie lent a strong ragtime flavor to the band. His style and cadence brought a unique sparkle and energy: Rhodes was as integral to South Frisco just as Rose was to Yerba Buena. Like Wally, Robbie was often featured playing solo piano rags like Scott Joplin’s “Easy Winners,” or in a trio setting with Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp.”
Robbie Rhodes Sketched in action by Joe Mathieu
South Frisco Jazz Band Canadian Club, May 21, 1988 Apeldoorn, Holland
Bob Raggio provided percussion via his washboard, augmented with a woodblock, cowbell and tiny finger cymbal. A highly knowledgeable jazz record collector, Raggio was with South Frisco almost from the beginning in 1964, except during a seven-year stint at Disneyland.
His deft touch with an emphasis on wood blocks is reminiscent of Bill Dart in Yerba Buena. According to Hal Smith, “he played two washboards fastened together since he played so hard that the surface on the top board wore out quickly.”
Heard on a few sessions, Bob Helm was frequently a special guest and collaborator with South Frisco in concert, on records and on numberless occasions. He was a brilliant, distinctive and original voice in Frisco jazz, best known for his key role in Yerba Buena Jazz Band, Watters’ famed Hambone Kelly’s venture, and many (intermittent) years with Turk Murphy.
A living link to Watters’ Yerba Buena, Helm was a deeply loved musician and personality. He was widely regarded as dean of the Frisco revival and possibly its best all around musician: the most imaginative and fun to play with, a bold and daring soloist.
Over the decades Helm was welcomed in numberless bands, ensembles, concerts, recording sessions, jams, gigs, festivals, and special events worldwide. His sharp historical memory, clear insights and dry wit made him a popular entertaining interview subject.
South Frisco Repertorie
The unofficial moniker of Yerba Buena Jazz Band was the result of a newspaper article referring to the members of the band as the “Minstrels of Annie Street:" #20 Annie St. was the storied Frisco location for the Dawn Club on an alley off Market Street next to the Palace Hotel intermittently between 1940-46.
“Sage Hen Strut” was written by Watters in 1944. Its title refers to both the female sage grouse unique to the North America plains, and in this context “The Famous Grouse,” a remarkable and legendary Scotch whiskey. And Sage Hen Strut was title of the 1987 South Frisco album Stomp Off 1143.
Lil Hardin Armstrong composed “Perdido Street Blues.” It celebrates the 19th Century African American Bamboula dances described as a ‘ring-shout shuffle’ led by a drummer striking a large bass drum with a beef shank bone. The odd metric count under the clarinet duet of Mike Baird and Bob Helm is aimed at recreating the Bamboula’s stamping, chanting rhythm. http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3bmbla1.htm
“Marie” was generally associated with swing music and was a huge hit for Tommy Dorsey. Played by South Frisco it’s a reminder that just about any song can be adapted to classic jazz performance style.
“Jones Law Blues” is a magnificent realization of a Benny Moten/Bill Basie chart. The heavyweight slam of this ensemble is visceral, as Leon Oakley ventures out on the high wire for a keyed-up solo. Jones Law Blues was also title of their 1985 record, Stomp Off 1103.
South Frisco’s “Mabel’s Dream” is every bit the King Oliver favorite in modern stereo.
This page under construction. Additional content, photos and music forthcoming.