Watters, Lu(cious)

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Watters, Lu(cious)

Watters, Lu(cious), jazz revivalist trumpeter, leader, arranger; b. Santa Cruz, Calif., Dec. 19, 1911; d. Santa Rosa, Calif., Nov. 5, 1989. His powerful trumpet playing helped spark generations of revival bands dedicated to the sounds of early jazz. He formed his first band as a youth in 1925; worked as a ship’s musician during vacations from high school and college; played with various bands in Calif, during the 1930s, including a long spell with Carol Lofner. In the late 1930s he led his own big band at Sweet’s Ballroom in Oakland. After becoming dissatisfied with swing he began seeking new sources of inspiration, which he found in the music of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and other 1920s recordings. His new small band began in 1939 with a residency at the Big Bear in Berkeley Hills; he later set up a cooperative nightclub of his own, the Dawn Club on Annie Street in San Francisco. The band’s 1939 residency there launched the first jazz “revival,” recreating the classic New Orleans style. His band was soon called the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, and such stars of the revival genre as Turk Murphy, Bob Scobey, and Clancy Hayes passed through. The Yerba Buena Band first recorded on Watters’s 30th birthday in 1941. He led the band until December 1950, except for a period of Navy service during World War II, where he led his own Navy Band. While he was in the service, musicians from the Yerba Buena participated in the Bunk Johnson sessions (1943-44) which were held at a Longshoreman’s Hall and sponsored by the Hot Jazz Society of San Francisco. Once he returned from the war, Watters resumed where he had left off and by 1946 was recording the Yerba Buena in venues like the Avalon Ballroom in order to get an authentic dance hall sound. In 1950 he retired from music to study geology and pursue his favorite hobby, the collection and study of gemstones. He later reunited his band for a short while before retiring from music in the late 1950s; though he recorded again in 1964 and played powerfully. He composed the jazz numbers “Big Bear Stomp” and “Emperor Norton’s Hunch” and the piano rag “The Villain.” His arrangements of vintage New Orleans-style tunes are still extremely popular with repertory groups. Murphy and Scobey went on to form groups of their own, making the Yerba Buena important not only for its own sake but also as an incubator for further developments of the revival sound. Today, bands like the South Frisco Jazz Band, Jacques Gauthe’s Creole Rice Yerba Buena Jazz Band, and the High Society Jazz Band of Paris attest to the enduring influence of Watters’s contributions.


On the Air (1941-46); Complete Good Time Jazz Recordings (1941); Dawn Club Favorites (1946); San Francisco Style, Vols. I, 2, 3 (1946); Lu Watters Jazz (1951); Originals and Ragtime (1954); Stomps, etc. and the Blues (1954); Dixieland Jamboree (1956); Together Again (1963); Blues over Bodega (1964).

—John Chilton, Who’s Who of Jazz/Music Master Jazz and Blues Catalogue/Lewis Porter