Bucktown Then and Now – Getting Started! Part II

by Van Young

Part Two of Getting Started!

Feel free to go back to our 8th issue if you haven’t read Part One of Getting Started.

The popularity of jazz at that time was due to a lot of radio jazz shows, hometown Dixieland bands, traveling jazz bands, etc. On Sunday nights Stud and I found a high hill (for better reception) and listened to two New Orleans jazz shows. Stud went to New Orleans in ’51 and I made it in ’52. The French Quarter had as many as 20 bands playing in their region in those years. That’s why I saved some dollars and headed back after high school graduation.

I “discovered” the Dukes of Dixieland one evening at home on the Horace Heidt show. To win on that show added a lot of prestige to a band. Horace Heidt invited them to tour with his show for a few weeks but the brothers declined. Frank and Freddie were teens then but when they arrived back in New Orleans, it didn’t take long for them to find a Bourbon Street venue: The Famous Door! I mentioned Wild Bill Davison and Duke Ellington as being my jazz favorites but I should add the Dukes to that list.

It didn’t take long to become totally involved with jazz. Around 1949, we started planning our own Dixieland band. Fortunately, one good friend, John Hausman, played a very fine banjo. Jerry Pierce made his own “tub” bass and the darned thing worked fine. We talked to another classmate, Jo Rotzein, into playing piano. She also had a backup when she couldn’t make our gigs: Dick Carson, a preacher’s son, and he played the backup on several occasions. Don Mitchell, who played trumpet, said he would give it a try. We also had a backup trumpeter, Bob Patengale. Stud Boyer bought a set of Slingerland drums and I played slide trombone. You might notice that we had a good lineup with one exception….no reed. Once in a while we had one of our teachers set in on clarinet but it was rare. (We had two teachers who were fine reed players in the dance band!)

Stud often had several nicknames. I called him Stud so since we’re discussing two Dons, I’ll stay with Stud for Don Boyer. When Stud’s grandma wasn’t napping, we would try to learn new trad tunes. Don checked the beat and I looked for the key and the melody. We had no sheet music so we simply memorized the melody. Sometimes, when we were practicing, we played along with a record cut several times to master it. The tunes we learned and played included trad tunes like Mama Don’t Allow, Saints, The Glory of Love, Making Whoopee, South, Chinatown, Do You Know What It Means, and Basin Street. We had others but I’m lucky to remember the ones I just listed. When she was available, Sara Marrs did a good job with the vocals. We usually played for our “fans” on Sunday afternoons and we almost always had a crowd! We made a 78 recording about 70 years ago and, yes, I still have it and I do enjoy listening to my friends blaring away at Saints.

When I first played the melody for our trumpeter, Don Mitchell, he asked what he was supposed to do that [A1] makes it sound jazzy and I responded: “fool around with the melody and feel it!“ The band rarely rehearsed so the gig was usually also a rehearsal! We played mainly in Michigan, especially in our town, Buchanan, and at nearby Clear Lake Pavilion. Several of our friends asked us to play in their homes. We usually played in the p.m. on Sundays but we also would play a set at dances where our high school dance band played. Our last get-together was the late spring of 1961 at Diamond Lake, near Cassopolis. We managed to finish playing just as a May blizzard hit!

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