Lu Watters

One of the main leaders of the New Orleans jazz revival and still an influential force on today’s trad bands, trumpeter Lu Watters (1911-1989) was championing the music of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong during a period of time when swing was considered king.

Watters was a bandleader as early as 1925 but he spent most of the 1930s playing in San Francisco, leading his own obscure swing band for a period. By 1939 he was working on putting together a revival jazz band. With trombonist Turk Murphy, fellow trumpeter Bob Scobey, and pianist Wally Rose as key members, Watters formed the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, playing regularly at the Dawn Club in San Francisco. In 1941 they started making records and the band had a big following within a short time.

Due to World War II, the Yerba Buena Jazz Band took a few years off, with Watters serving in the Navy during 1942-1945. In 1946, however the band came back together and built on its prior success, sounding looser and more original within the context of 1920s jazz. After the group shifted its home base to Hambone Kelly’s in El Cerrito, Scobey and Murphy departed to form their own bands, which weakened the group a little, despite the rising prominence of Clancy Hayes’s vocals. When business started to slip in the fall of 1950, Watters decided to call it quits. In future years he worked as a cook and a geologist, not picking up his trumpet again until 1963. At that time a utility company in Northern California looked as if it was going to build a nuclear power plant on an earthquake fault. Watters played at a couple of protest rallies, recording one final record before he permanently retired.

All of the recordings by the original Yerba Buena Jazz Band are on the four-CD box The Complete Good Time Jazz Recordings. Individual sets taken from these dates are also available: 1942 Series, Vol. 1: Dawn Club Favorites, Vol. 2: Watters’ Original & Ragtime, Vol. 3: Stomps, etc. & The Blues, and On the Air while the 1963 date (which is not in the box) is available as Blues Over Bodega.