Salty Dogs: Longest Running Jazz Band, Now In Its 62nd Year!
By Bob Koester
The oldest band in jazz is playing at Andy’s on Wednesday nights. The Original Salty Dogs play traditional jazz, from Oliver and Moton through Lu Watters and Turk Murphy. Amazingly, two of the original members are still alive and playing.
Today, the term “traditional jazz” is being applied to just about anything prior to the avant garde. My use of the word, from the British, refers to the music that was first heard outside New Orleans in the nineteen-teens and twenties. Insufficient attention is paid to this scene, perhaps because there have been some awful “Dixieland” bands.
But if it’s okay to listen to avant garde (now more than fifty years on the scene), bop (sixty-five years old), or swing (seventy-five-plus years old) why is the slightly older style unfit for today’s jazz audience? So let me talk about a really good trad group.
The best trad-men don’t transcribe classic twenties recordings and read them off. They immerse themselves in the music and their playing becomes totally personal! The guys in the Salty Dogs play their own stuff!
A hope for the future of trad is that the crowd at Andy’s is multi-racial during the Salty Dogs’ sets. When rising young trumpeter Andy Shum sat in recently, a group of middle-aged black businessmen commented on Shum’s interest in Bix. A much younger “gang-looking” kid at the bar was heard to exclaim, “I love this Dixieland stuff!”
In 1947, trumpeter Birch Smith and fellow students at Purdue University organized a club for listening to and discussing jazz. Carl Zeisser (who had played intermissions at Eddie Condon’s club in New York) played piano one night and other students started sitting in with him.
Dick Mushlitz (“Mush”), a banjo-player, had been a member of the club from the start, and is more or less co-founder of the group. Thus was born a trad band called the Jazz Society, then the Peerless Jazz Band (on-campus) and the Salty Dogs (off-campus). Sometimes they were the West Lafayette Philharmonic Sextet––a tribute to their sense of humor.
One night Birch was playing some records for clarinetist Ted Bielefeld. On the Art Hodes’ Blue Note record, “Salty Dog,” someone hollered, “Oh, you Salty Dog!” They both instantly decided on the new name. (Papa Charlie Jackson had performed the tune on a recording with the great New Orleans trumpeter Freddy Keppard, a reissue of which Birch had.)
Mush, who supplied much of this info, joined the Navy after college then moved to the East Coast. Bielefeld moved to Yellow Springs and became a member of Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings. Birch Smith left the band when he graduated, but rejoined after he came to Chicago to work at the Museum of Science and Industry.
Smith recorded Natty Dominique (with Frank Chace, Floyd O’Brien, Lil Armstrong, Israel Crosby and Baby Dodds), Little Brother Montgomery, Mama Yancey and Don Ewell in the mid-fifties for his Windin’ Ball label (reactivated recently) and still plays with various groups in the Bay Area.
After graduation the band members moved to the Chicago area where they have been based ever since. For years there was a campus Salty Dogs at Purdue, one of which recorded for Audiophile Records. So the earlier group changed their name to the Original Salty Dogs. One of their better gigs was at the legendary Blue Note at Madison and Clark Street.
They were to include ex-King Oliver clarinetist Darnell Howard, then a regular member of the band (with Franz Jackson sometimes alternating). Howard, however, went to California to join Earl Hines, so Frank Chace took his place. Birch said there was some resistance to Chace’s “bitchy” Chicago-style clarinet.
Other spots they played included the legendary Red Arrow in Stickney, the Hunt Club and its descendent, Fitzgerald’s, and a year-plus job at Sloppy Joe’s at Dearborn and Hubbard. Now they’re just east of there on Wednesday nights in Andy’s 5:30 slot.
I should mention here that jobs for trad outfits are now scarce enough that many of the best musicians also work with other bands between gigs with their regular band. So if you catch the Red Rose Ragtime Band, the West End Jazz Band you’ll encounter a Dog or two. Sadly the days of long-term multi-night gigs for any jazz musician from any style seem over.
Lew Green (cornet, trumpet), related to the Green Brothers novelty band of the twenties, played in the campus band, as did Tom Bartlett (trombone), then joined the Originals. Lew now divides his time between Norwalk, Connecticut and Tampa, Florida, and appears whenever the gig can support the plane fare.
John Cooper ‘s piano has been heard in the band since he joined the campus band in 1953 and went with the Originals when they left the campus. Cooper recalls the tour with Phyllis Diller: “She told us to leave the stage after our intro tunes, and return when she said a key word so we’d be ready for the finale, and to laugh at the gags. But after hearing the jokes, Wayne didn’t have to fake it.”
Jim Snyder, who’d been in the band in the early fifties, again took over the trombone slot in 1958. He had a day job in Toronto later and was replaced by Jim Beebe, and later Roy Lang, for a long-term job at Sloppy Joe’s. Snyder returned and played with the band until he died in 2003.
Tom Bartlett worked in the campus band in 1959. In 1964 to ‘66 he went into the Peace Corps in Chile where he played in Jazz Eros, a salsa band: “Some of the guys had Kid Ory records, so we added Dixieland to the repertoire.” Then he was drafted and sent to Panama where he hooked up with a lieutenant-colonel named Dan Lord where we played trad.
Lord later led the Rosy O’Grady band in Orlando. Bartlett got out and rejoined the Salty Dogs in 1969 at Sloppy Joe’s, replacing Bill Hanck, Jim Beebe or Roy Lang, and has been with them ever since. He now teaches English to Latino students at a Waukegan elementary school, and is also an art teacher. He published The Family Scrapbook of the Salty Dogs when he operated a print shop in Lombard.
Kim Cusack was in Chuck Chesnel’s excellent Chicago Stompers, who played the Red Arrow and then the Blue Dahlia on North Avenue five nights a week: “One night the boss said, ‘You’re bringing in too many people––I can’t serve the drinks fast enough!’
So he cut us to a trio. Mike Walbridge was in that band and that was my connection to the Salty Dogs who gave me a call to play a date in St. Charles and I’ve played with them ever since. I replaced Frank Chace when he went to work with Marty Grosz at the Gaslight Key Club. More recently I also worked with Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings (with George Brunis and Wild Bill Davison), the Red Rose Ragtime Band, Ernie Carson, Ted Butterman’s Chicago Cubs band.
From 1968 to 1975, I moved to Saugatuck, Michigan and operated a motel. Bob Skiver and/or Frank Chace would sometimes sub for me with the Dogs at Sloppy Joe’s. I’m currently also with the Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band out of San Francisco. Schulz from Wisconsin, had a band called the Riverboat Ramblers and I’d sub occasionally.”
Wayne Jones grew up in West Lafayette and was present at the first public-invited assemblage of the Salty Dogs: two cornets, a neophyte trombonist and no clarinet. In fact, in high school he was a fan of the band. He has been the drummer since the summer of 1959. His subtle style is a pleasant exception to the loud dynamics of most trad drummers, reminiscent of Baby Dodds: “Over the years, Kim and I have found ourselves working in a lot of bands.”
Mike Walbridge began as a trumpet player at Hinsdale Central High School: “They needed a tuba player so Mr. Kuhns taught me.” Mike first heard the Dogs on a Sunday afternoon in 1956 at Lyons Township High School in La Grange: “I was blown away. I knew Kim from the school band. Some friends took me to the Red Arrow where I heard the Franz Jackson band. Bill Oldham would leave the tuba on the stand for me to use with the Chicago Stompers, which included Jim Dapogny on piano. Wayne Jones played in that band after Glenn Koch left.
So four future Dogs came out of that band.” After the Stompers, Mike went with Lil Armstrong’s group at the Red Arrow and was requested by Albert Nicholas for his 1959 septet session for Delmark in the company of Art Hodes, Floyd O’Brien and Martry Grosz. He joined the Salty Dogs after he got out of the army in 1960 or ‘61. Except for a few gigs with Turk Murphy he’s been in the Dogs ever since, with other jobs with the West End Jazz Band and Bob Schulz’ Frisco Jazz Band.
Jim Dapogny knew Kim Cusack in high school, played piano with the Chicago Stompers in 1958 and ‘59. He started with the band on valve trombone, switched to slide and cornet. He also did some arranging for the Clancy Hayes Delmark sessions.
He moved to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1966 where he has taught ever since, in spite of his retirement after forty years. He formed James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, which toured forty-four states.
They accompanied blues-great Sippie Wallace for seven years including a tour with Bonnie Raitt. He is also involved with the Phil Ogleby’s Rhythm Kings a.k.a. PORK––ten pieces that play hot dance thru swing. He also restored to “performable” James P. Johnson’s operas De Organizer (with a libretto by Langston Hughes) and The Dreamy Kid (libretto by Eugene O’Neil), which involved extensive research and reconstruction.
recorded at the Library of Congress (in the same room as Jelly) the Piano Music of Jelly Roll Morton for the Smithsonian label. The Institution’s Press has published his Collected Piano Music of Jelly Roll Morton. He worked with the Dogs recently in Muskegon.
Eddie Davis is from Lafayette and was in the band before he moved to New York in 1963 where he runs the Woody Allen Band, which appeared in the film Wild Man Blues. Bob Sundstrom replaced Davis, moved to Rhode Island in 1969, works with the Black Eagle Jazz Band and others in the region.
Jack Kuncl came into the Dogs in the summer of 1969 after playing in a side gig with Cusack/Walbridge’s Chicago Footwarrners at John’s Buffet and Rene’s Lounge in the western suburbs. He took over the banjo chair when Sundstrom left during the Sloppy Joe’s engagement and has been with the band ever since. He was a printer during the day.
Jim Dosa, originally from the Cleveland area, has been a temp for Cooper. A music theorist by training, he got his masters and Ph.D degrees at Northwestern. His dissertation was an analysis of Zez Confrey’s music. He toured Germany twice with the Royal Blue Tinkertoy Dixieland Band.
When Lew Green moved to New York the band needed a good trumpet for local jobs. Bob Neighbor more than filled the bill. Bunny Berigan’s “I Can’t Get Started” turned him onto the trumpet when he was in second grade in Oakland. Later he encountered an old trumpet, which his father replaced with a new one.
He studied privately and then majored in music at UC/Berkeley, then orchestral playing in the Bay area and gigged with various trad bands, including the Bay City Jazz Band, spent four years with Turk (1962-66), and then eighteen years with Bob Mielke, including playing at Oakland A’s games. He moved to Chicago when his graphic design firm promoted him in 1987 and worked a lot with Jim Beebe before joining the Chicago Salty Dogs. Unfortunately for Chicagoans he moved to Vermont to be with his family. Wayne remembered seeing him with Turk on one of Ralph J. Gleason’s TV shows, Jazz Casual.
In 1960, trumpeter Ted Butterman (who heads the trad band at Cubs games) accompanied comedian Phyllis Diller and used mostly Salty Dogs (Kim Cusack, John Cooper, Mike Walbridge, Wayne Jones) on a three-month tour of Illinois. Carol Leigh, who sat in at Sloppy Joe’s, became a regular from 1974.
Clancy Hayes was working at the Plugged Nickel on Wells Street with a pick-up band. Wayne Jones ran into me and suggested that Delmark record Hayes with the Salty Dogs. This was the Dogs’ first commercial recording session. (There had been some limited editions sponsored by Purdue.) The Salty Dogs have since recorded for Jazzology’s GHB label, Stomp Off, Blackbird, Australian Jazz’n’Jazz, and Delmark (including an album featuring Franz Jackson).
THE FUTURE OF TRAD?
As of late, trad jazz activity has been a closely guarded secret in the jazz press. Perhaps it’s just because jazz journalists tend to be more interested in recent developments, but another factor may that most originators of the early styles have passed away. But did bop die with Bird? Will avant garde die? Even swing is still okay with young musicians. Contrapuntal improvised ensemble has returned to jazz, in the avant garde, so there may be hope. Of course, the Salty Dogs are no longer young men. But they have attracted the attention of some young guys.
Because the leader and trumpet of the Dogs, Lou Green, lives in New York and Tampa, the groups use the name Chicago Salty Dogs when they play the local gigs that can’t afford a plane ticket. As at their current 5:00 Wednesday night slot at Andy’s, they have not had a regular trumpet-player since the departure of the amazingly wonderful Bob Neighbor. But some excellent trumpeters have been sitting in.
One of the best is Andy Schumm who comes from Milwaukee, thankfully often. Andy knows his twenties stuff and works in a Wisconsin band named after Jabbo Smith’s recording group, the Rhythm Aces. Between his love for Jabbo and Bix, he plays a very interesting if complicated line that is evolving into a very personal style.
Besides the Dogs, two other excellent trad groups are active. There’s Mike Bezin’s West End Jazz Band and the Red Rose Ragtime Band. To enable these leaders to include the best musicians on each instrument there is some intermixing of personnel. But each group has their own approach to the music.
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