Like father, like son—or daughter for that matter. With a nod to Father’s Day, Riverwalk Jazz lifts a toast to ‘Jazz Daddies,’ as jazz artists tell us what it means to follow in the footsteps of their music-playing fathers. And The Jim Cullum Jazz Band performs tunes written by jazz-musician fathers for their kids.
Whether musical talent is a matter of nature or nurture, or both—jazz pianist Shelly Berg, singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli, vocalist Topsy Chapman and bandleader-cornetist Jim Cullum share their experiences of growing up under the influence of a strongly musical father.
An international star, John Pizzarelli is hailed today as a great interpreter of classic popular song and renowned for his formidable ability on the guitar. His father, Bucky Pizzarelli also a great guitarist, is still active on the worldwide jazz festival
In spite of a demanding schedule in recording studios and on the road, Bucky Pizzarelli made it a priority to spend time with his kids and wife, Ruth throughout his career. Music is a family affair for the Pizzarellis. Bucky’s son Martin plays bass in John’s Trio. And his daughter Mary studied classical guitar.
This week on Riverwalk Jazz, John and Bucky talk about their life in music and perform together on “Honeysuckle Rose” and Nat Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” a song Cole was inspired to write after hearing his father preaching in church.
When asked whether he found it daunting following in the footsteps of the legendary Bucky Pizzarelli, John said, “The guitars were free and if he had been a plumber we’d be talking about pipe-fittings right now.”
Virtuoso jazz pianist and a paradigm-shifting educator at Miami’s Frost School of Music, Shelly Berg was only eleven when he began to accompany his trumpet-playing dad Jay Berg in jam sessions at home. Berg Sr., who toured with Charlie Parker and other jazz greats, recognized the seeds of talent in his son early—and father and son frequently played together. Shelly Berg performs the challenging Fats Waller piano solo, “Valentine Stomp.”
Jim Cullum’s dad, Jim Sr. was an accomplished jazz clarinetist and
saxophonist who worked professionally in bands led by Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Dorsey and others. Growing up in Dallas, Jim recalls a “house filled with music and musicians.” After a move to San Antonio, young Jim discovered his father’s 78-rpm record collection stored in a bedroom in a big wooden chest.
Jim Cullum talks about how he found himself drawn to the bittersweet, plaintive quality of the cornet playing he heard on discs recorded by Bix Beiderbecke in the 1920s. Jim Sr. encouraged his son’s interest, bought him a cornet, and later partnered with him in founding a traditional-styled jazz band and—in 1963—The Landing jazz nightclub on the San Antonio River. Early on, Jim Jr. learned how
to recognize that ‘the good stuff’ in his father’s record collection could be identified by flat, grey grooves in the shiny shellac. These flat grooves were the outstanding solos that Jim Sr. and friends listened to over and over, standing studiously over the record player at parties. “Riverboat Shuffle” and “Singin’ the Blues” are a couple of the Beiberbecke pieces Jim plays with the Band.
Vocalist Topsy Chapman, a regular on the international jazz festival circuit, comes from a large Louisiana family that believes in ‘total immersion’ in music at an early age. Her father was a preacher born in the late 19th century, and from him Topsy received a solid grounding in traditional African-American gospel singing. She combines this experience with her own contemporary experience of great 1960s’ singers such as Aretha Franklin. Topsy demonstrates the many generations of singing styles in her large family with “This Little Light of Mine.” And Topsy joins Jim and the Band with “His Eye is On the Sparrow.”
The great Swing Era vibist Lionel Hampton told us this story about his father when
he visited us at The Landing in the early 1990s. Lionel was a little boy living in Birmingham, Alabama when World War I broke out. His father was in the Army and shipped out to France. Within weeks he was declared Missing in Action. When the news reached his mother she wrote letters to everyone she could think of to try and find out what happened—the War Department, his regiment, everyone. Although his mother kept trying, she never did find out what happened to her husband. So Lionel grew up the son of a war hero, and in time his mother re-married.
One day in 1939, after Lionel’s rise to fame playing with Benny Goodman, he got word that his father was still alive, living in a VA hospital in Dayton, Ohio. Thereafter followed a reunion with his family, a few months after which his father died peacefully in his sleep. Lionel said,
“…today I’m a little older than he was when he died. When I look in a mirror I see my father. It’s not that I resemble him, I look identical. I wish I’d had more time with him. But I’m so glad I found him after all those years.”
Photo credit for Home Page and Recent Radio Broadcast Page: Jim Cullum Sr. and Jim Cullum Jr. Photo courtesy Jim Cullum Jr.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2011