Copyright 2016-2020 by Richard J. Ballard -- All Rights Reserved.
Saint Louis Missouri has a river city jazz rich musical heritage, and four local University music departments each feature a jazz program. Saint Louis also hosts a number of music clubs and several recording studios, making Saint Louis a rewarding environment for aspiring musicians perfecting their craft.
This webpage originated as a Listmania List that I provided to Amazon.com in 2005; a lot has changed since 2005. During The Great Recession, Saint Louis lost its two annual music free festivals, a number of music clubs closed their doors, and several regularly-performing musicians have left the Saint Louis music scene. In reconstructing this information, whenever possible I have provided contact information for Saint Louis current musicians.
Author William Howland Kenney's c2005 scholarly book addresses a big subject: the evolution of jazz along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Saint Louis plays a pivotal role because Saint Louis-based Streckfus Steamers, Inc. spread riverboat jazz throughout the river valley and also provided reliable employment possibilities for aspiring musicians. As the railroads siphoned cargo traffic from packet boats, the Streckfus family purchased unprofitable packet boats and converted them to excursion boats, complete with chair-filled upper decks from which to watch the river pass, and with live bands and with wooden large dance floors where passengers could dance to hot dance music. Streckfus' riverboat jazz was New Orleans jazz detempoed to a cadence suitable for genteel dancing, with an occasional waltz added for good measure. The excursion boats provided passengers with a four-hour-long visit to Mark Twain's romantic river kingdom.
For decades Fate Marable led the most famous of the Streckfus hot dance bands, developing musical skills and professionalism within his musical hires. His growing reputation helped Marable locate the best river city musicians, and he taught them the expectations of riverboat jazz performance, including the ability to sight-read sheet music. The Streckfus riverboats served as a school and stepping stone for many jazz musicians, but the curriculum sometimes was controversial. Louis Armstrong played three years on Streckfus steamboats before moving on to Chicago, but Louis Armstrong resisted learning to sight-read sheet music because he believed that sight-reading would hobble his improvisations. Author Kenney also discusses the career of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke of Davenport Iowa, the career of pianist Jess Stacy of Cape Girardeau Missouri, and depicts the music cultures in Memphis Tennessee and in Cincinnati Ohio. Author Kenney attributes the maturation of jazz piano to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
The riverboat jazz business dwindled in the mid-Twentieth Century. Plagued by safety concerns, wooden-hulled excursion boats were replaced by fewer, costlier steel-hulled excursion boats. And general availability of private automobiles, air conditioning and television dimmed the appeal of excursion boats and riverboat jazz.
Packed with historic photographs, author Dennis Owlsley's c2006 history contains encyclopedic detail; sometimes its performance discussions read like baseball past World Series reviews. Owlsley's major contribution IMO is explaining Saint Louis jazz's evolution: the downtown and Metro East clubs, the Streckfus Steamer Company riverboats on the Saint Louis riverfront, Gaslight Square, the midtown clubs, the DeBaliviere Strip, and the Black Artists Group's Artists in Residence program. Except for Grand Center's Sheldon Concert Hall and Jazz At The Bistro, comparable jazz Saint Louis venues no longer exist. Saint Louis has a jazz great history, and to be a jazz musician from Saint Louis is a great reputation, but Owlsley documents that musicians in Saint Louis continually struggle to find work.
Reminiscences about the 1960s rise and fall of Saint Louis's Bohemian entertainment district. Worthwhile References section.
A c2002 history of the University City Loop business district and its attractions, plus a 21st Century picture of its merchants and their favorite recipes.
Scott Joplin invented the musical form Ragtime while playing piano in St. Louis. Scott Joplin's Saint Louis home is a historical landmark.
During his career Louis Armstrong periodically played St. Louis area clubs.
Miles Davis grew up in East Saint Louis, Illinois. His early career was in the Saint Louis area.
Tina and Ike Turner's careers began in East Saint Louis, Illinois.
St. Louis to Liverpool is a collection of (IMO) Chuck Berry's bluesier hits -- good liner notes. The Anthology is a comprehensive anthology of Chuck's music; Chuck Berry calls Saint Louis (i.e., Wentzville) home but most of these selections were recorded in Chicago. In retirement Chuck occasionally performed at the Blueberry Hill tavern in the University City Loop. Chuck Berry passed away in 2017.
Willie Akins helped define the best in Saint Louis jazz. Willie Akins passed away in 2015.
YouTube video links:
Willie Akins performs with his quartet in 2011 at the Artists' Quarter in St Paul, MN
Willie Akins performs Ask Me Now with his quartet in 2011 at the Artists' Quarter in St Paul, MN
Ptah Williams is a remarkable pianist, adept performing all music styles either solo, occasionally accompanying Saint Louis vocalist Tony Viviano, performing in combo at Jazz At The Bistro or in his combo regular performances at The Dark Room. Ptah's rare talent is evident in his recordings, but people must view his performances to truly appreciate his showmanship. Ptah maintains a music website.
YouTube Video Links:
Ptah Williams performs in 1994 at the Sheldon Concert Hall
The Ptah Williams Trio performs in 2012
Ptah Williams performs in 2012 at the University City Jazz Festival
Ptah Williams performs in 2015 at Washington University's Holmes Lounge [1 hr. 40 min.]
A relaxed yet intense guitarist, Dave Black teaches at Webster University's Music Department and records with Wildstone Media. In the past Dave performed with Saint Louis vocalist Tony Viviano at Patrick's at Westport.
Vince Varvel teaches guitar in Washington University's Music Department. A versatile jazz guitarist and composer, Vince occasionally performs in combo at The Dark Room, and Vince maintains a music website.
YouTube Video Links
Vesna Delevska, Vince Varvel and Eric Stiller in 2011 perform Spontaneous Creation Of Art & Music
The Vince Varvel Trio performs Summertime in 2011 at Kinda Blue
Vincent Varvel performs with the St. Louis Chamber Project in 2013
The Vince Varvel Trio performs All The Things You Are in 2013 at Kinda Blue
Formerly a faculty member in Webster University's Music Department, Tom Kennedy is known for dazzling technique and improvisation. Tom performs on the East Coast and maintains a music website.
Rick Haydon is a faculty member in SIU Edwardsville's Music Department. Rick performs in the Saint Louis area and maintains a music website.
The Soulard Blues Band has been a Saint Louis blues tradition since 1978. Another album, Live In Stuttgart, no longer appears in the catalogs. The band performs regularly at The Broadway Oyster Bar and maintains a music website.
YouTube Video Links:
The Soulard Blues Band performs You Know I Love You Baby in 2008 at BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups
The Soulard Blues Band performs Papa's Got A Brand New Bag in 2010 at KDHX
The Soulard Blues Band performs Show Me and Hoochie Coochie Man in 2010 at The Broadway Oyster Bar
The Uncle Albert band formerly performed energetic blues and jazz (with a hint of baroque harpsichord). Today the band is somewhat fragmented, but various combos perform both in Missouri and Illinois with regular performances at Hammerstone's in Saint Louis's Soulard neighborhood, and the band maintains a music website.
YouTube video links:
Brian Curran performs Guitar Rag in 2010 at KDHX
Brian Curran performs Walkin' Blues in 2014 at the Moonshine Blues Bar, St. Charles MO
Brian Curran performs Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down in 2014 at the Moonshine Blues Bar, St. Charles MO
Brian Curran performs Highway 61 Blues in 2014
Leroy Jodie Pierson performs regularly at BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups.
YouTube video links:
Leroy Pierson, Ron Edwards and John Erblich perform Highway 61 Blues in 2014
Leroy Pierson, Ron Edwards and John Erblich perform Key To The Highway in 2014
Leroy Pierson, Ron Edwards and John Erblich perform Easy Rider Blues in 2014
The Bottoms Up Blues Gang (BUBG) features vocalist Kari Liston and guitarist Jeremy Segel-Moss performing with a gang of outstanding Saint Louis musicians -- always a good show. Another BUBG album, 2nd Set, does not appear in the catalogs and features a first selection recorded on genuine simulated vinyl. The BUBG (and sometimes Jeremy as a solo guitarist) currently perform at The Broadway Oyster Bar and at The Venice Cafe. The BUBG maintains a music website.
YouTube video links:
The Bottoms Up Blues Gang performs Left Me Wanting More in 2009 at KDHX
The Bottoms Up Blues Gang performs Drown In My Own Tears in 2012 at The Venice Cafe
The Bottoms Up Blues Gang performs South Broadway Blues in 2012 at The Venice Cafe
The Bottoms Up Blues Gang performs Meet Me Out Back in 2013 at the Blues City Deli
YouTube (multiple) video link:
Erin Bode performs Don't Take Your Time in 2007
Elsie Parker and The Poor People Of Paris specialize in French popular music and jazz, and regularly perform in Saint Louis area clubs. The group maintains a music website.
YouTube (multiple) video link:
Elsie Parker & The Poor People of Paris perform The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in 2011 at The Jacoby Art Center in Alton IL
William Lenihan (guitar and accordion, also piano) is Director Of Jazz Performance for Washington University's Music Department. Mr. Lenihan also performs locally with Elsie Parker and the Poor People Of Paris. During an August 2004 academic sabbatical to Scordia Italy, Mr. Lenihan joined with Antonio Figura (piano), Alberto Amato (bass) and Marco Barsanti (drums) in recording this avant-garde jazz album. The Cyclo group no longer maintains their music website.
The Ralph Butler Band is a Saint Louis perennial favorite, and maintains a music website.
Swing Set performs some of the best songs from the 1930s and 1940s jazz era, augmented by their own humorous selections. Swing Set performed recently at the Sheldon Concert Hall.
The Bob Kuban Band is a Saint Louis big band tradition. Bob maintains a music website.
The Rockhouse Ramblers play old-school country as well as original selections. The Rockhouse Ramblers performed at Off Broadway.
Supe and the Sandwiches performed and recorded in Springfield MO. Supe maintains a music website.
Katy Moffatt has recorded in Saint Louis Missouri and Alton Illinois clubs. Katy maintains a music website.
Uncle Tupelo was a Belleville Illinois country band that disbanded in 1994. An Uncle Tupelo fan website still endures.
Sheryl Crow reputedly taught in the Saint Louis area during her early career.
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's songs [e.g., Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me) and East St. Louis Toodle-Oo] indicate that they know the Saint Louis area. My Shine On, Citizen Steely Dan! webpage discusses Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's music.
The 26 member (German) Ensemble Modern performs Frank Zappa's almost humanly impossible to play avant garde compositions. An impressive monument for a musician who began by craving Top 40 Radio success. Saint Louis relevant selections: Times Beach II and Times Beach III. My Frank Zappa's Endless Play webpage discusses Frank Zappa's music.
Finally, several Honorable Mentions:
The Seldom Home bluegrass band has disbanded; I enjoyed their performances. Band member Gen Obata maintains a webpage discussing the band's history and music.
The Jeff Lash Trio no longer performs regularly; I enjoyed their performances. MP3 samples of their music are available for free download on Jeff's music webpage.
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