Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Cullum, Jim (James Allen Jr.)

Cornetist and bandleader Jim Cullum was born in 1941 in San Antonio, Texas,where he taught himself to play a cornet he found in a pawn shop at age 14. His father Jim Cullum, Sr, played clarinet, and moved the family to Dallas, where he had worked with trombonist Jack Teagarden and saxophonist Jimmy Dorsey.

Cullum’s musical education began at an early age, as he browsed through his father’s records of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Later, he listened to and learned from King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Yank Lawson, and Bobby Hackett.

“Before I ever touched a musical instrument of any kind, I had listened to so much Bix that I had, without trying, memorized quite a number of his solos,” said Cullum. “And, to my father’s surprise, I was able to hum and whistle the tunes.”

In high school, he organized post-game dance bands. In 1962, while a student at San Antonio’s Trinity University, he and his father formed a seven-piece group called The Happy Jazz Band, dedicated to the traditional style. Jim, Sr. died in 1973, leaving a legacy in Jim Jr.’s musicianship and dedication to the preservation of classic jazz.

Under the leadership of Jim Jr., the band has evolved into a classic jazz ensemble known to audiences around the world as The Jim Cullum Jazz Band. The band’s repertoire extends from the cakewalks of the19th century cakewalks, through the music of W.C. Handy, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Louis Armstrong, and George Gershwin, and also original compositions.

Jazz critic Stanley Dance, writing in The International Jazz Journal, said, “The Jim Cullum Jazz Band is the best traditional jazz band in the country, possibly the world.”

In 1963, a group of San Antonio business leaders established The Landing, a jazz club on the San Antonio River Walk, as a home for The Happy Jazz Band. When the band first performed there, Jack Teagarden sent a congratulatory telegram, which hangs on the wall in the club, along with many historic photos, including one of the band playing for Louis Armstrong.

45 years old in 2008, The Landing is one of the oldest jazz clubs in the U.S., and well known to fans as one of the best places in the world to hear live acoustic classic jazz.

In 1989, Cullum created a public radio series, Riverwalk, Live From The Landing, with Margaret Pick, the co-founder of A Prairie Home Companion. Jim hoped a nationally broadcast show would share the history of classic jazz and its contributions to American culture with a large audience.

Produced by Pacific Vista Productions for Texas Public Radio, the hour-long program is broadcast every week, and distributed by PRI, Public Radio International, to 153 public radio stations throughout the United States and Canada. One hundred and sixty-two public radio station websites stream Riverwalk Jazz on their websites, and the weekly program is streamed on demand via the Riverwalk Jazz website.

Riverwalk Jazz is the only ongoing broadcast series that documents the early history of America’s classical music. Each hour-long broadcast features The Jim Cullum Jazz Band performing with living legends of jazz, as well as younger jazz artists. Each program focuses on the contribution of a particular composer, or era, in jazz history, bringing these individuals and their music to life through archival tapes intertwined with live performances. Guest artists share their knowledge and demonstrate the evolution of jazz styles. In addition, jazz luminaries offer insights and anecdotes in interviews with Grammy award-winning host David Holt. The broadcasts are recorded before live audiences at The Landing and other venues.

The show’s digital archive preserves more than 250 hours of live jazz performances by past and present jazz masters, as well as their stories about the music and their lives.

Cullum and his band have performed on broadcasts with Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, Clark Terry, Sweets Edison, Doc Cheatham, Carol Woods, Milt Hinton, Joe Williams, Turk Murphy, Doc Severinsen, Bobby Hackett, Billy Butterfield, Yank Lawson, and Don Albert. Actors including Eli Wallach and William Warfield have also portrayed characters in jazz history on the broadcasts.

Since 1993, Jim has served n faculty of the Stanford Jazz Festival and Workshop. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band and Riverwalk, Live From The Landing have formed a partnership with the YMCA of San Antonio and the Hill Country to develop a jazz music program for use in the YMCA after-school enrichment programs in San Antonio elementary schools. Riverwalk Jazz Education Outreach features The Jim Cullum Jazz Band teaching 3rd-5th graders to play jazz, and introduces them to the history of jazz.

Albums and Appearances

Fifty record albums and a repertoire of over 1000 musical arrangements

Jazz festivals throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Australia

Performed in Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and Wolff Trap

Performed over 200 Jazz Masses at churches of various denominations including Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

A CD entitled Deep River: The Spirit of Gospel Music in Jazz containing many of the hymns and spirituals presented on the Riverwalk Jazz radio series was released in 1998

Film debut in the ZapPictures film, Still Breathing with Brendan Fraser in 1996

Provided three tracks for 20th Century Fox film The Newton Boys with Mathew McConaughey in 1998

Compositions and Transcriptions

Porgy and Bess, a jazz transcription of George Gershwin’s folk opera, was produced by Jim Cullum, Jr. and premiered in San Antonio in 1985 under the sponsorship of the late patrons of the arts, Margaret Batts Tobin and her son Robert Tobin.

This work was released on CD on Columbia Masterworks label in 1987. In 1989, actor William Warfield began touring with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band as narrator in the band’s concert presentation of Porgy and Bess and in the Riverwalk Jazz radio broadcasts.

In 1995, Jim Cullum collaborated with band members on an Original Jazz Transcription of the Kern-Hammerstein musical, Show Boat, for Riverwalk Jazz radio broadcasts with William Warfield as narrator, and the presentation was added to The Jim Cullum Jazz Band touring schedule.

Playing With Fire, a 3-movement concerto for jazz band and orchestra, was composed by Jim Cullum and Frank Tichell, and premiered with the San Antonio Symphony in 1992. The piece has been well-received by audiences throughout the country, including at performances with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Contributor: Tim Wilkins, based on information from the artist