BOB SCHULZ: From Teaching to Carnegie Hall
Bob Schulz is one of the more popular musicians on the jazz festival-party circuit today. He plays a great horn in the style of Bob Scobey. He has a more than pleasant singing voice in the tradition of Clancy Hayes, Scobey's banjoist. His ever-ready smile and congenial personality make him a big fan favorite whenever and wherever he appears. During the decade of the 1990s, he was consistently voted the #1 cornetist and ranked third on the list of vocalists by traditional jazz fans in an annual poll.
A native of Wonewoc, Wisconsin (58 miles north of Madison near the Wisconsin Dells), he spent 17 years as a teacher and band director before joining the legendary Turk Murphy Jazz Band in San Francisco in 1979. He was with Murphy for eight years during which time he participated in 300 taped radio shows, recorded many LPs, and toured the United States and Europe. A highlight was the sold-out Carnegie Hall tribute to Turk where at one time there were as many as 200 musicians & fans on stage honoring the terminally-ill leader.
Following Murphy's passing in 1987, Bob free-lanced in San Francisco before forming his Frisco Jazz Band in 1990.
Growing up, Bob would hear his mother sing during family gatherings, and his brother and two sisters all played the piano and his Dad's cornet. Bob inherited the cornet that had been passed down in the family. He was a four-sport athlete in high school as well as playing in the band and singing in the chorus. "The band director gave lessons to all the kids in the music program," Bob recalled, "I never had private lessons beyond that. During the summers, we had Saturday night band concerts, and I along with my brother and a friend (who was in Horace Heidt's original band) would play triple-tonguing trumpet trios. It was a great experience."
Bob attended the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, intending to be an athletic coach, but after the first semester, decided that music and working with young people was to be his future career. The college did not have a music major, so his concentration was in social studies, with music and biology minors. He later attended UW-Madison summers to receive his masters in music.
His first job in 1961 was teaching general music and world history for grades 1-8, plus band and chorus, for an annual salary of $4,200. After seven years, he moved to another community where for the next decade he worked with the school bands (including the marching band), gave lessons and started a jazz ensemble. His bands consistently took top honors in concert band competitions and in 1975, represented the State of Wisconsin at Disney World during the country's Bicentennial celebration.
"Some people say teaching is boring," he said. "No way, because it's always different. You're dealing with different kids and different assignments all the time. When I taught general music classes, I had to sing all the time because I couldn't play the piano. If you found a way to motivate kids, you've got them hooked. Those 17 years were one of the true high points of my life."
One former student, Bill Sargant, who later went on the road with Clyde McCoy, remembered Bob as an excellent teacher, saying "Some instructors were very good on one instrument, but weak on others. Bob had a good grasp of all the instruments, plus that rare charisma along with a handsome boyish look and fine stage presence. He always led by example and really cared about each and every student. I didn't fully appreciate then how great he was and what a good basic musical education he gave us."
In the summer of 1962, Bob was assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington with the Army National Guard 32nd Division band. "We pretty much just played concerts, including a reception for astronaut John Glenn at the Seattle World's Fair. All the guys in the band were pros, so working with them was a real pleasure. During this summer, we formed the Riverboat Ramblers, which was my introduction to Dixieland. When we got back to Wisconsin, we kept the Ramblers going." In 1979, the Ramblers were playing at the St. Louis Ragtime Festival on the Goldenrod Showboat along with Turk's band, the Salty Dogs, Jim Cullum's Happy Jazz Band, Ernie Carson's Castle JB and a few others. In telling the rest of the story of how he joined Murphy, Bob recounts that after a few gin and tonics, Ernie Carson talked him into sitting in with the Salty Dogs on the River Barge. "We both put paper bags over our heads and played a tune or two with the Dogs. I don't know where Turk's vantage point was during all of this, but since he needed a horn player, and on John Gill's recommendation, he apparently was sufficiently impressed that he decided to give me a try."
"I got a letter a week later offering me a job with his band at Earthquake McGoon's in San Francisco - 50 bucks a night, $250 a week. I had just gone through a divorce and was still teaching. I asked for a leave of absence, but was turned down. But I didn't want to pass up the opportunity, so I resigned my teaching position and moved to California. My eight years with Turk were great. I learned a lot about being a leader as well as a sideman. He was a tough nut, but you always knew where you stood with him. McGoon's is where I met my current wife, Linda, who was a waitress there."
Turk Murphy was best man at Linda and Bob's wedding 33 years ago, which produces another 'rest of the story' episode. It was a late summer day in 1981, August 30th, to be exact. The ceremony was to take place in the yard of her parents' home under a stately oak tree. As the ceremony proceeded, the minister intoned, "If anyone here objects to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace." Bob realized something was up because that phrase wasn't usually included in most wedding ceremonies. Suddenly, over the hill and down the driveway roars a 1920s convertible roadster loaded with some McGoon patrons known as the Lato Mob, dressed in 20s attire and firing real machine guns. They jump out of the car shouting, "Stop the wedding. Dutch Schulz is wanted by the authorities in Chicago." They produce an actual photo of Schultz the gangster, which fortunately bore little resemblance to Schulz the bridegroom. This performance was obviously setup by Turk, a known prankster, and instantly changed the seriousness of the occasion.
With the demise of the Murphy band, Bob teamed up with Jim Maihack as a nine-month replacement for the Don Neely Quintet at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel, and then signed on with Neely for the next three years. In 1990, he recruited Bill Napier, Bob Mielke, Ray Skjelbred, Bill Carroll, John Gill and Wayne Jones to form the Frisco Jazz Band. In 1988, he began a long association with Scott Anthony and his Golden Gate Rhythm Machine.
Bob occasionally leads the Turk Murphy Alumni Band for special engagements and is also a member of the Lost Weekend Western swing band. During a recording session with the San Francisco Starlight Orchestra in the early 1990s, Bob had the opportunity to play a cornet once owned by Bix Beiderbeck - the one owned by Robert Christiansen. "It was neat to be able to play it," he explained. "It was very free-blowing and open, but to me, it was a little stiff. I couldn't play it for an extended period."
When not on the bandstand, Bob at age 76 enjoys gardening, biking and refinishing furniture. Since 1975, (thanks to his friend Larry Kostka) he has collected Lionel trains, and his collection now numbers in the hundreds. He even has a water tower and a 17 foot signal tower in his backyard.
Summing up his long career, he concluded, "As a cornetist, I always try to play a pleasing tone and to keep it simple. I've been fortunate to use my God-given talent and to play without a lot of effort, because I don't practice very much. I've been over some bumpy roads - as I'm sure we all have, but overall, I have to say I've been lucky in life, which shows somebody up there must like me."