I had heard about a musician who was, in the words of a young hip fan, "stone cold great!" This popular musician played crisp, clean, swinging cornet, was a top-notch leader and spirited singer, had a dedicated fan base, "played all over the place", and was a cool guy to boot. He was voted #1 jazz cornetist in Mississippi Rag polls for 10 years, 1990-2000, and also #3 jazz vocalist over the same period.
Then in 1999 I got to meet him and see him in action: Bob Schulz. He was one of the instructors at the AFCDJS (America's Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society) trad jazz camp for adults. He was among a stellar faculty, and even there he was outstanding. He was always smiling and friendly, getting along well with everyone, playing and performing beautifully and seemingly effortlessly, a master of the trad jazz style and repertoire: all in all, a marvelous musician and entertainer, and a truly nice guy. Above all, he made everything look so easy! I always wondered how he did that.
So, fast forward to seven years later, and I'm going to find out. I get to interview Bob for Rosie's Corner, and I'll ask. It's tough to pin him down for an interview, because he's so busy. If he isn't out of town playing at a festival or jazz party or off on a jazz cruise, he's appearing locally with different groups, or recording another CD. I don't think this man ever sleeps!
But after phoning and e-mailing, we set a date and time at Celia's, Bob's favorite Mexican restaurant in San Rafael, California, near where he lives in San Anselmo. He looks the same as he did in 1999, except for his hair getting a little salt-and-peppery. He could give lessons to Ponce de Leon about discovering the Fountain of Youth! He's as easy-going and gracious as ever, a true Gentleman of Jazz, as the San Diego Dixieland Festival dubbed him in '99. We have a good time talking about a bunch of things.
ON BEING BUSIER THAN EVER
Yes, I am busier than ever! I've played a lot of festivals - San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Sacramento, Concord, San Clemente, Seaside, Port Angeles, LaCrosse Great River, Madison Capital City, Fresno, Los Angeles, Bunny Berigan, San Diego, Breda, Guinness, Kalispell, Olympia, Orange County and Sonoma County, for starters.. I've done teaching jobs on occasion, such as the San Diego Adult Trad Jazz Camp, plus, I do a variety of small parties and concerts around the bay area. The Frisco Jazz Band is also carrying on the Murphy tradition of playing the Evensong Easter Service at Grace Cathedral (Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Chuck Huggins). This year will be the 31st year I believe. In June we'll do another jazz cruise on a Holland America lines ship to Alaska. I've done those for 7-8 years for Carol Newman of JazzSea Cruises.
The Frisco Jazz Band, Scott Anthony's Golden Gate Rhythm Machine, San Francisco Starlight Orchestra, plus an occasional Lost Weekend (western swing) and various small gigs around the bay area, keeps me busy.
Between March and the end of June my schedule is packed, but I like to keep busy. The summer slows down a little bit. Sometimes I'm working too much and I can get tired, but I still enjoy it. Being retired now, I can pick and choose, so that's a plus. Whatever job I'm on at the moment is my favorite. Whatever trip I'm on, I have fun while I'm there, but yet I can hardly wait to get home.
Being in demand makes me feel good, of course. I love it! I really do. It means that people are enjoying me and my playing and enjoying the band. With a band, I always have fine musicians working with me. I don't take extra leader money, but instead I divide the money among the group members. It's fun to play with great people! They respect me and I respect them. We have a good time playing, and also get to sell our CDs. It's a gas! I especially love to play for dancers: if they can dance to our music, we're doing it right!
ON HIS EARLY YEARS
I was born on July 1, 1938, in a small town in Wisconsin: Wonewoc, pronounced one-ee-walk, around 800 people. I went to grade school and high school there. I lettered in baseball, football, track and basketball, as well as playing in the band and singing in the chorus.
I came from a musical family who passed down their love of music to us kids - my brother Bud, sisters Shirley and Carol, and me. My brother and sisters all played piano. I'm the only one who didn't, and I'm sorry for that now. My mother was a fine singer, but didn't play any instruments. I started to sing in little operettas when I was around seven or eight years old, and took up playing the cornet when I was in fifth grade. Our high school band director gave lessons to all the kids in the music program, but I never had private lessons beyond that. My folks certainly did encourage me, and no one ever had to tell me to practice.
During the summers we had Saturday night city band concerts, and my brother and I along with a gentleman named Norm Kingsley (one of Horace Heidt's original trumpet players) would play trumpet trios. It was a great experience.
I went to the University of Wisconsin in LaCrosse, intending to be an athletic coach. But after the first semester I changed my mind, deciding I'd rather work with kids in music. I lettered in track (high and low hurdles) as well as being in the band, chorus and symphonia (a small symphony group). There was no music major at LaCrosse, so my major was Social Studies with Music and Biology minors. I was chosen to Who's Who in colleges and universities across the U.S. as well as being president of my fraternity, Lambda Tau Gamma. Later I attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison during summer sessions and received my master's degree in music.
ON HIS TEACHING CAREER
My first teaching assignment was in Reeseville, Wisconsin, in 1961, where I taught 1st through 8th grade general music, plus high school band, chorus and world historyÉall for the whopping sum of $4200 (that included summer band). In 1968 I took a teaching position in Lake Mills, Wisconsin where I taught jr high band, and helped with the high school freshman band, gave lessons, worked with marching band and started the jazz ensemble. In '72 I took over the high school band, and continued to teach there until '79, when I was asked to join Turk Murphy.
As for my teaching career, I loved it! I loved the students. I loved the communities I taught in. It was one of the true high points of my life. I taught for 17 wonderful years!
As far as some people saying that teaching is boring, no way! Teaching is never boring, because it's always different. You're dealing with different kids all the time. You get different assignments, too. For a while I rotated between three separate schools; that was hard, but still it was fun. When I taught general music classes, I had to sing all the time, since I couldn't play piano. I found that if you can motivate kids in any way, you've got 'em hooked. Besides, music is special - it's a lot different than teaching English or any of those other really exciting classes. I had great high school and jr high bands, consistently getting first places in Class A concert band competitions. One of our highlights was being invited and representing the State of Wisconsin at the 1975 Bicentennial Celebration at Disney World.
HOW I REMEMBER BOB
by Bob's former jr high & high school student, Bill Sargent (professional drummer in Wisconsin)
[Author's note: When I was Googling and researching Bob on the Internet, I found the site of one of his students. So I phoned him and he shared his experiences with Bob.]
Of course I know Bob Schulz! He's great! I had him as a teacher in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, when I was in grades 7 through 10 for marching band, concert band and jazz band, all three each year. I also had him for part of the 11th grade before I left school to go on the road with Clyde McCoy.
Bob was an excellent instructor. He walked the walk and didn't just talk it. While some band instructors are very good at one instrument but weak in the others, Bob had a good grasp of all the instruments. He had the knowledge plus a really rare charisma about him, with a handsome boyish look and fine stage presence. His cornet playing was always first rate, like a real gem. He always conducted himself well, setting the example and leading by example. He cared about each person and acted as a mentor to us. I remember him talking to me about stopping smoking. At the time I enjoyed what he did musically, though I didn't fully appreciate then how great he was and what a good basic musical education he gave us.
Way back in the seventh grade I had decided to be a musician. I've earned money from music since I was 13, started touring at 16, and have worked in all kinds of groups playing all kinds of music - big band, swing, trad jazz, even polka bands with a yodeler. Bob gave me a fine foundation to work from. I'm very glad that he was a big part of my life, a major influence. Thanks, Bob!
ON THE RIVERBOAT RAMBLERS AND JOINING TURK
I went in the service in 1962 with the Army National Guard 32nd Division Band in Fort Lewis, Washington. Our duty was to play concerts. Tough, right? All the guys in the band were pros, so working with them was a pleasure. We played for all kinds of functions, including a reception for astronaut John Glenn.
In the service we formed the Riverboat Ramblers. We did pop tunes, trad jazz and Dixieland. That was my first introduction to Dixieland. I love all kinds of music - swing, Western swing, tunes of the '20s and '30s, whatever. I especially enjoy playing Chicago and New York style jazz. We kept up the group when we got back to Wisconsin.
I played at the St.Louis Ragtime Festival with the Riverboat Ramblers right about the time Turk Murphy was looking for a new horn man. I replaced Spike Jones' trumpet man, George Rock, who replaced Chris Tyle, who replaced Leon Oakley. He heard me play and asked me to join him. I was in the midst of a divorce, so it seemed a good time for a change. I asked my school for a leave of absence, left, and joined Turk with high expectations. I joined him in 1979 and stayed for eight years, until his death in '87.
Just as teaching was one of the highlights of my life, being part of the Turk Murphy Jazz Band was another. I made $50 a night, $250 a week. The eight years were busy, with performances, rehearsals, doing over 300 taped radio shows, recording many LPs (these were the days before CDs), and performing on tours of the U.S. and Europe.
My 8 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. The years at Earthquake McGoons were especially memorable, because that's where I met my wife..."Linda the Waitress"... That's how I would introduce her and she never let me forget it... The Murphy Days were highlighted by our appearance at Carnegie Hall in January of 1987.
ON INSPIRATIONS FOR HIS PLAYING AND SINGING
Bob Scobey and his Frisco Band were inspirations for my style of playing early on, along with Louis Armstrong, Wild Bill Davison, Bobby Hackett, Bunny Berigan and Muggsy Spanier. When I heard Bob's driving trumpet sound, it really turned me on. People have commented on how Scobey influenced my sound, but I really don't believe I always sound like him, because each individual song and every group will influence the style you play.
I like to believe that I have my own style, much like many other late comers who have been influenced by the old masters. But as far as emulating Scobey's sound, I think I can do that as well as anyone.
Clancy Hayes was an inspiration for my singing style. He was as much a part of Bob Scobey's popularity as Bob Helm was with Turk's. Clancy had a warm baritone voice and could tell a story with each and every one of his vocal renditions. I fell in love with his style, and it just seemed to come natural to me - although I think I'm more of a fading tenor [laughing] than a baritone.
ON THE HORN HE PLAYS
The cornet I play is an Olds, made around 1930. I really don't have a favorite brand. I have to simply play a horn, and if it works well for me, I'll give it a try. I have to say, though, that I am very faithful to whatever is working for me now. I really don't go looking for something else unless my present one is falling apart. My horn from 1954 in high school until about 1984 was a Holton LB51, a great horn, but I had it overhauled one too many times, and the brass got thin, and so did the sound. I also play a little tuba.
I used to play tuba off and on with Turk, whenever Bill Carroll would sing. Earlier than that, when I was a school band director, of course I had to play all the instruments well enough to teach students the basics.
[After I showed him a picture of a digital trumpet] No way! That cost $400! I paid $75 for my horn - there's a piece of trivia for you - and it came with a mute. I liked the mute.
During a recording session in the early '90s with the San Francisco Starlight Orchestra, I played on a cornet that had belonged to Bix Beiderbecke. A policeman named Robert Christiansen from the San Jose area, who had paid big bucks for it, brought it to the session. It was neat to be able to play it. It was very free-blowing and open, so you could almost play some of the things Bix had done. But to me, it was a little stiff, so I couldn't play it for a long period of time.
I'm a bad one to talk about improvising. I don't know much about chords or theory. I simply rely on my ears. Any suggestions I have for people are very simple: Always stay close to the melody. No matter where you are in your improvised line, you want the people to still understand and sense where the original melody is. What you're playing should be a new melody: a combination of your own creativity and the original melody of the tune. I can say that, but I know I don't always do it myself - you're never too old to keep learning.
Oh yes, always remember that less is more. That sounds so simple, doesn't it? You have to control you. You don't want to smother the listeners with too many notes.
ON HIS STRONG POINTS
[Silence, then - -] As a cornetist, I'd say pleasing tone and simplicity. As a musician, ability to use my God-given talent. I've been fortunate and lucky in life - not because I'm a star, because I'm not. I've been over some bumpy roads, and getting through it all shows that somebody up there likes me. I can't take credit for anything, because I don't practice very much. I've been given the ability to play without a lot of effort.
[I add, smiling, "You're also a good e-mailer."] Oh, yeah! [laughing] Short and to the point!
ON HIS HOBBIES
My wife Linda and I have some pets - two cats and a bearded lizard, plus we feed every bird and squirrel in the neighborhood. When raccoons come around, I catch 'em and release 'em five miles out of town. Over the years we've had different kinds of cats, including a number of manx, and they've all had music-related names. We've had Satchmo, Bix, Bing, Scobey, Trixie, K.C., Killer (a mama cat) and Duke.
[Then, smiling like a little boy.] I have a train collection! I've collected Lionel trains since 1975 - locomotives, train cars, cabooses, signals, stations, houses and villages, the whole thing. I have hundreds of them, many in their original boxes. At home I have a 16 by 30 room full of them. And yes, I still like to play with them! (I have to blame this addiction on my good friend Larry Kostka.)
If you look on my CDs, there's a Frisco label. It doesn't refer to the city of San Francisco, but instead to the "Frisco" Railroad, which went defunct in the '60s. The logo I use is the same one that was used for the old Frisco Railroad. (permission gotten from the Frisco railroad museum).
ON STAYING IN CONDITION
[Smiling] Genes, I guess. I don't work out with weights or run. I always loved playing different sports when I was growing up. I take vitamins. I don't eat a lot. I grew up eating breakfast, dinner and supper, but now I can go almost all day without eating. I feel good. I'm always busy. I like to keep busy. I like to be outdoors doing stuff - working in the yard, biking and fishing. It clears my mind.
Linda and I have a permanent campsite up near the Ukiah/Cloverdale area, called Blue Lakes. We go there to relax, fish, swim and kayak. We're also avid birders and spend a lot of time birding. When you watch the different kinds of birds and how they act and interact, you can really understand the meaning of the term "pecking order".
Linda , our son Chace and I each have mountain bikes. We ride often, especially up in the hills of Marin, which have a lot of reservoirs, trails and wildlife.
ON BEING A HAPPY PERSON
Yes, I am happy! I've been blessed in my life. I feel good and I love what I'm doing. Our four kids are doing well. The girls: Lisa - 40, Penny - 38, and the boys: Tim - 35 and Chace - 20. We have five healthy grandchildren. I've been happily married to my wife, Linda Jensen, for 25 years, and before that I was married to my first wife for 15 years. I enjoy all the places I go and the people I meet in conjunction with my music. Everything is good, including the food here at Celia's! The only thing that bothers me is taxes!
ON BEING PHILOSOPHICAL
[As Bob and I talk, he frequently becomes rather philosophical, e.g., the following excerpted statements:]
There's good and bad in everything, and we can grow from it. I think that's a very positive philosophy. I keep a happy outlook. [Then, chuckling, he adds:] If you don't, there's nothing you can do about it anyhow!
Everything that has happened in my life happened for a reason, and I benefited, even from the divorce. Often you cannot see the benefit at the time, but you come to understand it later.
I enjoy nature, being outside, and doing physical labor - they cleanse my palate. I dig up stuff, chop, paint, and do washing. Simple things like that can get your mind cleared out and help provide a balance in your life. It's not menial labor - I like it! I may be the only man in the world who can truthfully say that I planted a lawn just so I could mow it! (I missed my mid-western days.)
I'm 67, and I'm still always looking forward to next year and hoping for bigger and better things, like meeting new people and new fans, making new friends, learning new songs, and having a new CD out. With my last two CDs, we started our own record label: B.S. Miracle Recordings. Below the title and in parentheses it says (Remember, if it's good, it's a miracle. If it's great, it's B.S.!)
I recognize that I've been lucky, and I'm very thankful to the Lord for my blessings.
ON MAKING EVERYTHING LOOK SO EASY
"Do you have one final question to wrap everything up?" asks Bob.
"Yes. You make everything look so easy. [Bob smiles.] How do you do it? [He smiles again.] I think I may know the answer, but I want to hear it from you."
"OK", Bob replies. "You go first".
"I have three answers, each from a different person: :
First, your student Bill Sargent, who said, "That's simple. For Bob it is easy!"
Second, my friend Wolfgang Koellerer, Austrian co-owner of the website muscletime.com (I had told him about you), who said, "Genes and attitude toward life. That's his winning combination".
Third, mine. I feel that you are blessed with many things:
A naturally happy disposition
Good health, good teeth, good genes (I too included the genes independently)
A youthful appearance
Love of what you're doing
Good diet, plenty of exercise, sufficient rest
What Hal Smith aptly calls "immense musical talent"
Good wife, good children, good grandchildren
A good cornet
So all the pieces of the puzzle are there!
"Interesting", Bob responds, "and my answer is that I credit it to good genes, God-given talent, and loving what I do. I thank my parents for my genes. I thank the good Lord for giving me the ability to do what I do. If He didn't, I couldn't. I've always known that somebody up there is watching out for me.
I do love what I do, whether it's music or teaching. But you have to remember that it's still a job, and you need to approach it as such, always being reliable, punctual, hard-working, polite, neatly groomed, appreciation of your co-workers and fans, and always trying to improve yourself.
As far as my youthful appearance, I'm 67"
"If you colored your hair", I interrupt, "you'd look 37!"
"That's what my wife says. But I admit I don't always feel like I look. I tore my ACL in the early '70s playing basketball, and I've had a knee replacement. I used to run 10Ks and 5Ks, but I only do mountain biking now. I'm happy to be mobile!
"A lot of my supposed musical skills come with longevity, because I've been doing it so long. For instance, I've learned over the years that if you're with good musicians in the band and they're watching you, they can tell by your movements what you want them to do. When I as the leader come to the end of a solo or chorus, everybody is immediately looking at me to see if I'm going to point or gesture toward a musician to solo, touch my head meaning to go back to the head or the beginning of the song, or other standard gestures. I've been told I'm easy to play with, since there's no doubt what I'm going to do next. Hey, that's my job!
I'm fortunate to have had a good fan base over the years. I truly enjoy my fans, meeting them, talking with them. I'm never too busy. My fans know I'm approachable.
So there are no secrets to what I do. Everything's out in the open. I have just one request: Spell my name right! It's Schulz, not Schultz or Shoolts or Shultze or any other way of spelling it! Thank you! This was a blast!"
This article was printed in the:
May 2006 issue of The American Rag, pages 36-39
Located in: "Rosie's Corner"
Dr. Rosemary Hallum
Reprinted with permission.