San Antonio Jazz
In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month, we’re highlighting jazz musicians as documented through the Institute of Texan Cultures Oral History Collection. In the early and mid-1980s Sterlin Holmesly interviewed 29 San Antonio jazz musicians. Several are highlighted below.
Bert Etta Davis started a jazz band at her high school in San Antonio. Upon entering Prairie View A&M, she began playing for the all-male Prairie View Collegians. Over the next few years, as the male members of the band were drafted a new all-female group was formed, the Prairie View Co-Eds, with Davis as the star soloist. The Co-Eds officially disbanded in 1946, although a sextet, including Davis, continued performing under the name for several years. When Ernestine “Tiny” Davis took over, the band toured 14 countries as the Tiny Davis’ Hell-Divers. When Davis eventually left the combo it was to be a featured soloist in the Dinah Washington road show.
After playing with brass bands in New Orleans in the 1920s, Albert Dominique came to San Antonio from New Orleans in 1927 to play trumpet in the Troy Floyd band under the stage name Don Albert. After a few years, and with financing from a friend, he started his own territory band. By 1932 Albert had transitioned primarily to manager and rarely played with the band.
Albert later opened the Keyhole Club, which was the first integrated nightclub in Texas, and brought in national jazz acts. Additional images related to Don Albert and his Key Hole Club can be found in our digital repository.
The Happy Jazz Band was formed in 1962 by Jim Cullum, Sr., a clairnetist, along with his son Jim Cullum, Jr., who had taught himself to play the cornet while in high school. The pair also secured investors in 1963 to open The Landing, a jazz club on the San Antonio Riverwalk. After Cullum, Sr.’s passing in 1973, Cullum, Jr. assumed leadership of the band and changed the name to The Jim Cullum Jazz Band. Since 1989, performances from The Landing have been broadcast weekly on public radio as Riverwalk Jazz.
Several interviews were conducted with members of the Happy Jazz Band and the Jim Cullum Jazz Band:
- Interview with Jim Cullum, Jr., June 11, 1980
- Interview with Jim Cullum, Jr., August 12, 1986
- Interview with Mike Pittsley and Howard Elkins, July 17, 1980
- Interview with John Sheridan, June 9, 1980
- Interview with Allan Vache, June 10, 1980
- Interview with Jack Wyatt, June 11, 1980
Notes and Sources:
- A complete list of the jazz-related oral history interviews conducted by Sterlin Holmesly can be found in the UTSA digital repository or by browsing the ITC Oral History Collection finding aid.
- Holmesly, Sterlin, “Texas Jazz Veterans: A Collection of Oral Histories” (2006). Journal of Texas Music History.
- Tucker, Sherrie. Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s, Duke University Press, 2000.
- Riverwalk Jazz Collection is available online from Stanford University Libraries Archive of Recorded Sound.