San Francisco Jazz Bands

by Robbie Schlosser · 11 comments

Thanks in advance for reading this article. I appreciate your interest and hope you get a few good ideas. I'd love to hear what you liked. Please write me a little COMMENT below. Start a conversation. Tell me what you think, and I'll reply. Promise.

San Francisco Jazz Bands?  The Magnolia Jazz Band stands proudly in a long tradition of popular San Francisco Jazz Bands. The lineage stretches back to the early 1900’s and includes hundreds of interesting stories.  Here are a few of them.

Many books and articles (see Wikipedia and another good example) trace the history of jazz.  Most experts agree that jazz style music originated in New Orleans around the turn of the last century.  One of the earliest jazz bands to to visit the San Francisco Bay Area was the 1914 performance of Bill Johnson’s Creole Jazz Orchestra.  This band featured several New Orleans pioneers who made a living touring the vaudeville circuits in those early years, spreading their exciting new syncopated, improvised music throughout the country.

San Francisco’s “Barbary Coast” attracted early jazz bands.  Dating back to the Gold Rush days, this was a notorious “good time” district in San Francisco’s waterfront area (in those days around Pacific Ave & Kearny St) that provided entertainment and diversions to hard-working miners, laborers, seamen, and “slummers”.  Around the time of World War I, several establishments booked many popular jazz bands from around the Bay Area, and others featured out-of-town bands.

One local favorite was pianist Sid LeProtti’s “So Different Jazz Band”, which played in the Barbary Coast from 1906 thru 1921.  One touring favorite was King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, featuring New Orleans musicians then working in Chicago.  “Jelly Roll” Morton, the legendary New Orleans pianist, also performed at the Barbary Coast, in a band with several New Orleans musicians who had moved to Los Angeles.  That hot New Orleans music provided a powerful inspiration to many of the local bands.

In 1918, Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra played a more polite, jazz-tinged dance music in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.  Many of the city’s large hotels featured similar bands — they were THE thing!  Two years later, billing himself as the “King of Jazz”, Whiteman moved his band to New York City and began recording.  He hired many of the country’s top jazz musicians of the day (and paid them very well), and became a world-wide popular commercial success, his career lasting into the 1960s.  Not bad for a classically trained musician who started out playing viola with the San Francisco Symphony.

San Francisco’s “Fillmore District” (roughly between Van Ness Ave and Divisadero St) was known as the “Harlem of the West” from the late 1930s thru the 1950s.  This ethnically rich neighborhood boasted dozens of nightclubs featuring live jazz, and showcased local Bay Area musicians as well as national headliners including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis.  Of course, many local musicians came by regularly, “checked out” these stars, and learned from them.

A long list of San Francisco Bay Area based headliners also includes Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, and Turk Murphy, and these days you can enjoy many diverse jazz styles throughout the Bay Area — Latin Jazz, Dixieland, Swing, Bebop, Free Jazz, and more.

Magnolia Jazz Band in Sunnyvale 2011Here is a recent photo showing me working with two of San Francisco’s top jazz musicians — Duncan James and Charlie McCarthy.  The Magnolia Jazz Band never sounded better, and with Duncan’s and Charlie’s inspiration, I’m sure I learned a few new tricks that day.  Thanks to my friend Veronica Aguila for the photo.

These stories hint at one aspect of jazz music that I always find fascinating:  How we grow and improve.  For the past hundred years, all these jazz musicians have listened to their colleagues and their recordings, occasionally worked together, and continually expanded their own styles with new influences they admired.  The same growth process happens in all the arts every day, I’m sure.

What can we learn from history?  Look around and ask yourself:  “Do I grow and improve with everything I observe?


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The Magnolia Jazz Band entertains regularly at weddings and parties throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.  If you’re ever nearby, you’ll love catching us in action, seeing and hearing us create a great mood.  In the meantime, please join our Facebook “fans”, and you’ll get reminders for our public events.

Thanks for reading this article. I appreciate your interest and hope you get a few good ideas here. Got one or two? I'd love to hear what you liked. Please write me a little COMMENT below. Start a conversation -- I'll reply. Promise.

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Meanwhile, the Magnolia Jazz Band entertains at weddings and parties throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. If you are ever nearby, you’ll love catching us in action, seeing and hearing us create a great mood.

How can I help you? Call 408-245-9120 or use Planning a celebration? Ask about our availability.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie Labes

What a great post i love the links out to other interesting information on this topic. My cousin Jef Labes is a Jazz musician and he plays north of San Francisco i think. i have only been to the bay area once and didn’t get to hear much jazz but will definitely check it out on my next trip

Labes,…The Fierce over 50 feels much younger point and click junkie
loves to travel does not use a jogging stroller and before you ask this
is NOT my granddaughter..Woman


Judy Stone-Goldman

Hi Robbie – Wow – what a trove of interesting information! I just love learning the stories behind things, it gives so much depth. And the way you drew from those stories to point out how we learn from history–just great! You know I do love stories and how we learn about ourselves; they are the basis of so much of my writing. Life is so full of interesting stories, but we have to pay attention. Thanks for bringing our attention to an area I never would have known about.


Judy Stone-Goldman

The Reflective Writer

“My cat owns me, my clutter stymies me, my writing frees
me. Word maven loves—and learns from—ordinary life.”


Kerri Randall

I have to say I love that there’s a clarinetist in the band! I grew up playing the clarinet with my dad and my sisters, and we now all play in the Milwaukee Police Band together (America’s Oldest Police Band, by the way!!)

I loved hearing all these great tidbits about the history of jazz bands. I’m happy to know there’s always passionate people keeping jazz like this alive and well!


Laurie Hurley

Wow, such a rich history of jazz here, Robbie. I commend you for really knowing the history of your art and informing all of us about little known facts (at least for me, little known!) There seems to be quite a brotherhood of jazz musicians throughout the past few centuries.  I feel much more educated now about a genre of music I don’t listen to often enough!



Thanks for an information packed blog…I too believe we can learn from history and those around us.  Choosing your friends wisely hit me, as in this SoMe world we are coming in contact with many many people we woudn’t ordinarily find or meet….which has been great!  Having worked in the record business for a while it is great to hear there is such comradery amongst you all….gaining and learning together and from each other…that is wonderfu!  Jazz wasn’t one of the areas that I got to do a lot with while working in the biz so I really enjoyed the education here!  Thanks:)

Rita Brennan Freay


Pat Zahn

I’m amazed at all there is to learn every day-the way seemingly unconnected people, places and things are all connected. I love the way all music is connected and especially like when it crosses over and you can no longer classify it as one genre or another. Thanks for the CA jazz history education.


Alara Castell

Wow lots of info! Awesome! I agree with Pat…love the way all music is connected. I love music and jazz is so nice and soothing. My husband likes jazz. We have often played with the idea of opening a jazz club. Thanks so much for the history lesson. Love learning new things.

Alara K. Castell


Susan Berland

I love jazz and particularly some of the old jazz, especially the 30s and 40s jazz singers. I know you’re talking about musicians but I’m a singer lover too! I can’t get enough of Ella! My husband used to be in a street band that played old jazz and I loved going to their shows. They even showed some of the old animated jazz classics. What fun. Thanks for the great history lesson Robbie.

Susan Berland
A Picture’s Worth



Wow Robbie.  Although I am a musician, I did not know anything about the history of Jazz.  I love how you shared the history near to us here in the Bay area.

As far as learning from history.  I like to consider history in light of “How did we get to where we are today?”, “What did we do right?”,  “What would we do differently?”, “What have been our biggestsuccesses so far and why did they occur?”,  “What have we failed at, and what were the reasons for it?”  Someone once said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”



Hi Robbie – This is really interesting.  I had the opportunity to visit Preservation Hall in New Orleans.  Sitting on the floor and listening to those old guys play was one of the most moving moments in my life.  Thanks for taking me back their via your writing!


Guitar Lessons Singapore

This is an amazing article for music because San Francisco Jazz Bands are very famous and best bands.I will use it in my wedding.Thanks for sharing this article.Keep going on!!
Guitar Lessons Singapore recently posted..Piano LessonsMy Profile


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