In 2015, I received funding from both 4Culture Heritage Projects and 4Culture Arts Projects to preserve, interpret, and promote musical compositions created by Seattle jazz pioneer Frank D. Waldron, one of the most important figures in early Seattle jazz. Born in 1890, Waldron settled in Seattle in 1907, and by 1912 was performing throughout the Pacific Northwest. In 1919, he established the Waldron School of Trumpet and Saxophone at 1242 Jackson Street, the epicenter of Seattle’s burgeoning jazz district. There he taught generations of Seattle’s young musicians including world famous jazz stars Quincy Jones and Buddy Catlett. In 1924, Waldron self-published a 32-page saxophone tutorial book, Frank D. Waldron’s Syncopated Classic. Utilizing nine of his original compositions as a vehicle to demonstrate the latest techniques of the era, he left behind a brilliant written collection of 1920s instrumental music.
Waldron never recorded his music. While Waldron’s work compares to contemporaries like Jelly Roll Morton, W.C. Handy, and Spencer Williams, Waldron’s geographical remoteness in Seattle prevented his compositions from being recorded, and he and other local musicians were left out of the history books. Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle author Paul de Barros helped coordinate research on Waldron, utilizing genealogy databases, Seattle City directories, newspapers, and other sources. This allowed us to create a thorough timeline of Waldron’s life, during which we learned that while he was previously thought to have arrived in Seattle in 1919, the directories showed a listing in Seattle dated to 1907. Waldron’s contribution to the First World War effort was made through patriotic songs. “The Kaiser’s Got the Blues (Since Uncle Sam Stepped In)” was his first self-published composition with a copyright date of February 25, 1918.
I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to view an original copy of this piece of music at the Library of Congress Performing Arts reading room. During this trip, I also tracked down a previously unknown work of Waldron’s from 1932 titled, “Valse Queen Ann,” copyrighted on April 15, 1932. Holding this piece of handwritten music by Waldron was a joyful experience. I was fortunate to interview saxophonist Barney Hilliard, who studied with Waldron while in his teens. He commented, “He would sit on his piano bench and talk me through all the fingerings…‘if you keep working with me, you will play as well as you would ever want to play. Charlie Parker can stand up and play along with an orchestra without music and I can teach you to do that if you keep working with me.’” The Black Heritage Society of Washington State provided access to the three only known photographs of Waldron: an iconic image of Waldron with the Wang Doodle Orchestra from 1915, a picture of Waldron performing with the Odean Orchestra at the Nanking Café at 1616 ½ 4th Avenue, and a 1925 photo of him with Hutchens, clarinetist Adam “Slocum” Mitchell, and pianist Glover Compton.
Waldron self-published Syncopated Classic in 1924—it is unknown how many copies of the book were initially created. I have completely re-notated all nine songs, attending to the detail of each nuance and making every attempt to replicate the originals. Additionally, with the only available cover of Syncopated Classic a photocopy made by de Barros 25 years ago, I worked with artist and graphic designer Michael McDevitt to restore the cover and table of contents. The digital formatting of the written music, cover and table of contents will allow for a reprinting of Syncopated Classic as this project seeks future funding to publish a book combining Syncopated Classic, a definitive biography of Waldron, and audio recordings of the original manuscript. Additionally, the digital files of Syncopated Classic are in the process of being uploaded to the Black Heritage Society of Washington State’s archive.
My band, Greg Ruby and the Rhythm Runners, a six piece vintage jazz ensemble, will continue share Waldron’s compositions this month! This collaborative effort features musicians from the Pacific Northwest, New Orleans and New York. You can catch our upcoming shows here:
Wednesday, March 23, 9:00 pm
Century Ballroom, 915 E Pine, Seattle
Thursday, March 24, 12:15 pm
KPLU 88.5 FM, Live on air hosted by Dick Stein
Thursday, March 24, 8:00 pm
Cornish Presents – PONCHO at Kerry Hall, 710 East Roy St, Seattle
Friday, March 25, 8:30 pm
East Side Stomp at the Aria Ballroom, 15300 NE 95th Street, Redmond, WA
Saturday, March 26, 7:30 pm
Seattle Folklore Society, Phinney Center Concert Hall, 6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle
Sunday, March 27, 7:00 pm
Traditions Café Concert Series, 300 5th Avenue SW, Olympia
Wednesday, March 30, 7:00 pm
Whatcom Jazz Music Art Center, WJMAC Room at the Majestic, 1027 N Forest St, Bellingham
Take a listen to the Rhythm Runners playing Waldron’s composition “Low Down:”