This history segment about the West Texas Jazz Party focuses on the great composer, arranger, bass player and party friend Bob Haggart
Almost 50 years ago, back in 1967, a jazz party began in one of the most unlikely of places for jazz – Odessa, Texas – thanks to a local doctor. O.A. “Jimmie” Fulcher. It’s sister city Midland put on its first jazz party in 1977, and the two cities combined their parties in the 1990s to form the West Texas Jazz Party Collaboration.
Fortunately for us today, the West Texas Parties still exist, but most of what we know today is from what was written in the programs, or is remembered by its attendees. The party’s history is largely an oral one. The party has no hall of fame, no extensive written history, no full time staff, and no underwriting trust fund or long-term foundation behind it.
But still, it moves toward its 50th anniversary in 2016.
Even the book Jazz Party, written by Al White, a big fan of the West Texas parties, devotes less than 20 percent of its pages to West Texas. So this feature celebrates one of the finest musicians to attend the party – Bassist Bob Haggart – and shares some of the things that make the West Texas Jazz Party special.
Bob Haggart, born in 1914, was just young enough to hear jazz as an early adopter. He and his trumpet playing friend Yank Lawson met in the Bob Crosby Orchestra, and both loved the original music of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Beiderbecke. They brought their affection for that music with them to West Texas nearly 50 years ago. The history of West Texas jazz is essentially a “first person account” of the history of jazz, courtesy of men such as Bob Haggart and Yank Lawson.
By the time Bob Haggart attended the Odessa Jazz Party in 1968, his jazz resumé already read like a “Who’s Who” of the world of jazz. Before he arrived in Odessa, Bob had long since arranged for or played with Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. And it’s pretty well known that Bob Haggart was one of the most talented jazz musicians around.
Tenor Saxophonist Bud Freeman, no slouch himself, said he believed that Bob would have been great at any instrument he chose, and that he was among the most skilled and well rounded musicians he ever played with. Freeman’s pedigree in early jazz is secure – he was a founding member of the Austin High Gang in Chicago, heard Louis Amstrong and Bix Beiderbecke live in the Windy City, and played with Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Wild Bill Davison and all of the guys in the Condon Gang.