After I started in the Marine Band, I freelanced for years around D.C. and Baltimore with any of the Dixieland or trad jazz guys who would give me a call. Duo and trio gigs in parking lots and grocery stores, picnics and funerals, you name it, I played it. Totally worth it just for the experience, with the added bonus that I was actually making side money doing these gigs. It was all for building up the chops and the tools of the trade. I was happy being a sideman, although I was eventually itching to get a group together so I could play regularly with good musicians.
Then, all of a sudden, my good friend and mentor, Marty Erickson, retired from the U. S. Navy Band, and headed to the Midwest to continue his teaching career. Marty was plenty happy to be out of D.C., but not so much about leaving behind two jazz bands for whom he was the regular tuba player. I had subbed in both groups before, Marty pimped me to the bandleaders, and there I was playing several times a month with guys I really liked and from whom I was learning a bunch each night.
It was one of those golden opportunities, just as I was getting married, to wind up playing in two bands, one of which worked a restaurant just a few miles from our house. The Last Chance Jazz Band was led by Bob Thulman, a clarinetist and inventor, and I was in the rhythm section with banjo player Jimmy Riley and drummer Tylden Streett. It was a big, 7-piece group, lots of arrangements, and I made a point of sticking to Jimmy and Tylden like glue. The three of us were also the rhythm section for Big Bertha’s Rhythm Kings in Baltimore, so I saw plenty of those guys, and it didn’t take long to get locked in. They were both of the “less is more” school of rhythm section, and to this day, I’m reaping the benefits of following their example.
Jimmy lives in North Carolina now, and Tylden is out in California, and I miss those guys. It was a sad day when the Last Chance Saloon finally closed it’s doors and the band was no more. We used to take the kids to the gig so they could hear Daddy play tuba. We would let them run around on the dance floor swinging napkins during the fast songs, and teach them to come sit down when people got up to dance during the slow songs.