When Seattle jazz greats Quincy Jones and Buddy Catlett were coming up in the 1940s, they both studied with a legendary teacher named Frank Waldron, who had a studio at South Jackson Street and 12th Avenue South.
Waldron had been performing and teaching in Seattle since the 1920s. A masterful technician who played saxophone and cornet, he left behind a legacy of high-achieving students and, in 1924, also published a saxophone method book, “Frank Waldron’s Syncopated Classic.” Ninety years later, Seattle guitarist Greg Ruby, who takes a keen interest in all things vintage (he plays in the Django Reinhardt-inspired band, Hot Club), has arranged several pieces from Waldron’s book for a quintet called the Rhythm Runners.
The Rhythm Runners is the featured band at this year’s Lindy Exchange, a gathering of swing dance enthusiasts from around the country that happens in various venues Friday-Sunday, Sept. 12-14. The band will play Waldron’s tunes, as well as new works by Ruby, on Saturday, Sept. 13, at Washington Hall. There will room for dancing as well as listening.
The Rhythm Runners came together two years ago when Ruby serendipitously met New York clarinetist Dennis Lichtman in a Brooklyn club just hours before Lichtman had been given Ruby’s number as a potential sideman for a West Coast tour. Taking that coincidence as an auspicious sign, they convened a band on the spot, with trumpeter Gordon Au, from New York; and trombonist Charlie Halloran and bassist Cassidy Holden, both from New Orleans. For the Lindy Exchange gig, drummer Julian MacDonough and pianist Solomon Douglas join them.
It should be a delightful show. Waldron’s pieces for saxophone, with titles like “With Pep” and “Climb Them Walls,” are essentially exercises to improve fingering dexterity and the ’20s jazz fad for “slap-tonguing” (hitting the saxophone reed hard, to emphasize an attack). But they are also lively and musical exhibitions of Prohibition-era verve, likely to enchant listeners as well as dancers.
Not much is known about Waldron himself, but he was apparently cut from the same stern mold as first-generation jazz band leader James Reese Europe. Like Europe, Waldron served in the Army during WWI, then set up shop in Seattle as a player and teacher. Contemporary Palmer Johnson, a pianist, said Waldron “lost his lip” for cornet, but remained a top-flight saxophonist and teacher. Catlett recalled Waldron as a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of taskmaster, a hard-drinking womanizer who scolded his students when they didn’t practice.
Catlett recalled Waldron telling him, “You’ll never play with Duke Ellington if you keep doing like that,” when Catlett hadn’t practiced his lesson. Catlett must have been listening, and Waldron must have done his job well. The bassist later played with Louis Armstrong and Count Basie.
Kudos to Ruby and the Rhythm Runners for bringing Waldron’s legacy to back to life.
The Rhythm Runners
9:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13 at Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave., Seattle; $10-$35 (www.brownpapertickets.com).