Program : 
Yank Lawson & Bob Haggart: Swinging with the Bob Cats

Bob Crosby Bob Cats, 1935. Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart pictured 2nd from right, back row. Photo courtesy TIme-Life Records.

The Bob Crosby Orchestra holds a singular place among bands of the Swing Era. While most swing bands were weighted down by dense orchestrations requiring that the music be ‘played as written’ rather than improvised, the Crosby ensemble maintained deep roots in the freewheeling style of New Orleans jazz. With a core of New Orleans players in the band, there was a strong emphasis on improvisation coupled with a driving, rhythmic feel that proved popular among bobby-soxers and jitterbuggers of the late 1930s.


LISTEN — Four Roses for Bob Zurke


Bob Haggart on bass Photo courtesy drummerworld.

The Crosby Orchestra operated as a team. Musical ideas came from everyone within the band, as opposed to the swing band standard, which was based on one strong-willed, charismatic leader who called the shots. A trio of arrangers—clarinetist Matty Matlock, reedman Dean Kincaide, and bassist and composer Bob Haggart—were largely responsible for crafting the Crosby band sound. Bob Haggart told author Richard Sudhalter, "Above all, we were like a family. We worked together, socialized together, and thought musically together.”


L-R: Jim Cullum Jr., Billy Butterfield and trumpeter Yank Lawson, cir. 1968 Photo courtesy Jim Cullum Jr.










The Jim Cullum Jazz Band has a special kinship with the Bob Crosby Orchestra. Jim Cullum counts Crosby band trumpeter Yank Lawson as one of his seminal influences. Through his father, Jim became part of the Crosby band extended family when he was a teenager with a growing affection for early jazz. Like the Crosby ensemble, Jim and his band focus on preserving the loose-jointed, rhythmic feel of traditional New Orleans jazz while using an arranging style that combines formal, written-out sections with plenty of room for group improvisation.


On this episode of Riverwalk Jazz, former Bob Crosby Orchestra members, trumpeter Yank Lawson and bassist Bob Haggart, are heard in rare live performance tracks of Crosby repertoire, recorded with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band in a 1989 visit to The Landing.


Photo credit for Home Page: Trumpeter Yank Lawson.  Photo courtesy Jim Cullum, Jr.