When it comes to telling the story of High Sierra Jazz Band, there are not enough superlatives. On October 9, 1976, four founding High Sierra Jazz Band members — Charlie Castro, drums; Bruce Huddleston, piano; Stan Huddleston, banjo; and Earl McKee, sousaphone and vocals — played their first show for the Sierra Traditional Jazz Club.
Who in the audience could have known they were witnessing jazz history with this debut performance? On that day, an epic jazz odyssey began that has since spanned the entire globe.
The band’s newest CD, 40 Years and Counting! Playing Hot Jazz, is a compilation of the band’s music and sound and draws upon an incredible legacy of playing hundreds of jazz festivals, concerts in exotic lands on five continents, and cruising the world’s oceans and rivers playing for a legion of HSJB fans.
The recently released CD is the band’s 25th recording and contains old and new classic tunes by musical giants like Joe “King” Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Jimmie Rodgers, Tommy Dorsey, and Lu Watters.
No High Sierra performance or recording would be complete without Earl’s yodeling on “California Blues.” And his distinctive Three Rivers singing style shines through on “Rose of Washington Square” and “I’ll Be A Friend with Pleasure.”
What’s new on the anniversary CD are vocals by Bruce Huddleston on “River Stay ‘Way From My Door” and Marc Caperone on “When I Grow Too Old To Dream.” Howard Miyata’s heartfelt vocal on “You Meet the Nicest People In Your Dreams” helps this album strike the perfect balance between the instrumentals and vocal cuts.
A big part of HSJB’s success story is the band’s love affair with Three Rivers. Their hometown is also home to Jazzaffair, currently in the planning stages for the 2017 edition, the 44th annual. It will be held April 7-9.
Jazzaffair is the longest continuously running annual jazz festival west of the Mississippi River, and the band is the longest continuously performing West Coast jazz outfit. There have been personnel changes along the way, of course, but the Three Rivers men — Charlie, Bruce, Stan, and Earl — have remained constant.
Howard Miyata, trombone, joined the band in 1989. Pieter Meijers, clarinet and soprano sax, joined in 1998 and, in 1999, became the band’s leader, succeeding Al Smith, who retired after more than 20 years. Marc Caperone, cornet, has performed with HSJB since 2010 and officially joined the front line in 2013.
Whether you are an old friend or a new fan of High Sierra, 40 Years and Counting will whet any jazz appetite and keep listeners hungry for more.