Before there were rock stars in the Fillmore in San Francisco in the 1960s, there were jazz stars playing in the City. Duke Ellington and Count Basie used to perform regularly. Jazz has never been limited to just one neighborhood. Walking through Chinatown, if you happen to see a marching band, please say hello to my new friend Lisa. She is a talented jazz saxophone player. She is also the leader of the Green Street Mortuary Band.
Here is a short clip of what to look for:
I met Lisa recently when I was doing research for my book, More to Say from San Francisco, Searching for the 1960s. She talked to me about this unique group of musicians who play to honor someone, usually (although not always) Chinese, whose family chooses to include the marching band in the funeral procession. The roots of the San Francisco tradition go back to 1911 when the Cathay Chinese Boys Band first starting performing for community celebrations and funeral processions.
For more than 20 years, Lisa Pollard, also known as SaxLady Productions (http://www.saxlady.com/), has been the leader of the Green Street Mortuary Band, assembling her band from some of the finest musicians anywhere. One of the most accomplished members of her team is her partner, John Coppola, musical director of the Green Street Mortuary Band, and a legendary jazz trumpet player.
By the 1960s, John had already been performing for more than two decades with big names in the jazz world, including Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. John chose to settle in San Francisco, and as a working musician, he took “gigs” as they came up. One of his regular jobs was as a staff musician for the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, the only network television show that was produced in San Francisco from 1962 to 1965. In the later 1960s, John played in the City with Vince Guaraldi, and toured with Henry Mancini and singer Petula Clark. As a regular at the Monterey Jazz Festival, he performed with Dizzie Gillespie and Miles Davis.
Here is a clip of John directing the big band music of Duke Ellington and Count Basie at the Stanford Jazz Festival in 2006. Lisa is in the front row with her sax and John is in the back row with his trumpet: