Remembering Steve Yocum

There are many, including myself, who are mourning the loss of one the most colorful and exuberant characters of traditional jazz.

Steve Yocum, quite effectively, was a show in himself. He exuded musical energy and joy. He sang in the same unabashed spirit as he played his trombone. His bands were always the high-energy type that took no prisoners and never left a crowd unsatisfied.

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I met Steve in the late spring of 1983, when I moved to New Orleans, hoping to make a living as a trombonist. Steve was part of Banu Gibson’s wonderful band. He wore a gigantic fedora and projected the same kind of lovable benevolence as Trusty, the kindhearted hound from Lady and the Tramp. The hound dog effect may have been coincidental to Steve’s style, but it surely proved an effective, if not subliminal ingredient for the success of his later band, the Black Dogs.

Steve Yocum TromboneSteve’s playing and singing were a big part of Banu’s show, and gave her a much-needed break from the superhuman energy she put into her vocals. Somewhere in the clang of his volume and vividness, there were glimpses of some very sensitive and beautiful trombone work. He didn’t hide it; it was just not always appropriate for the din of Bourbon Street. However, the musicianship, the tenderness was there and genuine.

I think what made Steve Yocum successful, the real reason, was not the fact that he portrayed such a colorful character onstage, but rather the constant presence of that sincerity; that love for music that drives one to live the life of an artist.

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When I was a newcomer to the music scene in New Orleans, Steve Yocum was very kind to me; never failing to call me up to the bandstand to play a few numbers. He often would leave the stand in such instances, to let me supply the trombone’s voice. But I enjoyed it more when he stayed, for he was a great communicator through that horn.

I’m sorry that I did not get to know Steve better, although I knew him enough to say that he was a friend. One of the last times I saw him was in Breda, Holland. He was understandably bitter for having been affected by a phenomenon that hampers many musicians: the local musician stigma. As a musician from New Orleans, he was an exotic commodity overseas. Ironically, once he became a resident, the tables turned.

But he beat back the odds. His well-deserved triumph on the Netherlands Voice Senior television program gave lie to the local player phenomenon, and gave us one last glimpse into a musical soul.

David Sager is a jazz historian and a professional trombonist. He works in the Recorded Sound Research Center at The Library of Congress.

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