The Saints go marching on

The Hyperion Outfall Serenaders have had their fans singing Dixie for nearly four decades
by Tom Fitt
Published September 17, 2009

What’s the most enduring and, arguably, the most popular band in the South Bay? Yes, John Brown and his boys have been around quite a while and still provide great music Mondays at La Sirena Grill and Cantina. Recording artists The Couchois Brothers are seen and heard at many civic events and the Hermosa Fiesta. Andy and Renee still rock. The acoustic duo of Zerimar and Fritz are mainstays at local taverns, currently Marmalade Café in Plaza El Segundo. There are many notable ensembles born, bred and still performing in our little corner of the Los Angeles County music scene.

But, there’s one group that exceeds all in longevity and popularity among audiences of all ages. Here’s a hint: They’re named after a sewage pipe that drains effluent water into the Santa Monica Bay.

The Hyperion Outfall Serenaders.

Band co-founder, cornet player and leader Bob White, 81, just liked the sound of it and waited until he had a band upon which he could emblazon the moniker. The sextet plays Dixieland, an early form of jazz born in New Orleans in the early 20th century that is becoming unique because few bands attempt to play it.

The songs performed by Outfall (as group trombonist Jack Freeman calls the band) are old and it takes a mature musician to recognize the melodies and harmonies of these classic gems, most of them written before present band and audience members were born. “Darktown Strutters Ball” (1917), “St. Louis Blues” (1914), “Basin Street Blues” (1926), and “When the Saints Go Marching In” (1896) are some of these cherries.

For over three decades, Outfall – the Official Band of Manhattan Beach — has carried on the Dixieland tradition throughout the South Bay and Greater Los Angeles. Their local presence is immortalized by a mural of the band inside their favorite watering hole, the Shellback Tavern at the head of the Manhattan Beach pier.

“The present band started in about 1974, 1975,” said White, “but we’ve had a little band going since 1970, which was the primordial beginnings of the Hyperion Outfall Serenaders.” He said the word “serenaders” sometimes leads people to think the group is a vocal attraction. Not a worry, once the band starts playing.

If you see them today, you’ll experience the talents of White, Freeman, Fran Freeman (Jack’s wife, on washboard, which is a typical Dixieland percussion instrument), Jimmy Green (banjo), Pete Kier (tuba) and Rod Norris (clarinet). Norris happens to be 94 years old, but is still blowing strong. The band’s regular tuba player is Jack’s brother, Dave Freeman, but he’s sidelined at the moment due to a heart ailment. On occasion, the band also uses drummer Louis Pastor. White said, “He’s (Pastor) definitely part of the band.”

How was it that a band formed in the last quarter of the 20th century – prime time of the disco era — decided to play Dixieland?

“For one thing, Dixieland is easy to play and you don’t have to read music,” White said, laughing. “Most Dixieland bands, you watch them play, and they’re not reading off charts (transcribed tunes). Golly, I picked up my horn after not having played for 15 years, and hadn’t read music in 15 years, but now I’m playing in some other bands (where I have to read), but that’s a different situation.”

“With Dixieland, there are a lot of songs around, and it’s easy to form a Dixieland band. The music just comes natural to a lot of people.”

Regarding the mural and the title bestowed on the group by the city, White said, “We are the Official Band of the City of Manhattan Beach and we have a proclamation to prove it. It came about in 1975 when Joan Dontanville, always very active in the community, became mayor.” Dontanville was Manhattan Beach’s first female mayor, elected to council in 1972 and served as the mayor in 1975. The mayoralty in Manhattan is shared by the elected council members. Dontanville died in February 2007.

“When it became her time to be mayor, since we were good friends and the band played for a lot of local events, her first act was to proclaim us the Official Band of Manhattan Beach. We celebrate (the proclamation) every five years and we have our 35th anniversary coming up in 2010.”
Though White admitted to not having picked up the horn in 15 years, he still had a lot of history with the instrument to rely on when Outfall was born. “I started taking cornet lessons at about 11 years old,” he said. “I listened to all the big bands – that was the stuff then. Harry James was, and still is, my idol as a trumpet player… I love the big bands and I play in one now called Beach City Swing. I just love that power sound.”

Regarding the present state of Hyperion Outfall, White was less than optimistic – especially regarding city-sponsored events. “We don’t do much at all. We don’t play as much as we used to. We play for a lot of things; we opened a soccer field, they call us to play some of the arts fairs. I would say that our main performance for the city is when we do the concerts in the park every year. And we do Armistice Day [Veterans Day] on Nov. 11 at the memorial across from City Hall. And then we get called now and then to do this or that, but it’s not a heavy duty job. It’s a bit on the ceremonial side, but it’s still fun.”

For decades, Hyperion Outfall Serenaders played at least one Sunday a month at the Knights of Columbus in Manhattan Beach. The session has always been known as the South Bay New Orleans Jazz Club and was not an Outfall activity, although all in the group are members of the club. Many local young players were allowed to take to the stage and try a chorus or two of Dixieland.

“We had to move to the Knights of Columbus in Redondo Beach because these darned yuppies in Manhattan Beach wanted to raise our rent more than double. A lot of people in Manhattan have big ideas,” said White. The band still plays at the Redondo K. of C. at least once a year, he said.

During a Concert in the Park performance a few years ago, White expanded on his feelings about yuppies in a song titled “Home in Manhattan Beach.”

Home, here in Manhattan - - What the heck has happened?
They’re tearing down - -The whole darn town
And building castles - - Those dirty rascals
And my neighbor - - Is a yuppie
Who built - - A house so tall
It blocks my view - - What can I do?
You can’t fight  - - City Hall !!

Outfall maintains a busy schedule with private parties and festivals.

“We played up at the Mammoth festival in July,” said White. “We’ve gone up there for the past six or seven years. But, the festival business is getting more and more competitive and the musicians are getting so good that a band like ours… well… My statement is that we’re good enough to play in a festival, but we’re not good enough to be invited.

“I don’t see a lot of festivals in our future, except for Mammoth. The guy that runs it is a friend. But, something might drop in on us. Our niche is pretty much, not only in the South Bay, but the entire L.A. metropolitan area. We play a lot of private parties. We’ve always played more private parties than public appearances.”

The band cheered up paddleboarders at the Manhattan pier at the finish of the 32-mile Catalina Classic. “Thank heaven for acoustic music. No electricity needed,” White said.

The band also puts a bounce in the step each summer of walkers during Richstone Family Center’s annual Pier to Pier Walkathon.

Jack Freeman, 79, is another long-term Outfall player. The trombonist has been with the group since 1976, and involved wife Fran from the beginning. “I realized that the Outfall was a way of life – and it certainly has been. We used to play at least two gigs a week… I realized that if I got in that all by myself it would not be too popular. So, I got Fran in right away. And I knew they needed a tuba player, so I involved my brother Dave. Bob White used to play both tuba and cornet – he’d switch back and forth,” said Freeman.

Trombone players are, politely, eccentric. How does one justify playing a horn that’s harmonically in B-flat, but the music being read is in C? Also, youngsters can’t play bone (back in the days when we had instrumental music instruction in our schools) because their short arms can’t reach 7th position. Tommy Dorsey was great, but he probably didn’t take up the instrument in his pre-teens.
As for the eccentricities built into the instrument and its players, Freeman said, “I’m actually the second trombone player the band has suffered through. I used to give Bob a hard time, as soon as I came in. Bob would say, ‘Geez, another trombone player that’s giving me hell all the time.’ I upheld the tradition of bone players.”

Freeman is quick to praise the festival operators at Mammoth and enjoys the four days on the mountain. “The big-timers get the tents and the stages. We play throughout the town. But, we get a badge so we can listen to everybody during our time off,” he said. “We have a pretty easy schedule up there, so we get a lot of time to listen and enjoy.”

On the local scene, Freeman is happy having the band play in Manhattan Beach. “We keep playing on The Strand and that’s how a lot of people know us, ‘cause we’re going up and down The Strand all the time. They give us a good time here in Manhattan Beach.” ER