At Rest at Cypress Lawn: Melvin “Turk” Murphy (1915-1987)

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Turk Murphy came to San Francisco from Chico, California in 1939. There, his driving trombone teamed with trumpeter Lu Watters to form the eight-man Yerba Buena Jazz Band. Known for its consummate ensemble rhythms with each player working in the group and not as a featured soloist (as in Dixieland), the sound came to be called San Francisco Jazz.

Turk coined the phrase “Traditional Jazz” to emphasize its New Orleans roots — characterized by an energetic and heavy beat — to distinguish it from the Dixieland style. The band looked to the “new jazz” that was being composed by Scott Joplin, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and a young Louis Armstrong.

The Turk Murphy Band at its new jazz club.

The Turk Murphy Band at its new jazz club.

Murphy stayed mostly on the road until 1960 when he and pianist Pete Clute opened Earthquake McGoon’s, which soon became a renowned jazz and dancing club. It was a San Francisco fixture for 24 years that attracted tourists as well as regulars. McGoon’s served as the home base for his regular Turk Murphy Jazz Band tour gigs. During the more than 50 years of performing, arranging, and composing, Turk received both national and international acclaim. His recordings were bestsellers in the genre, and he played twice on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
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Factoids:

  • In 1987, Turk was featured in a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall — the last major performance of his life.
  • Earthquake Mcgoon’s admitted minors. They sat in a special balcony, sipped on Cokes, and enjoyed the action. He wanted to perpetuate the music by having young people hear the band.
  • Murphy was the singer for the 1971 “Sesame Street” cartoon shorts, “The Alligator King” and “No. 9 Martian Beauty,” produced by his friend Bud Luckey. The jazz great arranged and performed on many of Luckey’s other “Sesame Street” animated shorts.
  • The inscription on his memorial “Little Enough” refers to a song written by Turk for an Off-Broadway show, “Storyville,” which had a short run in 1984. It was one of his favorite compositions.
Turk Murphy Lane near Vallejo & Powell streets.

Turk Murphy Lane near Vallejo & Powell streets

Want to visit Murphy’s final resting place? Click here to view an interactive map of our Memorial Park.