When he was 87, Jim Milan’s wife asked him if there was anything he hadn’t done in life that he would regret not doing. What’s left on your bucket list, she asked.
Milan replied that he wanted to start his own jazz band. At an age when most people are slowing down, Milan began to march to his own – really swinging – drumbeat.
He founded Jim Milan’s Bucket List Jazz Band, a group that has played in the area for over a decade, attracting some of the top players in North Texas.
Following a short illness, Milan died on April 29, at 101.
The jazz band he started will play a tribute concert to him at Tulip’s on Wednesday, May 10. Proceeds from the event will go to the Jim Milan Endowed Jazz Fund at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Mark Thomas, a trombone player in the band, played next to Milan for several years.
“I had the privilege of sitting next to Jim and play,” he said. “It’s been an honor and an inspiration.”
Sometimes in recent years, Milan would show up to a gig, but tell others he wasn’t feeling well.
“We’d tell him we understood that we’d cover for him if he needed to rest,” said Thomas.
Then after a few numbers, Thomas said they would ask Milan if he needed to stop playing.
“Jim would always have a big smile and say, ‘I’m feeling great now.’ Jim loved music and he loved the band.”
Thomas, like Milan and many other members of the band, worked in the business world to support their families, but kept up their chops and took out their instruments when called upon.
Milan played throughout World War II in various Army bands, then settled in Oklahoma where he attended University of Tulsa. There, he played with the Leon McAuliffe Western Swing Band. He began working at Conoco in 1949 and the moved to Fort Worth the next year. He spent the next 37 years with the oil company and playing his trumpet for various bands, including the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo band.
When Milan started the jazz band, he had a specific sound in mind, particularly the jazz of the little known Matty Matlock, a Dixieland clarinetist and arranger, Thomas said. On the Bucket List Jazz Band website, Milan says that Matlock’s album, The Dixieland Story, was his favorite.
Thomas described the sound as more like a jazz band with the Dixieland flair.
“Unlike a lot of Dixieland music, there are real arrangements, so it’s a lot more intricate than most Dixieland music you would hear,” he said.
Milan was able to obtain some arrangements by Matlock and those set the Bucket List Band apart, Thomas said.
“Jim had been looking for those parts for years and years and he actually found somebody that had copies of them, so he acquired them, and that’s when he started the band,” he said.
The band has widened the repertoire since then, adding some Count Basie and other swing band charts.
“We’ve also got a lot of music that Curtis Wilson, who used to run the jazz program at TCU, wrote for the band. He played in the band for a while,” Thomas said.
For Thomas, playing the gig after Milan’s death is bittersweet.
“I’ll be sad he’s not there, but we all know he wants the band to go on,” he said.
If You Go
Jim Milan’s Bucket List Jazz Band: A celebration and tribute
Wednesday, May 10
Downbeat at 7:30 p.m.
112 St. Louis Ave.
Fort Worth 76104
Jim Milan Obituary
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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