When he was 87 years old, Jim Milan’s wife asked him if there was anything he hadn’t done in his life that he would regret not doing. What’s left on your wish list, she asked.
Milan replied that he wanted to start his own jazz band. In an age where most people are slacking off, Milan has started marching to its own drum beat, really swinging.
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 best musicians in North Texas.
Following a short illness, Milano died on April 29, at the age of 101.
The jazz band he founded 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, trombonist of the band, played alongside Milan for several years.
“I had the privilege of sitting next to Jim and playing,” he said. “It was an honor and an inspiration.”
Sometimes, in recent years, Milan showed up for a concert, but told others he wasn’t feeling well.
“We told him we understood we’d cover for him if he needed to rest,” Thomas said.
Then, after a few numbers, Thomas said they would ask Milan if he needed to stop playing.
“Jim was always smiling and saying, ‘I feel great now.’ Jim loved music and he loved the band.
Thomas, like Milan and many other band members, worked in the business world to support their families, but kept his wit and brought out his tools when called upon.
Milan played in various army bands during World War II, then settled in Oklahoma where he attended the University of Tulsa. There, he played with the Leon McAuliffe Western Swing Band. He started working at Conoco in 1949 and moved to Fort Worth the following 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, specifically the jazz of little-known Dixieland clarinetist and arranger Matty Matlock, Thomas said. On the Bucket List Jazz Band website, Milan states that Matlock’s album, The Dixieland Story, was his favorite.
Thomas described the sound as more like a jazz band with a Dixieland twist.
“Unlike a lot of Dixieland music, there are real arrangements, so it’s a lot more intricate than most Dixieland music you’d hear,” he said.
Milan was able to get some arrangements from Matlock and those set apart the Bucket List Band, Thomas said.
“Jim looked for those parts for years and years and actually found someone who had copies, so he bought them, and that’s when he started the band,” he said.
The band has expanded the repertoire since then, adding some Count Basie and other swing band charts.
“We also have a lot of music that Curtis Wilson, who ran the jazz program at TCU, wrote for the band. He’s been playing in the band for a while,” Thomas said.
For Thomas, playing the concert after Milan’s death is bittersweet.
“I’ll be sad he’s not there, but we all know he wants the band to continue,” she said.
If you go
Jim Milan’s Bucket List Jazz Band: A Celebration and Tribute
Wednesday 10 May
Worst at 7.30pm
112 St. Louis Ave.
Fort Worth 76104
Jim Milan obituary
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at [email protected].
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