He played trumpet by the age of 11 and had his first work on a cruise ship. He then worked for Bob Crosby before deciding to form a Dixieland-style band. He founded the Yerba Buena Jazz Band in 1939 and it would be a leading force in the Dixieland revival for the next 11 years, with a small off-period caused by the war. In 1950 he broke up the band and in 1957 he retired from full-time playing.
In 1963 he made a bit of a return by playing with Turk Murphy at anti-nuclear rallies. He opposed building a nuclear plant on the San Andreas Fault. This related to his interest in geology and study of earthquakes. After this he returned to his life as a geologist and chef.