Photo right: Mielke and Goudie, Pioneer Village c. 1958
The Monkey Inn was a casual beer and pizza joint and college student hangout in Berkeley, California. Bob Mielke recalls that it had sawdust on the floor and “fraternity guys out on their first beer benders. It got pretty rowdy sometimes." The musicians playing Jazz there five nights a week from 1957 to ’65 rarely sounded happier or more relaxed.
The informal dive provided a steady venue in Berkeley for Revival Jazz after the Lark’s Club closed in 1956. Various ensembles rounded out the weekly schedule Tuesday through Saturday nights, including Great Pacific Jazz Band, Le Sharpton’s New Orleans Band, the ensembles of Mielke or Oxtot, Erickson’s combos and ad hoc jazz groups similar to those highlighted in part one.
This article focuses on the effervescent Jazz combos of piano player Bill Erickson at the Monkey Inn during 1961 and ‘62 with clarinet players Frank “Big Boy” Goudie or Ellis Horne and trombone player Bob Mielke -- a young phenomenon rising to the occasion. They were occasionally joined by the superb jazz trumpeter Jerry Blumberg.
Bob Mielke (b. 1926) became the most imaginative jazz trombone player to emerge from the second wave of the Frisco Jazz Revival. He was a brash and unpolished talent in the Erickson combos -- a workhorse stomping off the beat, comping, riffing and playing counterpoint.
Bob was in a little over his depth with these more experienced veterans -- by his own admission and Goudie’s estimation. Even though he had already led The Bearcats Jazz Band for a half-dozen years, Bob says that he grew as a musician at the Monkey Inn, learning from these more seasoned professionals.
Today Mielke freely admits that these combos – certainly the quartets, with just two horns swapping the lead – were not New Orleans, Traditional or Dixieland Jazz at all but Swing combos. Listening in recent times, Bob was proud of his part and astonished by Erickson’s audacious piano chops.
through the 1930s. During World War II “Big Boy” performed in South America, returning to Europe after the war. He came back to the United States in 1956, settling in San Francisco after 32 years overseas. Still brimming with energy in his sixties, the Creole clarinetist was performing from about 1958 to 1963. Most nights of the week he was playing in a wide range of ensembles all around San Francisco Bay. Frank also played in El Dorado Jazz Band in with Jim Leigh, and widely across the greater Bay Area with the ensembles of Mielke and Oxtot. Goudie was a regular clarinet alternate in Mielke’s Bearcats Jazz Band and for almost two years played most Thursday nights at the Monkey Inn with Bob and Bill.
These sessions are by far the best recordings of Goudie’s fully developed clarinet sound. The one-time trumpeter and former tenor saxophonist crafted a distinctive, personal clarinet voice with a husky tone and flowing lines. He developed the ability to improvise endlessly with ease like his greatest inspiration, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.
At the Monkey Inn, Goudie took long, loping solos integrating his Creole background with three decades jamming alongside the jazz elite of Europe. Pouring out masterful improvisations with drive and imagination, his variations unfold like blossoms. Golden Age of European Jazz and SwingFrank “Big Boy” Goudie
Bill Erickson (1929-67) was a dynamic force in East Bay and Bay Area jazz. Almost completely forgotten today, he was a musical genius and jam session director who was remarkably skilled at setting the stage for others to shine. His main enterprise was directing jam sessions at Pier 23 on the San Francisco waterfront several nights a week, with Goudie a regular fixture. Bill occasionally played piano or trumpet in the bands of Meilke and Oxtot on either side of the Bay.
Photo: Bill Erickson at Monkey Inn Photographed by William Carter
Leading the Monkey Inn combos from the piano he delivered solid bass support, imaginative harmonics and sparkling solos. These are the finest examples of Bill’s piano playing on disc or tape, his improvisations take surprising harmonic leaps and daring melodic variations. His genius is undeniable whether soloing or playing rhythm for the horns. The shock of Erickson’s 1967 suicide, and scarcity of surviving discs, extinguished too quickly the memory of this bright light in Bay Area jazz.
At Monkey Inn Ellis Horne (1920-1995) sounded unconstrained by circumstances, as heard in the relaxed “Love is Just Around the Corner” and “Rockin’ Chair.” Quiet and introverted, he played parts with a rich tone and was always ready with a tasteful solo or chorus of the blues. Tapes, photographs and recollections reveal that he was a regular with Mielke and Oxtot in Berkeley and the greater East Bay. Integral to the classic Yerba Buena Jazz Band of the 1940s, Ellis was a noted San Francisco jazz talent for half a century.
Horne developed his own thoughtful and passionate approach to clarinet following the Johnny Dodds tradition. Onto which he grafted the musical outlook of Lester Young. Despite his role helping shape two-beat Traditional Jazz in the 1940s, Horne later fully embraced four-beat swing, as heard below.
Ellis Horne, Mielke, Erickson combo 6/21/62 Bob Mielke (trombone) Ellis Horne (clarinet) Bill Erickson (piano) Jimmy Carter (drums)
Jerry Blumberg (trumpet) There is a curious conundrum regarding the identity of this trumpeter, who is probably Jerry Hershay Blumberg (b. 8/20/1929, Baltimore, MD). Blumberg is best remembered for his New York City years which involved a brief tutelage with Bunk Johnson and recording with Bob Wilber’s Wildcats (including Mielke) in 1947. He fell under the influence of trumpeter Bobby Hackett in the mid-1950s before departing New York.
Blumberg came to San Francisco around 1962 and worked for Turk Murphy during 1965-66. Jerry left a strongly favorable impression on local musicians, but soon departed the area. He decisively left the music business altogether for health and personal reasons, taking up life elsewhere as a skilled professional in the sciences.
For decades Bob Mielke recalled that Jerry was the trumpet player on this gig. But surprisingly, Blumberg recently broke a silence of 50 years to assert that he did not play horn on the Monkey Inn tapes. Nonetheless, he did recall playing there with Bob a couple of times, and other tapes of Jerry with Mielke’s ensembles bear a strong resemblance.
The tasteful horn player on these sessions blends a swinging New York Dixieland trumpet style with flourishes of Bunk Johnson’s rustic New Orleans manner. He offers cooperative leadership without aggressiveness, a full tone, fluid technique and fresh improvisational ideas.
Despite his demurral, informed listeners concur that this is Blumberg -- namely Bob Mielke; Bob’s knowledgeable friend Bill Raynolds (who helped preserve these tapes); jazz scholar and musician Richard Hadlock (he distinctly recalls Jerry’s “classy” sound) and this writer.
Blumberg also jammed with Erickson at Pier 23. Jazz trombone player Jim Leigh recalled Jerry from those jam sessions in his self-published memoir, Heaven on the Side (2000): “I wondered if perhaps it had always been too easy for him. The way he tossed off 16th-note runs at any tempo, you knew he would never play a bad note. If it’s possible to sound too effortless he did at times."
Drums Drummer Jimmy Carter was an African-American native of New Orleans working regularly at Erickson’s Pier 23 jams, and with this combo. Accurate and supportive he shifts his patterns fluidly, punctuating the action with quick jabs, captured vividly on these tapes.
Erickson, Mielke, Blumberg combo, 1961-62
Probably Jerry Blumberg (trumpet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Bill Erickson (piano) Jimmy Carter (drums)
The sound on these tapes is surprisingly lifelike and present, recorded with an Ampex tape deck and high quality German microphones. The original dynamics have been preserved with only minor adjustments made to fully realize the dynamic audio contained within. Selections on this page are taken from a dozen hours of open reels recorded by music fans, Alvin and Barbara Bryant. Bob Mielke and Bill Raynolds, a dedicated vintage jazz enthusiast, preserved them for decades.
These recovered audio artifacts are only slightly marred by minor tape flaws, missed notes and plenty of location or performance noise. The swinging barroom doors are plainly audible next to the piano, a tired poorly tuned upright. Mielke wanders audibly, claps, and stomps his foot near the end of each number alerting other musicians to the concluding bars. The mostly college crowd responded with either bored indifference or overheated enthusiasm.
Multiple versions of tunes like “Just a Closer Walk, ””Royal Garden Blues” or the rarely-performed “Ring Dem Bells” show minor shifts of emphasis between the lineups. The many surviving renditions of “Joseph, Joseph” indicate its significance to these musicians. Though inspired by The Andrews Sisters 1940s hit, Mielke maintains that its source was Jewish folk music.
The Legend of Monkey Inn
In retrospect, this unassuming beer and pizza joint was a vanguard in the second wave of the Great San Francisco Jazz Revival, a friendly and casual setting for emerging talent to gain experience and hone their chops. The gang at Monkey Inn – and a larger East Bay jazz cohort – built a distinctive regional jazz style independently of the formulas of Eddie Condon’s Dixieland jam sessions, East Coast cutting contests, or even the Traditional Jazz of Lu Watters, Bob Scobey and Turk Murphy that had inspired most of them. Ellis Horne sustained a modest career for another three decades. Mielke arguably became the best-known musician of the East Bay through various iterations of The Bearcats Jazz Band and his Oakland Swingin A’s Baseball band. Bob’s music wasisHis among the most recognizable brands of jazz in Northern California, popular with both a broad general audience and a far-flung traditionalist following.
The Berkeley Gang at Monkey Inn
Monkey Inn took up the slack in Berkeley after the Bearcats home base, The Lark’s Club, closed in 1956. Mielke brought in the Bearcats; Oxtot and Erickson kept things rolling with various ad hoc groups. Other bands appeared and there was jazz through the week; Great Pacific Jazz Band and for a while Le Sharpton’s New Orleans Band performed Tues-Thurs. Further East Bay jazz clubs in this era (c. 1956-65) included Reno’s, Larry Blake’s, Charlie Tye’s, Nod’s Taproom, La Val’s Gardens and Pioneer Village.
Photo: This image purports to be a photo from Monkey Inn.
Sadly, “Big Boy” Goudie was dead from lung cancer within two years at age 63. Worse, Bill Erickson committed suicide by oven gas a few years later at age 37. It was a traumatic shock for the local jazz community, followed by memorial benefit concerts for the talented performer that some had called “Willie the Master.” Unfortunately, the memory of these bright lights in Bay Area jazz faded quickly without legacies of commercial recordings. The Monkey Inn tapes are a sparkling tribute to these gifted but long forgotten musical partners.
Toward the late 1960s -- as gigs like this disappeared and lifestyles evolved to encompass day jobs and families -- the action moved to the weekends. Local Traditional Jazz societies coalesced to support the music. They provided a welcome home for decades to come for Bob Mielke, Dick Oxtot, Barbara Dane, Earl Scheelar, Walter Yost, Ellis Horne and other former denizens of the Monkey Inn.
Bill Erickson’s groups manifested the cooperative, adventurous and musically sophisticated outlook of this second wave of Frisco jazz revivalists. Erickson, Mielke, Carter, Goudie or Horne -- and sometimes Blumberg -- combined as one
Based on interviews with Bill Bardin, Dave Greer, Richard Hadlock, Bob Mielke and Earl Scheelar.
Bill Erickson piano solos with banjo accompaniment by Earl Sheelar Monkey Inn, Berkeley, 1962