One of the best jazz revival clarinet players on the West Coast.
The Bearcats, 1955 Lark's Club, Berkeley
L to R: Mielke, Dick Oxtot, Bill Napier, Pete Allen, P.T. Stanton PHOTO: Courtesy SFTJF Archive
BILL NAPIER b. Asheville, NC 1926 - 2003 Hayward, CA
Jazz clarinet player Bill Napier was equal to any of his reed playing contemporaries, c. 1950-2000. He swung like a Benny Goodman but could deliver the woody warmth of New Orleans Creoles.
Careful audition of Napier’s body of work (which will eventually be documented here in full detail) justifies ranking him among the top tier of jazz-revival reed players on the West Coast. For skill, originality and style he’s certainly up there with Bob Helm, Frank Goudie, Vince Cattolica, Darnell Howard, George Probert or Earl Scheelar.
Napier spent much of his early career with the East Bay revival-jazz contingent at gigs, jams and parties with Bob Mielke, Bill Erickson or Dick Oxtot. He also worked and recorded in a very early Turk Murphy band, that included residencies in Hollywood, San Diego and Las Vegas.
Over the years Napier was heard playing in San Francisco at Burp Hollow, or at Pier 23, where he alternated with Frank Goudie in Bill Erickson’s trio anchoring the famous jam sessions there. He even fronted the sessions at the Pier for a while in the late Sixties.
He was part of the East Bay jazz crowd and Bob Mielke's Bearcats and heard at some of their venues like the Lark's Club.
Napier performed, recorded with, or worked in the bands of Bob Scobey, Kid Ory, Burt Bales, Jack Sheedy, Ev Farey, Bob Schulz, Joe Sullivan, Wingie Manone, Don Ewell, Jack Buck, Robin Hodes and many others.
The noted San Francisco columnist Herb Caen called Napier “San Francisco’s saltiest clarinet.” Jazz enthusiast Dave Greer who observed him close up for decades commented, “he never had a bad night.” To which I would add, nor a bad recording date.
This page is under construction. Please check back for audio and images yet to be posted.
Napier with Turk Murphy, 1950 Live at Cinegrill, Hollywood-Roosevelt Hotel, 1950
In LA the band was booked as “Turk Murphy and the Circus Jazz Band” to compete with the popular Firehouse Five. They broadcast for
a while on KABC, the original source of this audio. As you can hear the band
was in top form and Murphy tore into rare song verses with gusto.
Subsequent travels took the band on to jobs at the Aragon Ballroom in San Diego, and Las Vegas.
Turk Murphy (trombone) Don Kinch (trumpet) Bill Napier (clarinet) Skippy Anderson (piano) Pat Patton (banjo) Geroge Bruns (tuba) Stan Ward (drums)
was a popular jazz bar at 487 Broadway in San Francisco in the early
'60s. Dick Oxtot fronted bands there with various line-ups often
including Napier, Bill Carter, Erickson, Mielke, Yost or others.
rare to find a positive comment about Burp Hollow, the rank booze sold
there, or its owner: a thoroughly unpleasant former Chicago mobster.
It closed in 1966. L to R: Bob Mielke, Bill Erickson, Pete Allen, Dick Oxtot, Bill Napier (Photo: Courtesy Oxtot collection.)
This rare tape from Burp Hollow, 1959
is a remarkable manifestation of East Bay revival-jazz players. Napier
sounds terrific and gets the most solo time. Drummer Max Leavitt was
not part of this coterie.
Bill Erickson (trumpet) Bill Napier (clarinet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo, vocals) Peter Allen (string bass) Max Leavitt (drums)
Thanks to recordist Dave Greer. Find more of this, here.
A note on these recordings: The archival recordings heard on these
pages are offered as historic artifacts. They contain many musical and
technical flaws, or are incomplete or poorly balanced in places.
Personnel are listed as available, or as deduced from educated guesses.
Bob Mielke’s Bearcats Live at Sail ‘N - 1958 Arhoolie cassette C-1099 1998 Arhoolie Records Recorded by Chris Strachwitz 1958
(Note: Clarinet player Bunky Coleman, pictured right, is not present on this recording.)
P.T. Stanton (trumpet) Bill Napier (clarinet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Bill Erickson (piano) Pete Allen (string bass) Don Marchant (drums)
This session was recorded at the Tin Angel on the Embarcadero in San Francisco live in the mid-1950s. “Bill Napier, by then established as a major player in town, plays a lovely solo [on 2:19 Blues],” wrote Hal Smith in the liner notes to GHB BCD-285. Personnel includes Bob Scobey (trumpet), Clancy Hayes (vocals and banjo) and Fred Higuera (drums). 2.19_Blues.mp3 At_The_Devils_Ball.mp3
From: The Unheard Bob Scobey and his Frisco Jazz Band, GHB, BCD-285
ARCHIVE MUSIC Napier with Bill Erickson on trumpet at a Pier 23 jam session, early 1960s
Bill Erickson (trumpet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Bill Napier (clarinet) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Pete Allen (bass) Jimmy Carter (drums)
“The Fabulous Byron Berry – Pier 23 Polecats, April 11, 1960" "Recording
by Jack Stratford, initiated by Grayson ‘Ken’ Mills. Recorded zon
Wollensack tape recorder with stock microphone. Personnel identified by
Byron Berry (trumpet) Bill Napier (clarinet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Bill Erickson (piano) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Al Conger (bass)
Recorded by Phil Edwards and Bill Ruck for Bud Spangler and KCSM Courtesy of Leon Oakley and Diamondstack Productions
Dick Oxtot Golden Age Jazz Band, c. 1970s
L to R: Bill Bardin, Bob Mielke, Dick Oxtot, Jim Goodwin, Jim Cummings, Bill Napier
Forthcoming: The best and most rare of the archival jazz recordings
heard on these pages will soon be available for purchase on CD or
downloads (Amazon, i-tunes, etc) from Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities, a
partnership between Dave Radlauer and Grammercy Records.
The Genius of Bill Napier: Private Recordings, Jams and Unissued Sessions, 1950s-‘90s
Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities offers unissued historic
recordings from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes.
Recorded mostly in the Bay Area 1940-75, this is lost sound from a
boisterous musical culture that created an independent jazz style of its