Since the early 1950s Earl has been a stalwart trouper in the Bay Area jazz revival corps. His playing and his bands evoke the early days of jazz and sounds of New Orleans; he even lived part-time in the French Quarter for a while.
From the late 1960s on, Scheelar led several bands in the New Orleans revival style: Funky New Orleans Jazz Band, Zenith Jazz Band and Earl’s New Orleans House Jazz Band. A partial list of bands he’s played with includes: Black Diamond, Good Time Levee Stompers, Monterey Bay Classic, Silicon Gulch and Stone Age Jazz Band.
Earl has worked with or hired some of the most creative, capable and original musicians in the field: Pete Allen (string bass), Burt Bales (piano), Bill Bardin (trombone), Bob Helm (reeds), Jerry Kaehele (trombone), Geroge Knoblouch (banjo), Bob Mielke (trombone), Dick Oxtot (banjo), P.T. Stanton (cornet), and Walter Yost (tuba and trumpet) to mention a few.
At The Honeybucket, when the regular band was out Scheelar substituted with is Earl's Hot Five.
Scheelar is an eloquent classic jazz horn player. He imitates no one and has the rare ability to deliver the full impact of the blues on cornet. Notably, the clarinet part was supplied by Pete Allen, soon better known as one of the Bay Area’s best string bass players.
Earl Scheelar (cornet) Pete Allen (clarinet) Lee Sharpton (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Art Nortier (piano)
Disclaimer: With Scheelar’s approval I’ve selected music that represents his early years: a musician still developing his craft, chops and style. Recorded at informal gigs and jam sessions these performance tapes are offered as historic artifacts despite flaws, missed notes and technical shortcomings. Except where noted all photos are from Earl’s personal library.
Bill Erickson Trio Monkey Inn, Berkeley, CA, 1.20.62
Earl Scheelar - doubling on cornet and clarinet Bill Erickson - piano Bret Runkle - washboard
These and 10 other tracks are available: Sam Charters Washboard Jazz Band Plays the Classic 1920s Jazz of Clarence Williams Merry Makers Records, MMRC CD33.
Merry Makers Record Company 926 Beechwood Circle Suisun City, CA 94585
Sam Charters Washboard Jazz Band Plays the Classic 1920s Jazz of Clarence Williams
Unpublished until 2009, the session has recently been issued on Merry
Makers Records, MMRC CD33.
Excerpts from Earl Scheelar's liner notes:
Charters, musicologist and writer of several books on New Orleans Jazz
spent a lot of time in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s. He put
this band together in 1957 to record songs written and/or recorded by
Clarence Williams in the 1920s and 1930s. He chose musicians who were
fans and collectors of the records of the Clarence Williams Washboard
The recordings were done at several
sessions at my house and were recorded by Stan Page with a professional
Ampex tape recorder. Unfortunately the original tapes were lost when
Stan’s house burned in the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, however I had made
copies of the tapes . . .
Charters, the organizer, washboard and banjo player on these recordings,
went on to write extensively about music and produce recordings for
Folkways Records, played washboard or jug on several recordings and has
written several books on jazz.
The tuba player, Walter Yost, was
regarded by many of us as one of the finest brass bass players around.
He was also a very highly regarded cornet player.
player, Bill Erickson, also a very accomplished cornet player, was a
wonderfully talented and highly respected musician until his untimely
death in 1967.
I was the clarinet player on these recordings. I
came to the Bay Area in 1950 to be a part of the Jazz Scene and consider
myself very fortunate to have been associated with a group of such fine
1960s and Earl's New Orleans House: Venue and Band
Earl’s New Orleans House and jazz band
In 1966 Scheelar created a spacious restaurant and dance hall serving Louisiana food and music in Berkeley. With a high ceiling and large wooden dance floor, Earl’s New Orleans House was intended to fill a gap. The Bay Area was lacking regular venues for revival jazz, increasingly displaced by Rock music.
As a business New Orleans House lasted only about six months during 1966-67. Earl handed management to a good friend, Kitty Griffith. She ran it as a successful “electric rock” venue for a few years. But Scheelar retained access to the premises for occasional Sunday afternoon events or recording sessions into the mid-1970s.
Photos of New Orleans House courtesy of San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation, available at SFTJF.org.
For about a half year 1966-67 New Orleans House was a happy site for food, dancing,
and jazz on Friday and Saturday nights. After early 1967 Earl continued to own the club though it was managed by Kitty Griffin while Rock bands played there.
At various times New Orleans House Band featured: Bob Helm (reeds), John Farkas and Bill Bardin (trombone), Burt Bales (piano), Pete Allen (string bass), Dick Oxtot (banjo), Walter Yost (tuba) and others.
Earl's New Orleans House Band in action
L to R: Bob Helm (soprano sax), Dick Oxtot (banjo), Pete Allen (bass), Scheelar (cornet), John Farkas (trombone), Peter Berg (guitar)
Earl’s New Orleans House Jazz Band Recorded 1966-67
"I recorded almost every night, that’s why there’s so much tape. The placement of the mics was right up in front of the band," wrote Scheelar, "You heard myself and Helm very well”
And he was keen to feature Bob Helm: “I was extremely fortunate that Bob Helm was available at that time, as he was in his prime and I believe this is some of the best recordings he ever made. Someone asked me why he had twice as many solos as anyone else in the band, and the answer is because he was Bob Helm. In my opinion, Bob was the Bay Area’s musical genius.”
Earl Scheelar (cornet, leader) Bob Helm (clarinet, soprano sax) John Farkas (trombone) Karl Walterskerchen (banjo) Peter Allen (string bass) Perter Berg (guitar)
These notes are from a web site concerned with New Orleans House as an early venue for “original electric rock.” The was club first opened by Earl on August 26, 1966.
“The opening date of the club is confirmed from The Berkeley Barb. The New Orleans House was at 1505 San Pablo in West Berkeley. Kitty Griffin, the proprietor, taught handicapped children by day across the street and ran the club at night. She had recently run a restaurant on the College Avenue called Kitty’s.
An ad in the December 9, 1966 Berkeley Barb suggests that Earl’s New Orleans Jazz Band played every Friday and Saturday night. There had been a substantial jazz scene on San Pablo Avenue stretching back before World War 2 . . . The name of the club suggests that this was the original concept, but the odds are that rock and other forms of music drew better crowds.
By 1967 the New Orleans House joined The Matrix in San Francisco as a club that primarily featured original electric rock bands. [They] were among the very few places where local bands could try and build a following playing original music.” New Orleans House converted to Rock music with the first performance of The Second Coming, December 13, 1966.
Flyers for jazz at Earl's New Orleans House.
Phil Elwood column announcing the opening of Earl's New Orleans House, August 29, 1966 view here.
Bill Bardin and Earl Scheelar
Trombone player Bill Bardin (1924-2011) was an essential element of Scheelar’s bands during four decades. A deeply skilled and inspired musician, Bill was second to none in the Frisco crowd, ranging easily between swinging four-beat, gutty New Orleans stomps, or the blues.
Says Earl: “Bill Bardin was the finest trombone player the Bay Area produced. I’ve always thought that. Even when there was this big debate going on: Bardin or Mielke?
Mielke was never the consistent player that Bardin was in terms of listening and playing things that made everything else swing. [I hired Bill] every time I could, he’s on all the recordings. Bardin was my trombone player.”
Scheelar in the 1970s and '80s: Funky New Orleans Jazz Band, P.T. Stanton's Stone Age Jazz Band and Zenith Jazz Band
Bob Helm and Scheelar
The musical association of Bob Helm and Scheelar dates back to the mid-1960s.
Helm played reeds in every one of Earl’s bands: New Orleans House, Funky
and Zenith. Helm and Earl became close friends:
“In the 1990s we took
Bob Helm to New Orleans about five years in a row. He became a close
friend of Jacque Gauthe, sat in and recorded with him.” "Helm was to my way of thinking THE musical genius of the Bay Area. There were good players around but nobody with the kind of talent that Helm had, his chord sense and rhythmic sense. In a solo he’ll bury himself in a hole and then dig his way out better than anyone I’ve ever, ever, heard.”
Helm in New Orleans, late 1980s L to R: Jacquest Gauthe, Tom Saunders, Helm, unknown piano player.
Earl Scheelar admired Bob Mielke's Bearcats rhythm section, and hired it for his own bands around 1970, and whenever he could.
“The Bearcats in the mid-‘50s was the band as far as I was concerned. And Don Marchant was their drummer.
So when I wanted to record the Funky [New Orleans Jazz Band] I got the Bearcat rhythm section. which is Marchant, Oxtot and Pete Allen. They were just a wonderful rhythm section. [Bearcats] was a New Orleans-style band. Oxtot was a New Orleans style player actually. I mean you don’t use a banjo in a swing band.
And Marchant was just a very competent drummer; he came from a Country-Western background. But it’s all just competent drumming. And Pete Allen was a jazz player from the very beginning.”
From liner notes by Marshall Kent: “Twenty five years later Earl Scheelar has brought together essentially the same musicians back into the studio to record this CD. Scheelar’s vision in forming the Funky New Orleans Jazz Band was to play New Orleans jazz with veteran musicians who loved the music and could play with the inventiveness that was central to this musical tradition.
Furthermore he wanted that small band makeup of three lead instruments with rhythm that would allow room for solo improvisation and ensemble playing that was clean and un-muddied. These musicians have all played New Orleans style with their own bands and with others for many decades. some of them have played with Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Kid Ory, Muggsy Spanier, P.T. Stanton and other musicians of the early year.”
Earl Scheelar (cornet, vocals, leader) Bob Helm (reeds) Bill Bardin (trombone) George Knoblauch, Frank Tateosian, or Eliot Kenin (banjo) Peter Allen (string bass, vocals) Don Marchant (drums)
Scheelar's Horn Influences, Funky New Orleans Jazz Band 1971-72
Earl's remarkable originality aside, there are a handful of horn-playing bandleaders whose influence Scheelar will proudly acknowledge, primarily Papa Celestin (New Orleans. 1915-25) and P.T. Stanton (Berkeley and East Bay c. 1950-80). With secondary inspiration from horn men Freddie Keppard (New Orleans and Chicago, 1910-20) and George Mitchell (Chicago, late-1920s).
The 1972 Funky New Orleans Jazz Band LP, Make Me a Pallet on The Floor was the first under Scheelar’s name. Earl produced and edited the project himself for Herwin Records, and had Marshall Kent record it at New Orleans House and write liner notes. Notably it was the only non-reissue live band recording ever published by Herwin, a point of pride for Earl.
Playing cornet Scheelar led his dream team: Bob Helm (reeds), Bill Bardin (trombone), Dick Oxtot (banjo), Pete Allen (string bass) and Don Marchant (drums). He titled the reissued CD after Papa Celestin’s tune Give Me Some More (MMRC-CD-5, 1988) and reprised the original horn solo from Celestin’s rarely performed “My Josephine.”
L to R: Bill Bardin, Peter Allen, P.T. Stanton, Paul Boberg, Earl Scheelar, probably Bret Runkle (washboard) Date and location unknown
Photo courtesy Earl Scheelar
Scheelar with P.T. Stanton’s Stone Age Jazz Band Old St. Hilary’s Church, Tiburon, CA, 1977-78
These unissued items were taped in 1977-78 under favored
conditions -- a minimalist recording of a live but relaxed performance. P.T. Stanton (cornet) Earl Scheelar (clarinet) Bill Bardin (trombone) Peter Berg (guitar) Paul Boberg (banjo) Peter Allen (string bass)
Special thanks to to Mili Bardin-Rosenblatt and the late Bill Bardin.
Stone Age Jazz Band
Bill Bardin (tronbone), P.T. Stanton (trumpet), Paul Boberg (banjo), Earl Scheelar (clarinet), Pete Allen (string bass), Peter Berg (guitar) Photo courtesy Scheelar.
From Mike Duffy's liner notes for PT Stanton’s Stone Age Jazz Band, SOS 1228:
the listener to the Stone Age Jazz Band is no easy matter, for they are
so thoroughly odd. One cannot, for instance quite imagine them being
invited to a standard traditional jazz festival. And they weren’t. But
they had their fans (musicians typically, and a collection of the
Bohemians of the diverse, tolerant, notoriously goofy communities
across the Oakland Bay from San Francisco), and for a good stretch they
even had a steady gig at the old Berkeley Square bar a mile or so from
the University of California campus.
The Stones were something
of a reaction from the beginning. Their name, for example, was chosen
as a gentle way of teasing their old pal Dick Oxtot,
leader of the
Golden Age Jazz Band. And their book was very small (maybe eighty
tunes) -- in spite of the fact that they rehearsed weekly and could
easily have played hundreds of things. But their motto was “less is
more.” They never used a drummer because they wanted neither the
heaviness nor the cluttering of their carefully worked-out colors.
Almost everything they did was deliberate of course, and much of it
gleefully calculated to be appropriate to their ‘Stone Age’ sound.”
New 10.2014 ARCHIVE MUSIC
P.T. Stanton Stone Age Jazz Band, August 1974
P.T. Stanton (cornet) Earl Scheelar (clarinet) Bill Bardin (trombone) Karl Walterskirchen (banjo) Peter Berg (guitar) Walter Yost (tuba)
Earl rightly takes pride that he helped organize, “a non-profit providing musical instruments to kids in the Treme district of New Orleans, in the 1990s. We probably gave out over 150 trumpets, cornets, clarinets, trombones and tubas.”
PT Stanton Stone Age JB Sacramento Jazz Club 12.76
No personnel data; probably Stanton, Scheelar, Bardin, Allen, others
"Fortunately there are plenty musicians in the Bay Area who are capable of subbing for A's Band regulars. On this occasion, Dick Bowman subs on tuba, Earl Scheelar on clarinet, and Ray Skjelbred on trombone."
ZENITH JAZZ BAND
Launched in the late-1980s, Zenith was successor to Scheelar’s earlier bands, utilizing some of the same New Orleans repertoire and personnel including Bob Helm, Bill Bardin and Pete Allen. Earl also utilized some of the best NOLA-style players in the Bay Area: Jim Borkenhagen (trumpet), Jim Klippert (trombone), Clint Baker and others.
Zenith shared the New Orleans sound, style, and relaxed pulsing beat of his earlier New Orleans House and Funky New Orleans bands.
Photo: Zenith Jazz Band with guests Bob Helm and Jacques Gauthe, Santa Rosa, early 1990s. Photo by Alice Scheelar.
From Zenith Jazz Band featuring Bob Helm, Merry Makers MMRC-CD-21.
Earl Scheelar (clarinet, leader) Bob Helm (reeds) Robert Young (conret, saxes) Bill Bardin (trombone) Frank Tateosin (banjo) Peter Allen (string bass) Henk Wagner (drums) Genny Haley (vocals) Tom Barnebey (guest pianist, vocals)
Zenith Jazz Band, Santa Rosa, CA 1996-97 Earl Scheelar (clarinet, leader) Bob Helm (saxes) Robert Young (cornet) Bill Bardin (trombone) Frank Tatesosian (banjo) Tom Barnebey (guest pianist) Pete Allen (string bass)
L to R: PT Stanton, Mike Duffy, Ray Skjelbred, Larry Stein, Earl Scheelar
Courtesy Earl Scheelar
Miscellaneous: The Ordinary in Oakland, The Oxtot-Janis Joplin Sessions
Earl Scheelar played with Oxtot bands at The Ordinary in downtown Oakland during the early 1970s:
“It was on Manila, Broadway near 40th in Oakland. It was kind of a little warehouse. [The band] was a quartet. A lot of people played there. It was Oxtot’s band; I played it a lot. Walter Yost played quite a bit.
Photo: At The Ordinary Bill Bardin, PT Stanton, Byron Berry, Walter Yost Courtesy Mili Rosenblatt-Bardin
It was kind of a warehouse. It could have been a PG & E station but I don’t know. Around 1970, or a little bit later. It had to be somewhere around ’71-’72 somewhere in there. I don’t remember who the crowd was; they were young, they were young people. They weren’t the jazz crowd of today. And it was fairly well attended.
Andy Stein would come in and sit-in a lot on baritone sax, as a bass instrument. Yost played tuba a lot in that group, also played cornet sometimes. But he was the main tuba player.”
Scheelar/Stein/Bardin/Garthwaite sessions, The Ordinary 1975
Dick Oxtot’s jam sessions at The Ordinary rolled on, and Earl was often present. There’s so much happening that one barely notices the lack of lead horn in Set #1. Set #2 includes the rarely heard and little appreciated cornet playing of Walter Yost.
Andy Stein Andy Stein became a nationally known musical talent heard for decades on Prairie Home Companion and in the Saturday Night Live house band. In the Bay Area during 1970s he was fiddler in Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen: a fusion of Rockabilly, Country, and Western Swing. Joining Oxtot and crew at The Ordinary in the mid-1970s Stein was playing not only hot and bluesy violin, but baritone and other saxes.
Walt Yost Walt Yost was best known as a yeoman tuba player. But his fine Beidberbecke-influenced cornet sound is notable in Set #2.
Andy Stein (violin, alto and baritone sax) Earl Scheelar (clarinet & alto sax) Bill Bardin (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo & vocals) Walt Yost (tuba, cornet) Terry Garthwaite (vocals)
Earl was especially
hot in these sessions doubling on clarinet and alto sax.
He joined with
Stein and Bardin for riffs and the effervescent ride out choruses.
Special thanks to Earl for help sorting out the tricky personnel
details. Photo: Oxtot collection
Janis Joplin-Dick Oxtot tapes
Earl Scheelar played clarinet and banjo on the legendary Janis Joplin-Dick Oxtot recordings. Recorded 1963-65, years before her Rock superstardom, after her premature death they were released by Columbia Records, with horn solos omitted. The
double album included tracks acquired from the Dick Oxtot sessions, but
most of the horn solos were edited out.
I’ve recently acquired a copy of Oxtot’s own tape
of the Janis Joplin sessions that is more complete. Containing better
sound, unedited takes, and unissued tunes, it clarifies details of the sessions and personnel.
Dick Oxtot (cornet) Earl Scheelar (clarinet) Jim Leigh (trombone) Bill Erickson (piano) Walter Yost (tuba) Don Marchant (drums)