Photo above: Bearcats: Goudie, Mielke, Stanton, Allen and Oxtot, Pioneer Village, 1957-58. Mielke collection.
After Hambone Kelly’s
Contemporaneous with events at the Lark’s Club, there were numerous East Bay jazz spots drawing fans during the 1950s. The seeds of the East Bay revival were sown in 1947 when Lu Watters and the Yerba Buena band moved their operation to El Cerrito in the East Bay at Hambone Kelly’s.
By the late ‘40s musicians like Napier, Oxtot, Bardin and Mielke had been mentored by band members, or were sitting in and jamming. Hambone Kelly’s and the attendant jazz scene drew yet others to the region. Its close at the end of 1950 was only a temporary hiatus.
Likewise, horn players Earl Scheelar and Gene Maurice fondly recall Larry Blake’s Rathskeller, just steps from the UC Berkeley campus on Telegraph Ave. In the early 1950s most of the local traditional and revival jazz musicians performed there. Bret Runkle called it a beer and peanuts bar that for fledgling musicians such as him might have been their first onstage performance.
Dick Oxtot Gets it Rolling
Soon Dick Oxtot got music going at several steady gigs with jam groups or his Polecats bands. He was a former habitué of Hambone’s, having lent Turk Murphy his $1300 stake in the enterprise. Recall that Dick’s transition from cornet to banjo happened gradually over the decade. By 1953-54 Oxtot was jamming and playing music around El Cerrito and Albany or at his Berkeley home. This was the nucleus from which Mielke’s Bearcats emerged. It’s notable that former Yerba Buenan Bill Dart was the first Bearcats drummer, and remained a welcome guest of the band.
Oxtot was a vigorous gig getter. He played an active role initiating, supporting, or building audiences for jazz in Berkeley at Monkey Inn (1956- c.’66), and La Val’s Gardens (1957-58, 1964-68) presenting pianists Norma Teagarden, Don Ewell and Englishman-via-Berkeley, Cyril Bennett.Besides Dick’s role integral to the Lark’s Club Bearcats, Oxtot played that club weekly with his own band. Among his gigs was a remarkable band with Norma Teagarden at Charlie Tye’s (1957) in Oakland, which he recalled as “a pretty rough place.”
There was a freewheeling atmosphere at Nod’s Taproom in Berkeley (1958-61) that amounted to an ongoing jam session where most of the locals played: horn men Byron Berry or Bill Erickson, clarinetists Frank Goudie or Earl Scheelar, trombonists Bob Mielke or Jerry Butzen, Bret Runkle (washboard), Oxtot and others.
Many East Bay musicians and leaders developed their swinging, adventurous styles in this milieu. And traditional Jazz ensembles in the Yerba Buena two-beat mode played these same venues: Sanford Newbauer’s Bay City, Frank Goulette’s Original Inferior and the Great Pacific Jazz Bands.
Monkey Inn: “A Little Rough”
Monkey Inn was one of the more successful and long-lived nightspots for revival jazz in the East Bay, with music five nights a week, c. 1956-66. It was was a beer and pizza joint located at the south end of Berkeley on Shattuck Ave. near the Oakland border. Like many of these clubs it may have had sawdust on the floor.
The predominantly collegiate crowd’s response to music ranged from mild indifference to overheated enthusiasm. “Things could get a little rough,” said Mielke who recalls an atmosphere of “frat boys out on their first beer benders.” “A little pack of thugs,” was observer Dave Greer’s less charitable description. Earl Scheelar tells me he and fellow musicians once packed up and left when a tough motorcycle gang showed up.
And Great Pacific Jazz Band played two-beat Traditional Jazz regularly for several months in 1960. Photos, and Ed Sprankle’s lively tapes are newly available.
Only a few facts can be gleaned from the handful of tantalizing photos and ephemera extant from the intriguing Pioneer Village. It had two locations: Lafayette in the hills east of Oakland and San Leandro to the south. Bob Scobey, Ralph Sutton and various formations of Mielke’s Bearcats appeared at both venues. Photos of one stage reveal a large high-ceiling barnlike hall with an old west motif; by contrast, the other Pioneer venue appears more conventional.
This is not a complete listing of East Bay clubs; for a comprehensive first-hand account see Bret Runkle, Bay Area Jazz Clubs of the Fifties. Another steady source of income and exposure for bands were the frequent ‘casuals:’ dances and fraternity parties.
Additionally, musicians’ homes served as a rotating series of Berkeley Jazz houses for informal recordings, sessions and rehearsals at the residences of Oxtot, Mielke, or Bill Erickson; and later the rumpus room above Scheelar’s VW garage. They provided an auxiliary space for jam sessions, music parties, woodshedding and the overflowing creativity of the vibrant 1950s East Bay jazz revival.
Sources for this article are similar to the Lark’s Club article this issue; and it was fact checked by Dave Greer, Gene Maurice and Earl Scheelar. Archived music from these venues may be found by following links to the JAZZ RHYTHM website: JAZZHOTBigstep.com.