Photo above: Bill Erickson combo at Monkey Inn L to R: Frank Goudie (clarinet), Jimmy Carter (drums), Bob Mielke (trombone) and Bill Erickson (piano)
Photo right: Mielke and Goudie, Pioneer Village c. 1958
Monkey Inn was a beer and pizza joint on Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley near the Oakland line (now La Pena Cultural Center). Mielke describes it a sometimes rough UC Berkeley student hangout with sawdust on the floor and, “fraternity guys out on their first beer benders. It got pretty rowdy sometimes." These musicians rarely sounded happier than when playing primarily for themselves, and only secondarily for a mostly indifferent college crowd.
In Erickson’s combos Bob Mielke (b. 1926) was a workhorse, comping, riffing and playing counterpoint to the other horn(s). Bob says he “learned a lot” and grew as a musician working with these more seasoned veterans who stretched his skills, building up his chops. He freely admits that this combo – often with just two horns swapping the lead -- was not Traditional or Dixieland Jazz at all, but Swing. Auditioning the music today Bob is astonished at Erickson’s audacity and proud of his own role.
Mielke may have been the most imaginative second-generation trombonist to emerge from the Frisco revival. He synthesized his own sound from elements of Kid Ory’s New Orleans tailgate tradition, the Harlem swing of J.C. Higginbotham and vox humana of Ellington’s “Tricky Sam” Nanton. Richard Hadlock observes that his exemplar for playing New Orleans trombone parts was George Brunis on the 1939 Muggsy Spanier’ Ragtime Band records.
Frank Goudie (clarinet)
“Behind his easy smile lies one of the most colorful stories in jazz,” wrote broadcaster, musician and writer Richard Hadlock in The San Francisco Examiner in 1963. “I never saw a musician more eager to play.”
According to his former associates, Goudie had a “continental” manner, wore a beret and spoke with a strong French accent, yet retained earthy traces of his Louisiana Creole origins. His former associates recall a cultured, intelligent, worldly, charming and modest “gentleman of jazz.” “Though none of us called him ‘Big Boy’,” noted trombonist Bill Bardin.
Photo: Goudie photographed c. 1962 by William Carter
From about 1957-63 Frank “Big Boy” Goudie (1899-1964) was a notable figure in the Frisco revival. In San Francisco he was playing most nights of the week with any of a half-dozen Bay Area New Orleans and revival jazz ensembles, or with Bill Erickson at Pier 23 and Monkey Inn.
Living in the Bay Area (1956-64) and still brimming with energy in his 60s, Frank "Big Boy" Goudie was known exclusively as a clarinetist, fertile ground for an autumnal flowering of his music. The former tenor saxophonist developed a distinctive personal voice: a rich, husky tone with flowing lines, incorporating both New Orleans tradition and his three decades jamming with the jazz elite of Europe.
Like his greatest inspiration Coleman Hawkins, Goudie developed the ability to improvise endlessly with ease. These sessions are by far the best pickup of his masterful, mature New Orleans Creole clarinet sound. Frank poured out variations with drive and imagination, his eloquent solos opening like blossoms.
Billing himself as “Big Boy” the 6’ 5” multi-instrumentalist originally from Louisiana moved to Paris where he was a big success from about 1925-47. He was stuck in South America during WW II, and then went back to Europe (France, Switzerland, Germany) after the war. He eventually returned to the USA, moving to San Francisco in late 1956. Goudie’s saga is explored in greater depth by a recently published pictorial/documentary biography, and on this site at Frank Goudie, Frank Goudie in SF.
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: Remembering Bill Erickson: Willie the Master, SF Cricket, Spring 2014.
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)
There’s a puzzle regarding the identity of this cornet or trumpet player. For decades Bob Mielke recalled it was Jerry Blumberg on this gig. Blumberg was best known for his work in New York with Bunk Johnson, and Bob Wilber in 1947, when he first met Mielke. He later came under the influence of Bobby Hackett. Briefly in the Bay Area during the late 1950s and early 60s, Jerry left a favorable impression on local musicians. But he soon quit music for health and personal reasons. (No photos of Blumberg have yet emerged.)
Blumberg recently broke a silence of 50 years to assert that he is not the horn player on these tapes. Nonetheless, Jerry did recall playing Monkey Inn with Mielke a couple of times, and he was sometimes heard at Erickson’s Pier 23 jam sessions. His Bay Area itinerary overlapped with these dates and extant tapes of him subbing in the Bearcats show a strong resemblance.
So despite his demurral, informed listeners remain convinced this is Blumberg, including Bob Mielke and jazz scholar Richard Hadlock who distinctly recalls Jerry’s “classy” style. This tasteful lead horn blends a swinging Bobby Hackett New York Dixieland sound with flourishes of Bunk Johnson, providing skillful leadership without aggressiveness, a full tone, flowing technique and fresh improvisational ideas.
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 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, Goudie was dead from lung cancer within two years, Erickson a suicide five years later. Briefly a vanguard in the San Francisco jazz revival, Erickson’s Monkey Inn combos manifested the cooperative, adventurous and musically sophisticated outlook of this cohort, the second generation of Frisco traditionalists who built an independent regional jazz style in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Based on interviews with Bill Bardin, Dave Greer, Richard Hadlock, Bob Mielke and Earl Scheelar.
See also Big Boy, Goudie, Vernhettes, Baldwin, 2015. Bob Mielke: A Life in Jazz, Heaven on the Side, Jim Leigh, 2000 (self-published).
Bill Erickson piano solos with banjo accompaniment by Earl Sheelar Monkey Inn, Berkeley, 1962