"Directly across the Embarcadero highway and tracks from The Tin Angel was The Pier 23. The Pier opened to jazz in 1954. Burt Bales always seemed to be featured and a platoon of brass players led by Robin Hodes always sat in. Hodes was another Dayton transplant.
On off nights someone like Bill Erickson or Devon Harkins took over the piano. Late in the decade, Dick Oxtot fronted a band at the Pier featuring Frank Goudie and Bales.
The Pier was owned in the fifties by a colorful character named Havelock Jerome. Except for his singing voice and his nose he was a small man. The characters who hung out in The Pier 23 seemed to have stepped out of a Steinbeck novel. In those days bars were supposed to close an hour earlier or later when the time changed. The Pier always closed later – at whatever time the cops came. By this time the patrons and musicians were spilling out the back onto the pier itself. Havelock always convinced the cops that he was merely confused about daylight savings."
Pier 23 on the air
L to R: Suzanne Summers, Hambone Lee Crosby, Burt Bales, Bob Mielke, Bill Erickson (obscured), Dick Oxtot, Frank Goudie
Photo: Oxtot collection
PIER 23 Stereo Broadcast KGO 1959
Sound quality is mostly quite good except for some bad speed flutter toward the end.
These broadcasts feature everything great about Pier 23. Most of these swinging dixieland shows featured Burt Bales, then at his peak as an entertainer, clarinetist Frank "Big Boy" Goudie, and the singing of "Uncle Dick" Oxtot.
On-air host and producer 'Hambone Lee' Crosby self-consciously evoked the piquant waterfront atmosphere, "a little slice of old SanFransciscanner." Occasional local adverts and off the wall comments by Pier owner/host Havelock Jerome added local color.
The fine Estuary Jazz group broadcast band was closely related to Bob Mielke's Bearcats. Featuring Bill Erickson on horn, it's a rare opportunity to hear his fine, and hard to classify trumpet sound.
Each show offered a generous serving of Burt Bales "The Old Perfessor" playing ragtime or his incomparable Jelly Roll Morton interpretations. Some programs over-emphasized local crooner Susan Sommers a bit much for my taste (not to be confused with a well-known actress with a similar name) or offered the contrasting skiffle blues of "railroad singer" and one-man-band, Jesse Fuller.
A few of these remotes were heard in 1959, nobody recalls how many. Some were transmitted as early experiments in stereo radio, simultaneously broadcast on AM and FM mono stations. It seems the hoped for TV coverage did not develop.
Pier 23 Live KOFY broadcast, c. 1959 "WATERFRONT JAZZ SOCIETY" This is an amazing live performance and extraordinary audio document. It has everything: Bill Erickson leading the band in fine form on trumpet, Burt Bales and Bob Mielke at the top of their games, a swashbucking performance by Frank Goudie, a Dick Oxtot vocal, and the electric atmosphere of a jazz broadcast from the San Francisco waterfront with an appearance by owner Havelock Jerome (a world-class weirdo).
L to R: Erickson, Goudie, Oxtot
Photo: Oxtot collection
Despite heroic restoration efforts, this tape contains unavoidable gaps, distortion and musical flaws. Bill Erickson (trumpet) Frank Goudie (clarinet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo, vocals) Burt Bales (piano, vocals) Squire Girsback (string bass) Bob Osibin (drums) Suzane Summers (vocals) Lee Crosby (on-air host)
had good sessions there, playing with the famous and the less known. I
jammed with Muggsy Spanier, Darnell Howard, Squire Girsback, Ernie
Figueroa, Marty Marsala, Joe Dodge, and many now forgotten."
ARCHIVE MUSIC PIER 23 jam session [These historic tracks are made available despite being rough or incomplete in places.]
Great thanks to recordist, Dave Greer.
October 1960 Ray Ronnei (trumpet) Frank Goudie (clarinet) Bill Erickson (piano) Pete Allen (bass) Jimmy Carter (drums)
At Pier 23 L to R: Unknown trumpet player, Burt Bales, Jerome Hadlock owner of Pier 23 and Virginia Hodes, who was then married to Robin (Bob) Hodes and a waitress at The Pier.
(Photo courtesy Richard Hadlock)
Cry of the Wolf: Ray Ronnei
Dave Greer was a jazz enthusiast who recorded many of these tapes. He was a close friend of Bill Erickson, with whom he resided at the "Jazz House" in Berkeley:
Quite a few revival musicians from Los Angeles came here to play, and some to stay. At one of hour parties I talked with a retiring Angeleno who said he admired and had played with Papa Mutt Carey, the great trumpeter with Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band.
When he joined in, the Ray Ronnei legend was born. It was instantly apparent he was not just another cornetist. His conception was from the central core of jazz. And although his tone then still had something of the crying crackling quality of Carey’s, it was so primal that it was hard to believe it came out of a horn.
Ronnei made the more sophisticated brass men seem irrelevant; I remember one just stopped playing and looked at him. It was a as if a wolf had walked into a pack of dogs and howled, reminding them of their original nature and purpose. To many of us Ronnei became emblematic of the young white players who had brought about a renaissance of an improvised music whose origins were largely black. It can be thought of as a second Golden Age of jazz.
“The Fabulous Byron Berry – Pier 23 Polecats, April 11, 1960" "Recording
by Jack Stratford, initiated by Grayson ‘Ken’ Mills. Recorded on
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)
[In the Bay area] were some of the distinguished black musicians who were performing in the late teens and 20s, the Golden Age of jazz.
Amos White, who was a bandsman on the Mississippi River paddle-wheelers, played his trumpet and sang “Old Fashioned Love” with such purity of feeling that many of us had need of our handkerchiefs. (Yes, people still carried them then.)
Clarinetist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie . . . was a regular at these assemblies. The great Darnell Howard set high standards for the young reed men, as did Clem Raymond. Aside from being first-rate performers, they were all real gentlemen of jazz.
-- Dave Greer, "Oxtot Memorial Brings Out the Traditional Jazz Crowd," The Journal, March 15, 2002
Bill Erickson plays trumpet at Pier 23
Bill Erickson (trumpet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Bill Napier (clarinet) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Pete Allen (bass) Jimmy Carter (drums)
Ralph J. Gleason liner iner notes to Jazz From the San Francisco Waterfront, ABC Paramount, 1958
"In San Francisco for some years now the Embarcadero (the dockside road than runs along the Bay waterfront wharves) has been a sort of North Rampart Street with dixieland jazz floating out over the waters of the Bay every night from the Tin Angel and Pier 23, that converted dock wallopers lunchroom where Burt plays. For the past year the band at the Tin Angel has been led by Marty Marsala, a veteran of the early days of Chicago jazz. Burt and Marty have worked together before on numerous occasions and there is natural musical meeting of the minds."
Note on 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.
ARCHIVE MUSIC Burt Bales' 1955 LP On the Waterfront was based on his large local popularity. He was a draw for both fans and musicians.
Jazz piano player, Ray Skjelbred remembers Burt Bales at Pier 23 (right): "I
was 18 the first time I saw Burt Bales playing at Pier 23 in San
Francisco. There was a small table just to the left of the piano where I
could watch his hands, especially the way his left hand and wrist moved
back and forth like a gentle sea wave.
It would be several more
years before I started playing, but I was getting the idea. I liked the
humming, fat sound of 10ths in his left hand. I listened attentively to
discover how he made round sounds by the way he touched the keys.
first I was interested in the Jelly Roll Morton and ragtime
compositions that he played, but the biggest repertoire lesson I learned
came from his interest in choosing standard ballads to allow his
deepest self expression. I remember in the first days hearing songs like 'The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi' and 'Darkness on the Delta'.”
Note sawdust on the floor.
(Photo: Courtesy Ray Skjelbred)
Burt Bales at Pier 23 with Frank Big Boy Goudie, clarinet, 1961:
Bill Erickson succeeded Burt Bales in the Pier 23 piano chair. A gifted jazz piano and trumpet player, he hosted a regular combo and vigorous jazz jams. Erickson's piano was anchor for combos and jams that included Frank Goudie, Robin Hodes, Ray Ronnei, Bob Mielke, Dick Oxtot, Bill Napier, Jim Leigh and others.
Jim Leigh captured the significance of Pier 23 for San Francisco jazz in his memoir:
"Pier 23 was enormously popular with local and visiting
musicians as a place to drink and, frequently, to sit in. If such a
thing as a session joint exists, the Pier was the main one in the Bay
area for musicians of pre-bop sympathies . . . . Depending on who was
sitting in, the music would run a gamut among New Orleans style, Chicago
style, and small-band swing; if you sat in you were expected to handle
transitions between styles with good grace and a certain adequacy of
The waterfront, the generally exotic mixture of the crowd [at Pier 23],
the benignly “tough” tone of the place: along with fans of the music,
these attracted all sorts of other people . . .
of players -- and the customers it attracted -- got so large that a
complaint was lodged with the [musician’s] union by Kid Ory. Across the Embarcadero from the Pier, Ory had taken over the Tin Angel, renamed it On the Levee,
and felt his attendance, especially on week nights, suffering from the
partly unpaid competition at the Pier."
[Pier 23 owner] Havelock Jerome doubtless made some money from
it, but nobody else did, certainly not Erickson, who was apparently
quite comfortable with his hand-to-mouth existence. It was never a case
of the money not mattering: Erickson lived from it, Goudie and
[drummer] Carter relied on it, and when I occasionally happened to get
paid for a night or two I never turned it down.
music, and the mostly pleasant company of those gathered to play it,
were the point, and that’s all there was to it." -- Jim Leigh, Heaven on the Side, 2000