P.T. Stanton was a unique and original cornet player who was active in the San Francisco and East Bay jazz revival from the late-1940s through the ‘70s. He played mostly with the bands of Bob Mielke, Dick Oxtot, and Earl Scheelar, though he became well known overseas for his 1955 session with New Orleans clarinet player, George Lewis. From the mid-1960s on he was heard in Scheelar’s various ensembles.
Neither clarion nor sultry, P.T. Stanton’s cornet sound was not straightforward. Instead, an odd collection of squawks, blats and strangled tones issued from his horn, which almost always had a mute, metal derby or hand stuffed in the bell to generate his personal vocabulary of primitive cries, whinnies and expressive growls.
While his tone and manner were remarkably reticent for a jazz horn player, he nonetheless had a telling role, flavoring any ensemble with his personal vocabulary of primitive growls, and quavering cries.
The Odd Brilliance of P.T. Stanton Frisco Cricket, Fall 2014 This interactive article explores his music, personality and significant role shaping Bob Mielke's Bearcats into a powerful, original and independent voice in the West Coast jazz revival.
P.T. Stanton was a strange and wonderful person and
musician. Everyone I've spoken with who knew him relayed an
entertaining anecdote about his peculiar ways:
later Bill Bardin was still puzzling over Stanton’s comment, “think of
it as a series of one.” Bardin felt P.T. was little disappointed that his
dissipated lifestyle hadn’t killed him by his 30s; it sort of "upset his plan."
P.T.'s old friend, Dave Greer, still finds hysterically funny
an instance when a guest vocalist from, possibly the Middle East, sang
“Sheik of Araby” with a strong flavor of his homeland. P.T. stood on a chair backing him chorus for chorus in a like manner.
The late science fiction grand master and
amateur cornet player, Jack Vance, told me a story about playing
alongside him. At times P.T. had the horn to his mouth and was keying,
but not making any sound. Confronted by Vance, P.T. declared he was
playing “imaginary lead,” citing Bunk Johnson as precedent.
From: "Berkeleyans Score With Dixieland Beat"
Berkeley Daily Gazette, October 26, 1957
"Stanton's cornet style ... gives the group a novel sound, the leader believes.
Stanton is especially worthy of note because he’s made a record with [George] Lewis, Oxtot and Sharpton that eventually many become recognized as a classic.
Stanton . . . has the distinction of being perhaps the least commercial cornet man in the world. He scorns blowing a strong lead. As a result, his playing is most appreciated by fellow musicians and serious jazz fans.
As another Berkeley trumpeter explained, 'You hear a tune and think how you would play it. Then you listen to P.T. and you hear something different – and so much better'.”
The Oxtot Collection
Forthcoming: The best and rarest 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 Odd Brilliance of PT Stanton Vol 1-3, Unissued Bearcats Transcriptions Concerts, Gigs and Jam Sessions, 1954-76 Featuring Bob Mielke, Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, Bill Carter, Bunky Colman, Bill Napier, Pete Allen and Dick Oxtot
The Complete PT Stanton Stone Age Jazz Band, Vol. 1-3 The veteran musicians of Stone Age, Stanton, Bill Bardin, Earl Scheelar and Pete Allen were old friends playing fresh renditions of Classic and New Orleans Jazz.
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
George Lewis, P.T. Stanton, Dick Oxtot Jenny Lind Hall, 1956-57 George Lewis (clarinet) P.T. Stanton (cornet) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Lelieas Sharpton (strong bass) Barbara Dane (vocals)
"His cornet style was so sparse, so laid
back, but he would punctuate and syncopate and do things that made other
people respond. He was amazing. P.T. was the most understated back-in-the-background player.
But he had the ability to goose people and get the best out of them. And that’s very evident in the Bearcats, in the Stone Age [Jazz Band]. I learned so much about lead cornet from that."
Bob Mielke’s Bearcats, Visalia, CA, c. 1959 P.T. Stanton (cornet) Frank Goudie (clarinet Bob Mielke (trombone, vocal) Dick Oxtot (banjo) possibly Burt Bales (piano) Drums - unknown Bass - unknown
Photo: Bearcats in Visalia, CA at an earlier date when Bunky played clarinet. Photo: Mielke collection
After recovering a large volume of P.T.’s rare performance tapes (sampled below) I came to recognize his distinctly original instrumental voice. The outlandish stories of folks who’d known him hinted at the manifold dimensions of his bizarre personality, vast musical talents, crazy-like-a-fox intelligence, self-destructive drinking, surreal verbal charisma and brilliant oddness. I was convinced his tale needed telling.
A Peculiar Tone P.T. Stanton’s jazz cornet sound was like no other: neither conventional nor straightforward. His was not a clarion call or a sultry moan. Instead, a personal vocabulary of quavering growls, peculiar squawks and strangled tones issued from his horn, which almost always had a mute, plunger, or hand stuffed in or near the bell.
Though he played his cornet un-muted when the music called for it, P.T.’s characteristic sound was quite intentionally a wheezy, tattered ragamuffin. Notes rarely exited his horn without modification: they were ‘stressed’ with a variety of mutes, or blown into a tin derby hat he kept mounted on a stand nearby.
While his demeanor as a cornet player was remarkably understated, Stanton was pivotal in a jazz band: coaching and coaxing the ensemble. He was the guiding light of Bob Mielke’s popular Bearcats band in the 1950s and ‘60s. “The heart of the Bearcats was P.T. Stanton, whose trumpet more than anything else, gave the band its identity,” said their string bass player, Pete Allen.
Though Bob Mielke was the Bearcats’ front man at the microphone, P.T. was in many ways its musical director. He defined and molded its style wrote Mielke: “The musical arbiter became P.T. Stanton. He resolved harmonic confusions and made much-needed decisions on voicings for the horns.”
Stanton’s leadership worked nearly invisibly, by sleight of hand, guiding the ensemble, steering and maintaining its momentum in a manner so subtle as to be barely observable. This revelation was slow to dawn on one of their most ardent fans, Dave Greer, until suddenly one night:
"It was an epiphany; I grasped what he was doing . . . it dawned on me: THIS GUY he’s the real genius behind it all. Mielke is a great ‘bone, they’ve got a fine clarinet, and the rhythm section is wonderful. But it’s this odd conception.
P.T. was sort of the presiding musical genius; back there suggesting this or that. He could get the whole band in motion. It was like he had a wheel going and he could just tap now and then to keep it going. It was just a few licks. He was a master of understatement: just a few notes, and strange growling noises."
L to R: Mielke, Dick Oxtot, Bill Napier, Pete Allen, P.T. Stanton
PHOTO: Courtesy SFTJF Archive
At the Lark’s Club
Bob Mielke’s Bearcats jelled into a tightly knit ensemble of exceptional talents with a wide-ranging repertoire in the mid-1950s. They developed their sound at East Bay bars and nightclubs like Reno’s in Oakland and the Lark’s Club, located in a black neighborhood of Berkeley.
Lark’s Club, owned by Bill Nelson, a former trombone player in the Jimmy Lunceford orchestra, had an integrated clientele; about half were African-American. The Bearcats first steady gig, it nurtured the band and seasoned their chops during 1954-55.
The basic lineup was P.T. Stanton (cornet), Bob Mielke (trombone), Bunky Colman (clarinet), Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals), Don Marchant (drums), and Pete Allen (bass). Substitutes and additions included singer Barbara Dane, clarinet players Bill Napier, Ellis Horne, and Frank Goudie, and drummer Don Fay. The core group did not include piano and they didn’t use one at the Lark’s Club, but when a piano player was needed for a gig pianists Bill Erickson or Burt Bales.
P.T. established early on the basic elements of the Bearcats sound. The group featured strong ensemble unity, and riffs: simple repeated figures played behind the soloists that added complexity, harmonic development and rhythmic drive to the music, a popular and notable feature of Bay Area jazz performance. To that they brought a full-blooded New Orleans ensemble, adding up to a potent brew. It was a welcome contrast to the Eddie Condon jam session or East Coast ‘cutting contest’ Dixieland formulas.
Authoring the Bearcats Sound
P.T. established early the basic elements of the Bearcats sound: strong ensemble unity, and riffing. The riffing was P.T.’s contribution inspired by the Basie band, says Mielke. The riffs were simple repeated figures played behind a soloist, typically by P.T. with clarinet or trombone. Riffing added complexity, harmonic development and rhythmic drive to the music, and was popular in Bay Area jazz performance and jams at the time.
Fusing P.T.’s sly riffing and Mielke’s love for full-throated New Orleans ensemble polyphony, the Bearcats created an independent style that was a potent brew. It proved a fresh alternative to the formulas of Eddie Condon’s Dixieland jam sessions, East Coast ‘cutting contests,’ and the Traditional Jazz styles of Lu Watters and Turk Murphy.
Richard Hadlock recalls P.T. Stanton as "the world's most eccentric eccentric:"
"Despite his eccentricity, he was sly as a fox. His favorite word was righteous: 'that’s a good band, that has a righteous sound.' It was kind of a spiritual thing with him producing that music, so maybe that was the right word for him to use."
Legacy of the Bearcats
It’s unclear exactly when P.T. stopped playing. He’d been sober during much of the 1970s, but resumed drinking and went into steady decline. He died in 1987 at age 64.
It’s apparent from both his music and the high estimation of his contemporaries that P.T. Stanton was a rambunctious and expressive musical talent of the first order. He was one of the most colorful personalities at the leading edge of a second-wave of San Francisco revival-jazz musicians who built their own independent style during the 1950s, inspired by Lu Watters and the rediscovery of New Orleans music. He left behind a limited set of issued recordings, but you’ll find photos, recollections and a P.T. Stanton archive of jam sessions and performance tapes offered here for the first time.
Mielke’s band was a significant voice in the mid-century jazz revival; Stanton’s unorthodox cornet lead and indirect leadership style were key elements sustaining its creativity. As its musical consigliere his contribution to crafting their independent style was an achievement of originality. By authoring the unique Bearcats sound P.T. Stanton left his unmistakable personal signature on the West Coast jazz revival.
Odd things could happen at early Bearcats gigs, like this one at Lafayette Pioneer Village in San Leandro, CA.
L to R: P.T. Stanton (banjo), Jim Cummings (bass), Dick Oxtot (cornet), Bill Dart (drums), Bunky Coleman and Bob Mielke
Was Stanton influenced by Bunk Johnson?
Earl Scheelar says yes, Dave Greer, no. On first listen P.T. might be mistaken for a follower of New Orleans-revival trumpet player Bunk Johnson. He admired him, and was around during the year Bunk played in San Francisco.
But P.T.’s style was rougher and more expressive, sharing little of Johnson’s ragtime-influenced style or baroque elegance. Nonetheless, like Bunk he had a sack full of personal musical devices and you never knew what he would throw next.
Scheelar: "P.T. was influenced by Bunk [Johnson]. In fact I’m not sure what all his influences were. Actually, he listened to a lot of swing too."
Greer: "I don’t think P.T. really had any Bunk Johnson in him. I never really heard any Bunk at all. He was pretty much himself. He was P.T."
"P.T. Stanton and Coleman specialize in 'contrapuntal interweaving' with one making a statement and the other answering."
From: "Berkeleyans Score With Dixieland Beat" Berkeley Daily Gazette, October 26, 1957
Dave Greer moved to the Bay Area in 1956 to participate in the ongoing jazz revival. He got to know P.T. Stanton and all the musicians of the Bearcats band well.
I got out here and I heard the Bearcats; a wonderful band I thought. And I heard ‘em for about six months or so, I guess at the Lark’s Club; it was a wonderful place to go.
I kept thinking, you know I wish this trumpet player would just be a little more assertive, just stick it out there a little more. And then one night I was sitting there fairly sloshed and it came over me, it was an epiphany. I grasped what he was doing. And I thought, gee, the band sounds wonderful, and they’re doing it with a mediocre, not very powerful trumpet player.
Then it dawned on me: no, no. THIS GUY he’s the real genius behind it all. Mielke is a fine ‘bone, they’ve got a fine clarinet, the rhythm section is wonderful. But its this odd conception. P.T. was sort of the presiding musical genius, which Bob Mielke says on album notes.
P.T. was a remarkable and mysterious man. He spoke, I believe, seven languages. He never spoke anything that was particularly straight ahead, he was a great devotee of the bank shot. It took a while for P.T. to get to the point of just about anything, whether it was pass the butter or whatever. It was always charming.
P.T. was kind of the genius behind the [Bearcats] band. He’s really the one that gave it its unique sound. P.T. kind of led from behind, almost like a Mutt Carey style. It wasn’t like the trumpets and the cornets on the East Coast, where you had a very distinguished trumpet or cornet lead.
P.T. was back there, but he was always sort of goosing other people, and suggesting this or that. He could get the whole band in motion in an amazing way. Once he got it, it was like he had a wheel going and he could just tap now and then to keep it going and going. It was just a few licks. He was just a master of understatement, and a few notes, and strange growling noises. Things like that here and there.
He sang very, very wonderful vocals . . . very fey vocals. One of his favorite was a parody of "Little Coquette," "Little Coquette from Lafayette." He was a pretty good singer, actually. He and Oxtot and Mielke often sang together in the band. It made a nice little trio.
He was a very intelligent guy. He was also an awfully hard drinker, which had a lot to do with the end of his career.
Bearcats L to R: Goudie, Mielke, P.T. Stanton, Peter Allen, Dick Oxtot
Pioneer Village, East Bay, c. 1958
Recovered contact sheet, Bob Mielke collection
Bob Mielke and his Bearcats featuring P.T. Stanton, cornet mid-1950s (CD tracks) SFTJF SFCD-3 (issued 1991): P.T. Stanton (cornet) Bunky Coleman (clarinet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Pete Allen (string bass) Don Fay (drums)
Bogalusa Strut.mp3 (3:31) Ice Cream.mp3 (4:22) New Orleans.mp3 (4:22) sub: Bill Napier (clarinet), Don Marchant (drums), add: Bill Erickson (piano) Lark's Club: GHB BCD-66 (issued 2002): P.T. Stanton (cornet) Bunky Coleman (clarinet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Pete Allen (string bass) Don Fay or Don Marchant (drums)
Bob Mielke comments on P.T. Stanton: (from liner notes of Bob Mielke’s Bearcats, 1955, GHB BCD-66)
“The Bearcats grew out of a series of jams at Dick Oxtot’s house starting in 1953. These evolved into creative rehearsals, as we worked out head arrangements. It was a co-operative effort, everyone contributing ideas for tunes, etc.
But the musical artiter became P.T. Stanton. He resolved harmonic confusions and made much-needed decisions on voicings for the horns.
This band was the best I ever played in. I don’t say that because it’s called BOB MIELKE’S Bearcats. When we landed our firs steady gig (1954), I was chosen to be bandstand leader and MC, as the one with the’ gift of gab’ in public. So it became Bob Mielke’s Bearcats, but it remained a co-op band.
The 1954 steady gig was the Larks Club, a saloon in the black neighborhood of Berkeley. It had a great set-up, a room adjacent to the bar for band and listeners. That way, we wouldn’t disturb neighborhood regulars at the bar, some of whom later became fans of ours. Owner Bill Nelson had once played in Jimmy Lunceford’s band, and took a liking to these kids playing old time jazz.”
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.)
Richard Hadlock comments that P.T.'s remarkable introduction to "Trouble in Mind" on Barbara Dane's 1957 album of that title is memorable: "His introduction to the tune, it can just give you goose bumps to this day. And Barbara feels the same way. That was one of his most beautiful recordings."
"His contemporaries thought of him as a mystery man, a self-made
intellectual, an amateur linguist who dominated several languages,
especially Spanish and Portuguese, and a raconteur who was entertaining
enough to keep you supplying him with one beer after another until the
sun came up."
From Barbara Dane' 1957 album, Trouble in Mind
P.T. Stanton (trumpet) Darnell Howard (clarinet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Don Ewell (piano) Pops Foster (bass)
Singer Barbara Dane contributes these memories of P.T. from her projected memoir.
"My own closest experience with P.T. was when we made the album "Trouble in Mind," my first recording in 1957 for San Francisco Records (currently available as CD from Dreadnaught Music).
P.T. Stanton, the cornet man, was a local legend, with a unique sound you would recognize anywhere. As it turns out, “Trouble in Mind” was one of the few recordings he ever made. I was too dazed by the whole experience to recall much in the way of peripheral interactions. The music said it all.
His contemporaries thought of him as a mystery man, a self-made intellectual, an amateur linguist who dominated several languages, especially Spanish and Portuguese, and a raconteur who was entertaining enough to keep you supplying him with one beer after another until the sun came up.
I’m told he could play Basie-style piano, as well as rhythm guitar along the lines of Freddie Green, on top of his personal inimitable cornet style. In spite of his knowledge of swing as well as traditional jazz and all his playing talents, nobody ever knew him to be making a living at music.
Bob Mielke was especially lucky to have enlisted P.T. as lead trumpet in his Bearcats band. The Bearcats, like many earlier bands, mostly created their arrangements on the spot, what we call “head arrangements,” as they played the opening and closing ensemble choruses, the same way they improvised when backing the solo turns."
Larks Club, 1955
L to R: Bob Mielke, Barbara Dane, P.T. Stanton
Photo: SFTJF Archives
"But P.T. had enough musical knowledge to write
out ensemble parts, which he did for many of their main pieces, or 'tunes' as they were called. In that way, broader dimensions were
opened up for the band, and while they loved to rehearse, mostly
learning their music without benefit of notes on paper, they took pride
in being able to negotiate these charts with confidence as well.
Gradually, Mielke conceded the musical leadership to P.T. while he
himself continued to develop as the front man.
An amusing side
tale about P.T. regards his 'marriage' to Elsa Bauman, a woman respected
and loved by all because of her devotion to the music as a listener. I
can testify to her exquisite taste in music, if not her courage when it
came to romance, because she later became the wife of my favorite living
piano partner Ray Skjelbred, another notorious character in his own
Both those musicians will live forever in the pantheon of
the Bay Area second-generation jazz players, and both consumed
prodigious amounts of beer every day of their lives. But the amusing
part is that in spite of a sumptuous, glorious blowout which everybody
called the marriage of P.T. and Elsa, in spite of acres of flowers, tons
of great food and rivers of beer, there was actually no wedding! Does
this mean they were premature hippies, or what?"
The Black Egg was a bar in San Mateo where some of the East Bay revival musicians played briefly. All the musicians sound very good on this session especially Frank Goudie (right), though Oxtot’s vocals are off mic.
Quite surprising is the presence Pearl Zohn playing piano on this session Previously unknown to me she was apparently sister of trumpet player, Al Zohn and trombonist, Joe, both of whom worked in the wartime Yerba Buena band, local ensembles, and studio orchestras.
(Right:) Mielke, Goudie, Stanton, at an East Bay dance hall c. 1958. Mielke collection
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.
Dick Oxtot's Birthday 1965, probably Earl Scheelar's rumpus room:
Shortly after P.T. Stanton's passing BOB MIELKE recorded these comments:
"There are two of P.T.’s trademarks that I don’t think anybody mentioned. One was the tin hat on a stand into which he blew his horn. A very, very old fashioned device for altering the tone of the cornet that had gone out of use many, many years ago, probably in the early 1930s. But P.T. bore with it as did Papa Mutt Carey.
Photo above: Bearcats horns at the Lark's Club, 1955 L to R: Bob Mielke, Bunky Coleman, P.T. Stanton Courtesy SFTJF Archive
Another of P.T.'s trademarks was the little old ladies paper shopping bag with handles, like little old ladies used to carry their groceries home from the market. He used to carry it with him just about everywhere. To a gig, the job, or even to social occasions. No one every figured out quite what was in there. But maybe it was kind of like a security blanket or something.
P.T. was unique. He was a complex man. One of the most complicated human beings I’ve ever known, for sure. He was and intellectual and a romantic.
One of the things he was romantic about was the great proletariat, the ordinary workingman. During his various blue-collar jobs he used to love to hang out with the regular guys and pretend he was one of them, even though he was at all times an astute observer.
A good example of this was during the late years. For along period P.T. used to volunteer his services every weeknight as a custodian at a Berkeley junior high school building, just so he could hang out with the black guys on the night shift. He went just a regularly as if he’d been hired for the gig. Somehow he’d ingratiated himself with them and in return they let him practice his horn in an empty room. But he really dug those guys and called them his buddies.
Several people have mentioned P.T.s great skill as a linguist, but no one mentioned that his enthusiasm for each language was matched by an enthusiasm for each of the cultures. He knew a lot about them. During the last couple of years of his life PT had renewed his interest in foreign languages with his study of Japanese and of the Japanese characters.
He read a lot of Latin literature and poetry even before . . . the English-speaking literary establishment had taken note of these authors.
He use to get along with kids just wonderfully, kids and young people. They seemed to like him and remember him with great fondness including my own two sons."
New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California, 9/66
P.T. Stanton (cornet) Bunky Coleman (clarinet) Bill Bardin (trombone) Peter Allen (bass) Bill Dart (drums)
Bardin, Bill, interview, 1994 Greer, Dave, interviews and discussions, 2013, 2014 Hadlock, Richard, interview and phone conversation, 2014 Mielke, Bob, interviews and discussions, 1993, 2013, 2014 Scheelar, Earl, interviews, 2014
Bob Mielke’s Bearcats, Live at Sail ‘N - 1958, Arhoolie C-1099, 1998 Bob Mielke’s Bearcats 1955, GHB Records, 2002, Mielke liner notes Ecklund, K.O., Jazz West 2, 1995 Goggin, Jim, Bob Mielke: A Life in Jazz, Goggin/Trafford Publishing, 2008 Oxtot, Dick and Goggin, Jim, Jazz Scrapbook, Creative Arts, 1999 P.T. Stanton’s Stone Age Jazz Band, Stomp Off Records SOS 1228, 1991, Mike Duffy liner notes Salzman, Ed, “Berkeleyans Score with Dixieland Beat,” Berkeley Daily Gazette, 12.5.56, p. 18 Salzman, Ed, “Berkeley Has One of World’s Largest Jazz Communities: Members Placing Most of Effort on Ensembles,” Berkeley Daily Gazette, 12.26.57, p. 14 SFTJF Presents: Bob Mielke’s Bearcats, San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation SFCD-3