This page is an archive of Earl Scheelar’s tapes and performances, mostly from his personal library.
Much of this music is from an unissued trove of performances, jams and private sessions taped by Earl in Berkeley at the rumpus room above his VW Shop, The Albatross bar or the basement of a rental.
Earl’s music ensembles of the 1960s often took on the character of the musicians participating and flavor of the moment. Scheelar is heard playing: Cornet Clarinet Soprano Sax Alto Sax Banjo Baritone Horn Tuba
Except as noted photos are from Scheelar's personal collection. Photographic credits given where available.
As a bandleader Scheelar gradually imposed a defined format on his more formally organized ensembles beginning with Earl's New Orleans House Jazz Band (1966, right) and continuing in Funky New Orleans (1972). The trend intensified in Zenith Jazz Band, and its sister Zenith New Orleans Parade Band (1980s-'90s), an eleven-piece New Orleans-styled marching band.
Photo: Salvaged image of Earl with bassist Red Honore, probably at a jam session in the 1950s. Honore passed shortly afterwards.
Scheelar is an eloquent classic jazz horn player. Forthright and full-voiced, his heartbreaking tone is steeped in the Classic Blues. Playing with expression and fire, he imitates no one and has the rare ability to deliver the full impact of the blues on cornet.
In recent years I’ve come to know Earl and been granted generous access to his personal tapes, memories and photos. I’m continually surprised by his many remarkable skills, stylistic range, and ability to play several instruments very well. I’m in awe of his broad talent, steady dedication over six decades, and quiet independence. All modestly concealed by his taciturn demeanor.
In many respects Earl’s hot bands of the 1960s embodied the spirit of Lu Watters’ small bands and quintets during the sunset years of Yerba Buena at Hambone Kelly’s. Working closely for years with Burt Bales and decades with Helm, Scheelar engaged with the deepest roots and traditions of west coast jazz.
Plainly a man of many parts, aside from making all this music Earl has been a resourceful craftsman, businessman, home builder and licensed real estate agent. Surprisingly, despite his broad proficiency and polymathic musical skills Earl was never a “reading musician.” Almost all the fine restored recordings here were originally made, produced, dubbed or edited by Earl, either with is own reel-to-reel or by Marshall Kent who had access to an Ampex deck and fine European microphones.
ARCHIVE MUSIC Oxtot, Scheelar, Bardin, Sharpton, Charters, Dane, Monkey Inn, c. 1958 Dick Oxtot (cornet) Earl Scheelar (clarinet, cornet) Bill Bardin (trombone, last two) Le Sharpton (string bass), Sam Charters (banjo, vocal) Barbara Dane (vocal)
I..Rumpus Room era, party tapes, The Albatross, Jackson-Scheelar Hot Five and the Basement tapes, c. 1960-70. Earl plays baritone horn and tuba 1960s.
II. Earl plays Alto and Soprano saxophones, 1970s. Swinging sessions or casuals from the late-1960s and early 1970s.
III. P.T. Stanton’s Stone Age Jazz Band, mid-1970s.
IV. Various ensembles and small bands, 1980s-90s.
Note: This music was taped at informal gigs, jam sessions, performances or dedicated recording sessions. Despite occasional flaws, technical shortcomings and missed notes they’re offered as historic artifacts.
Monkey Inn, early 1960s
According to Bob Mielke, Monkey Inn could occasionally, “get a little rough.” He describes the college-age crowd as, “fraternity boys out on their first beer benders,” though another less charitably called them “a pack of little thugs.”Scheelar reports that one time, when a tough motorcycle gang infested the joint, the musicians packed up their instruments and left.
sometimes boisterous establishment opened onto to busy Shattuck Avenue
through the (audibly) swinging barroom doors next to the piano. During “Sweethearts on Parade”
Erickson fends off a patron trying to use the piano as a trash
receptacle, the occasional clang of a dinner bell had something to do
with food orders.
Other bands and ensembles heard there included Great Pacific Jazz Band, Bob Mielke’s Bearcats and Le Sharpton’s New Orleans Band. After about 1960 Bill Erickson was house pianist, directing various combos and ad hoc groups.
ARCHIVE AUDIO Yost, Scheelar, Erickson Runkle Monkey Inn, 2/3/63 Walter Yost (cornet) Earl Scheelar (clarinet) Bob Meilke (trombone last five) Bill Erickson (piano) Brett Runkle (washboard)
Great thanks to Earl Scheelar for supplying most of the sound, images and memories contained herein.
Thanks for assistance to Dave Greer, and to Hal Smith for music consultation.
The Rumpus Room above Earl's VW Shop, 1960s:
Wild Sessions at Earl’s Rumpus Room 1960s
Through the 1960s Scheelar recorded dozens of excellent sessions above his VW shop in Berkeley, at The Albatross bar, or the basement of a place he rented. The spacious ‘rumpus room’ above his Berkeley Volkswagen repair shop was popular for jam sessions, and Bill Erickson practiced piano there.
Here there were lively parties and memorable feasts says Earl, “One Thanksgiving we had a big dinner and served a whole roast pig with an apple in its mouth.” Which was promptly torn apart and consumed in a “feeding frenzy” by more than two-dozen revelers. Fortunately, a couple of roast turkeys were also on hand, if slightly undercooked.
Several Rumpus Room sessions stand out for spontaneity and enthusiasm, such as this party tape made by Dave Greer around 1960. Earl doubled on cornet and clarinet alongside John Boland (clarinet) and Ernie Carson (trumpet). “Weary Blues” and “Cakewalkin Babies” feature Earl’s cornet duets with Carson, and his clarinet duets with the rarely recorded Boland. Other personnel were Tony Lanphier (trombone), Bill Erickson (piano), and in places probably Dick Oxtot (banjo), Pete Allen (string bass), Walter Yost (tuba), Bret Runkle (washboard) and others.
Earl wryly told me, “Ernie Carson got drunk that night. And I caught him trying to leave with a half-gallon jug of wine.” With Carson out, Earl led one of his cornet showcases, “Mama’s Gone, Goodbye” with lots of ‘trading fours’ until everyone jumped in for a monster out-chorus.
Many of the sessions taped at the rumpus room above Earl’s VW shop were fine settings for soprano (and tenor) saxophone player John Smith, a follower of George Probert. Smith was from Southern California, in the military and stationed at nearby Oakland Army Base. His soprano and tenor sax were a delightful addition to Scheelar’s sessions. However, I must confess bafflement regarding criticism of his style and technique by fellow musicians. Sadly, when Earl picked Bob Helm rather than Smith for his 1972 LP album the result was a permanent rift between the two.
Images: Earl's Auto Sales & Service matchbook advertising, and Earl's personal letterhead.
Besides John Smith and Scheelar on cornet, personnel were John Farkas (trombone), English pianist Cyril Bennett, Karl Walterskirchen (banjo) and Peter Berg (guitar). Dick Oxtot plays an E-flat tuba. Earl’s heart-rending horn tone and soulful vibrato are breathtaking.
Earl and Allen joined Berg, an archaeologist for the state, at a dig in rural California.
Violin and Fiddle Music 1960s
Growing up in Oregon Earl’s father Ben (right) played country fiddle and he learned too. From time to time Scheelar returned to his rural musical roots and picked up a violin. On special occasions or just feeling experimental he’d play hillbilly fiddle or semi-jazz violin in an unadorned straightforward manner. In one recovered tape Earl was rehearsing for a gathering of the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California, accompanied by Dick Oxtot (piano or banjo) and Dick Bowman (trombone).
Other times Earl reprised tunes his father had played: waltzes, schottisches and country favorites. “When You Wore a Tulip” was from a party around 1960 when he was backed by Bret Runkle (washboard) and an unknown mandolin and string bass player.
“For my money, this is one of the very best sessions ever recorded in the East Bay,” says traditional jazz drummer Hal Smith. I’m calling the spirited band on these long unheard tapes the Scheelar-Jackson Hot Five. Recorded at The Albatross and the basement of Earl’s rental.
Bob Jackson was an excellent cornet player who came to Berkeley regularly visiting his mother. In later years he played in Grand Dominion Jazz Band, possibly Vancouver, Canada’s best revival jazz band. I concur with Earl that his and Jackson’s horn styles were remarkably similar in tone and outlook.
These informal ensembles embody something of the spirit of the sunset years of Watters’ Yerba Buena band at Hambone Kelly’s in the East Bay. During the 1960s Scheelar’s music drew from a broad stylistic palette and stellar roster of associates. His ensembles took on the flavor of the personnel and character of moment, looser and more spontaneous than his later more formally organized bands.
Scheelar-Jackson Hot Five I Earl’s Basement 9/19/65:
Besides Jackson and Scheelar (clarinet) this lineup includes Bob Mielke (trombone), Dick Oxtot (banjo) and Walter Yost (tuba) who was never in better form supporting this ensemble sans piano or drums. Earl serves up a rich clarinet gumbo for some high steppers and a lowdown blues.
Scheelar is convinced there was no more imaginative trombone player in the Bay Area than Bob Mielke. But he wasn’t as consistent or reliable as others who worked for Earl, like John Farkas, Mike Starr or Bill Bardin. Says Earl:
“There were a lot of good [trombone] players, but not imaginative players. They didn’t have the background that Mielke and Bardin did.
Mielke had a distinct style; you can pick him out of a crowd any time. He had his own licks that he played a lot; he didn’t copy anybody. I’ve heard Mielke play things that would make you cry. But he was never the consistent player that Bardin was.”
Scheelar-Jackson Hot Five II Earl’s Basement 9/19/65:
I hear echoes of Mielke’s Bearcats in this session with Jackson (cornet) and Scheelar (clarinet). Bob’s trombone and vocalizing are distinctive on “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead,” as is Oxtot’s singing for “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.” There was no better rhythm banjo player in the Bay Area at the time; Dick swung the whole band in this two-man rhythm section with Walter Yost (tuba).
Scheelar-Jackson Hot Five III, The Albatross 4/23/65:
Sessions from this era show the imprint of P.T. Stanton on Scheelar’s leadership, particularly the use of riffs. Riffing was two or more horns playing simple repeated figures behind soloists. It was a key feature of East Bay revival jazz, and among the techniques Stanton helped to introduce.
Listening back a half century later Earl commented, “I had no idea this session was that good.” On this occasion Earl sounds a little like Bob Helm, one of his favorite musicians. “Should I?” shows clever use of riffs in both the foreground and background.
This is the so-called Scheelar-Jackson Hot Five with no trombone, but instead John Smith on tenor sax. The Albatross was (and still is) a pub on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley where Earl and others played in the mid-1960s.
Earl Scheelar's music and story are further explored, here.
Scheelar-Jackson Hot Five Plus One IV, The Albatross 1964-65
Scheelar was associated with Dick Oxtot for more than forty years. Dick is present on nearly every tune presented ihere, playing banjo, tuba, singing or bandleading. The two-man rhythm duo of Oxtot (banjo) and Pete Allen (string bass) provided rhythmic locomotion with unbeatable drive, accuracy and swing as they had in Mielke's Bearcats.
With a four-horn front line in this session, inventive head arrangements and riffing added harmonic complexity and rhythmic drive, especially with a riffing specialist like Bob Mielke on hand. John Smith’s tenor sax (the plus one) came across beautifully, the well-blended voices of Mielke and Smith creating a startling diesel-powered ‘section’ effect on “Gettysburg March.”
Dick Oxtot and Scheelar were affiliated for at least four decades.
Scheelar-Jackson Hot Five V The Albatross 1965-66
Earl plays Baritone Horn
Earl regards his proficiency with baritone horn and tuba as natural extensions of his interest in the cornet; they are essentially the same instrument scaled up in size, down in pitch. He notes that the baritone horn occupies the same tonal range in the brass family as trombone.
During this 1965 performance at The Albatross Earl switched to baritone horn for a few tunes. Besides Scheelar personnel were Bob Jackson (cornet), John Smith (soprano sax), Dick Oxtot (banjo, vocal) and Pete Allen. The fourth item on this list, “Someday You’ll Be Sorry” is from a 1969 session with Jim Goodwin (cornet) and Ray Skjelbred (piano) detailed below.
Like Earl, Dick Oxtot also played baritone horn. Mielke collection.
Scheelar-Jackson Hot Five VI The Albatross 1966
Scheelar was eager you should also hear some of his tuba playing as well. The date and location of this session when he blew some tuba for kicks is uncertain. It’s probably at the Albatross in 1966 with John Smith (soprano), Farkas (trombone) and Karl Walterskirchen (banjo).
Earl in New Orleans sitting in at Fritzel’s, c. 1989.
Scheelar with Bob Helm:
Drifting South New Orleans, 1989-2005
Earl’s music ensembles and life in general drifted steadily South toward Louisiana. In fact, Scheelar and wife Alice moved to New Orleans, living there part-time, 1989-2005:
“We bought a 3 story, six-unit, brick building with wrought-iron balconies in one of the nicest parts of the French Quarter. We spent 6 to 8 weeks a year building an apartment in the attic, before selling the building, just before Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
For several years Bob Helm was my guest, played at the French Quarter Festival, sat in with the locals, and recorded with Gauthe's band. Bob and Jacques became very good friends.”
In New Orleans Scheelar befriended the local jazz musicians, sitting in with Jacques Gauthe and his eight-piece, Lu Watters style, Creole Rice Jazz Band at the prestigious Meridian Hotel, as did Helm. Earl also started a small foundation distributing musical instruments to local youngsters.
Helm in New Orleans, late 1980s
L to R: Jacquest Gauthe, Tom Saunders, Helm, unknown piano player.
Scheelar-Helm band, NOJC, Marshall, CA 1969 This is a barely disguised version of Earl's New Orleans House Band on the way to becoming Funky New Orleans Jazz Band.
Scheelar was never better on cornet, his heartbreaking tone on full
display. Helm was at the height of his powers and trombonist Farkas
searing horn of Jim Goodwin served as focal
point for this swinging session in the basement of Scheelar’s Berkeley
rental. All parties rose to the occasion and trombonist John Farkas was
at his very best.
Photo: Jim Goodwin and Ray Skjelbred, late 1960s. Mielke collection.
Skjelbred (b. 1940, Chicago, IL) rarely sounded better in this session
ranging from swinging sophistication to raucous barrel house. His
nuanced piano fills and solos were picked up nicely, but only barely
adequately for his vocal on “Glad Rag Doll.” Scheelar switches to baritone horn on "Someday You'll be Sorry."
Earl Plays Alto and Soprano Saxophones Rumpus Room, 1971
It’s neither well known nor appreciated that Scheelar played very good alto and soprano saxophones. He had fine technique and style on each, hinting at many influences but imitating none.
With some pride he recently issued a CD of his soprano and alto music recovered from A Jam Session Above Earl’s VW Shop 1971 (available directly from Earl). Often doubling, switching between soprano and alto, Earl’s jaunty effervescence is delightful
Jim Goodwin (cornet) Earl Scheelar (soprano and alto saxophones) Ray Skjelbred (piano) Luder Ohlwein (banjo, guitar) Add Bob Mielke (trombone) on “Marie”
(Note: Audio courtesy of Earl Scheelar was taken from master tapes, not the commercial CD.)
Doubling on Alto Sax and Clarinet with Andy Stein and Dick Oxtot, The Ordinary 1975
Hot violinist Andy Stein was then playing locally with Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, a band fusing Rockabilly and Western Swing. Stein went on to national success on radio with Prairie Home Companion house band and in the Saturday Night Live orchestra on television.
Something about the alto brought out the wild man in Scheelar, particularly around 1975 at Dick Oxtot’s rolling jam sessions at The Ordinary. This lively, casual Oakland nightspot drew a rather younger, hipper (and Hippie?) crowd. It was the first place trombonist Bill Bardin saw unisex bathrooms. Notably, Oxtot is the only musician present on more than two thirds of the recordings presented here. This lively session fulfilled the slogan on his business card and letterhead, “Vintage music with Style.”
Scheelar doubled on alto and clarinet in this barely salvageable audiocassette. Stein switched between bluesy jazz fiddle and baritone sax. Bill Bardin played trombone and Walter Yost tuba, cornet on “Sunday.”
Dave Walker’s All Stars, Bob Helm and Burt Bales NOJCNC 1974
Walker’s All Stars was an exquisite jam band assembled from the usual suspects for a session of the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California. Former club president Dave Walker selected these “All Stars,” musicians who’d been friends for decades: Scheelar (cornet), Bob Helm (clarinet and soprano), Bob Meilke (trombone), Burt Bales (piano), Dick Oxtot (banjo) and Walter Yost (tuba). Identity of the drummer remains unknown.
Scheelar’s clarinet was a principal voice in P.T. Stanton’s Stone Age Jazz Band. Horn man P.T. Stanton was a gifted instrumentalist and bandleader who created an odd but distinctive personal style and ensemble sound.
Earl and P.T. were close musical friends. His influence on Earl is substantial relating to qualities of leadership, well-voiced riffing and an emphasis on the clarinet and trombone as primary soloists. Buried in Earl’s rich horn palette one might hear echoes of Stanton’s expressive tone heavily modified by mutes. Earl responded to P.T.’s outlook and leadership style saying:
“His cornet style was so sparse, so laid back, but he would punctuate and syncopate and do things that made other people respond. 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, and in the Stone Age.”
Stone Age Jazz Band
L to R: Bardin, Stanton, Allen, Boberg, Scheelar, Berg
Date and location unknown.
It was Scheelar who suggested the unorthodox rhythm format of Stone Age utilizing banjo AND guitar with a string bass but no drums or piano. On this session regular guitarist Peter Berg was replaced by Melissa Levesque (now Melissa Collard) and the banjo player was Karl Walterskirchen.
Officially, Peter Allen was string bass player though the late Mike Duffy often subbed for him in rehearsals and his alternate, Walter Yost, played tuba on many recordings, including most of the album tracks. Yost was the rare tuba player skilled enough to blend delicately with the two plucked instruments.
Stone Age Jazz Band, 1975
The reels from which the 1992 Stone Age album was made went missing. This music was salvaged by remixing the original four-track masters.
Scheelar was constantly weaving a dense musical line, his distinctive voice providing a firm structural armature for the band, and Bill Bardin’s fluid trombone was an eloquent and broadly supportive voice.
“Earls Blues” (aka “Stone Age Blues”) and “Tiger Rag” were on their one album. Recorded at New Orleans House in June 1975 by Marshall Kent, these are newly remixed tracks and recovered outtakes from their Stomp Off LP (SOS 1128, 1992).
P.T. Stanton (cornet) Earl Scheelar (clarinet) Bill Bardin (trombone) Melissa Lavesque/Collard (guitar) Karl Walterskirchen (banjo) Walter Yost (tuba)
Scheelar associates L to R: Bill Bardin, Earl Scheelar, Carl Lunsford, Dick Oxtot c. 1980.
Zenith Jazz Quartet, Tom Barnebey (cornet) 1991
Here’s a little something extra; previously unissued music taped with care by Marshall Kent at the Brass Rail in Alameda, CA 6/16/91. Since around 1990 Scheelar has worked extensively with Tom Barnebey, a cornet, piano, banjo, trombone and tuba player, singer and bandleader; and he still does today. Jim Cumming (string bass) and Frank Tateosian (banjo) were friends and associates of Earl since before 1960.