Dick Oxtot fondly recalled the venue in his 1999 memoir: “The Ordinary was a happy-go-lucky Oakland club which featured a happy-go-lucky clientele, and served New Orleans food, so my four-piece aggregation was selected by the owners to carry on the New Orleans tradition . . .. the personnel would vary so much from weekend to weekend and was so often graced with excellent sitters-in.”
Dick’s union contract with The Ordinary specified a four-piece band plus vocalist, playing Saturday nights from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am, listing Oxtot (banjo, leader), Bill Bardin (trombone), Earl Scheelar (reeds), Walter Yost (tuba) and singer Terry Garthwaite, whom it is safe to say were the core of this group. The gig began around 1972 and lasted until at least mid-1975.
At The Ordinary, trombone player Bill Bardin was never more eloquent nor more expressive playing gutty Stomps, lowdown Blues or Classic Jazz. Bill was a stalwart of the Traditional Jazz movement dating back to the 1940s, admired by his peers, fans and jazz lovers.
In a 1994 interview Bill recounted: “The Ordinary was a nightclub in a former [electric company] substation. It was sort of a, I hesitate to say Hippie, but the audience were young people. The girls would wear hiking boots and shorts or long skirts. It was the first place I had seen unisex bathrooms. They had two bathrooms, but they weren’t differentiated by sex. And you’d knock, of course. Or, I suppose, sometimes barge in.”
Earl Scheelar’s recollection was similar: “It was kind of a warehouse . . . the crowd were young people. They weren’t the jazz crowd of today. And it was fairly well attended.”
A Rolling Jam Session
The Ordinary gig may have been the hottest jam session around in the early 1970s, certainly in the East Bay. Among the jammers were trombonists Bob Mielke and Jerry Butzen, clarinetists Bill Napier or Bunky Colman and cornet players P.T Stanton or Bob Neighbor – though Dick frequently dispensed with a lead horn on this engagement. Frequently joining the proceedings were Earl Scheelar (playing alto sax or clarinet) and jazz violinists “Fiddle Ray” Landsberg or Andy Stein, who also played baritone saxophone.
In the 1970s Andy Stein was a fiddler in Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen – a local Rockabilly band fusing Rock, Country and Western Swing – who were just about to break out nationwide. Andy soon became known nationally. He was heard for decades playing in the house bands of Prairie Home Companion on radio and Saturday Night Live on television (as recently as 2019).
Earl Scheelar (b. 1929) was a gifted multi-instrumentalist and bandleader. His dense and passionate reed parts electrified any ensemble. It’s a shame that his sensational alto (and soprano) saxophone chops were rarely heard, little-known and eclipsed by his extraordinary clarinet and cornet virtuosity.
Most of the surviving performance tapes from The Ordinary contain excellent music but suffer from very poor sound quality. Nonetheless, these satisfying performances feature cornetist Walter Yost (who normally played tuba with this group) and trombonist Bill Bardin. As mentioned previously, Earl Scheelar is heard on alto sax and clarinet and Andy Stein’s mad skills on both baritone saxophone and hot jazz violin are on display. This music sounds stylistically like a band from the 1930s and the constricted audio enhances that illusion.
The Ordinary Band, 1975
Yost, Scheelar, Bardin, Stein, Oxtot (banjo, vocal)
Singer Terry Garthwaite
A regular feature of the gig were Oxtot’s singers: Diane Holmes, Pamela Polland or Terry Garthwaite. Terry was a former folk music associate of Oxtot and one of his main singers in this era. She’s heard on both the 1980 Golden Age Jazz Band record album and 1982 cassette release.
Terry Garthwaite (b. 1938) had earlier garnered a broad, youthful following via the Rock-Folk-Blues-Jazz band, Joy of Cooking (1967-71). This was the first Rock band fronted by two women, which Garthwaite co-led playing guitar and singing.
During the mid-1970s, Dick and Terry developed a book featuring her interpretations of vintage jazz and blues, extended scat-jams and original compositions which were powered by Terry’s stage charisma. Merging their separate fan bases, Terry was very popular when she performed with Dick’s revivalist ensembles at Mandrakes in Berkeley, events hosted by the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California or wherever Oxtot’s Golden Age Jazz Band deployed.
A contemporaneous City Magazine column written by one Rip Stock favorably reviewed her appearance backed by Oxtot’s Hot Four at the Berkeley nightclub Freight and Salvage. His description matches the performances heard below:
“Terry Garthwaite seems to have assimilated early jazz singing styles even more naturally than she did Rock ‘n Roll (with Joy of Cooking) or Country. Terry performed her early blues and jazz without a hint of nostalgic posture. . . and all she sang she sang with integrity and spirit. Especially hot were her scat battles with trumpeter P.T. Stanton. If there’s ever a brass shortage, Terry’s trumpet imitations will come in handy.”
The concluding “Pilot” song was Terry’s signature number constructed to feature her horn-like scatting. Incidentally, this three-horn front line is similar to P.T. Stanton’s Stone Age Jazz Band, though the addition of Fiddle Ray Landsberg on violin resulted in a very different sound. After Terry’s vocal duet with Oxtot and scat-jam with Stanton she swaps ‘fours’ with tuba player Walter Yost.
Terry Garthwaite with Dick Oxtot at The Ordinary
Bill Napier (clarinet), Bob Mielke (trombone), 1975:
Sub: Earl Scheelar (clarinet), Bill Bardin (trombone), Fiddle Ray Landsberg (violin), 1972:
P.T. Stanton (cornet), Scheelar (reeds), Bardin (trombone), Fiddle Ray, Walter Yost (tuba)
At the casual and informal The Ordinary nightclub in the early 1970s, Dick Oxtot and his musicians experimented with musical genres, blending a broad range of formats into a unique Traditional Jazz-and-Rock ‘n Roll fusion, invigorated by Terry Garthwaite and her young followers. Oxtot’s rolling jam session, known as Golden Age Jazz Band, continued for another couple of decades at The Point in Point Richmond, CA as explored in the related article, Vintage Music with Style: Dick Oxtot’s Golden Age Jazz Band.
Sources and Thanks:
Bill Bardin was interviewed in 1994; Earl Scheelar in 2015. Oxtot was quoted from Jazz Scrapbook (with Jim Goggin, Creative Arts Books, 1999). Thanks to Hal Smith for music consultation and assistance.