Frank Big Boy Goudie (1899-1964) played only clarinet on the West Coast, his most personal voice emerging in an autumnal blossoming of his music. His former associates recall a wise and gracious Gentleman of Jazz whose business card said he was an “upholsterer.” Rare photos, artifacts, ephemera, audio and interviews depict this skilled Creole musician living and performing by San Francisco Bay.
Goudie must have known that there were several African American or veteran musicians like himself thriving in the Bay Area. Trombonist Kid Ory and pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines ran their own bands. Bass players Pops Foster and Wellman Braud had steady work and clarinetist Darnell Howard was heard regularly on radio, as was Jack Teagarden. Frisco had a raucous Traditional Jazz movement rolling into its second generation and celebrated Barbary Coast heritage dating back to Jelly Roll Morton at the Jupiter in 1917.
Big Boy was drawn to a city that was tolerant, affordable and individualistic, containing a roaring entertainment market, prosperous working- and middle-class neighborhoods and a lively Bohemian literary subculture with which he had some passing acquaintance. Goudie’s path even crossed Janis Joplin’s in an impromptu recording a session with the Blues singer years before her Rock ‘n Roll fame.
Clip SF 1 – Introduction and Joseph, Joseph
A Big Life: Recap
Prior to California, Goudie had performed Jazz, Swing and Latin music playing trumpet, saxophone or clarinet in New Orleans, Texas, Mexico, Paris, Rio de Janiero, Argentina, Switzerland, Berlin and beyond. Tall and handsome with advanced musical skills, his story paralleled the course of Jazz itself.
Big Boy was a yeoman New Orleans trumpet player before 1920, easily making the transition to Swing playing tenor saxophone during two lengthy stays in Paris and Europe (1924-39, 1946-56). Living in South America during the Second World War he played Latin dance music, Samba-swing and Jazz when he could.
Moving to San Francisco in 1956, his expressive New Orleans-style clarinet was welcomed into the flourishing San Francisco Jazz Revival. Yet this master musician and wandering Creole Johnny Appleseed of Jazz has been almost completely overlooked by music history . . . until now.
Becoming an American Again
Repatriating to the United States after 32 years overseas, Goudie was starting over yet again. In his previous musical lives, he had quickly secured well-paying gigs with high-profile bandleaders in prestigious locations wherever he went.
But in San Francisco, Big Boy found no lucrative jobs. He did work briefly with noted headliners: trumpeter Marty Marsala, trombone player Kid Ory and two weeks with bandleader Earl “Fatha” Hines, subbing for an ailing Darnell Howard in 1962. Interviewed by Ken Mills, he confessed to missing his former celebrity.
Instead, adapting to the local Revival, Dixieland and Traditional Jazz situation, Goudie began working several nights of the week in a trio with Burt Bales at Pier 23 on the San Francisco docks. And he was a regular clarinet alternate with Bob Mielke’s popular Bearcats Jazz Band, appearing throughout the greater Bay Area.
Frank kept a proud New Orleans tradition: a trade. Curiously, his business card said that he was an “upholsterer.” His choice of San Francisco was due in part to inheriting a small upholstery repair business, a custom he kept on the side. Musician, writer and friend Richard Hadlock visited the workshop on occasion, describing a dimly lit space somewhat below street level that he found “not very promising as an enterprise.”
Goudie’s satisfaction with his latest adopted home was apparent in comments to Richard Hadlock published in the San Francisco Examiner, 4.28.63:
“I decided I wanted to spend my last days playing the original jazz with musicians who knew how to play the music . . . I had to come back to be an American again. If I had stayed away any longer I would have become another nationality. As for San Francisco, I came here once as a young boy and decided I would live in this beautiful city someday. So here I am.”
The Bagatelle Bistro, 1959
“Oxtot had a Sunday afternoon gig on Polk Street at one time and Goudie was in the band,” recalled Bob Mielke, “I remember some marvelous sessions there.” The Bagatelle was a lively San Francisco bistro where Dick Oxtot played several nights of the week.
On Sunday afternoons he featured veteran African American Louisiana-born clarinetists: Clem Raymond or Goudie. Frank spoke highly of trombone player Bill Bardin who was usually present, telling Ken Mills he was “somebody to watch out for . . . he knows what he’s doing, and he means business.”
At the Bagatelle, Dick Oxtot’s Golden Gate Stompers were usually P.T. Stanton (cornet) — replaced by the excellent horn player Ted Butterman — Bill Bardin (trombone), Pete Allen (string bass) and Bill Young (drums). Goudie constructs a classic New Orleans-style counter-melody to Butterman’s sunny trumpet lead in thrilling performances of varying audio quality.
Should I? – Bagatelle
Say Si, Si – Bagatelle
Recalling a Gentleman of Jazz
“A born gentleman, one of the last of the old school,” wrote Hadlock in the San Francisco Examiner 1.19.64, “few musicians his age were ever more eager to play.” Richard Hadlock (b. 1927) is a retired jazz saxophone and clarinet player, broadcaster and one-time journalist who befriended Goudie: “Ruth and I had him to our house more than once and we both liked him a lot. He was a gracious, sophisticated gentleman of the world.”
Without exception, Goudie’s former Bay Area associates fondly recalled a wise and warm “Gentleman of Jazz.” They described a worldly man who spoke with a strong French accent, wore a beret, yet retained the earthiness of his Louisiana origins. His height, size, age, and proud upright posture stood out. As for his personal habits, Frank smoked cigarettes, did not drive a car, occasionally drank red wine and had a girlfriend.
Starting around 1957, Big Boy was hired by the late trombonist and bandleader Bob Mielke (1927-2020) as a regular clarinet substitute for his band. Bob was impressed by his advanced musical skills and fluency in counterpoint, harmony and solfeggio: “He was a musician’s musician. He admired people who knew what they were doing.”
Mielke hinted that besides upholstery Big Boy might once have dabbled in a bit of tailoring or had even done some boxing earlier in life. He was struck by Frank’s heft, his charming and Continental manner and sterling character. “He cut quite a figure . . . a man of the world. Really, an impressive man. He’s gotta be one of the most cosmopolitan people I have ever met. He was always supportive, both personally and musically.”
“When he was here in the City,” reported trombonist Bill Bardin (1924-2011), “he had business cards. But it didn’t say ‘musician,’ it said ‘upholsterer’.” Bardin commended his flowing and legato clarinet lines in a 1996 interview:
“. . . a player who definitely ‘had it’ . . . who would never let anyone down. The other thing I remember is that he told us we were better than we realized. Although none of us ever called him Big Boy. One time he picked up a trumpet and blew a few notes on it, but it didn’t come out because he obviously hadn’t blown the trumpet for years.”
“He used to sing ‘Basin Street Blues’ and I took a good one to the chest one time when I was standing too close to him and he made an expansive gesture with his arms . . . He was quite apologetic about that, but I shouldn’t have been where I was.”
Goudie sang with some charm in this era. But the few surviving recordings are unsatisfying because he tended to avoid the microphone, emoting directly to listeners. As he did with Mielke’s Bearcats in rural Visalia, in California’s Central Valley some 200 miles from San Francisco.
Singing “Basin Street Blues” his New Orleans roots show in the way he pronounces “elite” as “E-light” the way Jelly Roll Morton had. P.T. Stanton plays horn on “Basin Street Blues” but is replaced, probably by Walter Yost, in a 4:00 minute fragment of “When You’re Smiling.” Burt Bales plays piano.
Basin Street Blues – Bearcats Visalia 1958
When You’re Smiling – Bearcats Visalia 1958 (fragment)
Yet another trombone player, Jim Leigh (1930-2012) came to know Goudie quite well. In his self-published Jazz memoir Heaven on the Side (2000), he suggests that despite Frank’s European élan, at his core he was from Louisiana. He favored Southern cooking, barbecue, cooked greens or beans and rice – but was not a particularly good chef himself. They played together often with the El Dorado Jazz Band in the South Bay, at the Pier 23 jam sessions or informal parties and casuals, several heard below.
Jim wrote of their friendship in a chapter called “Tree” for Frank’s childhood nickname, portraying: “a wise and good-natured man who had seen a great deal of the world and liked to talk about it. This he did with great charm in English to which traces of a French accent still clung, yet with Louisiana underneath it all. He knew his horn, his ear was excellent, he could read anything.”
Big Boy by the Bay
As had long been his habit, Goudie was performing most nights of the week at overlapping venues and gigs. He joined an active community of white Jazz musicians who were mostly his junior by decades. Playing four-beat New Orleans and Dixieland Jazz he was comfortable in a range of settings, shifting easily between a seven-piece New Orleans ensemble, Swing combo or trio format.
Signing up with the American Federation of Musicians union in late 1956 Goudie was directed to the segregated black musicians’ Local 610. Racially integrated or African American music ensembles had once been restricted from North Beach, the waterfront bars and downtown hotels. But in San Francisco, such segregation in entertainment had long been struck down legally or was ignored in practice by the 1950s.
Frank was soon an alternate with Bob Mielke’s band a regular at Pier 23 in trios, jam sessions and radio broadcasts. He was frequently in Berkeley for lively music rehearsals, parties and informal recording sessions. There are hours of surviving tapes from jams at Nod’s Taproom, the home of Dick Oxtot and Berkeley Jazz parties. And Goudie was part of a remarkable Swing combo with piano player Bill Erickson and trombonist Bob Mielke at the Monkey Inn.
Goudie made no commercial records in North America. But many hours of jam sessions, performances and broadcasts spanning 1957-63 have recently been recovered from amateur tape collections and are now available on CD and streaming services or for download.
Berkeley Jazz House Parties, 1960-61
Goudie was often in Berkeley attending jolly music parties and jam sessions at the rented homes of piano player Bill Erickson and others. Stretching from early afternoon until past midnight, these effervescent affairs were fueled by good jazz, spaghetti or red beans and rice, day-old bread, and dollar-a-gallon wine. Amidst friends and family, musicians played for their own pleasure and expression.
The relaxed high spirits and bonhomie are evident in “See See Rider” where Goudie gets lots of mic time — though during his solo a precocious toddler shrieks with delight into the microphone. The lineup is probably Jim Leigh (trombone), Bill Erickson (piano) and Dick Oxtot (banjo). Another clarinetist, Bill Napier takes the second solo.
See See Rider – Berkeley Jazz House
The simple pop song “Should I?” (aka “Should I Reveal?”) became popular for jamming with local musicians — an “I’ve Found a New Baby” for the Berkeley crowd. This electrifying jam is packed with lively riffing and ensemble polyphony from the horns of Walter Yost (cornet) and Bob Mielke (trombone). Napier solos on clarinet first, followed by Goudie. Mielke’s scorching solo segues to an intense clarinet duet in the ride-out.
Should I? – Berkeley Jazz House
Another Berkeley party became a mellifluous encounter between Goudie and the remarkable cornet player Ray Ronnei (a follower of Papa Mutt Carey), probably with Jim Leigh (trombone) with Erickson, Oxtot and Allen.
Coquette – Berkeley Jazz House
Under the Bamboo Tree – Berkeley Jazz House
Clarinet Master and Former Saxophonist
Frank took up the clarinet as a youth in New Orleans inspired by the early reed-playing masters he had heard as a young man: Albert Nicholas, Barney Bigard, Johnny Dodds and notably, the little-known clarinetist George “Georgia Boy” Boyd. Clarinet was one of three instruments with trumpet and tenor saxophone that he played on his premier tour de force recording in Paris, 1935.
In the late 1940s Goudie continued developing his signature clarinet sound as he gradually ceased playing trumpet. In California, his fluid and legato style was not unlike the clarinet records he made in Europe, 1946-53.
But Big Boy had developed a rich and varied personal tone with a distinctive growl and vibrato, and further cultivated his bold improvising skills. Recovered performances from this period reveal his love for the Blues and keen talent for effortlessly supplying changes and variation of any duration. His solos unfurl like flowers blossoming.
Clarinet was Goudie’s only instrument on the West Coast — somewhat to the disappointment of his younger colleagues. Many were curious about the saxophone playing that had gained him fame and respect across Europe and in South America. Yet he told interviewer Ken Mills in 1960 that he had “never felt at home” playing the tenor.
The Legend of Pier 23
Pier 23 was (and still is) a small Jazz dive and jammers’ bar on the San Francisco waterfront. Just a short walk or streetcar ride from North Beach or downtown, it was Goudie’s steadiest gig and highest profile venue for about five years. Once he cast his Jazz lot with the young revivalist crowd, he was soon working there regularly in trios with piano players Burt Bales or Bill Erickson.
Playing several nights of the week, the trios were often augmented by a broad spectrum of local and visiting musicians dropping by to jam. Richard Hadlock recalled: “We 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.”
Noted local music critic Ralph J. Gleason memorialized the modest bayside tavern in his liner notes for Burt Bales’ 1958 album, On the Waterfront: “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.”
Bill Erickson Trio at Pier 23, 1960
Piano player Bill Erickson (1929-1967) took charge of the jam sessions in 1960 after Burt Bales was stuck by a car and badly injured. Big Boy remained a regular fixture, becoming a close working associate of the pianist, trumpeter, arranger and raconteur. Bill’s hard-to-categorize piano style was adaptable to a wide range of situations.
It’s a sparkling testament to his partnership with Goudie that Erickson supplies almost all the piano parts offered here except on the Pier 23 broadcast where he plays trumpet. Perhaps because he played both horn and keyboard, Erickson was unusually skilled at setting the stage for the horns to shine. The music from their Thursday nights together in Berkeley is found at The Gang at Monkey Inn, Pt. 2.
Goudie sounded relaxed at Pier 23. He had trained himself to play unlimited variations, a talent he admired in tenor saxophone giant Coleman Hawkins. In these trios he soloed at length effortlessly, backed by Erickson and African American drummer Jimmy Carter. Originally from New Orleans, Carter had played in the bands of “Kid” Thomas, “Kid Shots” Madison, and John Handy.
You’re Driving Me Crazy – Trio Pier 23
The Blues – Trio Pier 23
You Took Advantage of Me – Trio Pier 23
Pier 23 Estuary Jazz Broadcasts, 1959
A few broadcast remotes (possibly only two) emanated briefly from Pier 23. They were hosted and promoted by radio personality and jazz disc jockey “Hambone” Lee Crosby. He touted the live and spontaneous atmosphere, emphasizing the dockside ambiance of “sawdust on the floor . . . tugboats going by, switch engines and glasses clinking.”
Estuary Jazz group (aka Waterfront Jazz Society or Pier 23 Stompers) existed only for broadcast and was similar to Bob Mielke’s band, except that Burt Bales directed from the piano and sang and there was a girl singer (actually under 18 years of age). Mielke played trombone, Bill Erickson blew trumpet and the four-beat rhythm section was similar to The Bearcats.
On the air, Big Boy stepped it up a notch. In “Rose Room” his talent for limitless variations on a theme is showcased. Named for the Rose Room of San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel, it was composed by bandleader Art Hickman who played there in 1914. Ellington utilized the chord progression for “In A Mellotone,” heard in the riffs behind Frank’s sustained improvisation.
Goudie bends his notes skillfully, utilizing the Blues scale from the tonic key, sliding into tones from above or below the pitch. Displaying considerable technical skill and harmonic sophistication, his control and variety are masterful well into the upper register of the clarinet, despite the poor sound quality of this aircheck.
Rose Room – Pier 23 broadcast
Original Dixieland One-Step – Pier 23 broadcast
Chiri Biri Bim – Pier 23 broadcast
At least one of the Pier 23 remotes was an early demonstration of stereo broadcast — the left and the right signals were transmitted simultaneously on separate mono AM and FM stations (note that the recovered linecheck below is stereophonic). But neither a sustaining radio series nor the hoped-for TV coverage ensued.
Sung by Burt Bales, “Mack the Knife” is a rare surviving example of Goudie accompanying a vocalist. His airy fills behind Burt are so delicate they’re almost inaudible. The clarinet feature “High Society” reminds us that in New Orleans before 1920 young Frank had heard early reed masters Barney Bigard and Johnny Dodds, pioneering horn players Papa Celestin, Freddie Keppard, Mutt and Jack Carey, and had known Bunk Johnson.
Besides Frank, roster for the Estuary Jazz group includes Bill Erickson (trumpet), Bob Mielke (trombone), Burt Bales (piano, vocal), Dick Oxtot (banjo), Squire Girsback (string bass) and Bob Osibin (drums) with host and producer “Hambone” Lee Crosby.
Pier 23 broadcast medley – Saturday Night Function, Mack the Knife, Struttin’ with Some Barbeque, High Society
Sessions with Dick Oxtot . . . and Janis Joplin, 1962-63
Goudie became an associate of bandleader Dick Oxtot (1918-2001) and praised his steady rhythm banjo style in the 1960 Ken Mills interview. Working in Dick’s bands, Big Boy was often at his East Bay residence for rehearsals, jams or impromptu recording sessions.
Oxtot was a talented bandleader, singer and banjo player offering “Vintage Music with Style” on both sides of San Francisco Bay. Dick and his wife Darylene briefly but unsuccessfully attempted to groom Janis Joplin as a jazz vocalist years before her Rock ‘n Roll fame. Big Boy was present for at least one session backing the blues singer taped at the Oxtots’ Berkeley home.
After her premature passing, the Janis tribute album was issued in 1975. Selling a half-million copies, it contained samples of her early folk, blues and jazz material, including four tracks from the Oxtot sessions. Unfortunately, the horn solos were removed including Goudie’s, though today some of those tracks may be found on Youtube.
Other contemporaneous sessions from Oxtot’s Berkeley Home with Goudie survive. Dick was a good singer and “I Want a Little Girl” is another rare example of Frank accompanying a vocalist. He’s tastefully restrained until free to eagerly launch into his solo.
“Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” was popular with these musicians and a natural vessel for Big Boy’s rich blues variations. Personnel for this session are Walter Yost (cornet), Jim Leigh (trombone), Bill Erickson (piano), Dick Oxtot (banjo, vocal), probably Pete Allen (string bass), Don Marchant (drums) and Bret Runkle (washboard). Bill Erickson seems to be playing the first trumpet chorus on “I Want a Little Girl” but switches to piano at 1:25.
I Want a Little Girl – Oxtot home 1962
Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You – Oxtot home 1962
Modern Jam Session at Pier 23, May 1963
The last known audiotape of Goudie is a modern swing session teetering on the cusp of Bop led by trumpeter Robin Hodes (aka Bob Hodes, 1926-2005). Originally from Ohio, Hodes was a veteran of the Dixieland Rhythm Kings, Red Onion Jazz Band and had worked with Don Ewell, Bob Helm and Burt Bales.
In “The King” (sadly, incomplete) homage to saxophone giant Lester Young is apparent, and not just tenor saxophonist Dave Clarkson coming on like Prez. By this time, Goudie had absorbed and resynthesized into his personal style much of the jazz saxophone literature, including Lester’s urgent intensity.
Frank demonstrates a vigorous fluency in the contemporary idiom, unsheathing a growling edge he’d been honing since the 1930s. Personnel include Erickson (piano), Jim Leigh (trombone), Squire Girsback (bass) and Jimmy Carter (drums).
The King – Pier 23
Eulogy for a Big Life
In mid-1963 Goudie fell ill with lung cancer and died on January 9, 1964. There was little note of his passing, save for Richard Hadlock who wrote a fitting Eulogy for a Gentleman of Jazz published in the San Francisco Examiner:
“On the job, or even in jam sessions, other musicians soon learned to listen to Goudie’s quiet suggestions. They were based on a long lifetime of playing music, from New Orleans to Paris, from Rio de Janeiro to Prague. In the New Orleans tradition, he tried to make every phrase count. He had done just the same in Europe, where he recorded with Django Reinhardt, and in South America, where he learned to play the real samba.”
“Yet, I think the greatest lesson he bequeathed to those who go on living the Jazz Life was simply that people are more important than music.”
Clip SF 5 – Hadlock Eulogy 1964, Just a Closer Walk
Goudie’s remarkable journey drew him along a path parallel to the course of Jazz itself, from his Louisiana birthplace to Le Tumult Noir of Josephine Baker’s Paris to his brief stardom in Switzerland and Berlin. Finally, Goudie delivered himself to the foggy San Francisco waterfront where he played the music he loved to his heart’s content.
After roaming the globe, this wandering Creole found fresh inspiration playing New Orleans four-beat Dixieland in the second wave of the great San Francisco Jazz Revival. His music came to full fruition with skilled musicians who lived by the Jazz traditions he honored. Perhaps rediscovery of his music, the recent BIG BOY biography and narratives like this will help bring greater recognition to the life and music of Frank Big Boy Goudie.
“Petite Fleur” was little-known in America when he was performing a sincere but relatively unadorned rendition at Monkey Inn. Delivered at the zenith of his expressive powers, it’s a moving valedictory by this wonderful musician and man for all seasons.
Petite Fleur – Monkey Inn 1961
Frank Big Boy Goudie, Pt. 3 of 3, San Francisco 1956-64
Thanks, Sources and Further reading:
Based on interviews, discussions and correspondence with Bill Bardin, Ted Butterman, Bill Carter, Dave Greer, Bob Mielke, Darylene Oxtot and Earl Scheelar (1992-2016). Great thanks to Richard Hadlock for his 2013 interview, photos and San Francisco Examiner articles, 1963-64.
Thanks to Dan Radlauer, Hal Smith and Earl Scheelar for music consultation and the late Bob Mielke for corroboration. Audio and images are from the personal collections of Dick Oxtot, Bob Mielke or Dave Greer except as noted and preserved in the Dave Radlauer Jazz Collection at the Stanford University Library archives.
Ken Mills’ 1960 interview of Goudie is at the Music Rising website of Tulane University.
Hadlock, Richard, The Towering Reedist Goudie: Clarinetist ‘Home’ After Years Abroad with Top Bands, San Francisco Examiner, 4.28.63 ; Eulogy to a Gentleman of Jazz, San Francisco Examiner, Sunday, 1.19.64
Leigh, Jim Heaven on the Side: A Jazz Life, self-published, 2000
Miller, Leta E, Racial Segregation and the San Francisco Musicians’ Union, 1923–60, Journal of the Society for American Music, Volume 1, Number 2, 2007
Mills, Ken, Burt Bales (liner notes), GHB Records BCD-13, 1992
Oxtot, Dick with Jim Goggin, Jazz Scrapbook, Creative Arts Books, 1999
Vernhettes, Dan with Christine Goudie and Tony Baldwin, BIG BOY, The life and story of Frank Goudie, Jazzedit.org, 2015