Remembering Earl Scheelar (1929-2023)

Bay Area bandleader, clarinetist and cornet player, Earl Scheelar (1929-2023) died peacefully on July 28, 2023. Few have shown greater leadership keeping Classic Jazz alive, though never receiving the full recognition he deserved for decades of leadership. Earl was resourceful, helpful and intelligent, following his own muses, crafting his life and music with originality.

Earl Scheelar c. 1980.

An exceptional classic jazz cornet player, Scheelar stood out for expression, eloquence and a distinctive personal instrumental style. Imitating no one, his forthright tone was passionate and deeply steeped in the Blues. Likewise, his robust clarinet parts were saturated in the Blues offering a powerful New Orleans-style counterpoint in the Johnny Dodds manner. Earl also played banjo, soprano and alto saxophones, tuba, baritone horn, country fiddle and he sang.

Hot Jazz Jubile

Never a full-time professional musician, Scheelar maintained a continuous series of Classic Jazz ensembles for more than half a century: Earl’s New Orleans House Jazz Band (1966-72), Funky New Orleans Jazz Band (1972-97) and Zenith Jazz Band (1980-2020). Zenith Parade Band was heard often at Northern California jazz festivals and civic gatherings (1989-2020).

Funky New Orleans Jazz Band, 1972. Alternate unused photo for the Herwin record album cover; L to R: Bill Bardin, Peter Allen, Earl Scheelar, Dick Oxtot, Don Marchant, Bob Helm.

Scheelar produced his own first album, Funky New Orleans Jazz Band featuring Bob Helm in 1972. It was the only contemporaneous recording ever issued by the otherwise historical Herwin Records label.

Earl always looked to New Orleans for inspiration, “I’ve always preferred the New Orleans style. That’s what real jazz is as far as I’m concerned.” Yet he often welcomed key original players of the Frisco Jazz revival into his ensembles: reed player Bob Helm and pianist Burt Bales.


Besides his own groups, Scheelar was a sideman playing mostly clarinet in numerous Northern California ensembles: Stone Age (P.T. Stanton), Golden Age (Dick Oxtot), Monterey Bay Classic (Frank Goulette), Black Diamond (George Knoblauch), Silicon Gulch (Joe Bithell), Good Time Levee Stompers (Jerry Kaehele) and Mission Gold (John Soulis) jazz bands.

Drawn to New Orleans by its music, food and culture, Earl and his second wife Alice bought an apartment building in the French Quarter (1989-2005). Refurbishing a garret studio, they stayed there several weeks each year, often joined by Bob Helm.

In New Orleans, Scheelar and Helm jammed with local musicians and sat-in at Jacques Gauthe’s popular Meridian Hotel gig. Earl initiated the New Orleans Jazz Educational Foundation distributing musical instruments to deserving youngsters and avidly donated to 300 charitable causes worldwide.

He was a resourceful friend, skilled craftsman, mechanic, carpenter, avid camper and ran a successful Volkswagen repair shop and dealership in the 1960s. His numerous hobbies included restoring player pianos and automobiles, mostly vintage English Austins.

He is survived by an extended family including great-grandchildren. A large volume of his music, photos and ephemera have been donated to the Stanford Libraries in the Dave Radlauer Jazz Collection.

Serenading the Sea of Cortez mid-1960s.

Earl Scheelar Chronology

July 9, 1929:

Born Tillamook, Oregon


Moved to the Bay Area drawn by local Jazz scene, residing primarily in Berkeley, California


Played at The Honeybucket & Burp Hollow in San Francisco (1955-59)

Late-1950s & early 1960s:

Married first wife, Elaine Hay (divorced 1961)


Hosted parties and jam sessions in the Rumpus Room above his VW garage (1961-71) Performed in Berkeley at The Monkey Inn, The Albatross and LaVal’s

Casuals with Dick Oxtot, Bob Mielke, Ray Skjelbred and Bob Jackson


Earl’s New Orleans House, dance hall and restaurant, Berkeley (1966-67)

Earl’s New Orleans House Jazz Band (1966-72)


Funky New Orleans Jazz Band (1972-97)

P.T. Stanton’s Stone Age Jazz Band (1973-78)

Monterey Bay Classic Jass Band (1974-88)

With Oxtot at The Ordinary, The Point and casuals

Marriage to second wife, Alice McClesky (1986; d. 2009)


Zenith and Zenith New Orleans Parade Band; jazz festivals and casuals

President, New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California (1992-93)

Owned apartment building in the French Quarter (1989-2005)

Zenith Jazz Band and Marching Band; numerous, festivals and casuals

Ted Shafer’s Jelly Roll Jazz Band (1999-2016) and Mission Gold (2010-14)

First appearance of Zenith Marching Band; Scheelar is seen center playing clarinet, Concord, CA, 8.13.89.

Earl Scheelar page:

Earl Scheelar archive page:

Earl Scheelar Will Surprise You, (San Francisco Cricket, 2016): Scheelar Will Surprise You.pdf

Scheelar Photo Gallery:

 | Website

Dave Radlauer is a six-time award-winning radio broadcaster presenting early Jazz since 1982. His vast JAZZ RHYTHM website is a compendium of early jazz history and photos with some 500 hours of exclusive music, broadcasts, interviews and audio rarities.

Radlauer is focused on telling the story of San Francisco Bay Area Revival Jazz. Preserving the memory of local legends, he is compiling, digitizing, interpreting and publishing their personal libraries of music, images, papers and ephemera to be conserved in the Dave Radlauer Jazz Collection at the Stanford University Library archives.

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