Don’t miss the downloadable audio files that follow this post. Part 1 is HERE.
The Monkey Inn was a casual beer and pizza joint and college student hangout in Berkeley, California. Bob Mielke recalls that it had sawdust on the floor and “fraternity guys out on their first beer benders. It got pretty rowdy sometimes.” The musicians playing Jazz there five nights a week from 1957 to ’65 rarely sounded happier or more relaxed.
The informal dive provided a steady venue in Berkeley for Revival Jazz after the Lark’s Club closed in 1956. Various ensembles rounded out the weekly schedule Tuesday through Saturday nights, including the Great Pacific Jazz Band, Le Sharpton’s New Orleans Band, the ensembles of Mielke or Oxtot, Erickson’s combos and ad hoc jazz groups similar to those highlighted in part one.
This article focuses on the effervescent Jazz combos of piano player Bill Erickson at the Monkey Inn during 1961 and ‘62 with clarinet players Frank “Big Boy” Goudie or Ellis Horne and trombone player Bob Mielke — a young phenomenon rising to the occasion. They were occasionally joined by the superb jazz trumpeter Jerry Blumberg.
Bill Erickson (piano, leader)
Almost completely forgotten today, Bill Erickson (1929-67) was a piano and trumpet player, arranger, composer and session director skilled at setting the stage for others to shine. He had played piano for Kid Ory in San Francisco and occasionally performed with the bands of Mielke or Oxtot on either side of the Bay.
After 1960, Erickson’s main enterprise was running jam sessions from the piano bench at Pier 23 on the Frisco waterfront several nights of the week. He was joined regularly by clarinetist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie.
Bill was a musical genius and dynamic session leader who had played a lively role in Bay Area jazz since before 1950. Shortly after his death in 1967, San Francisco Examiner Popular music critic Phil Elwood wrote, “Erickson, usually erroneously labeled a Dixieland jazzman, was in every way a modern musician, performer and composer whose interests ranged from the blues to Bartok.”
Mielke suggests that Erickson had two main modes when he was playing piano in a band. If a bass player was present, Bill played in “a light Teddy Wilson style.” But if there was no bass, as in these combos, “he came on like gangbusters with a strong left hand . . . a real rhythm section unto himself.” Directing these sessions from the keyboard Bill delivered solid bass support, imaginative harmony and dazzling solos, despite the pitiful wreck of a piano.
Almost no examples of Erickson’s hard-to-categorize piano playing were ever issued on disc. Until recently his trumpet playing was only heard on a few rare 78 rpm discs. The Monkey Inn tapes are the best surviving examples of his keyboard artistry. Taking daring harmonic turns and striking melodic leaps, his genius is undeniable, whether soloing or comping for the horns.
Bob Mielke (trombone)
Bob Mielke (b. 1926) became the most imaginative jazz trombone player to emerge from the second-wave of the Frisco Jazz Revival. He was a brash and unpolished talent in the Erickson combos — a workhorse stomping off the beat, comping, riffing and playing counterpoint.
Mielke was in a little over his depth with these more experienced veterans — by his own admission and Goudie’s estimation. Even though he had already led The Bearcats Jazz Band for a half-dozen years, Bob says that he grew as a musician at the Monkey Inn, learning from these more seasoned professionals.
Today Bob freely admits that these combos – certainly the quartets, with just two horns swapping the lead – were not New Orleans, Traditional or Dixieland Jazz at all but Swing combos. Listening in recent times, he was proud of his part and astonished by Erickson’s audacious piano chops.
Ellis Horne (clarinet)
A noteworthy Bay Area jazz talent for half a century, Ellis Horne (1920-1995) was integral to the classic Yerba Buena Jazz Band of Lu Watters in the 1940s. Despite his seminal role shaping two-beat Traditional Jazz, by the 1960s Horne had fully embraced the four-beat New Orleans Revival style. He developed a distinctive and thoughtful personal New Orleans clarinet style onto which he grafted the musical outlook of Kansas City saxophonist Lester Young.
In the 1950s and ‘60s Horne performed with Mielke, Oxtot and other bandleaders, either as an alternate, substitute or regular band member. Quiet and introverted, Ellis played his parts with a soulful tone, always ready with a tasteful solo or rich chorus of the blues. In Erickson’s combos, he was relaxed and unconstrained.
Jerry Blumberg (trumpet)
There is a curious conundrum regarding the identity of this trumpeter, who is probably Jerry Hershay Blumberg (b. 8/20/1929, Baltimore, MD). Blumberg is best remembered for his New York City years which involved a brief tutelage with Bunk Johnson and recording with Bob Wilber’s Wildcats (including Mielke) in 1947. He fell under the influence of trumpeter Bobby Hackett in the mid-1950s before departing New York.
Blumberg came to San Francisco around 1962 and worked for Turk Murphy during 1965-66. Jerry made a strongly favorable impression on local musicians, but soon departed the area. He decisively left the music business altogether for health and personal reasons, taking up life elsewhere as a skilled professional in the sciences.
For decades Bob Mielke recalled that Jerry was the trumpet player on this gig. But surprisingly, Blumberg recently broke a silence of 50 years to assert that he did not play horn on the Monkey Inn tapes. Nonetheless, he did recall playing there with Bob a couple of times, and other tapes of Jerry with Mielke’s ensembles bear a strong resemblance.
The tasteful horn player on these sessions blends a swinging New York Dixieland trumpet style with flourishes of Bunk Johnson’s rustic New Orleans manner. He offers cooperative leadership without aggressiveness, a full tone, fluid technique and fresh improvisational ideas.
Despite his demurral, informed listeners concur that this is Blumberg — namely Bob Mielke; Bob’s knowledgeable friend Bill Raynolds (who helped preserve these tapes); jazz scholar and musician Richard Hadlock (he distinctly recalls Jerry’s “classy” sound) and this writer.
Blumberg also jammed with Erickson at Pier 23. Jazz trombone player Jim Leigh recalled Jerry from those jam sessions in his self-published memoir, Heaven on the Side (2000): “I wondered if perhaps it had always been too easy for him. The way he tossed off 16th-note runs at any tempo, you knew he would never play a bad note. If it’s possible to sound too effortless he did at times.”
Frank “Big Boy” Goudie (clarinet)
Born and raised near New Orleans, Frank “Big Boy” Goudie (1899-1964) was a skilled, experienced music professional and a sophisticated world traveler fluent in several languages. “Behind his easy smile lies one of the most colorful stories in jazz,” wrote musician, broadcaster and journalist Richard Hadlock in The San Francisco Examiner in 1963, “I never saw a musician more eager to play.”
The 6’ 5” multi-instrumentalist (trumpet, saxes, clarinet) moved to France in 1924. He gravitated to the center of a Golden Age of European Jazz and Swing through the 1930s. During World War II “Big Boy” performed in South America, returning to Europe after the war. He came back to the United States in 1956, settling in San Francisco after 32 years overseas.
Goudie had a “continental” manner, wore a beret and spoke with a strong French accent, yet retained earthy traces of his Louisiana origins. His associates from that era recall a cultured, intelligent, worldly, charming and modest “Gentleman of Jazz.”
Still brimming with energy in his sixties, the Creole clarinetist was performing from about 1958 to 1963. Most nights of the week he was playing in a wide range of ensembles all around San Francisco Bay. Frank also played in the El Dorado Jazz Band in with Jim Leigh, and widely across the greater Bay Area with the ensembles of Mielke and Oxtot. Goudie was a regular clarinet alternate in Mielke’s Bearcats Jazz Band and for almost two years played most Thursday nights at the Monkey Inn with Bob and Bill.
These sessions are by far the best recordings of Goudie’s fully developed clarinet sound. The one-time trumpeter and former tenor saxophonist crafted a distinctive, personal clarinet voice with a husky tone and flowing lines. He developed the ability to improvise endlessly with ease like his greatest inspiration, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.
At the Monkey Inn Goudie took long, loping solos integrating his Creole background with three decades jamming alongside the jazz elite of Europe. Pouring out masterful improvisations with drive and imagination, his variations unfold like blossoms.
Jimmy Carter (drums)
Drummer Jimmy Carter was an African-American native of New Orleans working regularly with Erickson at Pier 23 — and this Thursday night combo. In his New Orleans days, Carter had played with bandleaders “Kid” Thomas Valentine, John Handy and “Kid Shots” Madison. Rhythmically accurate and supportive, Carter shifted his patterns fluidly, crisply punctuating the action with quick jabs.
The Legend of Monkey Inn
In retrospect, this unassuming beer and pizza joint was a vanguard in the second wave of the Great San Francisco Jazz Revival, a friendly and casual setting for emerging talent to gain experience and hone their chops. The gang at Monkey Inn – and a larger East Bay jazz cohort – built a distinctive regional jazz style independently of the formulas of Eddie Condon’s Dixieland jam sessions, East Coast cutting contests — or even the Traditional Jazz of Lu Watters, Bob Scobey and Turk Murphy that had inspired most of them.
Ellis Horne sustained a modest career for another three decades. Mielke became the best-known musician of the East Bay through various iterations of The Bearcats Jazz Band and his Oakland Swingin A’s Baseball band. Bob’s music was arguably the most recognizable brand of jazz in Northern California, popular with both a broad general audience and a far-flung traditionalist following.
Sadly, “Big Boy” Goudie was dead from lung cancer within two years at age 63. Worse, Bill Erickson committed suicide by oven gas a few years later at age 37. It was a traumatic shock for the local jazz community, followed by memorial benefit concerts for the talented performer that some had called “Willie the Master.” Unfortunately, without legacies of commercial recordings, the memory of these bright lights in Bay Area jazz faded quickly. The Monkey Inn tapes are a sparkling tribute to these gifted but long forgotten musical partners.
Toward the late 1960s — as gigs like this disappeared and lifestyles evolved to encompass day jobs and families — the action moved to the weekends. Local Traditional Jazz societies coalesced to support the music. They provided a welcome home for decades to come for Bob Mielke, Dick Oxtot, Barbara Dane, Earl Scheelar, Walter Yost, Ellis Horne and other former denizens of the Monkey Inn.
Bill Erickson’s groups manifested the cooperative, adventurous and musically sophisticated outlook of this second-wave of Frisco jazz revivalists. Erickson, Mielke, Carter, Goudie or Horne — and sometimes Blumberg — combined as one musical voice, exploring the dynamic musical potential in a few unamplified bits of wood, brass, steel, felt, ebony and skin at the Monkey Inn.
Based on interviews, discussions and correspondence with Dave Greer, Richard Hadlock, Bob Mielke and Earl Scheelar. Thanks to them all for tapes, photos and memories. Thanks to Hal Smith for music consultation and assistance. Interviews of Blumberg and Goudie from 1960 and 1961 are at the Music Rising website of Tulane University.
Images, photos and audio, except as noted, are from the personal collections of Mielke, Scheelar and Oxtot. Their vast personal libraries are destined for the Stanford University Libraries music archive as part of the Dave Radlauer Jazz collection.
Monkey Inn Audio artifacts
The audio is surprisingly vivid on these recovered audiotapes that were made with high-quality German microphones fed directly to an open reel Ampex tape deck. The Monkey Inn tapes are only slightly marred by missed notes, ambient noise and location sound. Mielke wanders, claps off-beat at times and stomps his foot near the end of each number alerting other musicians to the concluding bars.
Ellis Horne, Bob Mielke, Bill Erickson combo 6/21/62
Ellis Horne (clarinet), Bob Mielke (trombone), Bill Erickson (piano), Jimmy Carter (drums)
Jerry Blumberg, Bob Mielke, Bill Erickson combo, 8/7/61:
Probably Jerry Blumberg (trumpet), Bob Mielke (trombone), Bill Erickson (piano), Jimmy Carter (drums)
These performers rarely sounded happier than when playing primarily for themselves and only secondarily for a local college crowd who responded with either indifferent boredom or overheated enthusiasm. The audibly-swinging saloon doors adjacent to the piano allowed street sounds to enter from busy Shattuck Avenue.
A Harley V-twin motorcycle can be heard starting up and pulling away toward the latter part of Goudie’s solo in “Careless Love.” Another reminder that, according to Mielke, things could “get a little rough.”
Found among the Erickson combo reels are a half-dozen renditions of the rarely heard “Joseph, Joseph,” underlining its significance for these musicians. Mielke always maintained that the 1940s hit song for The Andrews Sisters had roots in Yiddish music. The passionate solos of Goudie and Mielke — and Erickson’s total commitment — are impressive.
Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, Bob Mielke, Bill Erickson combo (Jerry Blumberg) 1961-62
Frank Goudie (clarinet), Bob Mielke (trombone), Bill Erickson (piano), Jimmy Carter (drums)
Add Jerry Blumberg (trumpet) on Royal Garden Blues, Careless Love