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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



EARL SCHEELAR'S
NEW ZENITH JAZZ BAND

Own label - no number

 

 

1. Messin' Around
2. Tell Me
3. Hindustan
4. Ain't Nobody Got the Blues like Me
5. It Had to Be You
6. My Honey's Lovin' Arms
7. Mecca Flat Blues
8. Bugle Boy March
9. Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me
10. Forever More
11. Dreaming the Hours Away
12. Wildman Blues
13. Oh Baby
14. Linger Awhile
15. Oriental Man
16. I've Been Floatin' Down That Old Green River

Personnel:
Earl Scheelar - Leader, 2nd cornet, clarinet, vocals (tracks 4, 11, and 16)
Tom Barnebey - Music director, lead cornet, trombone, vocals (tracks 3, 9, 10, 11, and 16)
Pete Main - Clarinet, alto sax
Glen Calkins - Trombone, bass clarinet
Virginia Tichenor - Piano
Jeff Green - Banjo, plectrum guitar, vocal (track 6)
Jim O'Briant - Tuba
Lisa Gosnick - Ukulele, vocals (tracks 2, 5, and 9)

Recording details - none given.

Playing time: 78m. 48s.


The leader of this group, Earl Scheelar, has been living and playing clarinet and cornet in the San Francisco Bay Area for many decades now. A dyed-in-the-wool New Orleans stylist, at one time he opened a jazz club in Berkeley, California, the "New Orleans House," serving New Orleans cuisine and featuring his own band for the entertainment-a venture which lasted for only about a year, unfortunately. For some 16 years he also owned an apartment building in the French Quarter of New Orleans, visiting there each year and relinquishing ownership of it prior to Hurricane Katrina, and during that decade and a half he organized an instrument-give-away foundation for needy New Orleans kids. Since the 1960s he has led several bands in the San Francisco area. Given all of that, it would be fair to say that he has paid his dues.

Scheelar's musical organizations during the last half century, most of which recorded once or twice, include the New Orleans House Jazz Band, the Funky New Orleans Jazz Band, and the Zenith Jazz Band, as well as the Zenith New Orleans Parade Band. This current band, the New Zenith Jazz Band, is a slight departure from the old, having no drums, two cornets, and, of all things, a ukulele, along with the more usual instrumentation.

Almost all of the musicians in the band are well-known in the San Francisco Bay Area traditional jazz scene, most playing with other local bands-several with more than one-as well as this one. A brief CV is given for each in the liner notes. The band currently has a weekly residency at The Hornbill Restaurant, which features Burmese cuisine, in El Sobrante, an East Bay suburb of San Francisco. It has a pleasant ambience and boasts a commodious dance floor. Unsurprisingly, therefore, most of the tunes on this CD are appropriately taken at dance tempos, but then again, such tempos were also the norm for New Orleans bands as they played for dancing, not just listening, at such venues as Luthjens Dance Hall, Artesian Hall, San Jacinto Hall, et al.

Other than New to Me (which has lyrics composed by Tom Barnebey), the tunes on this CD will probably be familiar to most fans. As well as being danceable, they are all eminently listenable as well. In true New Orleans fashion, emphasis is given to collective improvisation-no written scores for this band-but attention is also paid to some of the finer points, such as dynamics-witness Messin' Around, Hindustan, or Linger Awhile-and varying textures. The latter can be seen and heard in an interesting trading of fours between the two cornets on Hindustan and in engaging duets of the two clarinets in Mecca Flat Blues and Oriental Man, as well as that on Ain't Nobody Got the Blues like Me between the cornet and banjo, all the others dropping out,.

Some half of the tracks contain vocals, but fortunately the quality of these is quite good, which is not always the case when musicians lay down their horns and reach for the microphone. A particularly enjoyable moment comes with the harmonized duet on the infrequently heard lyrics of Dreaming the Hours Away. The band's featured vocalist, Lisa Gosnick, has a pleasant voice, not heavily laden with vibrato but with just a touch at the end of phrases, as can be heard on her three tracks. (Since I was unable to discern her uke playing, I cannot comment on it.)

For me there were several high points on this disc. One was hearing one of my favorite tunes, Ain't Nobody Got the Blues like Me, composed by the late San Francisco Bay Area cornetist and banjoist. Dick Oxtot, which sadly is not often given an outing by trad bands. Mecca Flat Blues is another, for the clarinet duet mentioned above and also the guitar-plus-stop-time solo. The following track, Bugle Boy March, taken at a sprightly tempo, is a solid rendering of this march and, even without drums, comes off well. To mention just one other, hearing the seldom offered lyrics for Dreaming the Hours Away, and their being given such an interesting harmonization in the duet, was a delight.

This disc provides a very entertaining 78-odd minutes of music and song and gives a good glimpse of what is currently available in trad jazz circles in the San Francisco area. The contact information for Earl Scheelar is aescheelar@lmi.net or 510-843-9862.

Bert Thompson



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