EARLYJAS
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EARL SCHEELAR’S NEW ZENITH JAZZ BAND
(OWN LABEL, NO NUMBER).
Playing time: 78m. 48s.  
Bert Thompson
CD Review
Bert Thompson

EARL SCHEELAR’S NEW ZENITH JAZZ BAND (OWN LABEL, NO
NUMBER).  
Playing time: 78m. 48s.  

Messin’ Around; Tell Me°; Hindustan†; Ain’t Nobody Got the Blues
like Me*; It Had to Be You°; My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms‡; Mecca Flat
Blues; Bugle Boy March; Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me†°;
Forever More†; Dreaming the Hours Away*†; Wildman Blues; Oh
Baby; Linger Awhile; Oriental Man; I’ve Been Floatin’ Down That Old
Green River*.  Recording details – none given.
  
Personnel:  Earl Scheelar, leader, 2nd cornet, clarinet, vocals*; Tom
Barnebey, music director, lead cornet, trombone, vocals†; Pete Main,
clarinet, alto sax; Glen Calkins. trombone, bass clarinet; Virginia
Tichenor, piano; Jeff Green , banjo, plectrum guitar, vocal‡; Jim O’
Briant, tuba; Lisa Gosnick, ukulele, vocals°
 
   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.  
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization
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