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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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