by Bert Thompson
CHARLES SONNANSTINE AND ROBIN WETTERAU’S GREAT PACIFIC JAZZ
BAND— Play Music of the 1920’s – Jazz of the “Great Gatsby Era” vols. 1& 2
(Merry Makers Record Company MMRC-CD-52 & 53)
Vol 1 (MMRC-CD-52) Playing time: 50m 59s
Messin’ Around; Daddy Do; Mandy Lee Blues; Big Bear Stomp; All Night Blues;
Tears; Moonshine Blues; Sidewalk Blues; Krooked Blues; Don’t Forget to Mess
Around When You Do the Charleston; Annie Street Rock; I’m Leaving This
Morning; Mabel’s Dream; Lord, Send Me a Man; 1919 Rag.
Vol. 2 (MMRC-CD-53) Playing time: 44m. 35s
The Chant; Gulf Coast Blues*; Doin’ the Hambone; Over in the Gloryland; Great
Pacific Stomps; All Night Blues; Minstrels of Annie Street; Friendless Blues; Sic
‘em Tige; Southern Stomps; Jingles; At a Georgia Camp Meeting; Jelly Bean
Charles Sonnanstine, cornet, co-leader, vocal*; Birch Smith/Frank Goulette,
cornet; Sanford Newbauer, trombone; Roy Giomi, clarinet; Robin Wetterau,
piano, co-leader; Bill Carpender, tuba; Tito Patri and Lee Valencia, banjos; Lloyd
Both volumes recorded at the same performance at Muir Beach, California, ca.
The Great Pacific Jazz Band was formed in California in 1958 by two
transplants from the Dixieland Rhythm Kings of Ohio: Charles Sonnanstine and
Robin Wetterau. Several of the Great Pacific Jazz Band also were members at one
time or another of the Bay City Jazz Band—Newbauer, Giomi, Patri, Valencia, and
Byassee—and both bands were well-known in the San Francisco Bay Area.
However, only the Bay City Band was professionally recorded (on the Good Time
Jazz label) and neither band toured; so the chances were slim that either was
known much outside of California. But they did enjoy some renown in the
immediate Bay Area.
Like most traditional jazz bands on the West Coast, the Great Pacific Jazz Band
descended musically from the Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz Band, in which the
brass predominated with half the members playing a brass instrument. (In turn
the YBJB was modeled on King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, but having the tuba
rather than the string bass.) Virtually all of the tunes on these two discs are also to
be found in the YBJB’s repertoire, further cementing the lineage, and as in the
Watters band, they are given a “brassy” treatment here, too. A few are Watters’
compositions, such as Annie Street Rock and Big Bear Stomp on vol. 1. However,
despite all of that together with having the same instrumentation, this band will
not be mistaken for the Watters’ group. There is a fire, an eagerness to the latter
that is missing here, which is not to say that the Great Pacific Jazz Band is not a
very good band—it is, but it does not seem to express the same passion as the
Yerba Buena Jazz Band.
Perhaps the quality of the sound contributes to that difference. It is not
professional, being fairly uneven: the volume level varies from track to track, and
there is a muddiness overall—no clear definition of instruments. The balance is
questionable, with the bass drum tending to be over-recorded and the clarinet
often under-recorded. The sole vocal that I was able to detect (regrettably there
are no liner notes on my copy), that on Gulf Coast Blues, was almost totally
inaudible, due also in large part to being off-mike.
All of that is rather unfortunate because this was a very good band which, on
this its only released recording, deserved better. It does not try to recreate the
YBJB, other than perhaps on Doin’ the Hambone, employing its own
arrangements and motifs. Other tunes have the stamp of the GPJB. On volume 1,
Krooked Blues features interesting double-time choruses and coda; the hokum is
absent on Sidewalk Blues ; Mable’s Dream is taken at a spanking tempo, unusual
for this tune; and I’m Leaving This Morning, that fine Ma Rainey number, has
some beautiful two-cornet breaks. On volume 2, Minstrels of Annie Street, a Turk
Murphy composition, features Newbauer’s trombone, but his breaks are quite
different from Murphy’s, although his tone and attack resemble Murphy’s, as did
those of many of the Bay Area’s trombonists; differing from many other
renditions, Jelly Bean Blues ends on a minor chord; and Jingles, not recorded by
Watters, is rather strange, especially with its “surprise” ending—one which
seemed to surprise the musicians, too! These were a few of the moments that
All of the tracks, however, have that two-beat rhythm and that brassy sound so
characteristic of West Coast traditional jazz. It is good to have this recorded
memento of the Great Pacific Jazz Band available. The CD set, despite its
shortcomings, assures that the band will not be lost to posterity. It also provides
some 95 minutes of good traditional jazz.
Merry Makers records are available at several on-line outlets, such as cdUniverse
and Amazon, and from City Hall Records, 101 Glacier Point, Suite C, San Rafael,
CA 94901, tel. 415-457-9080.
Note: This band is not to be confused with a later band of the same name, Great
Pacific Jazz Band (1979-1995) of Southern California led by Bob Ringwald.