|by Bert Thompson
Ted Shafer’s Jelly Roll Jazz Band—SAN FRANCISCO JAZZ, vol. 1 (Merry Makers
Record Company MMRC-CD-25). Playing time: 52m 23s.
She’s Crying for Me; Sweet Baby Doll; Waiting for the Robert E. Lee; Melancholy;
Merry Makers’ Twine; Southern Stomps; Some of These Days; See See Rider; The
Villain; Working Man’s Blues; Shake That Thing*; Krooked Blues; Doctor Jazz†.
Ted Shafer’s Jelly Roll Jazz Band—SAN FRANCISCO JAZZ, vol. 2 (Merry Makers
Record Company MMRC-CD-26). Playing time: 48m. 30s.
At the Jazz Band Ball; I’m a Little Blackbird; Carolina Shout; Just a Closer Walk
with Thee; I Want a Little Girl; Snake Rag; Jingles; Mama’s Gone, Goodbye; Iced
Cream; Whistling Rufus; Oriental Strut; Canal Street Blues.
Personnel: Bob Neighbor, trumpet; Bill Hogan, trumpet; Bob Mielke, trombone;
John Boland, clarinet, †vocal; Cyril Bennett, piano; Ted Shafer, Karl Walterskirchen,
banjos; Terry Waldo, tuba, *vocal; Bob Raggio, washboard.
Recorded live at The Red Garter in San Francisco, California, Labor Day, Sept. 5,
These two CD’s come from a session at the well-known watering hole in San
Francisco which, back in the sixties, featured traditional jazz, especially of the West
Coast variety, which this band was. It was a direct descendant of the Lu Watters
aggregation, and it made that evening a very swinging one, indeed.
Neighbor and Hogan, the two lead horns, extremely crisp and clean in their attack,
did justice to the fine arrangements, largely those of Charlie Sonnanstine, assisted
on occasion by Robin Wetterau. Neighbor is now retired from playing and living in
Vermont; Hogan I have no information about. Mielke, as the liner notes state, plays
an “effervescent trombone [that] lifts the band”—not that it needed that much
lifting! Long an institution in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is still active, leading
his own band on occasion and playing with others at other times. Boland is another
with long-time playing creds., and he can be heard today playing clarinet with
various groups in his home state of Washington. These players make up a
formidable front line.
The rhythm section is not far behind, however. Walterskirchen, another denizen of
the state of Washington, is still active on banjo. Along with Shafer, who still lives in
the Bay Area and has played banjo as well as band leading and record producing
these many years, the two have a fairly light touch, although at times they tend to
come down rather heavily on two and four, but not enough to drag down the
Waldo, better known for his piano playing, perhaps, plays a light tuba with
appropriate whoops punctuating several tunes; he is not, like so many tuba players,
heavy and plodding, weighing down the rhythm section. Today, as he has for
many years, he still plays piano back in New York City.
On piano, Bennett was from the U.K., although living in California at the time. He
has a fine solo feature on James P. Johnson’s Carolina Shout, accompanied by
Waldo and Raggio, but does not play solo on The Villain, as Wally Rose did with
the Watters band. (The Villain was scored for the full Jelly Roll Jazz Band and is
dedicated on this disc to Lu Watters.) Some time after this period he returned to the
U.K.— Derby, I believe it was. He passed away in November of 2006.
Completing the back line was Raggio, whose washboard playing was always of the
best, as this recording and the testament of so many musicians bear witness. He
passed away in Southern California in January of 2004.
The term “storming session” is applied to performances from time to time, and this
one would certainly qualify as such. Right from the get-go with trombonist Santo
Pecora’s She’s Crying for Me, the group sets the tone for what follows. As is true of
most Jelly Roll Jazz Band recordings, King Oliver and, of course, Jelly Roll Morton
are well represented. The chromatic runs of Snake Rag are as flawlessly executed as
those of the Oliver/Armstrong recording. Lesser known numbers recorded by
Oliver are Sweet Baby Doll and Krooked Blues, here given a good outing. I was
pleasantly surprised by the rather sedate tempi accorded Oriental Strut and Canal
Street Blues, both so often played with the throttle open.
This being a live performance, there are some flaws, as one might expect. James P.
Johnson’s Jingles is a tune with difficult breaks and key changes, and the band has
some problems with them, resulting in some raggedness and what finally may have
seemed to some of the musicians a “surprise” ending. These musical shoals may
well be the reason why almost no bands today even attempt this tune, leaving it to
the pianists to solo on. Also, on Snake Rag there seems some uncertainty about
playing the second strain for the second time, but with the help of the lead horns, a
recovery is effected. Again in the coda there is some uncertainty about when to
end. Finally, on Whistling Rufus Bennett appears unsure of the chords or perhaps
even the melody, but with the re-entry of the front line at the end of his chorus
things get back on track. But give me live over studio recording any day, although I
know there are those who would disagree. These flubs, however, do not seriously
impair the performance, but rather make it more “real” and should not cause
anyone to hesitate at all in acquiring the discs.
A short time ago when I was chatting with Ted, he told me that he is trying to issue
on CD everything he still has; so we can probably expect some more in the future.
Like so many of the small labels (most of which, I am sure, do not break even
financially from the endeavor), Ted’s has produced material that otherwise would
never have seen the light of day. For this we are in their debt, as will be future
researchers. As he says at the end of his liner notes to vol. 1, this pair of CD’s allows
us to “relive those glorious golden moments of jazz,” as do all of the other discs that
have been issued by his and the other niche labels. The recordings also preserve
those moments for posterity.
These two volumes are available from Ted Shafer at his Jelly Roll Jazz Band gigs, or
they can be ordered by writing him at Merry Makers Record Company, 926
Beechwood Circle, Suisun City, CA 94585 or by calling him toll-free at 1-866-563-
4433. They should also be obtainable from mail order sources that carry Merry
Makers label CD’s
Note: In case you play CD’s in your car CD player, be advised these discs have