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Frank “Big Boy” Goudie: Jazz on Three Continents Part 3 of 3, San Francisco 1956-64

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Jim Leigh and Goudie

Trombone player Jim Leigh (1930-2012) came to know Frank well, recounting the tale in his memoir, Heaven on the Side (2000).  In a chapter titled “Tree” — for Goudie’s childhood nickname — he describes:

 “. . . a wise and good-natured man who had seen a great deal of the world and liked to talk about it.  This he did with great charm in English to which traces of a French accent still clung, yet with Louisiana underneath it all.  He knew his horn, his ear was excellent, he could read anything.”

Despite his European polish, at his core “Big Boy” was from New Orleans, favoring southern cooking, beans and rice, cooked greens or barbeque.  Though he did not cook well himself according to Leigh.  Frank and Jim played together often at Pier 23, in El Dorado Jazz Band in the South Bay and many casual or informal sessions — some heard below.

Richard Hadlock first encountered Goudie in Rio de Janeiro as a teenager around 1945 and later profiled him in print.

Recalling a Gentleman of Jazz

Those who knew Goudie in California describe a wise, kind, modest, sophisticated gentleman with a strong French accent who wore a beret yet retained the earthiness of his Creole origins.  Without exception his former associates recalled a gracious “gentleman of jazz.”  His height, size, age and proud upright posture stood out.  His skill brought panache to any ensemble.

“Few musicians his age were ever more eager to play,” wrote Richard Hadlock in the San Francisco Examiner, “A born gentleman, one of the last of the old school.”  Richard Hadlock (b. 1927) is a clarinet and saxophone player, jazz journalist and broadcaster who befriended him.  He invited Goudie to dinner at his Berkeley home, “Ruth and I had him to our house more than once and we both liked him a lot.  He was a gracious, sophisticated gentleman of the world.”

Trombonist and bandleader Bob Mielke (b. 1927) was struck by his sophistication, heft and strength.  “He cut quite a figure,” said Mielke, “a man of the world.  Really, an impressive man.  Heʼs gotta be one of the most cosmopolitan people I have ever met.”  Bob hints that Goudie possessed unexpected talents – such as tailoring and boxing.

Mielke was most impressed by his advanced musical skills including counterpoint, harmony and solfeggio: “He was a musician’s musician.  He admired people who knew what they were doing.  He was always supportive, both personally and musically.”

As for his personal habits — Frank smoked cigarettes, did not drive a car, occasionally drank wine and had a girlfriend.  He was charming and “continental” in Mielke’s words.

“A player who definitely had it . . . who would never let anyone down,” remarked trombone player Bill Bardin (1924-2011).  Commending his flowing clarinet lines, he added, “though none of us ever called him ‘Big Boy’.”

Oxtot’s Bagatelle ensemble in rehearsal at a private home with Louisiana-born clarinet player Clem Raymond. Pictured are Frank Goudie, P.T. Stanton, Clem Raymond, Bill Bardin, Pete Allen, Dick Oxtot and Bill Young.

 The Bagatelle, San Francisco, 1959

“Oxtot had a Sunday afternoon gig on Polk Street at one time and Goudie was in the band,” recalled Bob Mielke, “I remember some marvelous sessions there.”  The Bagatelle was a lively bistro where Oxtot played several nights of the week in 1959 – plus a Sunday afternoon job that featured veteran Louisiana clarinetists Clem Raymond or Frank Goudie.

The lineup for Dick Oxtot’s Golden Gate Stompers was usually P.T. Stanton (cornet) — replaced here by the excellent horn player Ted Butterman — Bill Bardin (trombone), Pete Allen (string bass) and Bill Young (drums).  Frank spoke with great regard of trombonist Bardin telling Ken Mills he was, “somebody to watch out for . . . he knows what he’s doing and he means business.”  Goudie constructed a classic New Orleans-style counter-melody to Butterman’s sunny trumpet lead — taped in stereo.

Should I?  – Bagatelle

Dick Oxtot and Ted Butterman, c. 1959. It’s quite possible that is Goudie’s hand and clarinet protruding into the image. Oxtot collection.

Clarinet Master and Former Saxophonist

Goudie took up the clarinet in his youth, first inspired by early reed-playing masters he’d heard in New Orleans — Albert Nicholas, Barney Bigard, Johnny Dodds and notably the little-known clarinetist, George “Georgia Boy” Boyd.  But he didn’t perform with it until the mid-twenties in Paris.

In 1928 Frank first appeared in a photograph with clarinet.  It was one of the three instruments he played in 1935 — along with trumpet and alto sax — on his premier tour de force solo recording in Paris.  By 1946 he had ceased playing trumpet and was de-emphasizing tenor sax.  During the subsequent decade he shifted to clarinet as his main instrument and professional calling card.

There are no reports of Goudie ever playing any other instrument on the west coast, somewhat to the disappointment of his younger colleagues.  Most were curious about his past and the musical persona that had sustained him for decades in Paris and carried him across South America.  Yet he told interviewer Ken Mills in 1960 that he’d “never felt at home” playing the tenor saxophone.

In California Frank’s fluid and legato style was not unlike his clarinet sound on records in France and Germany between 1946-53.  In California he developed a rich husky tone – verging on a growl — with imaginative flowing lines.  He launched effortlessly into expressive variations with a clear sense of purpose and direction — equally at home in a seven-piece New Orleans ensemble, swing combo or trio.

Goudie c. 1950

Berkeley Jazz House Party, Sepember 1960

For a while piano player Bill Erickson’s rented Victorian house in Berkeley became the focal point for a series of rotating music parties and jam sessions.  These effervescent gatherings stretched from afternoon until past midnight, fueled by good jazz, spaghetti or red beans and rice, day old bread and dollar-a-gallon wine.  In close proximity to friends and family the musicians played purely for their own pleasure and expression.

The relaxed high spirits and bonhomie are evident in “See See Rider.”  Personnel were probably Jim Leigh (trombone), Bill Erickson (piano), Dick Oxtot (banjo).  Goudie has lots of mic time — though a precocious toddler shrieks with delight into the microphone.  Another clarinetist takes the second solo, probably Bill Napier.

The electrifying jam on “Should I?” is full of lively riffing and ensemble polyphony.  Adding Walter Yost (cornet) and substituting Bob Mielke (trombone), Napier solos first followed by Goudie.  Mielke’s scorching solo segues to an intense clarinet duet in the ride out chorus.  “Should I?” was a simple pop song and a familiar jam tune for the Berkeley crowd.

See See Rider

Should I – Party

3 Responses to Frank “Big Boy” Goudie: Jazz on Three Continents Part 3 of 3, San Francisco 1956-64


  1. Dick Karner says:

    Dave-I did a 2 cd album called ‘West Coastin’ Tradjazz Productions TJP 2125. Jim Leigh’s El Dorado Jazz Band w/Frank ‘Big Boy’ Goudie ‘Live at Pete’s Chicago Club-1960. Now out of stock but I could make copies if anyone is interested.

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