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The Unissued Hi-Fi Album of Bob Mielke and The Bearcats, 1955

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This is the tale of a failed early stereo album that would have been the premier recording by a legendary San Francisco revival jazz group, Bob Mielke and The Bearcats Jazz Band, although it never issued a record.

Recent recovery of the original master tape makes possible presentation of the extraordinary two-microphone “mid-side” stereo artifact described below and offered for the first time. My thanks to Constantine Soo for the invitation to share with Dagogo readers these exclusive audiovisual treasures.

Three Horns at Larks Club 1955

An Inventive Jazz Band

Bob Mielke and The Bearcats were a distinctly independent voice in the great Dixieland and New Orleans jazz revival that swept through San Francisco and environs in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. In 1955, The Bearcats were at the leading edge of a second musical wave and just becoming popular thanks to their well-received residency several nights a week at The Lark’s Club in Berkeley. Larks Club Tapes

These musicians drew inspiration from early jazz style, the New Orleans revival (clarinetist, George Lewis), Harlem (Duke Ellington) and Kansas City (Count Basie).  They showed very little direct influence from the Traditional Jazz of their immediate West Coast predecessors, such as Lu Watters, Turk Murphy and Bob Scobey, and rejected the formula of Eddie Condon’s Dixieland jam sessions or East Coast “cutting contests.” Instead, The Bearcats forged an independent style within the larger revival jazz movement; they had a light swinging sound, dedication to ensemble style, and were ready to record.

At the time of these tapings, basic elements of The Bearcats style were in place, they were rapidly developing an adventurous repertoire and building enthusiastic following. Recording engineer and entrepreneur Davey Jones caught the band at its inception in vivid stereo, capturing definitive interpretations of their foundational repertoire (in MP3): Bearcats Archive page

Bearcats at Larks Club 1955 with handbill

Premier Recording

The Empirical Records album was The Bearcats first commercial recording session. Mielke was skeptical about taping in studio isolation. He’d had negative experiences and seen how the fixed procedures of recording engineers removed music from its natural environment, limiting spontaneity, damping creativity and sapping enthusiasm.

He vowed that his records would be different: recorded live or in a venue of his choice, such as  The Jenny Lind Hall, a Northern California architectural gem and one of Oakland’s finest performance spaces. Having recently performed there the musicians were comfortable and, notes Mielke, free to drink beer.

By the mid-1950s most of these tunes had become well established in the New Orleans revival tradition, the two originals being exceptions — Oxtot’s “My Lovin’ Imogene” and Colman’s “Blue Guaiac Blues.” Their meditative parsing of Bunky’s contemplative composition allows each soloist and the ensemble as a whole an opportunity for a meaningful conversation with the blues.

Jenny Lind Hall C

Empirical Records Session, 4/28 and 5/1/55

Jenny Lind Hall, Oakland, CA

Bob Mielke (trombone, leader), P.T. Stanton (cornet), Bunky Colman (clarinet), Dick Oxtot (banjo, vocal) Pete Allen (string bass), Don Fay (drums).

Presented as originally sequenced, 24-bit, 48kHz.

Note: Empirical was a small company that went out of business shortly afterward. My source is the original physical copies of the master tapes that were given to me unencumbered. Mielke has signed a standing release granting me use of his previously unpublished. materials. All the other musicians have passed and I’ve not been able to locate possible heirs.
1. Creole Song 3:11
2. Blue Guaiac Blues 6:50
3. Ice Cream 4:14
4. Sing On 3:56
5. My Lovin’ Imogene (vocal, Dick Oxtot) 3:47
6. Bogalusa Strut 3:25
7. Weary Blues 3:26


Empirical LP and Livingston Tape

Innovative Hi-Fi Recordings

Several aspects of this projected album were innovative: the band, multiple media formats and stereo audio. Even the concept of a “record album” — a collection of songs on a single record — was new. Columbia Records had launched the 33 & 1/3 rpm long-playing disc nearly a decade earlier but adoption was slow. Stereophonic sound was just being introduced.

Because there were almost no stereo-capable home playback systems, the plan was for Empirical Records to issue a monaural LP. Livingston Sound Library of Livingston, New Jersey would promote and market the stereo tape to hi-fi enthusiasts. The connection between Mielke and the Empirical Company of Yellow Springs, Ohio probably arose from Mielke and Oxtot’s brief stint in the Ohio-based Dixieland Rhythm Kings, also recorded by Empirical.

One Response to The Unissued Hi-Fi Album of Bob Mielke and The Bearcats, 1955

  1. Dick Karner says:

    I have the Empirical tape recording of the Bearcats.

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