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Bob "Robert" Baird Mielke

July 12, 1926 - April 16, 2020
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Obituary

 

Robert “Bob” Baird Mielke
07/12/1926 – 04/16/2020

Robert “Bob” Baird Mielke, 93, passed away on April 16, 2020, at Pacifica Senior Living in Oakland CA, where he’d lived since 2012, after moving from his long time home in Berkeley CA. He was born on 07/12/1926 & raised in San Francisco, CA by his parents, Cressida & Frederick Mielke, along with his brother, Frederick Mielke, Jr., and sister Cressida “Bunny” Mielke.

Bob graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco, CA in 1944. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy, receiving an Honorable Discharge in 1946, as an Apprentice Seaman V-6 USNR. Bob recalled that he didn’t want to be an officer, he wanted music instead! He received a BA in both Social Science & in Music from S.F State University. He later attended UC Berkeley, majoring in Sociology, dropping out when his wife, Frances died in Sept., 1960, at just 34 yr. of age. In 1973, Bob remarried & was later divorced from Nora Rezieff Peck.

Bob held a position with CalPers (CA Public Employees Retirement System) as an “Associate Research Analyst,” commuting to Sacramento, CA for 20 years. Bob was an avid photographer, a celebrated trombone player & leader of the “Oakland A’s Swingers” (a dixieland jazz band that played half-time at Oakland A’s baseball games for over 20 years), and “Bob Mielke’s BearCats.” Music was always his first love.

“Bob Mielke: a Life of Jazz” by Jim Goggin
https://www.amazon.ae/Bob-Mielke-Life-Jim-Goggin/dp/142513386X

Preceded in death by his father, Frederick William Mielke, Jr.; mother, Cressida Flynn Mielke; wife Frances Mary (Smith) Mielke; sister Cressida Mielke Edmondson; and brother Frederick William Mielke, Jr. Survived by his two sons, Arthur (Art) William Mielke and Louisa Morris, grandchild, Molly; & James (Ben) Bennet Mielke (and granddaughter, …); nephews Bruce Mielke (wife Michelle; children Dana and Lauren); Neal Mielke (wife Susie; children Anne and Ted); Gary Edmondson; and niece Mitzi Marceau (nee Wendy Edmondson).

There will be no service at this time, due to current COVID restrictions, tho a party may be planned in the future. To plant a tree as a living memorial: https://www.alivingtribute.org/

The family invites you to share your memories of Bob, on the Condolence link below.

Dave Radlauer has written the following tribute to Bob’s long and respected career as a jazz musician.

~~~

The passing of trombone player and bandleader Bob Mielke (1926-2020) at age 93 was the result of age and fragility, not the pandemic.  He was in slow decline for decades, though able to play at parties and special events until recently.

Mielke (pronounced, “milky”) and his East Bay jazz ensembles, most notably The Bearcats Jazz Band, were a distinct and independent voice in the great Traditional Jazz revival that swept through San Francisco and environs in the mid-20th Century.  He was one of the most imaginative trombonists to emerge from the Frisco Revival.

Bob’s personal trombone style fused elements from Kid Ory’s New Orleans tailgate tradition, the Harlem swing of J.C. Higginbotham and plunger mute techniques of Ellington’s “Tricky Sam” Nanton.  His exemplar for playing New Orleans trombone parts was George Brunis in the 1939 Muggsy Spanier Ragtime Band records.  Over the decades he was associated with some of the most illustrious names in Jazz: Sidney Bechet, Bob Wilbur, Joe Sullivan, George Lewis, Muggsy Spanier, Darnell Howard, Don Ewell, Jess Stacy, Bob Helm and Lu Watters.

 By 1955 Bob Mielke and The Bearcats were leading a second wave of the Frisco Jazz Revival at The Lark’s Club in Berkeley.  Shaping a distinctive sound based on driving rhythms, creative soloing and skilled voicing of the horns, Bob and his associates fused New Orleans ensemble parts with Kansas City-style riffing.

Mielke’s bands were bold and inventive, rejecting the prevalent Dixieland formulas of Eddie Condon’s jam sessions, East Coast cutting contests and the Traditional Jazz style of Lu Watters and Turk Murphy.  Instead, they adopted as a starting point the popular New Orleans four-beat style associated with George Lewis or Jim Robinson, adding their own innovations.

For 23 baseball seasons (1969-92) Bob Mielke’s Swinging A’s Oakland Baseball Band brought vintage jazz to ballpark audiences, private parties and Traditional Jazz events.

It was a solid quintet playing a limited role at home games of the Oakland A’s Major League Baseball team.  On the side, Bob booked the jolly quintet for sports, civic, casual or Trad Jazz events, as heard and vividly depicted in The Horns of Summer. 

During the 1980s and ‘90s, Bob Mielke’s New Bearcats carried the music forward, performing at nightclubs, casuals, Trad Jazz events and festivals.  He was playing with a wide range of groups — most notably in the Golden State Jazz Band of Ev Farey and jazz ensembles of singers Barbara Dane and Barbara Lashley

In the 2000s, accidents and physical challenges sidelined Bob, though he remained a beloved musician.  Enduring a slow decline over decades, he loved blowing trombone at parties and informal jams.

Leaving an indelible imprint on the Frisco Jazz Revival, Bob Mielke was an original bandleader was a distinctive instrumental voice.  Mielke’s passing closes the chapter on a second generation of West Coast Traditionalist musicians who built their personal mode of expression drawing from New Orleans music, the sounds of early records, Harlem, Chicago and Kansas City Jazz.

Syncopated Times will soon offer a more comprehensive look at Mielke’s life and music.  Meanwhile, his long-time friend and associate, multi-instrumentalist Clint Baker sends this personal remembrance:

“He had the darkest and richest trombone sound one could produce.  He was a great thinker about music and jazz, his sometimes-grumpy exterior protected the soul of a great artist. I will miss his beautiful tone and perfect trombone lines in the ensemble, and the conversations about all kinds of art from classical music to photography . . .  Godspeed Bob, you will be missed.”

https://syncopatedtimes.com/bob-mielke-1926-2020/

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Life Event Timeline

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Timeline for Bob "Robert" Baird Mielke

Born: July 12, 1926
 
January 1, 1999
Robert “Bob” Baird Mielke
Robert “Bob” Baird Mielke
 
January 1, 1970
My Hero
Died: April 16, 2020

Condolences for Bob “Robert” Baird Mielke

Sunset View Mortuary

Our sincere condolences.

The staff of Sunset View Mortuary.

 

Don Fay posted on 12/21/20

Bob and the Bearcats were very important and inspirational for me. His influence has been with me in all my years in music. I’m sure he will be remembered in music history and as a friend, by all the musicians who played with him. Don Fay, drummer

 

Kathy Wood posted on 9/28/20

BOB WAS A WONDERFUL PERSON. RIP BOB MIELKE

 

Gary Hunt posted on 6/23/20

My Dad Walter, who also lived at Pacifica, and Bob shared a love of Jazz. My dad had an extensive vinyl Jazz collection and would hold a listening session each week at Pacifica. Bob was always there. One of my fondest memories is listening to a Bearcats album with my dad, then later talking with Bob at some length about it. I live in Atlanta so my visits were only a few times a year, but seeing Bob was always a highlight! He will be missed!

 

Dave Radlauer posted on 5/27/20

My fond Farewell to Bob Mielke offers three dozen previously unpublished photos and fifty streaming audio tracks. Warmly depicting this innovative bandleader and imaginative trombonist are newly available music exclusives including Mielke's New Bearcats (1991) and Joe Sullivan (1961). Listen for Sullivan’s heartrending “Black and Blue” recorded live on the San Francisco waterfront. For this comprehensive tribute and survey, I’ve drawn upon Mielke’s private collection, interviews and our friendship. www.JAZZHOTBigstep.com

https://syncopatedtimes.com/farewell-to-bob-mielke-photo-essay-and-rare-audio/

 

K. Dylan Edrich posted on 5/22/20

I had the great honor of loving with Bob at his house on Nielsen St from 2009-2012. I am related to his late wife Francis, and his son Art asked me to go he his roommate after he had his bad bike accident. Those years and that place will remain happy memories forever. I am a musician also so joining Bob at his many house party/jam sessions and at Arhoolie were SO wonderful. We listened to music nonstop at the house and there was coffee, lights, and action at all hours! The man knew how to boogie. Uncle Bob, I will always cherish the viola you gave me that belonged to your mother. I am so proud to carry on a legacy of music-making in our family! See you at that great gig in the sky old friend <3

 

Edd Dickerman posted on 5/16/20

Many second generation trad revival trombonists owed a lot to Turk Murphy -- Bob did not; born when Turk was eleven years old, Bob's unique, robust style has been swinging my workshop for years. Many thanks, old friend, your rest is well deserved.

 

Cousin Wendy (mitzi) posted on 5/13/20

In memory of Bob "Robert" Baird Mielke, Cousin Wendy (mitzi) lit a candle

 

Cousin Wendy (mitzi) posted on 5/13/20

My love and condolences to Arthur and Ben, my cousins and their children. I have fond memories of the times I was privileged to watch my Uncle Bob at work playing the 'bone, both recording and live performances. I absolutely can credit him for instilling in me a lifelong love for Trad Jazz. One of my earliest memories is listening to Blues Over Bodega, a record he recorded with Clancy Hayes protesting a nuclear power plant in Bodega. I loved that record before I was even five years old. A great talent has now joined that big jazz band in the sky where he will forever be playing with all his fellow musicians. I think I can hear them now! What a legacy.

 

Ray Skjelbred posted on 5/13/20

BOB MIELKE –  A REMINISCENCE   Bob Mielke, a very great jazz artist, a hero on trombone and a dear friend, has just died at 93. For me, Bob defined a special place and time for so long that it seems impossible he could be gone.

I am thinking here of Berkeley, especially, and Oakland and the whole East Bay culture and jazz scene that went back to the 1940’s and that I was lucky to be part of from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. Mielke was always there, soulful and deep, always part of any little house party or session, as well as a leader in some of the most creative “traditional” jazz gigs, concerts, festivals and recordings.

For a long time you could zig- zag across town and find Bob, or Dick Oxtot with his banjo, or Walt Yost or Earl Scheelar on several instruments, or P. T. Stanton on guitar or trumpet, or Jim Goodwin on piano or cornet, or Barbara Dane, or Barbara Lashley or Bill Erickson, and many others nearby.  Berkeley was alive with good jazz, sometimes at a moment’s notice. Bob Mielke and the wonderful Bill Bardin were always the trombone players.

I remember I first heard Mielke on record about Christmas time 1961. A trumpet playing friend Bob Cooke had an LP of blues by Barbara Dane accompanied by a true all star cast of Don Ewell, piano; Pops Foster, bass; P.T. Stanton, trumpet; Darnell Howard, clarinet; Bob Mielke, trombone. The music was full of passion and individual voices with skill, good taste and a sense of clear, open space between the horns.

Mielke was wonderful and although I didn’t fully understand it at the time, I can say now that he played with a lip vibrato and a lovely fluttery tone, especially when he lipped notes up and down with a sort of soft, popping sound. He had a sound like a human voice. I also heard the dark tones with his plunger mute and how he used a Harmon mute with the stem removed. It had a mournful, far away sound that I can never forget.

In 1963 on one of my early jazz visits to Berkeley I was fortunate to be part of a jazz party upstairs over Earl Scheelar’s Auto Service where Mielke, Barbara Dane, Dick Oxtot (my first connection to the bay area) and Earl Scheelar were playing, and I got to sit in. From that time on I loved the Berkeley scene and felt lucky to observe, learn and participate in much of Mielke’s future music.

Several times in the late 1960’s I got to hear a revival of Mielke’s original Bearcats band from the 1950’s with P.T. Stanton, trumpet; Bunky Colman, clarinet; Pete Allen, bass; Oxtot, banjo and Don Marchant or Bill Dart on drums. It was a deep and original sound, sort of like New Orleans music mixed with Duke Ellington. There was a rich sense of melodic and harmonic continuity. They played freely but with arranged passages that Mielke called “spaghetti strips” of written music. The other musicians have been dead for years and now that living history is over.

I remember in the summer of 1964 playing piano at LaVal’s in Berkeley with Mielke and other good musicians like Ellis Horne on clarinet and Don Marchant on  drums. I felt very much at home. And comfortable with Mielke. He was always a great “part player” with other horns but also an experimental and lyric creator in small or unusual combinations. In fact, during my years at the Bull Valley Inn in Port Costa during the 1970’s, Bob would often be my horn on a two person job, not the usual path for a trombone. He loved playing melody with a big, beautiful sound, the sound of blues was in everything he played and he could play harmony with a piano solo.

Through the 1970’s, 80’s and into the 90’s  Mielke often played in various combinations with Dick Oxtot and in Ev Farey’s Golden State band, Bob Neighbor’s Sunday band at Earthquake McGoons, with his own New Bearcats band and my own Berkeley Rhythm. I was happy to be a part of all that. Wonderful musicians like Mielke’s long time friends Bill Napier, Richard Hadlock and Jack Minger were regularly a part of all this.  Of course, Mielke also directed the Oakland A’s band for many years. And I was lucky to sub for him on trombone when he had other gigs.

Starting in the 1940’s Mielke had a remarkable career with a stunning combination of major players. Mielke recorded and worked with Bunk Johnson, Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Lu Watters and Bob Wilber. Some of those musicians had styles that were quite different from each other, yet Mielke was able to fit in with all of them. How was that possible?

First of all, Mielke’s  style brought together a wide range of influences. One of his early heroes was Geechy Fields, a New Orleans style trombonist with an uncluttered blues approach. He also absorbed the harmonic part playing of George Brunies and was influenced by the sound of swing players like Benny Morton and Claude Jones.  He believed in beautiful tone production and he could shift from one style to another and it was always his true self.

Mielke listened to the other horns, filled gaps and allowed open spaces among horns. Traditional jazz is often seen as music with three horns: trumpet, trombone and clarinet.  That isn’t quite true, but it is often the case. And in the hands of musicians who simply play without a sense of order, it can turn into a kind of mush, a Dixieland blur of sound where individual horns get lost in the overall sound.

That never happened when Mielke played and I think of several good illustrations. Among the many bands that Ted Shafer assembled, the most exciting by far for me was the band with Ray Ronnei  on trumpet, Bob Helm on clarinet and Mielke on trombone. They were three very different players and their sound could have clashed, but they didn’t.  Their recording together highlights each horn at all times, even during ensemble. The same quality emerged in Mielke’s Bearcats. P.T. Stanton played some fast flourishes on trumpet, followed by stark open spaces. He relied on Bunky Colman’s clarinet to fill a big solo space. Then Mielke responded somewhere in between with a mix of part playing, and New Orleans and swing styles all at once. Also,  in a memorable national public broadcast with Muggsy Spanier and Darnell Howard as frontline partners, the same thing happened. No Dixieland mush.  Everyone was in the right place and Mielke was brilliant in ensemble and solo. He knew where to be in relation to the others.

Most jazz musicians have to wear suits or even a tuxedo from time to time. Mielke did, of course, but that is not the way I picture him. I see him in his old fashioned cap, khaki pants with suspenders, hiking boots and a stage defined by a line of mutes and a canteen. He was a Berkeley guy, a liberal thinker,  dedicated to truth and beauty in the arts.  No show business.  He had plenty of self doubts about his playing but he was always in the right place, even when he didn’t trust himself. Mielke had a reputation for being grumpy and sometimes intimidating to other musicians. I never had that experience.

He was quick to laugh and always fun to play music with. In 1969 when my family moved to Berkeley, Mielke was just moving out of his house on Benvenue. He passed it on to us. Before he lived there, our friend Dick Oxtot lived there and before that, Bob rented a room there in the 1940’s. I guess that’s the tribal part of Berkeley jazz, the part I remember most, and with Mielke always in the center of it.

In December 2005 I wrote a long, feature story with full biography on Mielke for the Mississippi Rag magazine. In 2008 Jim Goggin published a book called Bob Mielke---A life in Jazz.  And they both bring detail to Bob’s long and creative story.

rayskjelbred.com

 

Peggy Love posted on 5/4/20

Bob and three of his musician buddies played for a dance party I held at my house in the Elmwood district of Berkeley on July 20, 1969, the night of the moon landing. It was a benefit to hire a lawyer for a young black man who had been wrongly accused of a crime (we knew where he was at the time of the alleged crime). The whole party paused to watch the historic moon landing on the TV, upstairs. When we reconvened to continue to party, I discovered that the contents of Contribution box was gone. All gone. Bob insisted that we continue dancing with a pledge to contact an attorney he knew to help our case. With his sponsor the whole evening turned out to have been a success, as his lawyer helped our friend be found innocent of any wrongdoing. You can the imagine the esteem in which we have held Bob Mielke all these years, and renew it every anniversary of the moon landing. A wonderful, generous friend and musician. .e

 

Burl Willes posted on 5/2/20

Bob and his group were truly generous musicians , playing pro bono for good causes. His concert at the old Veterans Building Auditorium in Berkeley raised enough money to pay our rent for months at the Berkeley History Center. His loving son Art held his hand until the very end. He will be truly missed.

 

Amanda North posted on 4/30/20

We got to know Bob in his later years here at Pacifica Oakland Heights and he was a big part of all of our lives here and he will be greatly missed. What we saw about Bob every day was that he loved listening to music any time that he could, he loved having a hot cup of coffee in his hands at all times even whenever he didn't drink it 2/3's of the time. Whenever he wanted anything, even if just to make sure he was not alone, he would holler out hello until someone responded. Last year there was an event held in Bob's honor and it was the first time that we got to hear him play and sing. People came to visit him and talk about his great accomplishments, but he didn't want to hear any of it, he just wanted to hear and join in with the great musicians that came to play and sing. Bob, we will miss you! -Amanda, Pacifica Oakland Heights

 

Hal Smith posted on 4/27/20

Bob possessed a distinctive sound on trombone. He always played great solos and perfect parts in a front line. Fortunately, his unique style can be heard on many recordings with Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Lu Watters, Bob Wilber, Barbara Dane, Dick Oxtot, his own "Bearcats" and "Swingin' A's" and others. The recordings -- plus the memories of the musicians who worked with him -- are a testament to his tremendous musical gifts. It was always a great privilege to be part of any band which included Bob Mielke on trombone.

 

Ted Butterman posted on 4/26/20

Very sorry to hear of his passing. Played often with Bob in his band and with Dick Oxtot in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, etc. and was in awe of his work. My sincere condolences.

 

Barbara Rhodes Friday posted on 4/26/20

I am so very grateful for the times Bob would play with Oxtot’s Golden Age Jazz Band, I feel as though I had the pleasure of singing with the Greats. Bob would take it up a notch and both Jack Minger and Bill Braden, as did many others would have more fun entertaining, it sure made me happy! Blessings to you all, and keep Bob alive in your hearts with the many memories y’all share... He will be smiling. Barbara Rhodes (Friday)

 

Jeff Hamilton posted on 4/25/20

Bob was a valuable 'teacher' of jazz truth to me. A very mindful and swinging player. He had a twinkle in his eye like few others. Some jazz musicians seem to be 'in it' to show audiences what they can do. For me, Bob was 'in it' to make the music and the band exciting, musical, and full of riches. I have been very fortunate to be around and get to play with many great musicians in the jazz world. He was, and always will be one of the jewels in my jazz life. At my encouragement, Bob played at two of his very recent birthday events. Still willing to share his love of the music while not at his best. Unselfishness. Spreading joy. Fair winds Bob Mielke. And Thank You. Jeff H.

 

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