The Other Side of 50

Shafer keeps Jelly Roll Jazz Band rolling

By From page OSF6 | August 14, 2014

OSO50 banjo player 7_16_14

Ted Shafer, 89, plays banjo in the Jelly Roll Jazz Band. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

SUISUN CITY — Ted Shafer at age 89 has no plans to stop playing with his Jelly Roll Jazz Band.

“I hope to still be playing on my 90th birthday,” the Suisun City resident said. “I’m a banjo player and also a band leader. That’s a lot of responsibility.”

How long will he play beyond 90, going to various venues with his band?

“As long as I can walk,” Shafer said, with a laugh.

Shafer’s band plays a style of jazz that goes under the names of New Orleans-style, Dixieland and traditional. It’s the kind of music that was played in the 1920s by such jazz giants at Joe “King” Oliver and the namesake of Shafer’s band, “Jelly Roll” Morton.

He heard this kind of music in 1947 while at college in Rochester, N.Y. A fraternity brother played the trombone and brought his band to one of the dances. Shafer said the music just appealed to him, especially hearing it live.

“It’s very uplifting, happy music,” Shafer said. “It has brass sounds and you hear solos of the different instruments. You can appreciate the range.”

Shafer took up the banjo at age 30 and, in 1959, formed the Jelly Roll Jazz Band.

“I don’t know,” he said, smiling with his hands spread. “I just wanted to and I did it.”

He moved to Suisun City in 1988 and reformed the Jelly Roll Jazz Band after a 19-year hiatus. The band has been going strong ever since, usually playing with six people and sometimes with nine.

The Jelly Roll Jazz Band plays on Fridays at Champa, a San Pablo restaurant that features Southeast Asian food and has a dance floor. It also plays locally on various occasions, such as part of the Waterfront Jazz Series in Suisun City.

Traditional jazz doesn’t seem popular with today’s young people, Shafer said. He pondered the future of the music.

“Well, I don’t know,” Shafer said. “We appeal mostly to older people.”

But he thinks young people don’t get the chance to hear traditional jazz. They would like it if they heard it, he said.

A quick Internet search turns up various live performance clips for the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, as well as the 1920s jazz greats that inspired the band.

“That’s kind of the hope, that people will discover us on the Internet,” Shafer said.

Shafer also makes compact discs available of the Jelly Roll Jazz Band and various jazz players such as Lu Watters, Turk Murphy and Don Neely on the Merry Makers Record Co. label.

For more information, call Shafer at 422-1224.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.

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