ROLLING ALONG: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND (Part Two): BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

Just pure pleasure.  An expert gentle band at a friendly festival.  If you need program notes, they are Bob Schulz, cornet and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba; Ray Templin, drums and vocal. This set took place on February 8, 2019, at the Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras.”

 

Here is the first part of this set — five easygoing swing performances.

And a thought.  Some audiences, and who am I to criticize them, need their jazz to be in broad strokes and bright colors.  They aren’t happy unless the band is Fast and Loud, as if they wanted their plate of fries with enough salt on them so that they resembled a winter scene.  Although Louis and Sidney Catlett and Bechet are deities to me, I prefer intriguing explorations in the middle register, in medium tempo, at a volume where listeners have to pay attention or they might miss something beautiful.  Traditional jazz doesn’t have to model itself on the 1812 Overture, or at least not all the time.

Bob and his colleagues understand this, and, better yet, they live it in every note.  So here are three more lovely performances from lovely Fresno.  Thanks to the players and the organizers and the friends of the music.

First, Bob plans a journey South and wonders about sleeping arrangements:

Ray bursts forth in romantic happiness, thanks to Alex Hill and Mr. Waller:

And a romping performance of the wearying classic to end the set:

There’s more to come.  I followed this band around devotedly, and you can understand why.

May your happiness increase!

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“LIKE THE FRENCH PEOPLE DO”: DAWN LAMBETH, CONAL FOWKES, MARC CAPARONE (San Diego, Nov. 23, 2018)

As an affirmation, “C’est si bon!” works for me — and it was a substantial hit for Louis, Eartha Kitt, and others in the early Fifties.  Louis kept it in his repertoire for more than fifteen years, and it’s been recorded by Harry Allen, Eddie Erickson, Nicki Parrott, Abbey Lincoln, and Jaki Byard — which says that this simple tune has an appeal both deep and wide.

Here it is again — a sweet surprise when performed by Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 39th San Diego Jazz Fest last November:

I hope you caught Conal’s little offering of Louisness at :39.  It would be reason to enjoy this video again.  And as far as this trio: They’re so good!

May your happiness increase!

HOT DISHES FROM THE OPTIMISTIC CAFE

Life — however you define it — got you down?  Has your trusty shield suddenly become Saran Wrap?  Has existential dread got you by the windpipe?  Are you walking in the shade?  Who filled your suitcase with bricks?

Come with us to the Optimistic Cafe.

“Hi! welcome to the Optimistic Cafe, where we brighten your day as we fill your plate.  My name is Cleo, and I’ll be your server for tonight.  Can I start you off with a burst of possibilities?”

“Hi, Cleo!  The lady would like the Waller Platter — dressing on the side, and no arugula in the salad.  Is that something the kitchen can do?”

“Can do.”

“And for you, sir?”

“I’ll take the Strong Bowl.  Rare, please, with extra sunshine, and Chittison dressing.”

“Certainly, sir.  I’ll put those orders right in.  And everything will be OK.”

May your happiness increase!

EASYGOING SWING: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND: BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

I see by my YouTube archives that I first heard / saw / videoed this band in 2012, and they still sound wonderful, seven years later.  Unlike more aggressive combinations, Bob‘s group is distinguished by consistent lyricism, and even more a refusal to hurry.  This band, although never dull, hurts no one’s ears; no chandeliers are set a-swaying; the Weather Channel never notes their presence as a threat.  Rather, they beautifully pursue the Golden Mean: swinging medium tempos, nicely modulated volume, and a decided lack of Special Effects.  And what results is lovely wise jazz: see their recorded legacy to date here.  Although the personnel of the Frisco Jazz Band has varied over the years, this edition was and is special: Bob, cornet and vocal; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Ray Templin, drums and vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba.

Here are five performances from the first set I caught: please relax and admire this group’s special relaxed glide.  And, without meaning to slight the rest of the band, I picked a vantage point that would bring me closer to Messrs. Skjelbred and Cusack, two heroes with delightful idiosyncracies that always catch the ear, sometimes unaware, but always with pleasure.  But those in the know will find pleasures in every performance, from each musician.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND (with the verse!):

Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF, which always makes me recall Kenny Davern and friends, at a tempo I would call Stomping Lament:

Bob breaks out his tin-can mute to lend GEORGIA BO BO a certain needed grittiness, much appreciated:

Scott’s tender idiomatic treatment of I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA — pay close attention to Skjelbred’s musing interlude, a spiritual meal in itself:

Henri Woode’s ROSETTA (the proper sources concur on this credit):

There are many more equally gratifying videos to come from this group’s stint at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras”: one of several excellent reasons to be there.  (Hint: make plans for 2020.)

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO TISHOMINGO: A FEW WORDS FOR CONNIE JONES

This morning, I learned through Ed Wise and Tim Laughlin that Connie Jones died in his sleep at home next to his beloved wife Elaine.  Although I hold to cherished ideas about death and transitions — that those who leave their earthly form behind never leave us utterly, that they have merely moved to another neighborhood — I find it hard to write that Connie has left us. He was a great poet without a manuscript, a great singer of immediate heartfelt songs even when he wasn’t singing.

I had the immense good fortune to see and video-record Connie in performance from 2011 to 2015: mostly at the San Diego Jazz Fest, but once at Sweet and Hot and once during the Steamboat Stomp, and I’ve posted as many of those performances as I could.

We didn’t converse much: I suspect he had some native reticence about people he didn’t know, and perhaps he had a perfectly natural desire to catch his breath between sets, ideally with a dish of ice cream.

His playing moved me tremendously.  I tried not to gush, although my restraint failed me once, memorably.  After a particularly affecting set, I came up to him and said, more or less, “Do you think of yourself as a religious man?” and he gave me the polite stare one gives people who have revealed themselves as completely unpredictable, and said, after a pause, “Yes, I do,” and I proceeded to say, quietly, “Well, I think your music is holy.”  Another long pause, and he thanked me.  And I thanked him.  Which is what I am doing in this post.

With all respects to the people who recorded him and played alongside him in various recording studios, I think the real Connie Jones only came through complete when he was caught live — one reason I am proud that I had the opportunity to catch him, as it were, on the wing.  He was the bravest of improvisers, reminding me at turns of Doc Cheatham, of Bob Barnard, of Bobby Hackett — someone so sure of his melodies that he would close his eyes and walk steadily towards a possible precipice of music . . . but creating the solid ground of loving music as he went.

I expect to have more reason to celebrate and mourn Connie in the future, but I think this is one of the most quietly affecting vocal and instrumental performances I will ever hear or witness. See if you don’t agree: Connie, cornet and vocal; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, at the San Diego Jazz Fest on Nov. 29, 2014:

He was so unaffected, so generous in what he gave us.  No one can take his place.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE BACK! DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at FRESNO (Part Two): DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, DAVID AUS, SAM ROCHA, GARETH PRICE, and RILEY BAKER (January 8-9, 2019)

Yesterday’s post of PARDON MY SOUTHERN ACCENT by Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang received a great deal of attention and praise . . . so here is a second helping.  But I confess that I am posting more music by this band for an even simpler reason: they make me feel jubilant, and I can’t dismiss that reaction.

Here are three more rocking performances by Dave and the Hot House Gang from February 8-9th at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras” in Fresno, California.  The swing luminaries on the stand in addition to Dave, guitar and vocal, are Gareth Price, drums; Sam Rocha, piano; David Aus, piano [taking the place of Carl Sonny Leyland for this gig]; Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet; guest star Riley Baker, trombone.

The first, ‘T’AIN’T NO USE, comes from the 1936 book of Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys:

Another reproachful meditation on romance that hasn’t quite reached the target, WHY DON’T YOU PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH? — renowned because of Henry “Red” Allen and the Boswell Sisters.  Here it has a little glee-club flair, which works so well:

A splendid swing classic by Edgar Sampson, BLUE LOU:

Don’t they just rock the building?  I’ve known almost all of the Gang — on disc and in person — through my California Period — but I would especially call out for praise and attention a few Youngbloods, Messrs. Price, Baker, and Rocha.  How very inspiring.

May your happiness increase!

GROOVIN’ WITH DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at FRESNO (Part One): DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, DAVID AUS, SAM ROCHA, GARETH PRICE, and RILEY BAKER (January 9, 2019)

You’ve heard of people dowsing for water — using a forked stick or a pendulum to discern where there’s water under the surface of apparently barren land.  I think of Dave Stuckey as the modern swing equivalent.  His skill is just as rewarding, for he finds the groove where other musicians or bands might not.  Audiences, dancers, and players hear it and respond beautifully.  I’d heard Dave and the Hot House Gang only once before in person, at a Saturday-night dance at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest (results here) and on the group’s debut CD (read my review here) but these pleasurable interludes made me incredibly eager to hear Dave and Co. at the 2019 “Sounds of Mardi Gras” in Fresno, California — a weekend I’ve just come back from.  More about Fresno below.

Here’s one sweet convincing sample.  Dave has a deep affinity for the music Henry “Red” Allen recorded in the Thirties, and PARDON MY SOUTHERN ACCENT by Matty Malneck and Johnny Mercer is one of those memorable tunes.  Dave is joined by Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, reeds; David Aus (a newcomer, subbing this once for Carl Sonny Leyland) piano; Sam Rocha, string bass; Gareth Price, drums, and guest Riley Baker, trombone.

I video-ed everything Dave and the Gang created, and it was rather like a wonderfully unusual yet compelling blend of Fats, Wingy, Red Allen, Tempo King, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Joe and Marty Marsala, Stuff Smith, Eddie Condon, and Django — with great riffing both afternoon and evening.  They can play ballads as well as stomps, and the groove was something to behold: you could ask the dancers.

Mercer came by his Southern accent authentically, being a Savannah native.

A few words about Fresno.  It was my first visit to that jazz festival and I’ll be back next year — not only because of the fine music and the convenience (everything was under one comfortable roof) but the pervasive geniality: much friendliness from everyone, from the waitstaff to the musicians and volunteers. Thanks to Linda Shipp, Alberto, and friends for making everyone so comfortable.  And you can bet there will be more video evidence from the Hot House Gang and Bob Schulz and his Frisco Jazz Band (featuring Ray Skjelbred and Kim Cusack).

 

May your happiness increase!