THE MANY LIVES OF THE BLUES: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO PIANO, AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Yesterday I posted two duets between pianist Ray Skjelbred and cornetist Marc Caparone, and encouraged my viewers to take a chance by watching and listening — even if they’d never heard either player — and some people did.  One of them wrote to me and asked if I could post some more of Ray.  Nothing simpler and nothing more gratifying, so here are a bundle of blues and blues-related solos from a set Ray did at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.  He introduces them, so you won’t need explanations from me:

Dr. Bunky Coleman’s BLUE GUAIAC BLUES [medical explication, not for the squeamish*]:

Jimmie Rodgers’ TUCK AWAY MY LONESOME BLUES:

Ray’s own SOUTH HALSTEAD STREET, for Jane Addams and Art Hodes:

THE ALLIGATOR POND WENT DRY (for and by Victoria Spivey):

SUNSET BOOGIE (for and by Joe Sullivan):

Ray Skjelbred is a poet — also when he gets up from the piano bench — of these shadings and tone-colors, of the rhythms of the train heading through the darkness.  We are fortunate to live on his planet.

May your happiness increase!

And the promised medical bulletin: [*guaiac is a resin found i our happiness increase!n certain trees, and it is used in medical testing to check for blood, otherwise invisible, in one’s stool.  If the guaiac turns blue, one has that problem described above.  Now you know.]

MICE IN THE AIR: RAY SKJELBRED and MARC CAPARONE at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Two by two, but no Ark in sight, none needed.

Not mice, but musicians: Ray Skjelbred and Marc Caparone, piano and cornet, respectively.

First, an impassioned performance of Dana Suesse’s MY SILENT LOVE by Ray Skjelbred, piano, and Marc Caparone, cornet — prefaced by a fragment of the original Skjelbredian lyrics to MICE ISLAND LOVE. And don’t be frightened by the initial thumping coming through the partition behind Marc and Ray: it’s only the Dixieland Storm Troopers, the hit of seven condiments. Manchego, anyone?

And the Skjelbred-Caparone blues tradition, their variations on the opening strain of Sidney Bechet’s BLUES IN THE AIR, renamed BLUE AIR BLUES. Incidentally, in ancient slang, “The air turned blue” meant someone had launched a torrent of vulgar language — not the case here:

These marvels of sustained feeling and swing took place at the San Diego Jazz Fest on Nov. 25, 2016.  But Ray and Marc make beautiful music — rhythm ballads, romping interludes, or deeply felt blues — no matter where they are.

And a comment on audience-awareness.  I know that many jazz fans are name-and-association driven.  Is it Turk?  Is it Pres?  Did he play with Duke?  Do I know her name?  Is it a song I like by a band I follow?  And if not, the busy fan passes right by in search of recognizable thrills, rather like someone wanting Carvel rather than ice cream or Coke rather than a generic brown carbonated beverage.  If you’ve never heard / heard of Ray and Marc before, put aside your desires for familiar recognizable Product and listen.  They are worth your time.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS: “THE TRIO COLLECTION, VOLUME TWO”: TIM LAUGHLIN, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, HAL SMITH

Simply stated, this is a second disc (recorded on February 7-8 of this year) by one of the world’s most satisfying jazz trios: Tim Laughlin, clarinet (and a few originals); David Boeddinghaus, piano; Hal Smith, drums.  Volume Two, logically, is the successor to Volume One, issued three years ago.  I loved the first one and said so here.

But a New York winter has been very hard on my adjective hoard, so I called upon two of the musicians to help me out — fellows who can write as well as play. (David, terribly articulate, was otherwise occupied.)

I went deeply into the Obvious and asked Tim about the arresting cover, and he said, “I ran out of pictures of steamboats and wrought iron. I have new frames for my glasses and decided to grow a pencil-thin to complete the caricature.” And we agreed that “iconic black and white” really stands out, which is what you want from multi-tasking easily distracted (my words, not Tim’s) music purchasers.

Then I thought I’d ask another member of the trio for his thoughts, and the logical choice was Hal Smith, jazz scholar and former journalism major (if we want to go back a piece):

“It amazes me that Tim continues to come up with outstanding original material — especially ‘Gert Town’ and ‘Roundabout,’ which refer to an area of New Orleans and a traffic circle, respectively.  Tim has a genuine NEW ORLEANS sound on clarinet; rich and woody in all registers. He also has a natural swing in his playing that is infectious (especially for his accompanists)!  David’s playing encompasses many of the best traditions of Classic Jazz and Swing piano — Morton, Waller, Hines, Sullivan, Wilson — but it always comes out sounding like Boeddinghaus. That’s the way piano was meant to be played!  Drumming with these guys is as easy and pleasurable as putting on slippers and settling into the recliner with a good book, an adult beverage and a black cat.”

“Easy and pleasurable” nicely characterizes the comfort this CD offers us.  It’s miles away from EASY LISTENING, but there’s no strain, no chasing after crowd-pleasing effects.  Melody, rhythm, subtle harmonies, all combine in performances that are both logical and warmly inviting.

More about the repertoire, and the sound.  The familiar songs are presented with their rarely-played verses, which are wonderful surprises in a few instances: THANKS A MILLION, ALL BY MYSELF, CABIN IN THE SKY (a small poignant masterpiece), LA VIE EN ROSE, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, UP A LAZY RIVER.  Then, some hot classics: WOLVERINE BLUES and PONCHARTRAIN BLUES for Mister Morton, MESSIN’ AROUND, and THERE’S YES, YES IN YOUR EYES — which has a surprise at its center, and an arrangement credit for Dan Barrett.  (Extra credit for those who know which Arbors Records session this one came from.)  Then Tim has contributed two of his own, ROUNDABOUT — where the reference is to rapid-fire playfulness in the band as well as the traffic circle — and GERT TOWN BLUES, named for a New Orleans neighborhood that is explained more fully here.

The sound of this disc deserves its own paragraph, at least.  Thanks to Ben Lario, recording engineer, and David Farrell, mastering, this is one of the most authentic-sounding CDs I’ve heard.  I  have to preface this by saying I’ve heard the three members of the trio in a variety of settings, with David’s piano and Hal’s drums the least victimized by amplification, but often I have been seated at a distance from those instruments in a large hall.  Even in small venues, the sound is compromised by people gently moving or rattling paper.  Tim’s clarinet, its sound so delicious, I’ve heard out-of-doors or again through amplification for the most part.  (And when I’ve video-recorded these players, the sound of my videos, even through a good microphone, is at some distance from the real thing.)  This CD sounds gorgeously authentic, as if I were seated in front of the trio in a moderate-sized living room.  Nothing harsh or shrill, nothing unnatural, and the balance between the three instruments is as fine as I would hear in life.

You can hear samples and buy the disc here or download the music here.

May your happiness increase!

AUTUMN SERENADE: CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Sept. 14-17, 2017)

I attended my first version of this party (it was then held in upstate New York and called JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA) in September 2004, and I wandered around in a dream-state, astonished by the music and the musicians, many of whom I’d heard for years but hadn’t been able to speak to in person.  And as a journalistic aside, the very first blogpost I wrote here — in early 2008 — was called GOIN’ TO CHAUTAUQUA — so this party and this blog have had a long cozy relationship.

A few years ago the party moved itself to Cleveland, Ohio, and reinvented itself — thanks to Nancy Griffith and Kathy Hancock — as the CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY. Here is the event’s Facebook page.

In a world where jazz festivals get bigger and bigger and then sink without a trace, the CCJP is going strong.  From Thursday, September 14, to Sunday, September 17, 2017, music will be joyous and triumphant in comfortable surroundings among friends.  And the music is solid Mainstream, with no gimmicks — which you could expect, given the roster of performers.  The flyer I am looking at has, in small type, “Roster and Schedule subject to change,” but I think the players are fairly certain, barring attack by androids or arachnids.

On cornet / trumpet, Duke Heitger, Randy Reinhart, Andy Schumm; on trombone, Dan Barrett; on reeds, Dan Block, Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson; on guitar / banjo, Howard Alden, Andy Brown; on piano, Ehud Asherie, James Dapogny, John Di Martino, Rossano Sportiello; on string bass, Joel Forbes, Nicki Parrott, Frank Tate; on drums, Ricky Malichi, Pete Siers, Hal Smith; on vocal, Petra van Nuis; gyosy swing quartet, the Faux Frenchmen; historian (giving a presentation on Ella’s centennial) Phil Atteberry.

On Thursday night, there’s an informal session (for donors and weekend patrons only) that begins at 7:30.  Friday begins with Phil Atteberry’s presentation on Ella (10:30-11:30) and then there are piano solos from 2-4 and an evening set from 5:30-11 and an hour’s set — anything goes — in the “Jazz Club.”  Saturday, music from 10-2 and again from 5:30-11 and 11-12.  Sunday, 9-1:30.  My math won’t stand the strain, but that is a great deal of music.  And as someone who feels morally committed to seeing and often recording everything, I appreciate the breaks, which give me and others time to sit and talk in tranquility.

For details — the name of the hotel, prices for individual sessions or the whole weekend, student scholarships, meals, and more, check here.

Should you go?  I think you should, if you can:

If that swinging jazz (from left, Hal Smith, Frank Tate, Rossano Sportiello) doesn’t in some ways motivate you, I don’t know what to suggest.

May your happiness increase!

“I’M TELLING YOU TRUE”: DAWN LAMBETH / CONAL FOWKES at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 27, 2016)

Two by two:  jazz standards personalized by a tender singer, a sympathetic pianist — Dawn Lambeth and Conal Fowkes at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.

James P. Johnson’s repentant, hopeful ONE HOUR (with the invaluable verse):

and the bittersweet THAT OLD FEELING:

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN ON JIMMY ROWLES, RACE RELATIONS, THE BLESSINGS OF JAZZ, WHICH INCLUDE POTATO SALAD (March 3, 2017)

This is the fourth part of a series of interviews I was fortunate enough to do with Dan Morgenstern on March 3, 2017: here are the ones already posted, with first-hand commentary on everyone from Lester Young to Tommy Benford, soul food, and more.

The interview that follows began with my asking Dan about the irreplaceable pianist and singer Jimmy Rowles, but it soon moves away from a remembrance of Rowles to larger matters: jazz as a place “where the dark and the light folks” could meet in safety and love, and Dan’s own experiences with race relations during his military service in Columbus, Georgia, and a record shop he remembers as “Dr. Jive.”  I found this  article on the founder of that record shop, eventually four record shops, and various record labels — Ed Mendel, a man wholly exemplifying the blessed color-blindness we are still striving towards, eighty years later.

Dan mentions Sherman’s BBQ — which closed about five years ago — and remembers their potato salad as the best he’d ever eaten.  In memoriam, I offer this photograph:

More interviews to come, of course.  For potato salad, you’re on your own.

May your happiness increase!

“AND UNCLE TOM COBLEY (or COBLEIGH) AND ALL”

I just received this now out-of-print “Chronogical” Classics disc.

With all respect to Feather, journalist-publicist, promoter, pianist, composer, arranger of record sessions, I bought this rare item for the company he kept:

From left: Robert Goffin, Benny Carter, Louis, Feather, 1942

For me, the appeal of this now-rare disc in in sessions featuring Bobby Hackett, Leo Watson, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Ray Biondi, Benny Carter, Billy Kyle, Hayes Alvis, Artie Shapiro, Cozy Cole, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Pettiford, Remo Palmieri, Tiny Grimes, Jack Lesberg, Morey Feld, and two sessions featuring swinging British players.  I knew far less about trumpeter / singer Dave Wilkins, reedmen Andy McDevitt and Bertie King, pianist Will Solomon, guitarist Alan Ferguson, string bassist Len Harrison, or drummer Hymie Schneider.

These musicians (with Feather on the final two selections) were presented as LEONARD FEATHER AND YE OLDE ENGLISH SWYNGE BAND, and they recorded for Decca in London on September 12, 1938.

Here’s the personnel for the disc:

Listening in sequence, I discovered this side, which is now an instant favorite:

I hadn’t known this traditional English folksong, obviously updated, but the parade of names is very funny and definitely 1938 hip. I’m sorry the take is so short, because the band has a good time with the simplest material. A similar band had backed Fats Waller on recordings in April.  Was the idea of jamming on traditional folk material was modeled on Maxine Sullivan’s 1937 hits LOCH LOMOND and ANNIE LAURIE, perhaps on Ella Logan’s performances of folk songs swung, or a way for a recording company to avoid paying composer royalties.  Or both.

I searched for more information about WIDDICOMBE FAIR and found this wonderful animated film, hilarious and deft both:

Here are the complete lyrics — an oral narrative too long to reprint here, the moral being caution about lending important objects / animals / possessions. But a secondary moral is that anything can swing, in the right hands.

May your happiness increase!