RAY SKJELBRED’S GOT IT!

But we’ve known this for a long time.

I first heard Ray on recordings by a gratifyingly loose group called Berkeley Rhythm (sent to me by my friend and mentor John L. Fell) and then I bought some sessions he was on — one in particular was a duet session with cornetist Jim Goodwin, “Takin’ A Chance on Love,” whose cover featured poker-playing, cigar-smoking dogs.  Then I found compact discs by Ray as a member of Hal Smith’s Roadrunners (a wondrous group also featuring Becky Kilgore and clarinetist Bobby Gordon).

Ray is a stomping pianist in the style of Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Earl Hines, and Frank Melrose — with many delightful idiosyncracies throughout in repertoire and approach.  I was delighted to see that “SFRaeAnn” had captured Ray at Pier 23 and put some performances on YouTube so that East Coast types like myself didn’t feel so deprived.  Cheers and thanks and more!

In this style, it takes a player of a certain sensitivity and steadiness to resist the temptation to play everything fast and loud.  Here, Ray explores William H. Tyers’s “Panama”: the even tread of his swing is something to savor!

Here he plays “a mystery tune,” whose chord changes will reveal themselves to my wise readers (and Ray gives us the answer at the end, rather than cause despair and deprivation):

A duet for solo piano?  The Ellington-Blanton “Pitter Panther Patter,” reimagined as it would have been on Chicago’s South Side circa 1933:

In these more recent clips, the audience commentary is more audible than is ideal, but I thought I would share Ray’s tender version of a song that both Louis and Bird loved, “The Gypsy” — with a Stacy tremolo here and there:

Finally, a rocking “Basin Street Blues,” worthy of the piano masters:

Thank you, Ray, for keeping the flame so nobly — and thanks, too, to “SFRaeAnn” for her recording and posting skills and generosities.

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3 responses to “RAY SKJELBRED’S GOT IT!

  1. Does John L. Fell play clarinet?
    Did he live on Perry Street in Greenwich Village
    50+ years ago?

    If so, we used to jam together!

  2. I don’t know about Perry Street, although John’s other friends — Bill Dunham and James Lincoln Collier — could confirm that. But he did play clarinet, was a well-known film scholar in the California university system, and one of the most generous and articulate men I have ever met, in or out of jazz. A splendid writer about jazz and film. We had a tape-trading friendship for a number of years in the 1980s and early 1990s, until John got sick, had a stroke, and decided he didn’t want to make packages and type letters any more. What his current state is now I don’t know, and if someone knows, I would be grateful for any information — preferably good news.

  3. Jim Collier played trombone in that jam band.

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