When the sweet-natured pianist and singer Carl Sonny Leyland took the stage at Dixieland Monterey, I expected rocking rhythms and down-home singing.  I wasn’t mistaken.

But mere recordings and videos don’t entirely summon up the romping momentum and good humor of this entirely complete player / vocalist / understated showman.  Carl does nothing more dramatic than pat his foot, adjust his glasses, speak softly to the audience between sips of water.  But he’s a jazz and blues volcano, someone whose motion is perpetual and perpetually exciting.  On the surface, he might initially sound like “a boogie-woogie pianist,” which he is — but he has (like Pete Johnson) tugged at the form to make it less restrictive.  He isn’t locked into eight-to-the-bar and his swing is ferocious but light, with echoes of Hines and Fats and Stacy woven into a beautifully organic style.

In this session, he had the finest musical comradeship in bassist Marty Eggers and drummer Jeff Hamilton (“our” Jeff Hamilton, I will point out).  The teamwork of this trio is sensational.  Marty plays the bass with the grace and fervor of Pops Foster or Milton John Hinton, no less.  And Jeff could swing a seventeen-piece band with just his hi-hat, and creates swaying columns of sound all over his set.

Without a hint of antiquarianism, we’re back in the Thirties with Little Brother Montgomery’s SHREVEPORT FAREWELL:

Groovy as a ten-cent movie!  Jimmy Yancey’s JIMMY’S ROCKS:

Sad, wistful, and blue: W.C. Handy’s variations on a folk lament, LOVELESS LOVE:

A favorite rag, BLAME IT ON THE BLUES:

Just an ordinary BOOGIE WOOGIE, inspired by Meade Lux Lewis:

For my dear Aunt Ida Melrose, a rocking OH, BABY:

YANCEY SPECIAL (plus litigation):

You made me what I am today — that’s THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART:

Carl’s own RAT CATCHER’S BLUES, funny and gruesome too.  To paraphrase Ogden Nash, “I’d hate to be  / the rat / That Carl is angry / At.”:


And a romping set closer for Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner, ROLL ‘EM PETE:

Want to learn more?  Visit,  It doesn’t seem that Marty has his own website — he has bigger and better things to do (such as play the bass in a way that reminds me of Walter Page) — but you can find him in many places online and in real life.

Carl Sonny Leyland is so much more authentic than James Baldwin’s story.


15 responses to “SONNY’S BLUES (and MORE): DIXIELAND MONTEREY, March 4, 2011

  1. Howdy Mr. Mike,
    You’ve done a fabulous job with your postings and I’m really enjoying these from the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay. I wasn’t able to attend this year and was afraid that there wouldn’t be any evidence showing up on YouTube, but you saved the day. I love all the musical folks you’ve captured!
    You are one mighty OK fella!
    PS. I posted 76 videos from last year’s festival and here is just one of them.

  2. You and I and Rae Ann Berry are all brothers and sister — we have a vocation to share the music and to spread joy. I’m always delighted when a fellow videographer digs what I’m doing. Thank you, Tom!

  3. I heard Carl a long time ago, when I wasn’t a jazz fanatic, stating that I was only going to support my grandfather if he fell. That turned out to be one of my most prized memories, and it also turned out to be the day when I shouted “HALLELUJAH!!!!”

  4. I’m not sure if I’m the only one having this issue, but with SHREVEPORT FAREWELL, the sound cuts out occasionally in the right speaker grill.

  5. Question. If the pianist strides all the why is the bassist needed? Question. If the bassist is slapping all the time, why is drummer needed. Please don’t answer this with something like, “Well, if you have to ask then . . .” Of course a trio does make a nice picture and bassists and drummers need any gig they can get, and the pianist might need moral support, but someone please answer these musical questions, please ?
    The inquiring mind of a bassist wants to know.

  6. Think I’ll hire my favorite drummer to play solo for me, just ballads like “Misty.”

  7. You know, I go back to Ellington’s story of the man in the restaurant who likes his fish supper prepared by Phillippe. For some of us, the ideal is Count Basie, Walter Page, Jo Jones; others like Art Hodes, Pops Foster, Freddie Moore; others, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones. But Willie “the Lion” Smith was very happy with Jo Jones beside him, Sammy Price with Sidney Catlett. Is it possible that the three musicians up there are having a fine time even though the result seems somewhat overdone to your taste? Taste, dear Win, is a wonderful thing: but to elevate it to a principle of “rightness” might be overemphatic. You should like what you like with all of your heart but the principle of this blog is that it will have a wide variety of performance styles and not everyone will be pleased equally by everything. Take what pleases you with my very best compliments! Michael

  8. Dear Michael, it was a musical question I asked and you provided an eloquent non-answer. In other words, if it’s not your cup-o’-tea then don’t drink from it. I was hoping the listeners might offer some sort or variant viewpoint. This type of beat doubling and root-of-the-chord doubling is nothing more than the old European group applause response, each individual soul trying to grab that one common thing that separates them from the animals that go bump in the night. “Even a caveman can do it.” Does the audience really care what is going on? Probably not. Some jazz barker told them it’s what they should like. Three guys doing what one guy could do, probably better without their participation. Ahh, but maybe we don’t want the audience to know too much about it. Remembering Duke – I bet this audience doesn’t clap on two and four.

  9. You have to admit, the circumlocution of your question is brilliantly thought out. I’ll answer with what little I know. To provide the correct emphasis through out the music, one must double several notes, and it is always best to double with more than one instrument. A string bass cannot replace the sound of a hi-hat, nor can it simulate the hit of a drum head. The bassist may provide a beat, but it’s the main base for a chord, telling the pianist which inversions to use and when. A piano may stride, but the sound of a string bass is not only more soothing, but also more interesting and rich. Hopefully this puts some of your objections to rest.

  10. Bobby Hacksaw

    I’ll take Sonny Leyland’s music any way I can get it – he is one of the most brilliant ivory-ticklers around — solo he is wonderful, and his trio is an absolute delight. Thanks for posting this, Michael!
    I have run into the ‘nobody should be doubling anybody’s part’ argument a lot, strangely almost always from bassists who often play more modern styles. After a set, I’ll hear a disgruntled “man, the piano player was playing my notes.” There’s nothing wrong with that for what these guys are doing. The short answer why is that doubling of notes and beats is what is appropriate for this style of music, and it works. Early jazz is full of multiple instruments playing the same notes simultaneously, and most of it sounded pretty damn good! I have never listened to Jelly Roll Morton’s trio recordings and thought, “that damn Tommy Benford, I wish he would lay out!” The bass slap and hi-hat together make a glorious sound that neither could make by themselves. The bass notes and pianist’s left hand create sounds together that, while a classical composition teacher might cringe in his ivory tower, sound pretty cool. Despite seeming unacceptable to a theorist, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And I have to add, almost all of the attempts to “clean up” old style jazz and play it “correctly” sound pretty lame. As Dicky Wells so beautifully put it, the music has to have fuzz!!

  11. Dear Mr. Hacksaw,

    Gimme that fuzz!

    Send love to Missus Hacksaw and the little Buzz Saw, won’t you?

    Michael, reverently amused

  12. Mr. Hacksaw, I believe I understand the viewpoint of the bassists, but I certainly agree with you. This is both in agreement with you and making a point to Mr. Hinkle. Sitting in a school jazz band, there’s often more than the four recommended trombones, more reeds than a band director knows what to do with, and more often than not, a very large rhythm section. They sound alright, don’t they? Doubling parts adds more layers and more depth to the music on the page and a bigger sound is always welcome, especially when a ballad just put half of your audience to sleep. They may be difficult to handle, but when everything works and the gears are turning, nothing can stop the heartfelt passion pouring out of the instruments in the band. And that is the true purpose of music, isn’t it? Mr. Hinkle, please tell me. Did you really choose to play the bass because you wanted a solo part? If that’s the case, maybe you should go with an instrument people with untrained ears can hear. Try the clarinet out, especially in Dixieland music, since it goes off and does its own thing the entire time. If this sounds bitter, I apologize. I’m just tired of hearing the bassists in my bands complaining about sharing a part with bass trumpet or the tuba.

  13. Not that anyone will read this post at this late date, but I have to agree with Win. Just think how great it would have been if somebody cut out the two extraneous guitars in the classic Quintette of the the Hot Club of France… Hmm…

  14. Really? Chaput and Joseph and others? Then you’d have the trio of the Hot Club of France . . . does it have the same ring to you? Are all bands better smaller? Hmmmm.

  15. If it was meant to be, I say leave it! There’s the doubling of parts for a reason, and multiple instruments for a reason too. It adds more…flare?

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