I admit that my title may seem over-detailed. But take those details with some whimsy, and I will explain. Of course, impatient or eager readers may skip right to the video and return or not. Having retired from what was called “college teaching,” I no longer take attendance. But here are the principal players.
Menno Daams (cornet, trumpet, compositions, arrangements) is a brilliant friend and musical hero, someone balancing taste, wit, bravura, and subtlety in all his musical endeavors. When last seen, he was playing brilliantly at this year’s Ascona Jazz Festival.
Pianist, composer, arranger, singer Alexander Hill, alas, lived a truly intense and truncated life — one of those driven geniuses who didn’t seem to sleep and whose bright spark flickered out at 30. Tuberculosis was the culprit or perhaps he was one of those people meant to cram several lifetimes of art and work into one short span.
I attended the Whitley Bay Jazz Party (now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) from 2009 to 2016, as a jazz enthusiast, blogger, and videographer . . . and in that last capacity I posted almost 450 videos of bands large and small, formal and informal, and a variety of singers. Exhausting but joyous work and you can see the results of my “swingyoucats” YouTube channel.
Certain managerial decisions made it first difficult, then impossible for me to continue, and I haven’t been back. Others have taken on my role, and I now have the perhaps odd luxury of watching their videos from my computer. But that is another novella entirely.
One of the delights of the weekend was the opportunity to watch and record bands rehearsing in the morning and afternoon — large combinations of musicians who didn’t play together, reading manuscripts — reading charts for the first time, stopping and starting. No one told me to leave (bless you, heroes) and once in a great while the rehearsals, unbuttoned and playful, surpassed the evening’s “concert” performance. An example you can find on YouTube is my capture of the rehearsal by a Bent Persson group of CAFE CAPERS. And this: Menno Daams’ International Serenaders paying tribute to Alex Hill by performing his spiritual, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL.
Menno had granted me permission to post the video, which I did in 2019. Recently, as a delightful surprise, he reposted it with the musical information rolling along above the image. You can call it the “director’s cut” or the “DVD version with special enhanced features.” Call it what you will, but it’s lovely.
I confess to a didactic-emotional-spiritual purpose of mine. The band sounds so good, and the enhanced version is such a work of art, that it bothers me how few people have seen this: fewer than 200 took in the first posting (three years ago) and fewer than 70 have seen this version. People! This will make you sit up straight in your chairs: it will spark joy for free. (Take that, Marie Kondo.)
I bow to Menno, to Alex, and to this great band. Thank you for letting me visit, thank you for certain.
The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip. (You can look that up on YouTube. I’ll wait.) By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.
Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.
The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.
The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski, piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.
And the delicious repertoire is CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.
Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.
Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam. And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”
Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once. One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances. But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness. And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.
The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive. This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.
And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction. She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed. I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles. Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.
This CD is a great gift. It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives. THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.
When someone you admire celebrates his ninetieth birthday (and the publication of his autobiography — published by Golden Valley Press) at a public gathering with music, it would be foolish to miss the festivities. That’s why I took the train to Philadelphia in March to help celebrate (and document) Marty Grosz and his friends rather than spend my remaining years kicking myself that I didn’t. Here are three posts, each with a performance from the Marty Party. WABASH BLUES, JAZZ ME BLUES, and IT DON’T MEAN A THING, for the curious.
But wait! There’s more! Marty essays the famous Alex Hill-Claude Hopkins song of complete romantic cooperation. The creators of mirth and hot music are Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; Joe Plowman, string bass; Randy Reinhart, trombone; Brennen Ernst, piano; Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, clarinet; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and bass taragoto, Jim Lawlor, drums. Incidentally, the song has two titles: either I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU or the more-tempered I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU. Your call. My truncated title is because YouTube has a 100-character limit.
The JAZZ LIVES quarantine-collection of venerable lively recordings, ever-expanding.
Every Monday night, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera has been gathering the Hot Club of New Yorkfor a Zoom session from 7-10 PM, playing wonderful 78 rpm jazz records with great flair and great sound. You can become a member here. And there’s more information here.
Last Monday night, one of the sides was Clarence Williams’ MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — whose composer credits read Clarence Williams, (Banjo) Ikey Robinson, and Alex Hill. My money is on Mister Hill. Matthew, who knows things, has suggested wisely that Mister Robinson would have been responsible for the jivey lyrics. I wish I could trace the story I once read that Clarence, late in life, told someone that none of the compositions under his name had been his. Amazing if so.
But this post is about MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — a song of great melodic simplicity, with two-note phrases that have burned themselves into my brain, and lyrics that are unforgettable because they are so much a part of their time that they have a majestic silliness. And we could all use a Serenade. Please join me in Incid. Singing.
Here’s the first version, with Eva Taylor singing first (her voice is catnip) and Cecil Scott, clarinet; Herman Chittison AND Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Ikey Robinson, banjo, tenor-guitar; Clarence Williams, jug; Willie Williams, washboard; Clarence Todd, vocal. New York, August 7, 1933:
That recording has so many delights: the almost staid way it begins with Eva’s demure yet emotive delivery, and the underrated Cecil Scott, Chittison’s very “modern” piano — remember, this is 1933 . . . then the short pause while the band has to get it together for the key change into Clarence Todd’s much more exuberant Calloway-inflected vocal AND the rollicking duo-piano background. It may be a Silly Symphony, but it is a symphony nonetheless.
Here’s the second Williams version, brighter, with the leader’s potato-ey vocal: Ed Allen, cornet; Cecil Scott, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Roy Smeck, guitar, steel guitar; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba; Floyd Casey, washboard. New York, January 17, 1934:
Notable for me is the emphasis on steady rocking ensemble playing — and the sound of Clarence’s closing inquiry: he means it.
But wait! there’s more! — a frolicsome big band version from the little-known Tiny Bradshaw band: Lincoln Mills, Shad Collins, Max Maddox, trumpet; George Matthews, Eugene Green, trombone; Russell Procope, Bobby Holmes, alto saxophone; Edgar Courance, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Clarence Johnson, piano; Bob Lessey, guitar; Ernest Williamson, string bass; Harold Bolden, drums; Tiny Bradshaw, vocal. New York, September 19. 1934:
The Williams recording looks backwards to chugging leisurely ways (it feels rural in its approach) where the Bradshaw band is aerodynamic, speeding down the Swing highway — beautiful solos (Maddox, Procope, Courance, Matthews?) and an uncredited effective arrangement. That band’s eight Decca sides (autumn ’34) deserve more attention.
Here’s a more recent version, at a lovely tempo, with the verse, the group led by Ted des Plantes with some of my friends : Leon Oakley, cornet; Larry Wright, clarinet, saxophones, ocarina; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Ted des Plantes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Ray Cadd, tuba, jug; Hal Smith, washboard. Berkeley, California, August 15-17, 1997:
The most contemporary version — reminiscent of a Teddy Wilson session! — by Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers: Marc Caparone, cornet; Alan Adams, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Dawson, piano; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. San Diego, California, November 29 & 30, 1999.
See if you can go through the next few days without humming a phrase from this song. I dare you.
I love the arc of this chronology — even though I couldn’t produce versions by Mike Durham and Bent Persson — that starts with a rare record from 1933 and ends up with performances by some of my most respected friends.
If you’re called “crazy,” it’s not usually a compliment. A psychiatrist might assign your particular condition a number according to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) so that the health insurance company will know what box your paperwork should go into. But in pop music of a certain era, being “crazy” seems to be an exalted state. Think of the Gershwins’ GIRL CRAZY, or the Fats Waller-Alex Hill I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY. Or this wonderful state of being:
The composition was Fletcher’s, but brother Horace did the arrangement and played piano in this wonderful edition of the Henderson orchestra, recording in New York, October 3, 1933 — Russell Smith, Bobby Stark, Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Claude Jones, Dicky Wells, trombone; Russell Procope, Hilton Jefferson, Coleman Hawkins, reeds; Horace Henderson, piano; Bernard Addison, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Walter Johnson, drums. Great dance music, great rhythm section, great solos from Claude Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Bobby Stark, Dicky Wells — I imagine this arrangement being “opened up” for a long romp.
And here’s what that record sounds like:
That riffing composition did not get recorded (although there’s a wonderful video of the Harlem Jazz Camels, featuring Bent Persson, performing it) for another eighty years. But pianist Paolo Alderighi and trombonist Dan Barrett get truly groovy here. What a tempo, and what sounds!
This duo was part of a Rebecca Kilgore record session — recorded in the back room of Portland, Oregon’s Classic Pianos, and you can hear it all on the CD that resulted. Talk to our heroine-friend Ms. Beckyhere about acquiring a copy, order it on Amazon here, or here on iTunes: it’s crazy in the best ways.
Marty at a 2008 recording session for Arbors Records.
Marty Grosz doesn’t necessarily believe in the lyrics of the love songs he chooses (although he can croon most tenderly) but he does return to this one, a swing perennial for bands and singers, and I for one am glad.
This song is apparently c0-written by the mysterious Rob Williams, Alex Hill and Claude Hopkins (my money’s on Mr. Hill, whose memorable tunes often had lyrics that told of unfulfilled romantic yearning). It states one wild promise of devotion after another — things imagined only by Edgar Rice Burroughs — but all in the conditional — “I would do,” and some versions have become even more cautious: I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU. Is this an “if-then” construction, or is it “I’ll do this if YOU do that?” It sounds like uptown seventeenth-century poetry, and perhaps I would feel more confident if its title were I WILL DO. But let us clear our minds and enjoy the frolicsome sounds rather than lingering too long on how we would respond if these tokens of affection were offered to us.
Our mellow sermon for today comes from the delightful enterprise known as Jazz at Chautauqua when I first made my way to it in September 2004 — a weekend cornucopia of music where I met many heroes, made new friends, and was eventually accepted as someone doing good things for the music. And what music!
The Atehaeum Hotel, where the joys happened.
More than many jazz parties, Chautauqua put people onstage who didn’t have the opportunity to perform together, and the results were often magical. As in this case: a little band led by Marty, with Scott Robinson playing, among other instruments, his alto clarinet; Andy Schumm on cornet; Kerry Lewis on string bass and Pete Siers on drums making up a delicately unstoppable rhythm team. Pay particular attention to Mr. Siers — someone who should be acclaimed worldwide as a flawlessly swinging versatile percussionist, a maker of great sounds.
They certainly rock, don’t they? More to come from the JAZZ LIVES vaults, I assure you. For the moment, find someone to profess love to, with or without Marty to provide the soundtrack.
Early on November 4, 2016, an august group of informally-attired gentlemen assembled within the Village Hotel in Newcastle, England, at what is now called Mike Durham’s Whitley bay Classic Jazz Partyto rehearse their set of songs and arrangements by the most-talented and most short-lived Alex Hill. Their aims: to have a jubilee and also do some needed functionizin’.
The truly all-star band was led by trumpeter / scholar / arranger Menno Daams, and was comprised of David Boeddinghaus, piano; Spats Langham, guitar and vocal; Henry Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums; Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, trumpets; Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Robert Fowler, Lars Frank, reeds; Jim Fryer, Alistair Allan, trombones.
This was a rehearsal: thus, not everything had already been polished through focused playing and replaying, but the absence of an audience occasionally lets musicians cut loose and experiment. I’ve intentionally left in the pre-and-post comments to give listeners the experience of being there.
And although they knew I was there, they happily managed to ignore me, which was fine then and turned into a great boon for all of us. I had a wonderful view of the chairs, but one must sit far enough back in the room to capture everyone in the band. My focus wasn’t perfect, but at least you can blame the camera rather than its operator. The sound is clear, and the absence of an audience, bringing pint mugs back and forth and chatting, is a great boon, although sharp-eared video observers will hear some commentary which usually stops when the band begins.
About the band name: I don’t think Menno and Co. had an official collective sobriquet in the program, and many of the original Hill sessions were issued as “his Hollywood Sepians,” and no amount of linguistic immolation on my part could convert that to a group title both appropriate and inoffensive. I will leave the possible variations on that theme to you, and comments offering such names will, alas, never see the light of cyber-day.
On to the blessed music. LET’S HAVE A JUBILEE:
SONG OF THE PLOW:
AIN’T IT NICE?:
DISSONANCE (Mezz Mezzrow took credit, but it is a Hill composition and arrangement):
DELTA BOUND (with wonderful singing by Mr. Langham, typically):
FUNCTIONIZIN’, a close cousin of SQUEEZE ME:
KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL, wise advice:
One of the unannounced pleasures of this Party, held this November in the same space [the “v.snuggly” Village Hotel] is that well-behaved listeners are welcome to sit in on rehearsals — a rare pleasure. Blessings on Alex, Menno, and the wonderful musicians for their splendid work in keeping the good sounds alive.
And just so you know my enthusiasm is global, not local, this comment, relayed through my good friend Sir Robert Cox: “Tom [that’s Spats] said how brilliant Menno’s arrangements were and how much, to their astonishment, rehearsal had taken only 45 minutes. He said that, never in the history of the party, had a rehearsal lasted less than an hour.”
And the first musical exhortation, this by Mamie Smith (Note: I’ve consciously not written out the known personnel on each of these musical therapies, thinking it a distraction. If you need to know who’s in the section, write in and I will look it up in Tom Lord’s discography.):
and another contemporaneous version, by Lou Gold and his Orchestra:
and the next step:
and the Fletcher Henderson version, arranged by Benny Carter:
and the Ellington version that thrills me — vocal by Chick Bullock (whom I like):
and the Red Nichols version, where Jack Teagarden delivers the sermon:
and the frankly amazing recording of Bill Robinson. Follow along!
That’s a hard act to follow, but here are three “modern” versions that have delicious energy of their own. First, Jeff Barnhart:
and one version by Marty Grosz (there’s another, easily found, on YouTube) where he borrows liberally from Fats’ DON’T LET IT BOTHER YOU for the opening:
and this Teddy Wilson-styled small-group masterpiece by Rebecca Kilgore and Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers:
Our subjects today are the overlap of “madness” and “pleasure.” Please be prepared to take notes.
“But first, this,” as they used to say on public radio.
PLEASURE MAD, a Sidney Bechet composition, was recorded in 1924 but the vocal versions weren’t issued, except for this one. Did the record company find it too direct to be acceptable? Here’s Ethel Waters’ version, clear as a bell:
Perhaps the song continued to be performed with those lyrics, but I don’t have any evidence. However, it resurfaced in 1938 as VIPER MAD, new lyrics, as sung — memorably — by O’Neil Spencer:
There might be other ways to pose the rhetorical question, but at what moment in those fourteen years did sexual pleasure become a less interesting subject in popular song than smoking reefers?
While you consider that intriguing philosophical question, I have a new double-CD set (36 tracks! 12 pounds!) to share with you. A little personal history: I attended the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, then renamed Mike Durham’s International Classic Jazz Party, from 2009 to 2016, and had a fine time: the best American, European, Australian, and occasionally South American musicians turned loose for a long weekend of hot and sweet jazz, its spiritual center the late Twenties and early Thirties.
Here are three samples, videoed by me, songs and personnels named:
I ended with GOT BUTTER ON IT so that JAZZ LIVES readers can — as they say — get a flavor of the experience. The Party continues to do its special magic splendidly, a magic that videos only partially convey. This year it’s November 1-3, and details can be found here. And if you search JAZZ LIVES for “Whitley Bay” or “Durham,” you will find a deluge of posts and videos.
But this post isn’t exactly about the Party as such, nor is it about my videos. Its subject — now, pay attention — is a 2-CD set of live performances from the 2018 Party, which is just thrilling. It’s called PLEASURE MAD: ‘LIVE RECORDINGS FROM MIKE DURHAM’S INTERNATIONAL CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY 2017 (WVR RECORDS WVR1007). As I wrote above, 36 live performances in beautiful sound.
And the sound is worth noting, with delight. At the Party, some fans record the music from the audience with everything from ancient cassette recorders to digital ones; when I was there, I videoed as much as I could. But this CD issue has the benefit of superb sound, because of the young Norwegian trumpeter and recording engineer Torstein Kubban, who has recorded every session for the past six years. Torstein is a phenomenal player, so I may be permitted this digression:
He’s got it, for sure. And his recordings are wonderful.
Here are the songs performed — referencing Duke Ellington, Ben Pollack, Bennie Moten, the Halfway House Orchestra, Alex Hill, Rube Bloom, Jabbo Smith, Louis Armstrong,Eddie Condon, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Clarence Williams, Luis Russell, King Oliver, James P. Johnson, and more:
And the musicians: Mike Davis, Andy Schumm, Duke Heitger, Jamie Brownfield, Malo Mazurie, Kristoffer Kompen, Jim Fryer, Graham Hughes, Ewan Bleach, Michael McQuaid, Richard Exall, Claus Jacobi, Matthias Seuffert, Lars Frank, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Emma Fisk, David Boeddinghaus, Martin Litton, Keith Nichols, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Martin Wheatley, Spats Langham, Peter Beyerer, Henry Lemaire, Jacob Ullberger, Phil Rutherford, Elise Sut, Malcolm Sked, Josh Duffee, Richard Pite, Nick Ward, Nick Ball, Joan Viskant, Nicolle Rochelle. If I’ve left anyone out, let me know and I will impale myself on a cactus needle as penance, and video the event.
I think it’s taken me so long to write this post because every time I wanted to take the CDs into the house to write about them, I would start them up on the car player and there they would stay. A few highlights, deeply subjective: Martin Litton’s sensitive and tender solo LAURA; the riotous hot polyphony of CHATTANOOGA STOMP (which I recently played six times in the car, non-stop); the exuberant GIVE ME YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER; Spats Langham’s NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE; a completely headlong RAILROAD MAN; a version of THE CHARLESTON that starts with Louis’ WEST END BLUES cadenza; SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE that rocks tremendously; I FOUND A NEW BABY that sounds as if Hines (in the guise of Boeddinghaus) visited a Condon jam session in 1933; SOBBIN’ BLUES with layers and textures as rich as great architecture. You will find your own favorites; those are mine of the moment.
My advice? If you can, get thee to the Party, where seats are going fast. Once there, buy several copies of this set — for yourself, national holidays, the birthdays of hip relatives — and enjoy for decades. If you can’t get to the UK, you can still purchase the set, which I urge you to do.
And when the authorities knock on your door to ask about the ecstatic sounds coming from within, you can simply show them this CD and say, “Well, Officers, I’m PLEASURE MAD! Would you like to come in?” And all will be well.
They continue to swing, which is very reassuring. And here is a combination platter of lovely music from the Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras” jazz festival, recorded on February 8, 2019. The generous creators are Bob Schulz, cornet, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo, vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba; Ray Templin, drums, vocal.
From that same rewarding weekend, here’s Part Oneand Twoby the Frisco Jazz Band, whose secret is a lovely cohesive swing, no matter what the tempo.
But wait! There’s more!
NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE:
Walter Donaldson’s pretty MY BUDDY, sung by Scott:
The Horace Gerlach standard, SWING THAT MUSIC:
A blue suit and wedding bells for EMALINE:
For Irving Berlin and Bunny Berigan, MARIE:
For George and Gracie, also James P. and Max, LOVE NEST, sung by Ray:
The Hot Five’s ONCE IN A WHILE:
(WHEN IT’S) DARKNESS ON THE DELTA, sung by Scott:
And a closing statement of willingness-to-please, sung by Bob, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:
And they do.
I don’t think the other gentlemen of the ensemble will mind my suggestion that once the intent listeners have savored these videos, that they go back and listen closely to the impish and passionate Ray Skjelbred, whose sly adept subversions in solo and accompaniment are beyond remarkable. I seated myself where I did to video so that I could hear and see him with greater clarity, and his singular playing is singularly rewarding.
This set is in honor of my friend Judy Smith, who didn’t make it to the festival, but enjoys the musical bounces with great enthusiasm.
Thanks to Chris and Chris! Here’s the first set at a bar called GRUMPY’S. Beautifully recorded and annotated, too:
Bix Beiderbecke’s 47th Annual Memorial Jazz Festival 2018 had a pre-arranged gathering at Grumpy’s Village Saloon, Davenport, Iowa, August 1st. The Fat Babies, here somewhat reduced in numbers, but with sit-in David Boeddinghaus on piano and Andy Schumm cornet, clarinet, saxophone, John Otto reeds, John Donatowicz banjo, guitar, Dave Bock tuba, gave us, the lucky ones that day, a jolly good time. This plus-hour full first set was videographed in one-go, in pole position, head on, with a handheld SONY Handycam, FDR-XA100 in quality mode. For those who couldn’t make it to Grumpy’s, this coverage might be the next best thing. Enjoy!
THAT’S A PLENTY (with a special break) / HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT / Andy introduces the band / HE’S THE LAST WORD (which I hadn’t known was by Walter Donaldson) where Andy shifts to tenor sax to create a section, and Maestro Boeddinghaus rocks / FOREVERMORE, for Jimmie Noone, with Andy and John on clarinet: wait for the little flash of Tesch at the end / Willie “the Lion” Smith’s HARLEM JOYS / a beautifully rendered GULF COAST BLUES, apparently a Clarence Williams composition [what sticks in my mind is Clarence, as an older man, telling someone he didn’t write any of the compositions he took credit for] / HOT LIPS / Alex Hill’s THE SOPHOMORE, and all I will say is “David Boeddinghaus!” / THE SHEIK OF ARABY, with the verse and a stop-time chorus. Of course, “without no pants on.” / Bennie Moten’s 18th STREET RAG / GETTIN’ TOLD, thanks to the Mound City Blue Blowers / Andy does perfect Johnny Dodds on LONESOME BLUES, scored for trio / For Bix, TIA JUANA (with unscheduled interpolation at start, “Are you okay? Can I get that?” from a noble waitperson) / band chat — all happy bands talk to each other / a gloriously dark and grieving WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE that Louis smiles on / and, to conclude, STORY BOOK BALL (see hereto learn exactly what Georgie Porgie did to Mary, Mary, quite contrary. Not consensual and thus not for children.)
A thousand thanks to Andy, David, John, Dave, Johnny, and of course Chris and Chris — for this delightful all-expenses paid trip to Hot!
The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Nashville, Summer 2017: From left, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, Evan Arntzen, Brian Holland. Photograph by Amy Holland.
More from the delightful Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, a band which sprang full-grown to public acclaim in 2017. They are Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal. They soar; they woo.
Here they are outdoors in the very nice Gazebo Park during the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri.
Their band version of RUSSIAN RAG has some kinship with the Wilbur DeParis performance, but do you know that Fats Waller recorded it, solo, in 1935?
A late-period Waller love song, from the score of EARLY TO BED, 1943, here crooned by Evan:
A romp by the magnificently creative yet short-lived Alex Hill, BABY BROWN:
And a very endearing love ballad, recorded but not composed by Fats, LET’S PRETEND THERE’S A MOON:
The HCJQ has also made a CD — appropriately, the music of Fats Waller. You can purchase it hereand hear sound samples also.
Dawn Lambeth, Kris Tokarski, Larry Scala, Nobu Ozaki, Hal Smith, Jonathan Doyle, Marc Caparone at the San Diego Jazz Fest
Oh, how they swing. This band is one definition of happiness.
See here for their version of MY GAL SAL which continues to bring great pleasure, with the same heroes: Kris Tokarski, piano; Hal Smith, drums; Larry Scala, guitar; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Marc Caparone, guest nobleman, on trumpet.
And Edgar Sampson’s fervent wish, IF DREAMS COME TRUE:
Don Redman’s CHERRY:
and Alex Hill’s I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:
Not only might they do anything for us, or would do anything for us: they DO. And so splendidly. I recorded another four sets (if memory serves) so there might be a few more delicacies to come. Such joy, such generosity of spirit, such art.
Days gone by, but not days beyond recall — afternoons and evenings in September 2011 at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York — for the late Joe Boughton’s annual jazz weekend. Because I am feeling more than a little melancholy at the news of the end of the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, I thought I’d share some music from the glory days — to ease the feelings.
Here is one stomping example of the goodness that I was privileged to witness from 2004 to 2017. It comes from a Marty Grosz set devoted to songs associated with Bix Beiderbecke, performed in styles he wouldn’t necessarily have known. (Marty’s opening interlude reminds me pleasantly of Alex Hill’s MADAM DYNAMITE, recorded two years after Bix’s death.)
The band includes Marty, guitar and inventive arrangements; Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jim Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing a song I know from the Goldkette Victor — a song of romantic optimism that is perhaps now best known in the banjo-and-let’s-all-sing genre, but it gets up and moves around nicely, not only because of the hot solos, but because of the truly varied and rich arrangement:
“We’ll always have Chautauqua. And Cleveland,” says some famous film actor.
I adore the surprises that happen at jam sessions or when musicians are asked to play alongside each other in new combinations, but Heaven smiles on that rare entity, a WORKING BAND. The Brain Cloud, led by Dennis Lichtman (clarinet, violin, mandolin, and more) is such a remarkable entity — and they’ve just released their third CD, “Live at Barbes.”
Photo by Seth Cashman
Here’s a sample: music does speak louder than words!
Dennis Lichtman and all the members of the Brain Cloud have created the world’s most swinging, melodic “safe space”: which is to say, a place where all kinds of lyrical music are welcome to flourish — not historical or archaeological, but alive now.
Once upon a time, we know, there was just MUSIC — a beautifully undulating landscape as far as we could see. Then, people looking to sell product — journalists, publicists, record company executives, even some musicians — came and divided the landscape up into little fiefdoms whose occupants glared at one another. The Brain Cloud suggests that a return to the prelapsarian world is possible: imagine a record store where The Carter Family and Benny Carter are friends, where Lester Willis Young and Bob Willis share a drink, a cigarette, and a story. Or a place where double-entendre blues sit in the same pew as hymns, where “Dixieland,” “roots music,” “Americana,” all those dazzling names for what is essentially the same thing, coexist beautifully, because they are all only music that has stories to tell and in the telling, enlightens the listener.
Photo by Tom Farley
To the music: as you can hear and see above, the opening track on this CD, JEALOUS HEARTED ME, is no academic exercise: a Carter Family song, it reminds me of rocking Fifties rhythm and blues, with an outchorus that would equal any Eddie Condon IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE. The expert Merrymakers here are Dennis Lichtman, clarinet, mandolin, fiddle; Tamar Korn, vocal improvisations; Skip Krevens, guitar, vocals; Raphael McGregor, lap steel guitar; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.
Each track is wonderfully itself — the CD isn’t a monochromatic blur — but each is a joyous lesson in the merging of “styles.” So aside from the “roots” classics — venerable as well as new (from Jimmie Rodgers and Patsy Cline) — there’s Alex Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME (hooray!) and the 1939 Broadway song COMES LOVE and the Twenties LONESOME AND SORRY and IF YOU WANT THE RAINBOW.
Since the Brain Cloud has had a long residency at Barbes (on Monday nights) there is a delightful mix of exuberance and comfort. Everyone’s made themselves to home, as we might say. And — in case you worry about such things — the recorded sound is excellent. Those who have been to Barbes already have multiple copies of this disc; if you’ve never made it into Brooklyn for such frolics, you’ll want your own copy. And on a personal note: listening to the Brain Cloud has helped me to drop my own narrow suspicions of music that I didn’t think was “jazz,” always a good thing; I’ve been following them since 2009, and this disc is a wonderful encapsulation of what the band does so well.
Here you can find out more about the Brain Cloud, hear more music, buy this disc, or a download, or even as a limited-edition cassette. And more. Don’t just sit there! Move that cursor!
The bespectacled fellow was only a name in a discography to me until today.
Thanks to Tim Gracyk and his YouTube channel, I now have one more new-old-favorite-record, HOLLYWOOD, by Art Gillham, “The Whispering Pianist.”
According to the Discography of American Recordings entry here, this performance was recorded on November 25, 1929, in New York City. The composers of this thin but irresistible song (with a rising chromatic motif and unadventurous lyrics) are Arnold Johnson (music) — who may have been the bandleader known to some for his associations with Jack Purvis and Harold Arlen — and Charles Newman (lyrics). Newman is better known for the lyrics of SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, I’LL NEVER HAVE TO DREAM AGAIN, WHAT’S THE USE, I WOULDN’T CHANGE YOU FOR THE WORLD, YOU’VE GOT ME CRYING AGAIN, I’M PAINTING THE TOWN RED, TAKE ANOTHER GUESS, WHY DON’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN? (a song I learned through the recording Melissa Collard and Eddie Erickson made of it) and the imperishable A HOT DOG, A BLANKET, AND YOU. Apparently Newman took current conversational phrases and bent them into songs — songs more memorable for their performers.
Here’s the recording — moral message, free of charge:
The message first: another cautionary tale (think of GLAD RAG DOLL, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, and a dozen others) about young women who go to the big city, get their hearts broken, their virtue damaged beyond repair. “Mothers, tie your daughters to the sink so that nothing bad can happen to them!” (Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, five years earlier, is a variation on this theme.)
A month and a day before this recording, the stock market had crashed: was that one of many reasons for this song? The record of copyright notes that HOLLYWOOD is dated November 9 — slightly over two weeks after the crash, which may be even more significant.
Gillham is a pleasant singer, even with wobbly vibrato. Radio audiences and song publishers must have loved him, because every word came through. But I am particularly interested in the little band: muted trumpet or cornet, bright and agile clarinet, sweet violin, Gillham’s own piano, perhaps someone at a drum set, although aside from one resonant thump at 1:25, it’s hard to tell. (Was it multi-tasking Eddie King or Justin Ring?) I believe that “novelty” came from the presence of horns, rather than a more “legitimate” polite accompaniment by piano or piano and violin.
But this record has not been annotated or noticed by the official jazz scholars. A selection from Gillham’s recordings makes its way into the discographies I have (Rust and Lord) — because those sessions feature Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Rube Bloom, Louis Hooper, Murray Kellner, Andy Sanella. The three or four sides concluding either discography [thus defined as jazz recordings] have him accompanied by Alex Hill on piano, and Gillham performs Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME. The lack of documentation of HOLLYWOOD — which sounds like a certifiable “jazz record” — says much more about the “star system” in jazz than it does about the lightly swinging instrumental music heard here. The players do not sound like those stars most featured and idolized: not Mannie Klein or Jack Purvis or Nichols, not Jimmy Dorsey or Tesch, Joe Venuti, or Stan King. But the music is memorable, inventive and rhythmic, and I would rather have this record, offered as an anonymous effort, than a dozen others with more famous names that might have satisfied less. Once again we encounter rewarding art that no one has designated as such.
If it were possible to play a compact disc to extinction, my copy of HOT CLASSICISM would be gone by now. Amazingly, the disc is starting to look translucent.
What it contains is the rousing and lovely performances by Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet or clarinet; Hal Smith, drums, recorded live in New Orleans at the Old U.S. Mint on January 13, 2016. Here’s a sample — the rollicking PARKWAY STOMP:
Several of the performances appeared as videos on YouTube, but the fidelity of the CD is immensely superior, and you can’t (or at least you shouldn’t) play videos in the car unless you are a passenger, so I commend this disc to you with high enthusiasm.
HOT CLASSICISM was produced by Kris. You can order a copy at his website, here, and if you are in New Orleans come see the trio’s CD release show. This Saturday, the 24th, at 8:15 PM they play at the Steamboat Stomp and Sunday the 25th, they are at Snug Harbor, with sets at 8 and 10 PM.
Here’s what I wrote for the CD. In full candor, I insisted on writing something for them, and would have been very put out if they had said NO. I believe in this music and these musicians with all my being.
One of my favorite quotations is “We cannot ask the dead to come back. We can, however, invite them to live through us.” This CD is a vibrant, generous conversation between the Ancestors and three very much alive Jazz Masters. Kris, Andy, and Hal know that Lester was right, that you have to “go for yourself.” But innovation is a Mobius strip: try to be yourself by rejecting the Past and you might run dry in mid-chorus. The Elders were innovative in their moment. We revere them but we honor the past by making it new.
“Hot classicism” is the phrase that came to my mind when I first encountered these magically conjoined kindred souls, their music an instantaneous wallop of bliss that hasn’t faded yet. In this trio, everything is in balance. It’s a true Hot Democracy where everyone gets a chance to blow, where musicians support one another for “the comfort of the band.” Listening to this joyous session, I also thought of the great classical chamber trios and quartets: Casals-Thibaud-Cortot, for one example. In those groups, even though musicians were following printed scores, their sensibilities, temperaments, and vocal timbres blazed through. Someone listening to an unnamed violinist on radio or record recognized the player: Szigeti, not Heifetz; Stuff, not Stephane. And those personalities blended in wondrous synergy.
“Hot,” everyone knows as the remarkable marriage of passionate abandon and exquisite control. These performances, as Hot as you could want, are technically splendid, idiomatically pleasing. But here’s the beautiful part: they are marvelous because the players know what not to play, how to leave space. They know that too much is not a good thing, with apologies to Mae West and Oscar Wilde. Hal, Kris, and Andy embody ancient virtues: how to say your piece eloquently in sixteen bars; how to create memorable syncopated dance music. And since they are temporal hybrids – living simultaneously in 1926, 1936, and 2016, a very pleasing subversive freedom animates these performances. These musicians roam freely in a universe of sounds. They bring their modern awareness to the sacred texts of the past. Consider Andy’s clarinet playing, which reflects the great Chicagoans and New Orleanians but also delineates an alternate universe where Milt Mesirow put in that ten thousand hours of practice. So the music here, although deeply devout, goes its own way. If there’s a harmony or a rhythmic suspension that works at that moment, this trio offers it joyously, even if Keppard would have frowned on it.
James Joyce said of ULYSSES, not humbly but perhaps accurately, that if Dublin were to be destroyed, it could be built again from his novel. And if all the monumental jazz recordings prior to, say, 1930 were to vanish, one could rebuild the Hot Library of Alexandria from this CD.
Some listeners (they can’t help themselves) will compulsively start a list of Influences and Models that they hear. I won’t. This CD is completely endearing because it’s music. Let others point out, “Oh, that’s exactly the note that Kid Wawa plays on take 17, the take that only came out on Beka 12666-4!” I say, “Don’t these fellows sound grand, utterly like themselves?”
The only thing missing from this session is a band vocal: I think of the three of them humming behind a Kris solo passage or (dare I dream) hearing the trio warble the ode containing the heroic couplet, “You bought my wife a Coca-Cola / So you could play on her Victrola.” Maybe on the second disc of this trio’s oeuvre.
Andy, Kris, and Hal create affectionate wise music that amazes us, touches our hearts, helps make our world dance. Infinitely complex yet plain as day, their music enriches us.
Don’t be the last one on your block to experience HOT CLASSICISM.
I confess that I’ve let some days go by without blogging. Unthinkable, I know, but I (gently) throw myself on the mercy of the JAZZ LIVES court of readers.
Permit me to explain. From Thursday, September 15, to Sunday, the 18th, I was entranced by and at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party. Consider these — randomly chosen — delights. Jim Dapogny playing IF I WERE YOU (twice) and some of his winsome original compositions. Rossano Sportiello, Frank Tate, and Hal Smith swinging like no one’s business. Rebecca Kilgore singing KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL in the Andy Schumm-Hal Smith tribute to Alex Hill. Andy, on piano, with Paul Patterson and Marty Grosz — once on banjo! — in a hot chamber trio (a highlight being LOUISE). Wesla Whitfield in wonderfully strong voice. Dan Block and Scott Robinson romping through HOTTER THAN ‘ELL. A Basie-styled small band led by Jon Burr, offering (among other pleasures) IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING. A string bass trio — Burr, Tate, and Kerry Lewis — showing that no other instruments need apply. Harry Allen and Jon-Erik Kellso playing ballads, and Dan Barrett, too. Tributes to Nat Cole, Harry Warren, Isham Jones, and Bill Evans. Many videos, too — although they take some time to emerge in public.
I came home late Sunday night and on Monday and Tuesday returned to normal (employed) life as Professor Steinman: John Updike, Tillie Olsen, William Faulkner.
Tomorrow, which is Wednesday, September 21, I get on a plane to New Orleans for Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp. Obviously I can’t report on delights experienced, but I can say I am looking forward to hearing, talking with, and cheering for the Yerba Buena Stompers, Miss Ida Blue, Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, Hal Smith, Kris Tokarski, Andy Schumm, Alex Belhaj, David Boeddinghaus, Ed Wise, Charlie Halloran, James Evans, Steve Pistorius, Orange Kellin, Tom Saunders, Debbie Fagnano, and many others.
So there you have it. I could sit at home blogging, or I could be on the road, collecting gems, some of which I will be able to share.
My counsel in all this has been the most eminent solicitor, Thomas Langham, who will now offer his closing argument to the jury:
A nice bio of trumpeter / vocalist Taft Jordan is available here, which is also the source for the photograph.
In February 1935, “Taft Jordan And The Mob” — Taft, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Elmer “Tone” Williams [not “Skippy” Williams as listed in Tom Lord — thanks to Mark Cantor], tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Bobby Johnson, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Eddie Dougherty, drums — recorded four memorable sides that have never gotten the attention they deserve. (Incidentally, the beautiful record labels are illustrations only: the music can be found in the videos below.)
The idea was John Hammond’s, and one that we are grateful for. The usual story is that Hammond worked hard to get the music he loved on record, to make opportunities for racially mixed bands. He succeeded beautifully: most readers know this part of the story as preface to the 1933-42 Billie Holiday sides.
But other parts of the story deserve attention. There is, for one thing, the success of the coin-operated phonograph (later, the “jukebox”) that could offer people recorded music in restaurants, bars, and elsewhere for what seems to us like a bargain: a nickel would get you three minutes of new music. But a 1935 nickel was much more than the ninety-nine cents per song that iTunes charges. (A contemporary advertisement shows Easter dresses for $1.95, and a skilled worker for the W.P.A. might earn $79 a month.)
And, at the time, commercially produced records were — as it says on the label — “not licensed for radio broadcast.” I think that coin-operated phonographs served the audience’s desire for novelty (“Let’s hear that new record of ______ by Erin Morris and her Ponies!”) — songs from new movies, new songs popularized by much loved bands and singers . . . and for five cents, one could have a side played for a gathering of listeners and/or dancers. The record labels pictured above are now called “dime-store,” because one could buy these records inexpensively at, say, Woolworth’s.
Radio and recordings created a need for new material, so many songs, not all memorable, were published, with a clear financial relationship between composers / lyricists, publishing companies, artists, recording supervisors, and record companies. (A small example: IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN was written by Bernard Hanighen, Billie Holiday’s friend, also a recording director at Brunswick Records. He would have been happy — aesthetically and financially — to have his song recorded.)
Taft’s four sides run parallel to other small groups led by Fats Waller, Henry Red Allen, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Stuff Smith, Adrian Rollini, Tempo King, Cleo Brown, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Frank Froeba, Bernard Addison, Louis “King”Garcia, Stew Pletcher, and others. I’ve heard writers say these sessions were “cranked out for the jukebox trade,” but these records are lovely, imperishable. That there were only four sides says more about an audience’s awareness of Taft as a star than about their quality. Some listeners might have known him from the Savoy Ballroom and radio, but not many. When the records were later reissued in the UK (the red-and-gold Vocalion issues) Teddy Wilson had become famous enough so that his name would sell discs.
The artists made little or nothing for these sessions: they were paid “scale,” although they were pleased to make the extra money. The math is fascinating, a quiet recital of economic disparity, even at the remove of eight decades. Let us say a band of eight musicians made four sides for $50 a musician. The records were pressed, distributed, and ended up in the phonographs. One could hear a side once — no limit on the number of hearers, theoretically — for a nickel. The machine could take in twenty nickels in an hour. In 1935, the profit went to the record companies and the owners of the phonographs. Later (too late, perhaps) musicians and composers received royalties, but that is another story.
Yes, mechanical reproduction of art guarantees “exposure,” but one cannot eat exposure. I am aware of this from both sides as an interloper with a video camera who can only recompense musicians in insubstantial ways.
I offer these notions, some of them quite sad or infuriating, as preface to wonderful music, and also to point out that an unstable, often exploitative relationship between the artists, “the marketplace,” technology, and lasting art is not a twenty-first century issue.
What good songs these “disposable” pop tunes are — thanks to Rothberg, Coots, Alex Hill (yes!), and Hanighen. And the players, professionals all, were used to sight-reading and creating instant arrangements — with split choruses, riffs, backgrounds. To take one example, LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, still recognizable, is a series of thirty-two and sixteen bar solos with rhythm (and what a rhythm section!) with a jammed ensemble ending. How fine it sounds now. One could spend an afternoon listening to the glowing epigrams Wilson dispenses, the variety of timbres the horns offer, solo and in ensemble.
In my collecting history, these four sides were part of a Columbia Chick Webb lp compilation — glorious gap-fillers, but also logical because of Taft’s role in the band. Mince and Silloway were with Tommy Dorsey; Skippy Williams, Bobby Johnson, and John Kirby with Webb also; Eddie Dougherty a busy free-lancer. Wilson had not yet joined the Goodman orchestra as a member of the Trio and Quartet, but had recorded with BG in ad-hoc studio groups.
What we have here — each side is less than three minutes long — is both superior dance music and small-band swing of the highest order, pleasing to all audiences.
In my time-travel fantasy, I would like to be a silent onlooker at one of these sessions, but I doubt the musicians romanticized such work. It was another way to pay the rent, perhaps (for the lucky sideman) to get some recognition for future leader’s gigs . . . or perhaps, after creating four quiet masterpieces, the guys went out for a drink or some ribs, a nap before the night’s work. If I’d asked Taft about these sides in 1972 /3 and later — I didn’t see him at close range — I wonder what would he have said.
LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE:
DEVIL IN THE MOON:
IF THE MOON TURNS GREEN:
All four of these songs were also recorded “with vocal chorus” by Taft, a charming Louis-influenced singer (consider his work with the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Webb) but none of the vocals was issued. Mysterious. I know there is an alternate take of NIGHT WIND issued on a Jerry Valburn collectors’ compilation, but it’s instrumental.
Does anyone know more about Eddie Dougherty than is published in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ? I have learned that he recorded between 1933 and 1952 or a little later, that he lived in Brooklyn, and, according to Johnny Williams via Mike Burgevin, that he pronounced his last name as if spelled Dockerty. But no more.
The music remains. And I, for one, am truly grateful for that.
Taft as a member of the Ellington orchestra. Photograph by Charlie Mihn, courtesy of Chuck Slate.
As a postscript, here are four contemporaneous versions of DEVIL IN THE MOON — in honor of the Blessed Alex Hill. I think they are all beautiful, so this is not to make insidious comparisons.
Mills Blue Rhythm Band (with an incendiary Buster Bailey interlude that the expert dancers must have loved):
Every year at about this time, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs make a tour of the Bay Area in Northern California, including visits to the Dixieland session at Rossmoor, the Cline Wine and Dixieland Festival, Pier 23, Cafe Borrone, and other fortunate locations. (Don’t let the “Dixieland” label throw you; what Ray and Company play is light-years away from that manufactured product. Marketing isn’t music.)
Note: I realize that my title is geographically inaccurate, since everyone in this band lives in the West, as one of my Corrections Officers is sure to point out, but it made more sense than titling this post SOUTHBOUND, in honor of Alex Hill.
Here are the details from Ray’s own site, a remarkable place to spend a few hours.
Ray and his Cubs onstage at Rossmoor, perhaps 2014.
Ray has the good luck to have a dedicated videographer and archivist, RaeAnn Berry, somewhere between tireless and indefatigable, who will offer up large helpings of the music performed in these few delightful days.
Here’s a deliciously satisfying taste: DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL at an enticing tempo — in a thoroughly Commodore manner that reminds me, and perhaps you, of TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL:
That’s one performance from their July 7 concert at Rossmoor. I encourage you to subscribe to RaeAnn’s channel, where you can see the other dozen or so performances from that concert (made possible by the energetic devotion of Robert Burch and Vonne Anne Heninger, to give that kind pair their full monickers) and several thousand other musical delights.
As I write this in New York, RaeAnn is surely videoing something . . . and I know there will be more Ray / Cubs epiphanies to come.
Hereis the first part of a delightful Saturday afternoon of music performed at Fraunces Tavern by the Garden Party Quartet: this version being Rob Adkins, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Dan Block, clarinet, tenor saxophone, on May 7, 2016. Four more delicious performances follow below.
People who fear jazz — it makes them skittish — often say that they can’t recognize the melody. For them (and for us) here are four standards, played and sung with loving swinging reverence by this melodic quartet. You’ll hear the work of Hoagy Carmichael, Sidney Arodin; Alex Hill, Bob Williams, Claude Hopkins; Cole Porter; Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler. And I daresay that the composers and lyricists would be pleased with the results. You decide.
YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME:
I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:
I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING:
Yes. The real thing. The good stuff. Out there in public, too.
There’s a particularly hurried or perhaps impatient species of video-critic who comments on many of my YouTube productions when the musicians have the temerity to speak before playing, “Music starts at 2:30.” That particular kind of data-notation is true enough, but I like to keep my video camera running, because many musicians are fascinating raconteurs and verbal improvisers. And I think of future generations : what wouldn’t we give to hear Alex Hill say, “Wow, it’s cold in here,” or Jimmie Blanton say, “Excuse me, what did you say?” So the passages of musician-monologue or -dialogue are always interesting to me.
Ray Skjelbred is a thrillingly individualistic pianist — he loves the tradition and it courses through him, but he knows that all journeys are wildly irregular. So his little band, his Cubs, is always surprising. They rock, also, at any tempo. Here’s their performance of SUGAR from the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest: that’s Ray, Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass — from November 28, 2015. (Jeff’s face is hidden by the music stand but you certainly hear and feel him — all to the good.)
Public service announcement for the unusually restless. The music in the video below begins at 1:40. But if you skip it, you will have missed an opportunity to learn a great deal about an arcane but relevant subject:
Wherever Ray and his Cubs are, there’s lovely music and wondrous surprises. And I hope to see you at theSan Diego Jazz Fest this Thanksgiving.