In my brief and sometimes intermittent California sojourn (2011-14) in Marin County, one of my pleasures was in going to Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park to hear and video Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars. It was like a regular transfusion of joy and hope, even though the drive was over two hours from where I was living. I knew not only that I would hear vital music but that I would meet friends — musicians, fellow listeners and dancers, waitstaff, a combination that means the world to me. The Cafe was another home. I was welcome there, and I was able to meet people I admire: Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Bill Reinhart, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, Tom Wilson, J Hansen, Robert Young, Jason Vandeford, and some whose names I am forgetting, alas.
Today I present a few videos taken on June 7, 2019, by Rae Ann Berry, not because of nostalgia, but because I am captivated by the band’s easy swing. Borroneans will note that this is a slightly streamlined band, but that’s fine: what you hear is honest unaffected music, no frills, no gimmicks, no group vocals, no tight-and-bright polo shirts. The generous-spirited creators are Riley Baker, trombone; his father Clint, trombone, trumpet, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Tom Wilson, string bass; Crystal Holloway, washboard. The whole band is in some mystically satisfying way engaged in heartfelt relaxed conversation, a great thing to behold. I’ve left several tracks for you to find on Rae Ann’s YouTube channel, the California traditional jazz rabbit-hole to end all such diversions.
About the band here. Yes, I could quip, “Two Bakers! No Waiting!” but I need to be more serious than that. Clint has long been one of my heroes, not only for what he plays, but for his religious devotion to the Music. He understands its Holiness, as I do, but he can then pick up any of several instruments and make that Holiness manifest for all of us. He is always striving towards the great goals, with Hot Lips Page as one of our shared patron saints. I met Riley, his son, at Borrone, when Riley was starting to be the superb musician he is now — first on drums, then tuba. And Riley has blossomed into a wondrous young man and player: I am especially taken with his nicely greasy trombone playing, which you will hear here. And the emotional telepathy between father and son is both gratifying on a musical level and touching on a human(e) one. A third horn in the front line would be an intrusion. Such lovely on-the-spot counterpoint; such delightful lead-and-second voice playing, which isn’t an easy thing to do. You might think that a trombone-clarinet front line would be automatically New Orleans old-school, but Clint and Riley understand the sweet play of swinging voices: people whose love comes right out to the back of the room without the need to get louder.
Riley will be playing the role of Edward Ory in Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band at San Diego this Thanksgiving, and I look forward to that: I’ve already videoed him with Dave Stuckey’s Hot House Gang: check those appearances out for yourself.
Jeff Hamilton is such a joy — not only one of the handful of drummers who lifts any band, but also an enlivening pianist who swings without getting in the way, constructs generous accompaniments and memorable melodies. He has other musical talents that aren’t on display here, but he never lets me down. Bill Reinhart knows what he’s doing, and that is no idle phrase. He understands what a rhythm section should do and, more crucially, what it shouldn’t. And his solos on banjo or guitar make lovely sense. Tom Wilson’s rich tone, great choice of notes, and innate swing are always cheering. And Crystal Holloway (new to me) tames that treacherous laundry implement and adds a great deal of sweet subtle rhythm. Taking nothing away from Clint and Riley, one could listen to any one of these performances a second or third time exclusively for the four rhythm players and go away happier and edified.
I NEVER KNEW, with nods to Benny Carter and Jimmie Noone:
AS LONG AS I LIVE, not too fast:
BLUES FOR DR. JOHN, who recently moved to another neighborhood. And — just between us — themeless medium-tempo blues are such a pleasure and so rarely essayed:
I always had trouble with math in school, but FOUR OR FIVE TIMES is just what I like:
TRUE, very wistful and sweet:
THE SWEETHEART OF SIGMA CHI, a song I last heard performed by (no fooling) Ben Webster with strings [a 1961 record called THE WARM MOODS]. Sounded good, too:
Asking the musical question WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?
IT HAD TO BE YOU. Yes, it did:
Bless these folks, this place, and bless Rae Ann for being there with her camera and her friend Roz (glimpsed in little bits to the right).
May your happiness increase!