Tag Archives: Bob Wills

THE PURSUIT OF SWEETNESS, OR, LIFE BEYOND “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, a/k/a “THE HOT CORNER” (September 15, 2019)

Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, on the subject of repertoire one could improvise on, “The material is immaterial.”  Or, as a segment on the Benny Goodman Camel Caravan was headlined, “Anything can swing!”  Many jazz fans cling to a favored selection of songs, performed loud and fast — you know the tunes that the audience is ready to applaud even before a note is played, the lure and comfort of the familiar.  Not so here.  This is music for people willing to pay close attention, and to feel what’s being created for them.

Ray Skjelbred goes his own way, deep in the heart of melody, and we are glad.  Here he is with Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, documented for all of us and for posterity by RaeAnn Berry.  Ray’s renamed this trio “The Hot Corner,” a reference to third base in baseball, but the music lives up to the name in very subtle ways.  In fact, it’s quiet and thus even more compelling, reminding me of the passages on 1938-40 Basie records where only the rhythm section is playing, quiet and even more quiet: enthralling!

Ray loves Bing Crosby, and Bing inspired some of the best songs, including his theme, a melody almost forgotten now:

Here’s what my dear friend Mike Burgevin would call “another Bingie,” this one best listened to over a dish of fresh — not canned — pineapple:

We wander from Bing to King — Wayne King, “the Waltz King,” that is:

Notice, please, the sweet patience of musicians who don’t have to jump into double-time, who can stay contentedly in three-quarter time, and it all swings so affectingly.  And here, just because technology makes it so easy, for those listeners who might not know the originals (and can now marvel even more at what Ray, Jeff, and Marty make of them), here they are.

Bing, with added attractions Eddie Lang and Franklin Pangborn:

and in a Hawaiian mood:

That famous waltz (which Bob Wills and Tamar Korn have also made their own):

and the Wills version, because why should I deny us the pleasure?

May your happiness increase!

PAPPY AND JUNIOR’S WESTERN SWING ALL-STARS (Part Two): DAVE “PAPPY” STUCKEY, HAL “JUNIOR” SMITH, ELANA JAMES, MARC CAPARONE, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAN WALTON, JAMES MASON, RUSTY BLAKE, CHRIS WILKINSON, JAMEY CUMMINS, WALLY HERSOM (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 10, 2019)

In he name of joy, I present the second half of Dave Stuckey and Hal Smith’s Western Swing party at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.

But for the people who didn’t get yesterday’s plateful, here it is.  (Not just music, but two lovely essays on Western Swing, one each by Hal and Dave.)

The wondrous music-makers are Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal; Elana James, fiddle, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; James Mason, fiddle; Dan Walton, piano, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Rusty Blake, steel guitar; Chris Wilkinson, guitar; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Wally Hersom, string bass.  And this glorious outpouring took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 10, 2019.  (I will point out that next year’s RCMF is May 7-10, 2020, and we are going to be there.)

Here’s the swinging REMINGTON RIDE:

Asking the musical question, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THE MILL? — a song I could hear Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys doing (with a cameo appearance by the Roving Photographer):

Cindy Walker’s I HEAR YOU TALKIN’ with echoes of Fifty-Second Street:

The pretty MAIDEN’S PRAYER:

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING, as we know:

Dan Walton’s PIPELINER’S BLUES, from the Moon Mullican book:

TEN YEARS:

Cindy Walker’s DUSTY SKIES:

SAN ANTONIO ROSE, the “Western Swing national anthem”:

How can you hear more of this . . . . ?  Come to the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2o2o.

May your happiness increase!

PAPPY AND JUNIOR’S WESTERN SWING ALL-STARS (Part One): DAVE “PAPPY” STUCKEY, HAL “JUNIOR” SMITH, ELANA JAMES, MARC CAPARONE, JONATHAN DOYLE, DAN WALTON, JAMES MASON, RUSTY BLAKE, CHRIS WILKINSON, JAMEY CUMMINS, WALLY HERSOM (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 10, 2019)

It’s taken me many years to truly appreciate the breadth and soulfulness of Western Swing but I get it now, so I was thrilled to attend (and record) this leisurely long presentation by a genuinely all-star group, co-led by Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal; and Hal Smith, drums, at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.

Here’s the personnel — the hot / sweet rascals all in a row: Dave Stuckey, guitar, vocal; Elana James, fiddle, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; James Mason, fiddle; Dan Walton, piano, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Rusty Blake, steel guitar; Chris Wilkinson, guitar; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Wally Hersom, string bass.

Because I don’t think of myself as an authority on this music, I asked Dave and Hal for their comments, which are as different as they are.  Dave, first:

While most people think of Western Swing as a melting pot…and I wouldn’t disagree necessarily (music did come across the border…Wills had Spanish Fandango, the Tune Wranglers had el Rancho Grande, etc), I think that was a just a subset of what they played. The base line was jazz, though. When you look at WS’s (as it was called by 1947 — previously it was regarded as Hot String Band) repertoire, it’s all jazz. Very few originals.

I always think of it as a bunch of cats in Texas who were wild about jazz and wanted to play it – so they did with the instruments they had (steel guitar, fiddles). Judging from what I’ve heard from the limited amount of old-timers I’ve been lucky enough to meet is that jazz was just about ALL they listened to.

I met Benny Garcia, the excellent guitarist for Wills, Tex Williams, Hank Penny and at one point, Goodman (!). He grew up in Oklahoma City and when we chatted, all he wanted to talk about was Charlie Christian, his biggest influence.

I don’t know how often the jazz guys even knew of Western Swing but I do know the story of Jimmie Bryant, the singular country jazz guitarist who, it was said, would often leave his weekly gig at Hometown Jamboree in El Monte (south of L.A.) and shoot up to Hollywood and sit in with Stuff Smith at Billy Berg’s on Vine Street.

Jimmie Rodgers is a wellspring, just like Pops. I regard those two as the only occupants on Music Mount Olympus. I also think to call Jimmie The Father of Country Music is to way undersell him. He was all of it – jazz, country, blues, Hawaiian. I don’t know if you’ve read Finding Jimmie Rodgers by Barry Mazor, but I think you’d really enjoy it. It ties a lot of it together with fact and supposition.

Milton Brown? Well, it’s hard to imagine what the whole timeline would be like had he not died so young. He was right there…once he and Bob broke up after that first, seminal record, they both went in fairly disparate, but equally great directions.

and Hal:

I was aware of Western Swing music in the ’60s, after finding out that hot jazz cornetists Benny Strickler and Danny Alguire had worked with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. But it was difficult to find comprehensive reissues of Wills’ music until the ’70s. Once I heard those recordings, with more great hornmen like Tubby Lewis, reedmen Wayne Johnson and Woody Wood, the Jess Stacy-like piano of Al Stricklin, the hot jazz of fiddlers Jesse Ashlock and Joe Holly and steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe, the swinging drums of Smokey Dacus, Bob Fitzgerald and Monte Mountjoy and the friendly vocal styles of Tommy Duncan and Wills himself…I was hooked!

Fast-forward to the early 2000s in Southern California, when I made the acquaintance of Dave “Pappy” Stuckey. We quickly found out that we shared a lot of musical interests, from the Firehouse Five Plus Two to Eddie Condon to…Western Swing! With the help of some talented Southern California musicians, we organized the “Hi-Lo Playboys” to perform at a variety of events. However, conflicting schedules, disagreements regarding the band’s approach and a general lack of work doomed this group within a short time.

Fast-forward again to the 2017 Redwood Coast Music Festival…As Dave and I rode together in a van to the Eureka airport, the subject of Western Swing came up. We agreed that a hot Western group would be a great addition to the musical presentations at Redwood Coast. When we contacted Festival Director Mark Jansen, he immediately agreed. After receiving the green light for a special set at the 2018 festival, “Pappy” Stuckey and “Junior” Smith began to contact musicians who would be able to play the music the right way and simultaneously put together set lists to reflect the best music from the Texas Playboys repertoire. “Pappy and Junior’s Barn Burner” was a smash hit at the 2018 Redwood Coast Music Festival. Happily, Mark Jansen agreed to a reprise in 2019 and friend Michael videotaped the band for posterity.

And now . . . the first half of this glorious effervescent evening of music.

TAKE ME BACK TO TULSA:

A HOME IN SAN ANTONE:

WHOA BABE! — which some of us will also know from a Lionel Hampton Victor:

BEAUMONT RAG:

I’M FEELING BAD:

SMOKE, SMOKE, SMOKE:

BLUE TEARS:

DRIVIN’ NAILS IN MY COFFIN:

I will close by saying that my ears were opened wider by this erudite hilarious feeling presentation, that a second half is waiting in the wings, that all of this wouldn’t happen were it not for the generosities of Mark and Valerie Jansen, AND that the next Redwood Coast Music Festival is May 7-10, 2020, and you will see us there.

May your happiness increase!

A GLORIOUS EVENING, PART TWO: DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, TAMAR KORN (JALOPY THEATRE, September 28, 2014)

This is the second portion of a Saturday night performance at the Jalopy Theatre, one of those musical evenings I don’t think I will ever forget, featuring Craig Ventresco, Meredith Axelrod, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Matt Munisteri, Jerron Paxton, and Tal Ronen.

Here are some highlights of the first set.

And here are six more magical performances by Dennis, Tamar, and Matt in varying combinations.  No posturing, just deep feeling for the particular idiom of each song,great unaffected expertise, a sweet intensity.

Hoagy Carmichael’s SKYLARK:

Irving Berlin’s RUSSIAN LULLABY:

Willard Robison’s WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING:

RISONHA (by Luperce Miranda, the Brazilian mandolinist and composer, 1904-1977):

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING (from Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys):

SO BLUE (a gem by De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson 1927):

WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? (thanks to a late King Oliver record):

Part Three will be arriving soon.

May your happiness increase!

“THE BENNY STRICKLER STORY”: DAVE RADLAUER / HAL SMITH / CHRIS TYLE

Provide any jazz fan with the first name “Benny” and leave the surname blank . . . and most listeners will respond with “Goodman.”  Some will think of “Morton,” “Moten,” and stump-the-band types might reply “Meroff.”  But how many people will immediately think of the brilliant, short-lived trumpeter Benny Strickler, who distinguished himself both in Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and the early Yerba Buena Jazz Band . . . before dying of tuberculosis in his twenties.

Strickler GTJ

I knew of Strickler as a legendary figure — revered by two of my jazz scholar-friends, Chris Tyle and Hal Smith — but I’d never had a substantial opportunity to hear his work before a friend told me about Dave Radlauer’s fascinating series of radio profiles, now available online here.  Radlauer’s approach goes beyond assembling rare records and telling us their personnel: he has spoken at length with musicians who knew his subject — including Bob Helm, Bill Bardin, Danny Alguire.  And the series goes in reverse: detailing Strickler’s playing days in San Francisco, then returning to his work with Wills in Tulsa.  The delights of these programs are substantial: we get to discover a musician few of us knew, we hear first-hand testimony from people who were on the scene, and we hear both rare recordings by Strickler and later evocations of his compact, relaxed yet energized style, his shining sound.  Dave’s JAZZ RHYTHM site presents four half-hour programs on Strickler, full of delightful music and deep research.

Do visit Dave Radlauer’s site here — you will find programs on everyone — famous and rare — from Charlie Christian to Eddie Condon, Spud Murphy, Emmett Miller, Bix, gypsy jazz . . . and more.

May your happiness increase.

ROCKING WITH DENNIS LICHTMAN’S BRAIN CLOUD (at the Jalopy Theatre, March 25, 2011)

Dennis Lichtman’s Brain Cloud is a hot band.

Never mind that its guiding star is Bob Wills rather than King Oliver: don’t let it bother you.

There was a time in American popular music where these “genres” overlapped so happily that Western Swing recordings looked back to Lang and Venuti, sideways to Bennie Moten and later to Charlie Christian. . . and often swung as hard as the Condon Commodores.  Is that sufficient recommendation?

The Brain Cloud takes its name from a Wills song — where having a “cloudy” brain is related to the deep blues — but there’s nothing particularly foggy or ambiguous about the band.

Nice unison arrangements, intense (and not overlong) solos for everyone, and wonderfully on-target singing and impromptu choreography from Miz Tamar Korn.  Dennis plays electric mandolin, clarinet, and fiddle — and chooses the good-natured tempos; he’s joined by Andrew Hall, bass, and one of my dear friends, drummer Kevin Dorn.  Raphael McGregor plays the pedal steel guitar, and Skip Krevens the electric guitar — and sings a few.

At the Jalopy Theatre in Red Hook, Brooklyn — where the Brain Cloud had their CD release party on March 25, 2011, Dennis had a few special guests — and I don’t use that term lightly: Noam Pikelny on banjo; Scott Kettner on snare drum and triangle; Matt Munisteri on guitar; Pete Martinez on clarinet.  I was there on camera and tripod, along with JAZZ LIVES’ pal Doug Pomeroy, recording engineer extraordinaire.

Here’s what we saw.

As if to welcome the most finicky of JAZZ LIVES readers into the Brain Cloud tent, Dennis began with Mel Powell’s 1942 MISSION TO MOSCOW — a most interesting chart / composition for the Benny Goodman band.  Hear how it blends what the critics would later call “pre-bop” with sections coming straight from the Ellington “doo-wah, doo-wah” of IT DON’T MEAN A THING:

Then, the moody Wills song the band was named for, BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES:

Another piece of “crossover” music — HAVE YOU EVER BEEN LONELY?  I have the 1931 sheet music which has the face of that famous Western swingster, Harry Lillis Crosby, on the cover:

The mournful BLUES FOR DIXIE, which has neat lyrics:

I may have the title wrong, but I believe this is DARK AS THE NIGHT (BLUE AS THE DAY):

Courtesy of the well-versed Matt Munisteri (who sat in), HONEY FINGERS:

I learned MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH from another famous Western swing star, Thomas “Grits” Waller:

Dennis’ story of playing PEACOCK RAG in Hawaii is a rare piece of narrative plumage in itself:

RHYTHM IN MY SOUL is an apt title for this band’s efforts:

A 1939 Broadway song (from a production called YOKEL BOY, no kidding) that became a favorite with Billie Holiday and Summit Reunion, among others — it’s COMES LOVE:

Florists take note!  Here’s WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP (a song I associate with New Orleans bands and — perhaps oddly? — Judy Garland and Gene Kelly):

The sweet Jimmie Rodgers lament, MISS THE MISSISSIPPI AND YOU:

A different variety of sweetness, SUGAR MOON:

The very funny up-tempo narrative of love unfulfilled: girls, don’t ever hang out with a fiddler if he won’t put his instrument in the case for you — HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED:

And a closing rouser with all the guests — James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (with the Western Swing changes, you’ll hear):

.

What a wonderfully spirited band!  And now you know what band to engage for your daughter’s graduation, your son’s bris, your husband’s retirement, the mutual celebration of someone’s divorce coming through . . .

The only problem with these videos (of which I am quite proud) is that you can’t watch them in the car — except, of course, if you’re a passenger.  May I offer a safer solution?

Clock here: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/braincloud to purchase the BRAIN CLOUD debut CD — which has the same band (Dennis, Tamar, Kevin, Skip, Andrew, and Raphael) performing ten selections: MISSION TO MOSCOW / BLUES FOR DIXIE / BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES / MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH / PEACOCK RAG / HE FIDDLED WHILE I BURNED / COMES LOVE / SWEET CHORUS / SUGAR MOON / SITTIN’ ALONE IN THE MOONLIGHT — beautifully recorded, so that you will hear things that the videos can’t capture.

Illustration by Jillian Johnson

FIFTY-SECOND STREET WEST (Cafe Borrone, Oct. 15, 2010)

Because of the wonderful photographs that Charles Peterson and others took, some of my readers will be able to visualize the bandstand at Jimmy Ryan’s sixty-five years ago — crowded with hot musicians jamming on, say, BUGLE CALL RAG, with every luminary in New York City eagerly improvising at the peak of their powers.

Now imagine that scene with additions.  A wondrous singer — let’s say Connee Boswell, Lee Wiley, or Mildred Bailey is joining in for a few numbers. 

And, if your imagination can hold this, Django Reinhardt and some members of his group are also there, off to the side, having a fine time.  Bob Wills is coming through the door, too. 

Did this happen?  If it did — in New York City, circa 1945 — it hasn’t been documented.  But something very much like it happened last Friday, October 15, 2010, in Cafe Borrone, which sits happily in Menlo Park, California.

Cafe Borrone has — through the generosity and prescience of its owner, Roy Borrone — having Clint Baker’s All-Stars as its Friday night jazz band.  For twenty years of Fridays, mind you.  And the 15th was a twentieth-anniversary party.

And “SFRaeAnn,” who is Rae Ann Berry on her driver’s license, was there to record this occasion.  Clint’s regulars were in attendance, but so were some instrumentally-minded friends.  As was the eloquently hot Gypsy-tinged small group Gaucho, and New York’s own wonder, Tamar Korn.  The musicians (collectively) are Clint Baker, playing everything expertly; Robert Young, saxophone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar; Tom Wilson, trombone; Jim Klippert, trombone; Dave Ricketts, guitar; Rob Reich, accordion; Mike Groh, guitar; Ari Munkres, bass, J. Hansen, drums, Riley Baker, drums.

A word about GAUCHO — a group I’ve seen in San Francisco (and I’ve also listened happily to their recordings): many “Gypsy swing” groups that loosely resemble this one specialize in superhero-speedy readings of the Reinhart-Grappelly repertoire.  In such cases, I agree with my friend Anthony Barnett when he proposes a moratorium on such endeavors.  In my case, all I want is not to be pummelled with notes.  But GAUCHO is superbly different.  The overall affect is superficially of music you’d hear on the porch or in the living room, but that feeling is undercut by the instant awareness that no amateur musicians ever, ever sounded this good.  Its two guitarists play and swap roles with grace and a stylish casualness.  Rob Reich makes the accordion an instrument I would happily listen to, as he spins out wandering lines (I was traumatized by an accordion as a child.)  And Ari Munkeres brings together Pops Foster and Paul Chambers very adeptly.  The overall feeling brings together Teddy Bunn and Western swing and a whole host of refreshing improvisations on various subtle, profound models.   

Here’s part of a delightful EXACTLY LIKE YOU, where Tamar and Leon converse:

And a full-fledged YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — where Tamar’s eyes and facial expressions reveal a great comic actress, singing the twisty lyrics at a rapid clip.  (Not only that: she sings the verse twice!)  This performance becomes a series of witty conversations and overlapping monologues, most fetchingly: 

How about SOME OF THESE DAYS, with an incredible outchorus where instruments and Tamar (the Mills Sister) blend so exuberantly:

Here’s a  delicate, unaffected I’M CONFESSIN’ — a performance where Ari’s arco bass, Leon’s Ziggy Elman – Harry James emoting, Robert’s sweet alto, and more theoretically disparate elements come together to create something terribly moving:

The simplistic philosophy of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING remains true — complain too much and even the dog walks out of the room — but what catches my eye in the first minute of this performance is that an audience member has asked Tamar to dance (unless I am missing the essential subtext).  At what other site do band members dance with the audience?  I ask you!  And don’t miss the vocal duet between Tamar and Jim Klippert, a man who is having just too much fun to keep it to himself:

Tamar sat out PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE (perhaps the jitterbugging had worn her out for the moment?) and Clint took the vocal, with solos from everyone: 

And the evening ended with a romp nothing short of ecstatic on BILL BAILEY (or, as Joe Wilder calls it, THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY), which should have you grinning for days:

I’m thrilled that this music was created and that the apparently tireless Rae Ann Berry saved it for us and for posterity.  Bless Roy Borrone, all the musicians, and our own devoted videographer, too.

P.S.  And I have it from good authority that GAUCHO’s new CD has Miss Korn and Mister Oakley in attendance — with some songs that Tamar has written lyrics for.  I check the mailbox every day . . . and will let you know when it arrives!