Doctor Leyland, Doctor Ramirez. By appointment only.
Hide the children, and wrap the breakables in bubble wrap — or perhaps the other way around. But don’t fear: even with the terrifying weather disasters of late this avalanche is only musical and can be enjoyed as something not threatening.
It’s a little set-closing themeless boogie-woogie in C that builds and builds, created by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 7, 2020 — when we thought we would have all the time we wanted for music in a world that wasn’t in flames:
These posts require a good deal of research. For instance, in the first song performed by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay (March 7, 2020), Big Joe Turner’s CHERRY RED, the lyrics refer to “your Hollywood bed,” and I had to find out what variety of bed that was.
The general consensus is that it is a bed frame with low legs, a box spring, a mattress, no footboard but with an upholstered or elaborate headboard. Hence:
In other versions of CHERRY RED, Big Joe sings “your big brass bed,” but Sonny wisely chose an ornate headboard for this performance:
Those lyrics describe pleasure, regularly offered and enjoyed: in fact, the erotic bliss is such that the singer’s athletic female partner raises his blood pressure to possibly dangerous levels, but it’s worth it. “Eagle rock me, baby.”
IF I HAD MY WAY (in an instrumental version) made famous once again by Bing Crosby, was written in 1913 by James Kendis (music) and Lou Klein (words). The lyrics, suitable for that year, are chaste and respectful: the singer wants to treat his darling with reverence befitting a queen. I can’t say that this 2020 version is at all reverent, but it surely rocks just as vigorously as the carnality of CHERRY RED:
And to keep everything in balance — Dionysiac eroticism and Apollonian good behavior, here’s a boogie-woogie jam with no name and no theme: Sonny announces it as NO PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS, which I like tremendously:
More to come from this wonderful little band that does everything so well. It seems ages ago that I was in this little room, in the front row, camera and notebook, enjoying every thirty-second note. Gratitude to you, Sonny, Lakshmi, Jeff, and Jacob, for so generously giving of yourselves.
The band at the Morris Graves Museum: Clint Baker, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Little Charlie Baty, guitar; and (unseen but certainly felt) Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocals; Dawn Lambeth, vocals, May 12, 2019, Redwood Coast Music Festival, Eureka, California.
For once, I’ll happily let someone else create the words: the eloquent guitarist Little Charlie Baty (who goes by Charles Baty on Facebook) whose delight shines through first in prose, then in the music:
Back in May 2019, I had the opportunity to play with Carl Sonny Leyland, Marc Caparone, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Dawn Lambeth and a host of others (not to mention Rick Estrin and the Nightcats!) as part of the Redwood Coast Music Festival. I played with different groups of people on different stages, which also implied different tunes and different set lists. For instance there was jazzy Sonny Leyland – and bluesy Sonny Leyland. A Tribute to Charlie Christian. A reunion with the Nightcats partially due to fog at the Eureka Airport and the inability of Kid Andersen to land in time to do the performance (he got as close as 30 feet off the ground!). Anyway, it was a beautiful week of music and collaboration – on stage and off. I had many pleasant conversations with Harry Duncan, Danny Caron, and others in the hospitality area.
I was only scheduled to play on 4 shows but the opportunity to play on a fifth set came up and I jumped at it. I would be playing a jazzy set with Carl Sonny Leyland. We had rehearsed for this set – I just didn’t think that I would have the stamina to do it. So this was my last set on the festival and Sonny called out perhaps the most difficult tune that we would perform – a nicely arranged version of How Deep is the Ocean. We performed in an old building – a library, a bank, or a museum? The grand piano filled every nook and cranny in the packed house. Marc Caparone’s trumpet washed over the melancholic ballad like a warm snifter of cognac, the solid bass of Clint Baker providing the framework and the light and airy drums of Jeff Hamilton felt like a slow fan turning on a languid afternoon. Such a moment should be caught on tape – and it was. By our good friend Michael. So Sugar Ray Norcia, Michael Mudcat Ward and Duke Robillard – this is the kind of environment that you have to look forward this year at the Redwood Coast Festival. Not just a festival but an opportunity for musical collaboration. Sugar – we ought to play that tune about Josephine, Please Don’t Lean on the Bell!
Sonny Leyland is the deepest piano player that I’ve ever come across. The first tune that we played was in Db – that tells you something right there. He can play jazz, swing, and blues with equal ease and abandon and he knows what he wants and can articulate it. We played many hours of music over that festival – and every second sounded great.
It was an honor to be there, and an honor to be able to capture these moments — supercharged and subtle — what Kansas City must have sounded like, but not historical, charging towards us now.
YOUNG J.C. BOOGIE, in honor of Master James Caparone:
That masterpiece, HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (I apologize for stage-managing at the start, something I rarely do.):
After Berlin’s deep passion, the rocking KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN (doesn’t every set need a train tune?):
An even more ferocious LIMEHOUSE BLUES:
At this point, a phalanx of fire marshals approached the band and warned of increased temperatures within the building, and said that if they didn’t perform something a little less violent, the set would have to end. To the rescue! Dawn Lambeth with BLUE MOON:
Here’s Dawn with a tender entreaty, swung like mad, MY MELANCHOLY BABY:
When Sonny began SONG OF THE WANDERER, no one went anywhere:
and to close, the declaration of emotional independence, LOW DOWN DOG:
This Frolick was created extemporaneously by the Doctors of Groove (my admiring name for them) on May 12, 2019, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival. Bless them and also Mark and Valerie Jansen, patron saints of Redwood Coast sounds.
Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL is a splendid little band, greeted enthusiastically in person and in cyberspace, which will become evident in sixty-four bars. (The lovely weird artwork below is the cover of their debut CD, by the way.)
Here’s Part One, where you can savor LITTLE GIRL; LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER; HELLO, FISHIES; BATS ON A BRIDGE; BIG AL; PIPELINER’S BLUES; WINDY CITY SWING; HELLO, LOLA.
And the second portion, beginning with LONG-DISTANCE MAN, which has a beautiful story behind it even before the deeply lyrical music begins — for me a highlight of the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival:
Dan Walton’s exuberant ROLL ‘EM, PETE:
Jamey Cummins’ THE SHEIK OF airbnb:
The poignant BLUE LESTER:
And a rollicking THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU:
Truly a band to know and to follow. On a related note — in a major key — the 30th Anniversary Redwood Coast Music Festivalwill take place in Eureka, California, from May 7-10, 2020. I’ll be there, and Hal and many of my hero-friends also.
Both Ray Skjelbred and Carl Sonny Leyland are bright skies in my night sky, deep quirky soulful individualists. Each is a strong-willed person and player. Although they have some of the same ends in mind — swing, lyricism, and a deep immersion in the blues — they always take different routes to get to those ends. Having them sit down at two pianos in a room is a great dream of mine; having them do so in front of a quiet audience with an expert videographer is almost more than I could hope for. But it happened, as you will see.
I was at perhaps their first public conversation — at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 9, 2014 — which rings in my ears and heart, although the pianos were widely spaced making them hard to video simultaneously. However, the blessed jubilant evidence remains! — thisand thisand this, too. (It makes me nostalgic for Monterey, but we’ll be there in March 2020 if the creeks don’t rise.)
But here, thanks to Rae Ann Berry, is a selection from their most recent collaboration. I haven’t posted all of what happened at the Jennings’ house party — there are more than two dozen songs and one prose poem — but you can chase down the delights on your own. Here are treasures.
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
Ray, musing his way through Fats Waller’s CHELSEA:
The Rhythmakers’ YES, SIR!:
KMH DRAG (for Max Kaminsky, Freddie Moore, Art Hodes):
Sonny’s RAT CATCHER’S BLUES:
Sonny’s delicate boogie version of TOGETHER, which I would guess is in honor of Denis Gilmore:
an indigo reading of HOW LONG BLUES:
and a frolicsome SWIPSEY CAKEWALK, so wonderfully orchestral:
Living at a cosmic intersection where Sonny and Ray can create together is a great uplifting boon. Bless them, Rae Ann, and Warren Jennings too.
When I feel poorly, the conventional choice is this (with all respect to my internist, not pictured here):
I prefer this medical group, photographed at their 1936 convention:
A similar gathering of holistic groove-healers, inspired by Ammons and Basie, assembled on May 12, 2019, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: doctors Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Little Charlie Baty, guitar; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Young J.C.” is James Caparone, himself.
With thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen, patron saints of Redwood Coast sounds, where musicians not only know how to spell RHYTHM but make it jump.
Two hot poets. Two brothers at play. Two bold frolicking explorers. Choose your metaphor: pianist-singer Carl Sonny Leyland and cornetist / trumpeter-singer Marc Caparone are friends and heroes, so it was an immense pleasure to see and hear them out in the open, joyously rambling all around. Here is the first part of their duo set performed on July 31, 2018, at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri.
And here are four more beauties:
INDIANA BOOGIE WOOGIE:
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
I shared WANDERER with scholar-musician Richard Salvucci, whose verdict was “That is the way it is done,” and I concur thoroughly. Carl and Marc will be reunited for our joy on the April-May 2019 STOMPTIME cruise: details here.
I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to see, hear, and sometimes record pianist-composer-inventer Joel Forrester in this summer of 2018, because he and Mary will be in France for much of the next year, from September onward. If you take that as an undisguised suggestion to go to one of his gigs, none of us will mind.
JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner
Joel is a remarkable explorer: not only does he follow his own whimsies, giving himself over to them as they blossom in sonic air, but he also is curious about forms. He casually said at this gig (last Wednesday night at JULES(65 St. Marks Place) that one composition came about, decades earlier, when he was deciding to be a bebop pianist or a stride one. I think the two “styles” coexist nicely in him to this day. Here’s some evidence. And if “traditionally-minded” listeners can’t hear and enjoy his wholly loving heretical embraces, more’s the pity. Or pities.
Joel is also full of various comedies, and some of them come out in wordplay. So this tune, which makes me think of Chicago, 1933, is called THE SPERM OF THE MOMENT. Imagine that:
Celebrating a tender domestic return (as Joel explains), BACK IN BED:
NATURAL DISASTER, which happily does not live up to its title:
GONE TOMORROW, a meditation on the passage of time, which makes me think of 11:57 PM on my wristwatch:
SHELLEY GETS DOWN, complete with siren, in honor of singer Shelley Hirsch:
An entire tradition of improvised music passes through Joel while he is busily making it his own. We’d be poorer without him.
Pianist, composer, writer Joel Forrester invents scores for silent films and has done so for decades. But we don’t associate him with the megaphone and director’s chair, nor does he have credits as a producer or director. Yet I’ve come to think of some of Joel’s more evocative compositions and performances as the scores for films that have not made it to the screen. Soundtracks to our own imaginings.
Here are three such cinema-without-cinema creations, invented and re-invented on Sunday, May 6, at the delightful French bistro / jazz club JULES (65 Saint Marks Place, an easy walk from several subways). Joel is playing at Jules every Sunday this summer from 4-6:30, sometimes solo, sometimes with guests / friends: a day ago, he had a trio of himself, David Hofstra, string bass; Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone. JULES is lovely, by the way — good food, interesting wines, and a truly friendly staff. And the latter means more to people like me than I can say.
From May 6. Close your eyes and imagine the film — this one is easy, because it is Joel’s idea of music to be played while the credits roll:
This Middle Eastern sound-portrait is named for Joel and Mary’s son, the illustrious Max. I met him — not in the desert — and he deserves this song:
Finally, one of Forrester’s many selves, among them the swing pianist, the eccentric / novelty / stride pianist, the Powell-and-Monk through a bright prism, and the 1933 Chicago blues pianist, half in the dark, a half-finished beer on top of the piano which is of course a little assertive in the upper octaves:
Did you like Cinema Forrester? More to come. And come visit Joel at Jules.
Here is the first set (and what I wrote about Joel) of that glorious afternoon.
And now, as the night follows the day or some equivalent, is the second. Joel at his poetic unpredictable best. Each piece feels like a short story, and the whimsical titles add to the effect.
BUNNY BOY (a Blues Frolick for the Afternoon):
NIGHT AND DAY (for Mr. Porter of Peru, Iowa, a rendition that seems built from the rhythmic surge up to the spare melody):
MILDEW LIZA (as explained by the composer, also an adept Joycean):
ON MARY’S BIRTHDAY (Joel’s most recent composition as of that afternoon, a rhythmic celebration of his wife’s natal day):
A beautifully somber reading of GHOST OF A CHANCE:
Having heard several performances of Joel’s INDUSTRIAL ARTS, excerpts and improvisations on sections of this piece, which he has been known to perform for eight hours, I asked him to write something about it, because the piece so stands out — in its incantatory splendor — in what I think of as his oeuvre. Joel writes: I’ve been improvising on it since l974, my first year in New York. When I’m feeling emotionally generous, I give my wife Mary co-composer credit: the music has its genesis in our weekly Saturday mornings at Washington Square Church. I’d improvise at the piano while watching her dance; she feels time in a deeper way than any dancer I’ve ever seen. This would go on for several hours (we were quite young). Then we’d wax ‘n’ buff the floor. The music grew, its interlocking rhythms calling out weird overtones I would learn to embrace if never truly to corral. In its entirety, INDUSTRIAL ARTS occupies 8 hours. I’ve only played it straight-through once: at The Kitchen in l977. I’ve always striven to play a precis of the tune on my solo gigs, borrowing ideas from the 8 one-hour sections. At least 11 times, over the years, I’ve either been warned, fired, or not asked back…all on account of this one, highly-repetitive tune. The most humorous instance of this took place in 1980 at a Bowery art bar called Sebossek’s. I was only five minutes into INDUSTRIAL ARTS when the Israeli cook burst out of the kitchen with blood inher eyes and a sizzling pan in her hand. What she wanted to do was to show me that she had burned herself, thanks to my music. But, of course, what I saw was a furious woman holding a frying pan. For my sins, I admit that I cowered under the piano. …Over the last five years, all that has changed—who can tell me why? Have listeners become inured to repetitive music, if presented in different forms from mine? Short attention spans promoting selective deafness? In any case, a 10- or 15-minute version of INDUSTRIAL ARTS has become part of my standard repertoire; and I seem to be getting away with it. And longer “concert” versions are sometimes called for. Who knew?
YOUR LITTLE DOG (exceedingly tender, my new favorite):
ANYTHING GOES (its opening measures truncated because of videographer-error, but there’s still enough Romp left to see by):
As I write these words, Joel has a steady Saturday afternoon gig (12:30 to 3:30) at Cafe Loup (135 West 13th Street at Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Village, New York City) and June is an extraordinarily rich month for Forrester-sightings, so check them out http://joelforrester.com/calendar/.
As I’ve written recently, here, pianist-composer Joel Forrester creates music — tender, sensuous, surprising — always rewarding, never pre-cooked. I’ve been delighting in his recorded work for a decade now, but haven’t stirred myself to see him perform in a long time. But I did just that last Saturday, May 27, 2017, at his solo recital (12:30 – 3:30) at Cafe Loup, 105 W 13th St, New York (very close to the #1 train), (212) 255-4746. (And at the risk of sounding like a Yelp review, service — thank you, Byron! — was solicitous, and the food was fresh and nicely presented.)
The musical experiences Joel offered that afternoon were, to me, deeper than simple music. It felt as if he was a repertory company: each performance seemed its own small world — balancing on its own axis — and then gave way to the next. A gritty blues was followed by a romantic lament, then a rollicking saunter through an unknown landscape, then a dance from a traveling carnival . . . as you will hear for yourself.
Joel is always balancing strong rhythms and subtle melodies, creating his own shapes and changing those created by others. The range of his inspirations is amazingly broad: in the course of the afternoon’s recital for an admiring audience, he evoked and improvised on the blues and boogie woogie, Billie Holiday, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, Meade Lux Lewis, James Joyce, hymns, the Beatles, and Sam Cooke.
STAGGER JOEL (his variations on an ancient folk blues with a similar name):
GG’S BLUES (paying affectionate tribute to Gershwin’s RHAPSODY):
IN THE RING (a bubbling dance):
BILLIE’S SOLITUDE (for Lady Day and Duke):
IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY (FOR THE MOMENT) (musing on Parisian weather):
CARAVAN (Juan Tizol reminding us that the journey, not the destination, matters):
WHITE BLUES (a title explained by Joel, as prelude):
SKIRMISH (with variant titles explained by the composer):
YOU SEND ME (Forrester meets Sam Cooke):
BACK IN BED (implicitly a paean to domestic bliss):
FATE (half-heard melodies care of Meade Lux Lewis):
There’s more to come from this afternoon at Cafe Loup, and more from Joel in his many guises, all restorative. He has many and various gigs: visit here.
My fascination with Joel Forrester and his music goes back more than a decade. I would guess that I heard the quizzically entrancing orchestra THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET on WKCR-FM and was intrigued by its unpredictable mixture of new and old. And then I heard Joel in person with a few small bands he’d assembled — one called THE TRUTH, which was an accurate description.
Joel doesn’t strive to shock the listener, but he doesn’t follow predictable paths — which is, in an era of reproducible art, an immense virtue. His playing and his compositions can be hilarious, angular, tender — sometimes all at once, and his music is vividly alive, which is no small thing.
I write not only to celebrate Joel — in all his surprises that invite us in — but to remind New Yorkers of opportunities to savor his art. Every Saturday, he is playing a solo piano gig at Café Loup, 105 West 13th St. at 6th Avenue, in Greenwich Village, from 12:30—3:30 PM.
On Tuesdays, from 6-10, Joel plays solo piano at the Astor Room (located in the Kaufman Studios complex) 34-12 36th St. in Astoria, Queens. I suggest you mark your calendars for Tuesday, June 6, when there will be a special — no, remarkable — happening, where Joel will begin with a solo piano set (his custom on Tuesdays) and then there will be two sets by The Microscopic Septet with Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone (visiting from Australia!); Don Davis, alto saxophone; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone; Joel, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.
And their latest CD — thirteen variations on the blues, with echoes of Johnny Hodges, a Basie small group, Mingus, rhythm ‘n’ blues . . . titled BEEN UP SO LONG IT LOOKS LIKE DOWN TO ME — is frankly extraordinary. Read more here.
and here’s DON’T MIND IF I DO from that new CD:
And I am not surprised that Joel is a fine writer — think of Joseph Mitchell at a tilt, an affectionate chronicler of urban scenes: read his “Three Memorable Drunks.”
Finally, since I expect that this will awaken some of you to the whimsical glories Joel so generously offers us, hereis a link to Joel’s website and gig calendar. As for me, I have new places to savor, which, even in New York City, is a wonderful thing.
That’s Stuff Smith, one of the supreme beings of jazz violin, who deserves more attention than he received in life and does now. An audio sample from 1936 with Stuff playing and singing (with Jonah Jones, Jimmy Sherman, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, Cozy Cole):
This little remembrance of Stuff is because I found two rare paper items on eBay — which you shall see. But before I completed this post, I checked everything with Anthony Barnett, the reigning scholar of jazz violin, who’s issued wonderful CDs, books, and more about Stuff, Eddie South, Ginger Smock, and many other stars and hidden talents. More about Anthony’s ABFable projects below.
Here is a 1947 Associated Booking Corporation (that’s Joe Glaser’s firm) magazine advertisement for both Stuff and Eddie South — Eddie has Leonard Gaskin, string bass; Allen Tinney, piano:
Music instruction books linked to famous artists proliferated from the Twenties onwards, and here is one I had never seen before. I don’t know how deeply Stuff was involved with the compositions and arrangements, but this 1944 folio is a fascinating curio:
Characteristically and thriftily, a mix of public domain songs and a few originals:
The composition looks unadventurous, but this is only the first page. “Who is Lee Armentrout?” is the big question on JEOPARDY, and the answer is here:
How about some more music? “Can do,” we say — a lovely rendition of DEEP PURPLE, a duet between Stuff and Sun Ra, recorded on July 29, 1948 by drummer Tommy Hunter. Ra is playing a solovox which was a piano attachment.
Anthony tells me, “There is a lost recording by Ra and Coleman Hawkins from around the same period (but not the same session). Stuff and Hawk led a band for a couple of weeks around that time with Ra on piano.”
I’ve been writing ecstatically about Anthony’s ABFable discs for more than a decade now: they are absolute models of loving presentation of rare music. How about this: a CD of 1937 broadcasts of a big band, led by Stuff, its members drawn from the Chick Webb band plus other stars — with a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald? Stuff leading a septet drawn from the 1942 Fats Waller band while Fats was touring; a Ray Nance compilation that features acetate recordings of Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, Sonny Greer — oh, and Ben plays clarinet as well as tenor; more from Ray Perry, Eddie South, and glorious violinists you’ve never heard of. Helen Ward, Rex Stewart, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones . . .
It’s self-indulgent to quote oneself, but perhaps this is forgivable: I don’t ordinarily endorse the productions of an entire CD label, but Anthony Barnett’s AB Fable series of reissues is something special: rare music, beautifully annotated and transferred, delightfully presented. Barnett’s notes are erudite but never dull. Each CD I’ve heard has been a joyous experience in preconception-shattering. I used to think of jazz violin improvisation beyond Joe Venuti and Stéphane Grappelli as a mildly inconvenient experience. Grudgingly, I acknowledged that it was possible to play compelling jazz on the instrument, but I was politely waiting for Ray Nance to pick up his cornet. Barnett’s CDs have effected a small conversion experience for me—and even if you don’t have the same transformation take place, they are fun to listen to over and over again.
And — as a musing four-bar break: we are, in 2017, caught between the Montagues and the Capulets, the people who say, “Oh, CDs are dead!” and those who say, “I’ll never download a note.” These CDs are rare creations, and those ignorant of them might be unintentionally denying themselves joy. For more of the right stuff and Stuff — books, CDs, accurate information galore — visit here.
Joy-spreaders and happiness-increasers, they are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano / vocal; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. Here are three more performances from the trio’s recent excursion into Colorado for the Evergreen Jazz Festival. Here are the first three by this three: joy cubed.
This outburst of pleasure — one night before the Festival began — is from the delightful barn concert in Longmont organized by the gracious Dorothy Bradford Vernon, on July 28.
This post is a little audio-visual bouquet, not only to the swing superheroes, but especially to Dorothy, whose generous energies made everyone happy.
An early Thirties love song (who knows what a Morris chair is, now?) with the verse, at a groovy tempo:
Carl’s version of the Economic Price Index:
and the barn was well and truly rocking:
Thanks to Dorothy, Carl, Clint, Jeff, and the wonderful dancers, too.
Now I have to narrate, with embarrassment, how I waited some time to review an excellent jazz CD because its title made me itchy all over. Here’s Exhibit A:
Before you start scratching, too, use those hands to click here for sound samples from this disc. (It’s also available through iTunes and Amazon.)
The duo here — really a trio, but with two musicians, which I call good conservation of energy, is Pete Siers, drums, and “Mr. B,” who is Mark Lincoln Braun, piano, vocals, and perhaps a little more.
I relaxed when I read in the excellent notes by arwulf arwulf, that Pete has always wanted to play in the circus — or is it “with” the circus? No matter. So I assume that FLEA CIRCUS refers only to the compact size of the enterprise.
Enough of that. FLEA CIRCUS is a deeply felt album of deep blues and related songs, sung* and played by two men who are wholly in the tradition. The sixteen titles here are varied not only in tempo, key, and composer, but also in mood. Each one is a small dramatic playlet, intense or free-wheeling, with its own mood: funky, rueful, hilarious, romping, woebegone, tender, Friday-night-paycheck-at-the-bar. No listener would find an hour with these two creative spirits too much: rather, when the disc was over, I said, “Is that it?” which speaks well for a return engagement for Pete and Mark.
Here are the songs: VICKSBURG BLUES (in honor of Little Brother Montgomery) / SHE’S TOUGH* / JIMMY’S SPECIAL (for Jimmy Yancey) / WHAT WAS I THINKING OF?* / I LIKE WHAT YOU DID (WHEN YOU DO WHAT YOU DID LAST NIGHT) a variation on Roosevelt Sykes’ immortal theme / KIRKSEY FLASH, for Web Kirksey, pictured above / TREMBLIN’ BLUES / MOJO HAND* / COW COW BLUES (for and by Cow Cow Davenport) / LITTLE BROTHER / TEXAS STOMP / TOO SMART TOO SOON* / WAY DOWN UPON THE SWANEE RIVER (in honor of Albert Ammons) / WHEN I LOST MY BABY (for Blind John Davis) / NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE IT (with a guest appearance by trombonist Christopher Smith) / YPSI GYPSI (a world of its own) //
Both of these musicians know how to take their time, so this isn’t a boogie-woogie extravaganza with Niagara Falls of notes that overwhelm the listener. Were I introducing the CD to someone new to it, I would start off with what I believe is Mark’s original, SHE’S TOUGH, where the Love Object stops clocks, distracts college professors, and silently effects a cease-fire. The lyrics are delightful, but the piano playing is even better, and Pete’s silken accompaniment is a lesson for all drummers. TOO SMART TOO SOON should have been recorded by Walter Brown with Jay McShann, if you know that reference. Mark’s singing, throughout, is perfectly focused — honoring rather than copying — and the recording adds just a touch of what I hear as Fifties reverb to his voice, adding a good deal to the atmosphere without making this an exercise in play-acting.
Even though Pete is the nominal leader on this disc, it is not a percussionist’s narcissistic dream. I heard only two drum solos — very brief but delightful, but what I truly heard and appreciated was his unerringly thoughtful and swinging support, nothing formulaic or mechanical.
Together, Pete and Mark evoke the very best of vocal blues, piano blues, boogie-woogie, with sweet nods to R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll.
The result is delightful, and I hope many people listen, download, purchase. Don’t be like me and be put off by the idea of dancing insects, please. FLEA CIRCUS is the real thing, full of flavors. It rocks.
They use their powers for good: their seismic vibrations help keep the planet on its proper axis. Not Marvel Comics, but Carl Sonny Leyland, piano / vocal; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
The first — one night before the Festival began — is from the delightful barn concert in Longmont organized by the gracious Dorothy Bradford Vernon, on July 28. (I am shy of exploring new places in the dark in a rental car, so my willingness to drive an hour — even with a GPS — in uncharted Colorado should give an idea of my delight in Carl, Clint, and Jeff.)
An energized MY GAL SAL:
The second two come from the Festival itself, the first being Carl’s own song-form COUSCOUS BOOGIE, performed on the 29th:
and a solo excursion (July 30), which I have titled LET IT ALL HANG OUT:
The Evergreen Jazz Festival was superb and consistently gratifying, with splendid performances by the Kris Tokarski Trio with Tim Laughlin and Hal Smith, the Fat Babies, and many other bands. I will have much more uplifting evidence to share with you.
Carl, Clint, and Jeff showed off — in the most natural joyous way — immense musical and sonic versatility. They delighted us on the spot, and these videos are full of life.
Sidney Catlett, that is. Big Sid. Completely himself and completely irreplaceable. And here’s COQUETTE by the Edmond Hall Sextet on Commodore — Ed on clarinet, Emmett Berry, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Eddie Heywood, piano; Billy Taylor, string bass; Sid, drums, on December 18, 1943.
After Heywood’s ornamental solo introduction, which sounds as if the band is heading towards I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU, Sid lays down powerful yet unadorned support for the first sixteen bars, yet he and Emmett have an empathic conversation on the bridge, Sid catching every flourish with an appropriate accent. More of that to come, but note the upwards Louis-hosanna with which Emmett ends his solo (Joe Thomas loved this motif also) and Sid’s perfectly eloquent commentary, urging the Brother on. His drumming has an orchestral awareness, as if the full band plus Heywood’s leaves and vines is dense enough as it is, and what it needs is support. But when it’s simply Emmett and himself and the rhythm section, Sid comes to the fore.
The timbre of the second chorus is lighter: Ed Hall dipping, gliding, and soaring, with quiet ascending figures from Emmett and Vic, then quiet humming. So Sid’s backing, although strong, is also lighter. Hall, in his own way, was both potent and ornate, so Sid stays in the background again.
The gorgeous dialogue between Emmett and Sid in the third chorus (from 1:44 on) has mesmerized me for thirty years and more. One can call it telepathy (as one is tempted to do when hearing Sid, Sidney DeParis, and Vic on the Blue Note sides of the same period); one can say that Emmett’s solo on COQUETTE was a solo that he had perfected and returned so — you choose — but these forty-five seconds are a model of how to play a searing open-horn chorus, full of space and intensity, and how to accompany it with strength but restraint, varying one’s sound throughout. Even when Sid shifts into his highest gear with the rimshots in the second half of the chorus, the effect is never mechanical, never repetitive: rather each accent has its own flavor, its own particular bounce. It’s an incredibly inspiring interlude. And the final chorus is looser but not disorderly — exultant, rather, with Sid again (on hi-hat now, with accents) holding up the world on his shoulders at 2:40 until the end. He isn’t obtrusive, but it’s impossible to ignore him.
Here’s another video of COQUETTE, this time taking the source material from a well-loved 78 copy:
I confess that I think about Louis fairly constantly, with Sid a close second — marveling at them both. An idle late-evening search on eBay turned up this odd treasure, something I did not need to buy but wanted to have as another mental picture. It’s the cardboard album for a 1946 four-song session under Sid’s leadership for Manor Records, with Pete Johnson, Jimmy Shirley, Lockjaw Davis, Bill Gooden, Gene Ramey. Because of the boogie-woogie format and the piano / organ combination, the four sides have a rather compressed effect.
What one of the original 78s looked like.
Unfortunately, no one as of yet has put this music on YouTube, so you’ll have to do your own searching. (The sides were issued on CD on the Classics CD devoted to Sidney.)
I present the cardboard artifact here as one of the very few times that Sidney would have seen his own name on an album — although he’d seen his name on many labels, even a few sessions as a leader. Sid recorded from 1929 to 1950; he lived from 1910 to 1951. Not enough, I say — but so generous a gift to us all. “Good deal,” as he often said.
I present to you one of the finest CDs I’ve ever heard. But it’s also one of the least-known.
It is a House Party. And Carl is pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland. He invites all of us to share the joys with Marc Caparone, trumpet / string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass / clarinet.
This exact group has not been videoed, but you can hear a good deal of the exuberant spirit Carl, Marc, and Jeff bring to the music — with the help of Butch Smith, alto saxophone, and Mike Fay, string bass:
Now, I know that some listeners pigeonhole Father Leyland as an eight-to-the bar wizard, a boogie-woogie marvel. And in this they would be correct. But he is a musician and a fine jazz improviser whose talent is not constricted by a label, so he goes where the music takes him, most often to the land of Swing. The sounds you’ll hear on this CD make me think of Kansas City — the small-band music made by Hot Lips Page, Pete Johnson, Walter Page, Jo Jones and their friends. And when Carl starts to sing the blues . . . we could be back at the Reno Club in 1935. (The original premise was, I think, a contemporary evocation of Pete Johnson’s 1944 add-an-instrument “Housewarming” records — a good lively model to have.)
Many jazz recordings hew to a certain stylistic definition (I think of the pigeonholes in which one inserts mail) and that’s fine if that is what you’re in the mood for. Here’s the reproduction of Fly and his Swatters; here’s the tribute to “Unknown White Teenager”; here’s the solo xylophone recital of early Sondheim. (My examples are satirical but not too far from CDs now on my kitchen counter.)
Carl and his friends have a different end in view, which is why this CD is a House Party — recorded in Marc Caparone’s living room in Paso Robles, California. Carl explains, “Armed with good faith and plenty of liquor, the four of us got together and made the music you are hearing now. There was no rehearsing, and in most cases I just launched directly into whatever came into my head at that moment. Spontaneous creativity is what really turns me on in music and I will gladly take it over ‘tight,’ ‘clever,’ and ‘refined,’ every time. I believe the results we attained that day combined spontaneous creativity with honest emotion. Unrestricted by notions of trying to please anyone than ourselves, we played without inhibition. Chances were taken, nothing was held back, and in addition to being artistically gratifying, it was a heck of a lot of fun.”
I find the music that Carl, Marc, Clint, and Jeff make on this disc wholly life-affirming, whether it’s a groovy slow blues with a dark theme or a romp on a time-honored standard . . . but I also support the philosophy stated above. This is honest music, aimed at our hearts. So in my ideal world, this band would be headlining at festivals and concert halls, appearing at schools across the world. Until that happens, I urge you to invite yourselves to Carl’s House Party.
To buy the CD (and to hear and see much more of Carl), visit his website.
A little gift of music — three minutes of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett playing a boogie-woogie blues in July 1945:
To me, this is not simply piano, drums, and the blues. It is a small glowing exercise in bringing infinite variety into what could otherwise be a closed form. Listen to the textures — the varied and ever-shifting sound of Sidney’s drums alongside the piano, the shifting rhythms he and Sammy set up and move through, the varied harmonies and melodies. Of course, listened to casually from another room, “it’s just boogie-woogie.” But that would be so limiting, so unjust to the rich textures heard here.
And Sammy and Sidney did not set out to make a classic; they had time at the end of a King Jazz record session and decided to play some blues: this is what they casually and splendidly created.
This post is for my departed friend Michael Burgevin, who loved this record. And for Carl Sonny Leyland, who is deeply in the music and creates it infallibly: he understands!
There are occasions when we have two pianos on stage, and two pianists. Perhaps it’s not so unusual these days. But I submit to you that the pairing of Carl Sonny Leyland (on the right side of your screen) and Ray Skjelbred (left) is remarkable for its wit, depth, and playful inventiveness. It happened on March 9, 2014, at the Jazz Bash at the Bay in Monterey, California, and I present the results here now in all their splendor. Unabridged, unexpurgated, unedited, and full of life. I apologize that my camera’s wide-angle lens wasn’t sufficiently ample to keep both Masters in the shot, but the sound is I hope compensation for the visual limitations. (I was seated in the first row and kept swiveling my head back and forth, so my camera followed suit.)
I think it was an absolute honor to be there, and that this is unrivaled music.
NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:
WININ’ BOY BLUES:
FAN IT / OH, BABY!:
HOW LONG BLUES:
BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES:
OUR MONDAY DATE:
BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:
SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES:
I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:
Both of these great musicians — strong-minded individualists — reveled in this opportunity to create something larger than themselves, something warmly alive and unforgettable. To echo Carl’s words after the end of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, “Yeah. Fun.”
The music you are about to experience was created on the spot at JazzAge Monterey’s 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay — by two of the most expansive improvisers I know: expansive in the sense of imagination and feeling and play. Together and singly,they have the years of experience that allow them to envision something musical and give it physical shape at the keyboard so that we can rejoice in it.
Exquisitely dancing at the piano, they offer us a magical balance of power and control, abandon and exactness. I do not exaggerate when I speak of Ray Skjelbred and Carl Sonny Leyland, wizards of sound. Here are four more selections from their hour-long offering.
NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:
WININ’ BOY BLUES:
FAN IT (always good advice!) then OH, BABY!:
You’ll notice a few things. One is how the two deep individualists here blend their singular styles so that their individual selves are never obscured, but they pool their efforts for the larger community of four hands and two keyboards. Two is that the chosen repertoire bounces back and forth between romping tunes — pop or blues — and deep dark sad mournful utterances . . . covering the whole emotional range, whether evoking Alex Hill, the Chicagoans, Jelly Roll Morton, or Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, the last a name and presence to be reckoned with.
Finally, a cinematographic comment. I wanted to be as close to the pianos as possible for the clearest sound, but even with my wide-angle lens, I had to pan back and forth, which means that at times one can’t see what Ray is doing while Carl is playing, and vice versa. Sorry about this . . . to be deeper in to the auditorium would give me more muddy sound and (I fear) a bad case of head-in-the-way. I have been listening to these videos through headphones — no picture — and find them particularly entrancing.
My previous posting of the final song of the set, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, can be found here.
Blessings on people who get deep in to the blues and who can romp ecstatically: Ray Skjlebred and Carl Sonny Leyland are two noble souls of those realms.
These two worthies found love at the Jazz Bash by the Bay:
I am not proposing that everyone who goes to this year’s festival (March 7-9) will come away with the Love of His / Her Life — maybe you are all already spoken for.
But the music will be wonderful. And I write this as someone who’s been there since 2010.
For me, the Jazz Bash by the Bay was a transformative experience.
I had not been to California since having been conceived there . . . . insert your own witticism here. And when I had the notion in March 2010 of going to see and hear the people I so admired in their video appearances, I expected to have a good time in a new jazz setting, perhaps make a few new friends.
It was a life-altering experience: I came back to New York and said to the Beloved, “I’ve never had such a good time in my life. Do you think we could spend the summer in California?”
Fast forward to 2014, where I am writing this from Novato, with serious plans to make the Golden State my retirement home.
So if the Jazz Bash by the Bay can make one couple find love; if it can make a native New Yorker say, “I’ll move to California,” I think its powers are . . . powerful. But enough personal narratives. What’s in store for you?
As always, a wide variety of well-played music.
You can visit the site to find out if Your Favorite Band is going to be there, but here are some kinds of music that will be played: blazing stride piano in solo and duo, boogie-woogie, sweet singing in so many forms, rocking small-band swing, New Orleans ensemble polyphony, trad, Dixieland, blues, zydeco, gypsy swing, classic songs from the Great American Songbook, Jazz Age hot dance music, ragtime piano, stomp, swing, music to dance to, San Francisco jazz, washboard rhythm, music to hold hands to.
And the stars? Well . . . Ray Skjelbred, High Sierra, Carl Sonny Leyland, Bob Draga, Rebecca Kilgore Trio, Dan Barrett, Ivory and Gold, Ellis Island Boys, Marc Caparone, Le Jazz Hot, Jeff Hamilton, Dawn Lambeth, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Yve Evans, Katie Cavera, Paul Mehling, Clint Baker, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Frederick Hodges, Jim Buchmann, Eddie Erickson, Jason Wanner, John Cocuzzi, Howard Miyata, Big Mama Sue, Ed Metz, the Au Brothers, Bob Schulz, Pieter Meijers, Brady McKay, Tom Rigney, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra . . . and more, and more.
The all-important too-Much-Of-A-Good-Thing-Is-Wonderful SCHEDULE, which calls for careful planning (“If I go to see X, then I have to miss part of Y, but it puts me in a good place to be right up front for Z. Anyone have a Tylenol?”) — with four or five sessions going on at the same time.
And most important — with a Sidney Catlett drum roll or a Vic Berton tympani flourish — the GET TICKETS NOW page.
I try to hold down the didactic tendencies that four decades of standing in front of sleepy (good-natured) young men and women have solidified, but I hope readers will permit me this basic logic exercise. Festivals where people buy tickets last forever. Festivals where people don’t vanish. And then there is a wailing and a gnashing of teeth — very hard on the neighbors and harder on the dental work. I think of the California festivals that have moved into The Great Memory even in my short acquaintanceship with this state.
(Or, as William Carlos Williams — or was it Philip Larkin? — wrote: “Want it to stay? Do not delay.”)
So I hope to see throngs of friends and even strangers at the Jazz Bash by the Bay. Anything that makes live jazz in profusion go on is a good thing.
P.S. Need more evidence? Go to YouTube and type in “Dixieland Monterey,” or “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” or the name of your favorite artist. I, Rae Ann Berry, and Tom Warner, among others, have created many videos — enough to while away the hours in the most energized ways. Proof!