Marc Caparone is a hero of mine, someone who balances passion and control in the nicest individualistic ways. Here he is, heading the most quietly illustrious chamber group at his own birthday party: John “Butch” Smith, alto saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And the song — HOME, so identified with Louis, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Thomas — never fails to move me.
Home, you know, is a state of mind more than an address.
I have particular associations with this performance, having heard the Louis versions and the Jack Teagarden Keynote recording perhaps fifty years ago, and knowing the musicians here for more than a decade. Even if the song and the players are new to you, I hope the passion and joy reaches you:
Just beautiful. Here’s hoping you have your metaphysical HOME, or find one soon.
I did not take the pandemic lightly, and I spent a good deal of last year scared to bits . . . but I’m going. And I hope you will also, if you can.
Details here — but I know you want more than just details.
Although for those who like it very plain, some elementary-school math: four days, more than a hundred sets performed at eight stages, from intimate to huge. Dance floors. And the festival is wonderfully varied, presenting every kind of “roots music” you can imagine: “jazz, swing, blues, zydeco, rockabilly, Americana, Western Swing, country.”
Off the top of my head — when I was there in 2019, I heard the music of Charlie Christian, Moon Mullican, Pee Wee Russell, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Pete Johnson, Billie Holiday, and much more. Bob Wills said howdy to Walter Donaldson, which was very sweet.
And here are some of the jazz and blues artists who will be there: Carl Sonny Leyland, Duke Robillard, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Jonathan Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, Dan Walton, Marc Caparone, Joe Goldberg, Bill Reinhart, Joshua Gouzy, Joel Patterson, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Kris Tokarski, Nate Ketner, Brian Casserly, Josh Collazo, Ryan Calloway, and two dozen other worthies whose names don’t yet appear on the site. And of course, bands — ad hoc units and working ones.
For the justifiably anxious among us, here is the RCMF’s Covid update: several things stand out. First, California has mandated that ticket sales must be in advance. And understandably, there will be fewer people allowed in any space . . . so this translates for you, dear reader, as a double incentive to buy tickets early. I know that festivals always urge attendees to do this, but you can see these are atypical reasons.
How about some musical evidence?
CASTLE ROCK, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:
WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, by Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet:
REACHING FOR SOMEONE, by the Doyle-Zimmerman Sextet:
HELLO, LOLA! by Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:
SAN ANTONIO ROSE, by Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith’s Western Swing All-Stars:
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, by Marc Caparone and his “Louis Armstrong All-Stars”:
If the videos don’t act as proof, my words may be superfluous. But to paraphrase Lesley Gore, “It’s my blog and I’ll write if I want to.”
I come to this festival-jazz party circuit late — both late for me and for the phenomenon — September 2004. Chautauqua, California, Connecticut, Newcastle, Westoverledingen, and others. I’ve attended a hundred of them. Meaning no offense to any festival organizer, I think Redwood Coast delivers such quality and such range that it is astonishing. I told Mark Jansen that it was the SUPERMARKET SWEEP of festivals: so much to pick up on in so short a time. And readers will understand that my range is narrow: there is much music on the list of genres above that doesn’t stir me, although it might be excellent.
However: in 2019 I came home with over 150 videos in four days of enthusiastic observation-participation. I slept as if drugged on the plane ride home. I’d been perforated by music of the finest kind.
I also need to write a few darker sentences.
There is a blessed influx of younger people — dancers, often — to music festivals like this one. But festivals are large enterprises, costly to stage and exhausting to supervise. Those of us who want to be able to see and hear live music must know that this phenomenon needs what realistic promoters call Asses in Seats.
So if you say, “Well, I’ll come in a few years when I’m retired,” that’s understandable. But Asses at Home mean that this festival, and others, might not wait for you. Grim, but true.
So I hope to see you there. There are a million reasons to stay at home. But who will come in and dust you?
Mara Kaye sings dangerous blues. You know the kind, where the protagonist says she’s going to cut those who disobey, and you know it doesn’t mean trim their uneven bangs. I do not doubt Mara’s ferocities, but since this is a video, you can watch without fear.
The wonderful noises and story-telling below took place a little more than a year ago, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, where I spent six months of happy evenings between September 2019 and March 2020.
On February 6, Mara was joined by friends and musical family Tim McNalley, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Brian Nalepka, string bass. And she sang a bucolic little folk ditty about some of our favorite subjects:
I think that particular manifestation of OKeh Records ceased to be around 1935, although there have been later echoes. But the jazz and blues grapevine tells me that Mara and another hero, Carl Sonny Leyland, have been recording for BigTone Records and that the results will be issued sooner than later. Ain’t that good news?
This post doesn’t celebrate an occasion, a birthday, an anniversary, nor does it mourn a death. It’s here so that you, too, can have five minutes of life-affirming joyous sounds . . . and that’s enough or should be.
My meteorological souvenir from the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival.
Here are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, frolicking through the Rodgers and Hart THOU SWELL. They swing from the first note, and my favorite extra pleasure of this is watching Sonny stand up to see just what sonic alchemies Jeff is creating over at the other side of the stage.
As the title says, this was performed at the Evergreen Jazz Festival on July 26, 2o19. I wish I were booked to be there again: I can close my eyes and remember the narrow flight of stairs — blessedly, with a sturdy handrail — that led down from the building to this outdoor stage.
But the music! The propulsion! The panoply of sounds. How very SWELL:
The words “2020 has been a year of losses” are a painful understatement. One such human loss was the sudden death of the joyously energetic guitarist Little Charlie Baty, whom I met for the first and only time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, in early May 2019.
Here is one set of facts, as presented by the Sacramento Bee on March 15, 2020:
CHARLES ERIC BATY 1953-2020
Charles passed away suddenly on March 6, 2020 at age 66. He developed pneumonia and died of a heart attack while hospitalized in Vacaville. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to California in 1961. He was preceded in death by his wife Sylvia, sister Paige, and mother Patricia. Charles, a well-known Blues guitarist, taught himself to play the harmonica and guitar at the age of twelve. After graduating from U. C. Berkeley with a degree in mathematics in 1975, he worked for many years at U. C. Davis while performing music at night. In 1976 Charles and Rick Estrin formed the group Little Charlie & the Nightcats. The group signed with Alligator Records in 1987. Charles retired from the group in 2008 but continued to perform in numerous venues. Services will be held Monday, March 16, 11 am at Klumpp’s Funeral Home, 2691 Riverside Blvd. Sacramento CA 95818, followed by interment at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Those facts are useful — coordinates for us to locate ourselves in relation to Little Charlie’s sudden absence — but they are just facts.
Charlie (I find it hard to think of his gently imposing presence as “Little” in any way) was a precise, powerful player, but his appeal to me and to others was emotional. He created melodies that, even when phrased with delicacy, felt strong; his rhythms caught us; we swayed to his pulse and his lines.
So here is the story behind the performance and the performance videos I present now. I had an extraordinarily gratifying time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, listening to bands that might otherwise have been fantasies I’d dreamed of — now in the flesh, playing and singing. Most of the music I heard was in small venues (the Morris Graves Library) and a few larger halls. I walked to the cavernous Eureka Municipal Auditorium (thanks to Derral Alexander Campbell for supplying the name and also agreeing that it was “a sound man’s nightmare”) — a huge hall with a balcony running around its upper level — but a band led by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, and featuring Little Charlie; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, was scheduled to appear there.
I got to the hall early, and found an energetic band, not to my liking, more rock than jazz or blues, pummeling a rapt audience who had filled the front half of the hall. It was loud. When they had mercifully (to me, at least) finished, I looked for a seat in the front from which to video, but the happy listeners had no intention of leaving, and I climbed up to the balcony to catch my friend-heroes in action. I set up my camera (small) and my microphone (sensitive but also small) and settled in to video-record the performance.
The sound people at this festival were generally superb — and what follows may reflect my predilection for small halls and almost-or-completely unamplified sound — but whoever was running the board for this set wanted a good deal of volume to fill the hall. I have never been to a rock concert, but this sounded like rock-concert volume. The music was splendid, but I felt like a pineapple chunk in a blender, and after a few selections I left. As I walked to the next venue, I could hear the music from far away. I write this long prelude to explain the unusual sonic ambiance. I thought these videos were unusable, and when I sent them to a few of the musicians and heard no comment, I felt as if they agreed.
But this year — the desert of music as well as so much else — I thought, “Let me listen again. These are precious documents: Charlie isn’t going to play anymore,” so I offer them to you — loud, funky, good and greasy. (“Greasy,” for the timidly scrupulous, is praise.)
47th STREET JIVE, a series of life-instructions and exhortations:
CHERRY RED, a color Big Joe Turner found in life, not in a Crayola box:
FISHERMAN’S BLUES, for my pescatorian readers:
INDIANA BOOGIE: “the moonlight on the water” never sounded like this:
As I wrote yesterday here in a post featuring Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang performing CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans) at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, it’s been postponed to September 30 – October 3, 2021, and I am looking forward to being there. I’ll tell you more as those months approach, but I have already purchased a 2021 wall calendar and marked off those boxes. It’s never too early to anticipate joys.
“She plays a mean castanet.” What better compliment could one receive?
Delicious hot music from the recent past. Come closer, please.
Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang perform this venerable song, one many of you know because of Bix and Goldkette — verse and chorus, and lyrics — for our delight at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019. The gifted co-conspirators alongside Dave are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Josh Collazo, drums; Wally Hersom, string bass; Nate Ketner, clarinet; Marc Caparone, cornet.
There was no Redwood Coast Music Festival in May 2020 because of certain cosmic problems you might have been aware of. However, brothers and sisters, one is planned for September 30 – October 3, 2021. We live in hope, as my mother used to say.
Because the microphone setup doesn’t always favor rapid-fire lyrics, especially from someone so animated as Dave, I reprint the words (by Henry Creamer: music by none other than Harry Warren) so you can sing along:
VERSE: Say, look up the street, / Look up the street right now! / Hey, look at her feet, / Isn’t she neat, and how! / Oh, ain’t she a darlin’, / Oh, isn’t she sweet, / That baby you’re wild to meet! / Here comes Miss Clementine, / That baby from New Orleans, / She’s only seventeen, / But what a queen, oh my! /
CHORUS: She has those flashing eyes, / The kind that can hypnotize, / And when she rolls ’em, pal, / Just kiss your gal goodbye! / And oh, oh, oh, when she starts dancing, / She plays a mean castanet, / You won’t forget, I mean, / Down in that Creole town / Are wonderful gals around, / But none like Clementine from New Orleans! / Now, you talk about Tabasco mamas, / Lulu Belles and other charmers, / She’s the baby that made the farmers / Raise a lot of cane! / She vamped a guy named Old Bill Bailey, / In the dark she kissed him gaily, / Then he threw down his ukulele / And he prayed for rain! / Look out for Clementine, / That baby from New Orleans. / She’s only seventeen, / But what a queen, oh my! / She has two yearning lips, / But her kisses are burning pips. / They make the fellows shout, / Lay right down and die die die! / Her dancing movements / Have improvements, / She shakes a mean tambourine / Out where the grass is green. / I’ve seen asbestos dames / Who set the whole town in flames, / But none like Clementine from New Orleans!
AND “She shakes a mean tambourine”!
So, make a space on your 2021 calendar for the RCMF. Bring your partner and the family. But perhaps leave the castanets and tambourine at home.
And, to pass the time, Dave Stuckey has been doing a series of virtual Facebook broadcasts of songs — he sings, he plays. Relaxing, refreshing, and my spiritual gas tank gets filled:
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:
You may think that this blogpost has an overly serious title, but look at the sheet music below, words and music by Charles N. Daniels, who also wrote (in part or wholly) CHLOE, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, MOONLIGHT AND ROSES, and YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM — under a number of pseudonyms:
“Where shall I go?” is the question for the ages, especially for 2020. Even Lucille Benstead, “Australian Operatic Star,” with her particularly yearning expression, wants to know the healing answers. And the GPS had not yet been invented.
It used to be that one answer was “Go out and hear live music,” an option almost closed off, in the name of Prudence. But I offer an alternative: music that is still alive, even though it comes to us through a lit screen.
This frolicsome example — suggested by alto saxophonist Jacob Zimmerman — is good medicine. Helen Humes recalled that it was the first song she sang with the Count Basie band in 1938, and that’s a wonderful double endorsement.
It comes from a set at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, under the leadership of Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, with Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, performed on March 7, 2020, before the skies darkened.
I don’t know where you’re going to go, but I am going to play the video again. Better than coffee, clean sheets, a shower, or a phone call from a friend for making the soul feel as if answers are possible.
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.
Whichever way you choose to perceive it, I invite you on a wild beautiful expert ride through sounds. The creators are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums: the scene is the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 6, 2020. And you’ll understand the first photograph as soon as the video begins. Hold on tight!
I am so glad Sonny and friends and I occupy the same planet. But my feeling is that had we all been born, say, forty years earlier, we could have gone uptown so that he could astonish the other pianists . . . and John Hammond would have signed him to a recording contract.
Feeling totally alive: what a lovely spectacle to witness! And more to come.
This band was a real treat at the March 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay — their enthusiasm, their willingness to get dirty, their skill, their passions, and in a repertoire that went comfortably from Ellington to a Buck Clayton Jam Session to Johnny Dodds. I’m speaking of Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, which in that weekend’s incarnation, was Clint, trumpet; Riley Baker, trombone; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano [for this set]; Jess King, guitar, banjo, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. And today I want to share only one performance — because it knocked me out, as they used to say and still do — the groovy Ellington blues, with Rex Stewart certainly a co-composer, SOLID OLD MAN. (I worry about the punctuation of that title, but you should hear the music first.)
SOLID OLD MAN is perhaps most famous as a tune that Rex, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor brought to Europe for their recording session with Django Reinhardt — a recording session that is completely ingrained in my heart for perhaps fifty years. Note the more accurate composer credits!
But two postscripts. I taught college English for a long time (a LONG time!) and I know that punctuation makes a difference. I can see the recording supervisor at Brunswick or Master Records, after the session, saying to Ellington, “Duke, what do you call that one?” and Ellington answering in the common parlance of the time, “Solid, old man!” in the sense of “Great work!” or “I totally agree with you, my friend!” or “You and I are brothers.” But it always has had an implicit comma, a pause, as it were. And certainly an explicit exclamation point. So, to me, its title is lacking and perhaps misleading: when I see SOLID OLD MAN, I think of someone over six feet, weighing over three hundred pounds, who has been collecting Social Security for years. Perhaps a security guard at the mall.
The second postscript is not a matter of proofreading. Last night I was on Facebook (my first error) and reading a controversy in a jazz group about who was good and who was bad (my second) that got quite acrimonious. Facebook encourages bad-mannered excesses; I was uncharacteristically silent. But I noted one member of the group (an amateur string player) made a snide remark about “California Dixieland,” and when a professional musician of long-standing asked him to define what he was mocking, the speaker — perhaps having more opinions than knowledge — fell silent. Unnamed adjudicator of taste, I don’t know if you read this blog. But if you do, I suggest you listen to SOLID OLD MAN ten or twenty times to get your perceptions straight before you opine again. And those of us who know what’s good can simply enjoy the performance many times for its own singular beauties.
It’s presumptuous of me to welcome Jess King — a warm-hearted swinging singer and banjo-guitarist-percussionist — to the world, since she has been making music in the Bay Area most happily for a time. But this is the first opportunity I have to post videos of her performance, so that could count as a welcome — to JAZZ LIVES, at least. [On Facebook, she’s Jessica King Music.]
I knew of her work for some time with Clint Baker’s All-Stars at Cafe Borrone, performances documented by Rae Ann Berry, and a few other lovely videos of Jess with hero-friends Nick Rossi and Bill Reinhart, and Jeff Hamilton at Bird and Beckett, have appeared in the usual places. . . such as here, which is her own YouTube channel. I am directing you there because there are — horrors! — other people with the same name on YouTube. The impudence.
In researching this post, however, I found that my idea of “welcome” above was hilariously inaccurate, because I had posted videos of Jess singing with Clint’s band at a Wednesday Night Hop on January 8, 2014. That’s a long time back, and I am not posting the videos here because she might think of them as juvenilia, but both she and I were in the same space and moment, which shows that a) she’s been singing well for longer than I remembered, and b) that it’s a good thing that I am wielding a video camera rather than something really dangerous, like a scissors. I tell myself, “It was really dark there. I apologize.”
But enough verbiage.
Jess herself is more than gracious, and when I asked her to say where she’d come from, she wrote, “I’d say I’m inspired by blues, traditional jazz, swing, Western swing, and r&b. Vocally, Barbara Dane has been a big influence on me. I also really love Una Mae Carlisle, Peggy Lee, Nat Cole, Bessie Smith, Anita O’Day, and of course Ella Fitzgerald. I grew up listening to a lot of Nat Cole, Patsy Cline, Aretha Franklin, and Lauren Hill. Random enough for ya? 😂 Clint Baker and Isabelle Magidson have both been so good to me as mentors and dear friends. They’re a huge part of my musical growth in this community.”
Here’s Jess, with Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, on March 8, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay (the four selections taken from two sets that day). The NOJB is Clint, trumpet; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Riley Baker, trombone; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; [Jeff Hamilton is on ROSETTA]; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES:
HESITATIN’ BLUES (or HESITATING or HESITATION, depending on which sect you belong to, Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox):
and her gentle, affectionate take on SUGAR:
She has IT — however you would define that pronoun — and the instrumentalists she works with speak of her with admiration and respect. And when the world returns to its normal axis and rational behavior is once again possible, Jess has plans for her first CD under her own name. I suggested that the title be THE KING OF SING, but I fear it was too immodest for her. She makes good music: that is all I will say.
Doctor Leyland, Doctor Ramirez. By appointment only.
I’m not a practitioner of homeopathy, although I have used some of its remedies with success. But I do know that a basic principle is “like cures like”: you suffer from too much heat, you take in a remedy that increases the heat. Bear with me.
Doctor Hamilton. “May I see your insurance card?”
In gloomy times like this, my first impulse is to share the most effervescent music I can find, and I suppose that might work for some listeners. But today I am taking a homeopathic approach: offer you some gloomy groovy sounds — and please do wait for the musical punchline!
Doctor Zimmerman. Take as needed.
These four eminent medical professionals got together for a consult on Saturday, March 7, under the auspices of the Jazz Bash by the Bay, in Monterey, California: Carl Sonny Leyland, piano, vocal, and moral enlightenment; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass and mood-enhancement; Jeff Hamilton, drums and philosophical commentary; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and spiritual journeys. Under Doctor Leyland’s guidance, they performed a Dark Sonata in Bb, otherwise known as the Empty Room Blues, recorded by Memphis Slim in late 1940:
I don’t know why this makes me feel better. It would make me uncomfortable to think it was Schadenfreude — “Hey, someone’s got it worse and that’s wonderful!” — but perhaps it is the immense joy of hearing these artists bring such light-hearted expertise to a dark text. And the punchline makes me laugh.
I hope you feel better, too. Don’t hesitate to call the office if symptoms recur.May your happiness increase!
is a wonderful wiggly line, elevated by individualism and joy, expertise and passion.
I present here a glorious burst of enthusiasm — in honor of Joe Oliver and Little Louis — created by Clint Baker, trumpet; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Riley Baker, trombone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. Jess King also sang, but not on this performance. And late in the video, we have an unscheduled cameo appearance by RaeAnn Berry, the queen of Bay Area videographers. Don’t miss it.
I was privileged to witness and record this on March 8, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California.
A postscript, and those who are tired of words on a lit screen have my encouragement to skip it and watch the video again. The other night, I had an extended telephone conversation with a person who might have become a new friend, who chose to tell me that my emphasis on happiness was inexplicable, because it meant I was ignoring the full range of emotions. I wish I’d thought to play that person this DIPPER MOUTH BLUES: maybe it would have made tangible some of the things I believe in. (If art doesn’t evoke feeling, it may be splendid intellectually, but to me it seems incomplete.) And should you wonder, the conversation is not continuing. There! Ruminate on that, if you like.
For now, go and PLAY THAT THING! — whatever shape it might take. You understand that you don’t need a cornet to be joyous.
All this marvelous cure-by-swing took place over several days and nights at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California — a positively elating experience. Here’s another name for this assemblage of healing, Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band. For this weekend, they were Hal Smith, drums; Katie Cavera, string bass; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jessica King, banjo, guitar, vocal; Clint Baker, trumpet; Riley Baker, trombone; Ryan Calloway, clarinet, and for this set, Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano. As Clint explains, this combination of YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY and MOTEN SWING was inspired by a Big Joe Turner recording (BIG JOE RIDES AGAIN, Atlantic) and the blessed Buck Clayton Jam Sessions. So now you know all you need. Prepare to be uplifted. I was and continue to be so. And I can share more performances by this group.
Keep swinging . . . it’s the opposite of emotional distancing.
Clint Baker, Marc Caparone, Jeff Hamilton, Dawn Lambeth, Little Charlie Baty at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 2019
The profoundly swinging guitarist and admirable man Little Charlie Baty has died of a coronary at 67. I promised myself I would not make this site a necrophile’s amusement park, but I make exceptions for people I knew, people who made strong impressions, and Charlie was one. I was only in contact with him last May, but his loss is fierce to me.
Saturday night, Marc Caparone joined the conversation at the Jazz Bash by the Bay to tell us that Charlie was gone. I was physically stunned. It was sadly appropriate that we should get the news from Marc, because he was the first person to ever mention Charlie’s name — this guitarist who played just like Charlie Christian, who really swung, who was genuine. I filed that praise away, as one does, hoping that I would hear Charlie in the flesh — which happened at the Redwood Coast Music Festival.
I have evidence, which I treasured when it was happening, treasured through watching and re-watching, and treasure more now — video recordings from May 11 and 12, 2019. I am reproducing the links in full, not my usual practice, in hopes that readers will stop what they are doing and dig in.
First, a groovy set with boogie, blues, and a lovely HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN:
A few thoughts. Marc told me of Charlie playing I GOT RHYTHM for twenty-five choruses and making the crowd stand up and cheer. I can believe it: Charlie would have been very happy at the Reno Club in Kansas City c. 1936.
Charlie could thrill a crowd, but virtuosity for its own sake wasn’t what he came for — flaming the fretboard, as a guitarist friend once called it. He lived the music and he lived to share the feelings of songs with us. So his playing was strongly melodic, even through the runs and blue notes, the sharp dynamics, the small dramas-in-swing, the shifting harmonies and variations on variations. A Baty solo was like a short story: it proceeded logically from start to finish; you could analyze its architecture after the fact, although at the time you were swept along by invention and momentum.
He rocked, to put it simply. And he knew it, so part of the pleasure was watching a master’s sweet assurance in his craft.
When I first saw him in person, my five-boroughs skepticism kicked in. This was “Little Charlie“? This broad-shouldered man, like me, might wear a suit from the Portly section (a good deal of real estate in front, around the belt buckle) which he carried without embarrassment: Here I am, and I don’t have a problem with myself. If you do, find another damn place.
His assurance wasn’t arrogance, but it was an easy, perhaps hard-won, self-knowledge, and I saw him as an experienced ship’s captain, later a tribal chieftain, as he told a few stories to us after the set.
When I introduced myself to him, he was gracious in an unfussy way and he made me feel comfortable. Later, when I shared the ecstatic videos with him, he was splendidly grateful and gracious — in private and in public. I saw him in person for perhaps three hours and exchanged a dozen sentences with him in person, and perhaps another handful of emails and Facebook call-and-responses.
So why do I feel so bereft, why is there a large space in the universe where Little Charlie Baty was, and now is not?
To me, both in his playing and in the way he carried himself — powerful yet sometimes understated — he radiated an authenticity, a disdain for posing, that will remain admirable to me. One way to walk through the world; one way to make the air full of melody.
Goodbye, Charlie. Swing out. And thanks for your brief, blazing visit to my world.
This post is more or less to amuse myself before the Jazz Bash by the Bay begins tomorrow, but you can come along as well. I have just completed, or perhaps begun, the most intense loop of jazz travel I can recall. It began with my happy viewing of Nancy Harrow and Will Pomerantz’s play, ABOUT LOVE, which is the subject of yesterday’s blogpost. (“Don’t miss it” is the edited version).
Yesterday, I went to Philadelphia (the World Cafe Live) to hear, witness, and record Marty Grosz’s ninetieth birthday party, and after that I flew to Monterey, California, to the Portola Hotel and Conference Center, where I write these words.
I am sorry that Dan Barrett isn’t attending the Bash this year — for many reasons, but were he to see me with that button and ribbon pinned to my shirt, he would walk over and put his palm on the ribbon and push. “It says PRESS.” But I shall go on.
On Thursday, at about 2 PM, I asked a favor of a neighbor who gave me — and my knapsack of video gear — a lift to the train station. Once there, I found Amtrak (twenty minutes late) and eventually got to Philadelphia, where (once again) I imposed on a friend — this time Joe Plowman, a stellar fellow whether playing the string bass or not — to take me to the World Cafe Live.
The Marty Party was a delight, and, yes, if the Tech Goddess favors me, there will be video evidence. I asked Danny Tobias and Lynn Redmile for a lift back to the 30th Street Station, and Dan Block and I rode back to New York City — arriving around 1:20 AM on Friday. Dan went off to his home, about four subway stops away, but the next train to my suburban Long Island town was two hours later, so I asked the first cabbie in a line of cabs what he would charge; we settled on a price, and we were off. (He had been a lawyer in Egypt, by the way). Around 2:15 I was home and went to sleep for what I knew would only be a brief interlude. My alarm went off, as planned, at 7; I did what was needed and got in my car to drive to parking for Kennedy Airport. At 11:30 we were airborne; I arrived in Monterey close to 6 PM. (I have adjusted none of this for New York and California time zones, but you can imagine that my eyelids are heavy.)
I really have no idea what time it actually is in my body clock, but will find out. I can tell you that this travel rhapsody will have cost me about fifteen hundred dollars when it is all through. I am blessedly fortunate to have that money, but the pleasure of seeing Marty Grosz, Vince Giordano, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Danny Tobias, Randy Reinhart, Brennan Ernst, Joe Plowman, Jack Saint Clair, Jim Lawlor, meeting people in the flesh whom I’d only known in cyberspace — one night! — as well as receiving an autographed copy of Marty’s autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE: MY LIFE IN JAZZ (Golden Valley Press) . . . .and from tomorrow on, seeing Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Hal Smith, Le Jazz Hot, and more — that pleasure is and will be uncountable in mere currency. And unless you knew my past life well, the immense freedom to do what I want is bliss, a bliss I hadn’t always been able to have.
Someone asked me last week why I wore a Louis Armstrong button, and without thinking, I said, “He taught me how to live my life,” which I was proud of saying. I know that CABARET was written by Kander and Ebb, but I encourage you to take three minutes or so and listen — I mean listen — to Louis’s 1966 version (the one with strings).
That song, and Louis’ performance of it, has a special relevance for me at this moment. Friends and family are devoting their energies to being afraid of the Coronavirus. I hear of their buying masks and hand sterilizer, stocking up on food and water for when “the lockdown” comes, restricting their travel. I can hear their voices over the phone, trying to mask their frightened disapproval, when I say I am getting on a plane in perhaps ninety hours to fly to Monterey for the Jazz Bash by the Bay, which begins March 5. “You’re getting on a plane, Michael? Well, be careful not to to touch your face. You could wear a pair of gloves . . . ”
Their caution might be well-founded. I could contract the virus, it could turn into pneumonia, I could die. Or, I could get hit by a Range Rover as I cross the street, even when I have the light in my favor. I’m not being facetious. And I hear the voices of my loving over-cautious parents, “Be careful. Be careful!”
But the opposite of Fear is Courage, and Courage has as its reward Joy. If I stay home, I won’t hear these fellows play and sing:
So I’m on my way to Monterey on Thursday morning, and here‘s the schedule, a wondrous hot-jazz version of Ceres’ cornucopia. You pick: stay at home with those books you’ve been promising yourself to read, and perhaps some takeout as a treat, or venture forth with plans to live joyously. (I know some of you can’t fly to Monterey, but adapt my encouragements to your own neighborhood.)
It’s never too early to get prepared for joy, especially the varieties that the Jazz Bash by the Bay delivers so generously. (An All-Events badge is available at a discount before December 31, so if thrift makes your eyes gleam, check here.) Now.
I’ve been attending this March festival every year since 2011 (I missed 2018) and have fond memories. I could write a good deal about the pleasures of this grouping of musicians and fans, and the pleasures of being able to walk around a truly charming town center . . . or the pleasure of being a guest at the Portola Hotel and Spa, with the music just a trot away, but I will simply direct you to the Bash’s website, where you can find out such useful information as the dates (March 6-8), the band schedule (not available yet), ticket prices, and the bands themselves.
For me, the bands and guest stars are the reason to come to a particular festival, so I will list them here (as of January 2020) so you can see the delights to be had. First, the Musician of the Year is my hero Marc Caparone, so even though I doubt there will be a parasol-laden coronation, I want to be there to see the rites and praises. Then, guest stars Bob Draga, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Dawn Lambeth, Eddie Erickson, Gary Ryan, Jeff Barnhart, Jerry Krahn, and Katie Cavera. The bands: Blue Street Jazz Band, Bye Bye Blues Boys Band, Carl Sonny Leyland Trio, Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, Cornet Chop Suey, Crescent Katz, Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Fast Mama Excitement, Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Ivory&Gold, Le Jazz Hot, Midiri Brothers, Sierra Seven, Tom Rigney and Flambeau, We Three (Thursday only), Yve Evans and Company, and the Zydeco Flames.
Looking at the 2019 schedule, the Bash offered four simultaneous sessions for full twelve-hour days on Friday and Saturday, and a half day on Sunday . . . one hundred and fifty sessions, including full bands, singers, solo and duo pianos, youth bands, sets for amateur jammers, and more. Even someone like myself, who doesn’t fell compelled to see and hear everything, finds it a delightfully exhausting experience. There’s a separate Thursday-night dance and an appearance by We Three, and I quote: “Kick off Jazz Bash by the Bay on Thursday, March 5, 2020, with a big band dance party featuring Clicktrax Jazz Orchestra. Attendees will enjoy danceable swing and traditional jazz at the Portola Hotel and Spa from 7:30 to 11 pm. Admission is $25.00. Also, in a Special One-Night-Only appearance, the hit trio We3 featuring Bob Draga, Jeff Barnhart, and Danny Coots will be playing from 7 to 8:30 pm. Admission is $30.00. Add the dance for $20 more. All tickets can be purchased by phone, mail, online or at the door.”
Did you notice that there is an Early Bird All-Events Badge at a discount if you order before December 31, 2019? Yes, I repeat myself: details here.
For me, a post advertising a particular festival is not effective unless some musical evidence can be included. I broke one of my rules — that is, there are musicians in the 2011-19 videos below who do not appear at this year’s Bash, and I apologize to them if anyone’s feelings are bruised. But I started to go through the 200+ videos I’d posted of various Monterey Bashes, and some of them were do fine that I couldn’t leave them out. You’ll get a panoramic sense of the wide variety of good, lively, inventive music that happens here. And each video has a detailed description of who’s playing and singing, and when it happened.
an old song, swung, 2019:
Becky and the blues:
the late Westy Westenhofer:
Ivory&Gold (Jeff and Anne Barnhart):
Paolo Alderighi, Phil Flanigan, Jeff Hamilton:
Katie Cavera and the Au Brothers:
Bob Schulz and the Frisco Jazz Band:
Allan Vache, John Sheridan, John Cocuzzi, Paul Keller, Ed Metz:
Hot Strings at Monterey 2011:
a jam session with Bryan Shaw, Jeff Barnhart, Dan Barrett, Marc Caparone, John Reynolds, Katie Cavera, Ralf Reynolds:
Carl Sonny Leyland, Marty Eggers, Jeff Hamilton, performing Sonny’s composition that insures that no rodents visit the Portola during the Bash:
It might seem a long way away, but it isn’t. And it’s a truly enjoyable event.
Festivals and jazz parties make it possible for me to greet old friends again and bask in their music, but a great thrill is being able to meet and hear someone I’ve admired for years on record — people who come to mind are Bent Persson, Jim Dapogny, Ray Skjelbred, Carl Sonny Leyland, Rebecca Kilgore, Hal Smith (it’s a long list) and now the wonderful pianist John Royen, whom I met for the first time at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest.
At work / at play, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera. Photo by Alex Matthews.
For John’s New Orleans Rhythm, the first set, he was joined by Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums. I hear someone’s therapy dog, or an audience member was whimpering with delight.
SOME OF THESE DAYS:
That was Friday. We didn’t see John, and Conal Fowkes took his place at a set; we heard that John had decided (not really) on an internal home improvement, and had had a defibrillator installed at a nearby hospital. This surprised me, because his beat has always been terribly regular.
But he reappeared magically on Sunday, looking like himself. Virginia Tichenor graciously ceded some of her solo piano time so that he could play. And play he did.
His solo playing was both assertive and delicate, spicy yet respectful of the originals. John’s relations with the audience are so charming . . . and his playing, while not always fast or loud, is lively — lit brightly from within.
The Lion’s HERE COMES THE BAND:
ATLANTA BLUES, or MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:
and John’s delightful improvisations on MY INSPIRATION:
There will be a Part Two: John with Joe Goldberg, Marty Eggers, Riley Baker, and a brief visit from John Otto. An honor to encounter the Captain, who creates such good music.
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.
Ann Ronell’s 1932 song is a terribly sad one, a story of romance that failed. Here is the verse that few sing — perhaps because it is so openly melancholy:
Oh Lord, why did you send the darkness to me? Are the shadows forever to be? Where’s the light I’m longing to see? Oh Lord, once we met by the old willow tree Now you’ve gone and left nothing to me Nothing but a sweet memory.
But the instrumental version I present here — although its hues are dark — does not leave this listener feeling despondent. Rather, I admire the technical, lyrical, and emotional mastery of these players: Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, in this performance recorded at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival:
One reason I call this post PARADOXES OF FEELING is that the five people playing such gloriously sad music are not in themselves depressives — to them it’s another artistic opportunity to enter an emotional world, fully inhabit it, and then move on to something of a different hue, perhaps CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN, and “be” that song as well.
Another reason, more personal, is that tomorrow morning, when it is still quite dark, I will be driving to the airport to travel to the San Diego Jazz Fest, where this band and others will work marvels right in front of us. The other bands? Hal Smith’s “On the Levee Jazz Band,” Grand Dominion, the Yerba Buena Stompers, John Royen’s New Orleans group, the Carl Sonny Leyland trio, the Chicago Cellar Boys, and too many others to mention . . . to say nothing of attending everyone’s set. I’ll see my friends and heroes Jeff Hamilton, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Katie Cavera, and others — even if only in passing in the halls.
If I’m not laid low by a spoiled avocado or attacked by an enraged fan who wants to know why his favorite band doesn’t receive sufficient coverage on JAZZ LIVES, I will return with evidence of beauties, sad or joyous, to share with you.