Dave Stuckey is a beacon of swing and fun, presenting both while compromising neither. He lives the double truth, that jazz can be hilarious without being childish, and that entertainment can be high-level art, simultaneously satisfying. Before the band comes in, he’s set a danceable groove, and even people like myself, who leave their seats only when the set is over, feel it. Although Google Maps will tell you something else, Dave and the Hot House Gang are firmly situated at the intersection of Cindy Walker Drive and Fats Waller Terrace, which is to say the mid-Thirties meadow where sad songs were swung so hard that we couldn’t remember how sad they actually were. And he feels the music: no postmodern irony for this fellow.
Here’s a little Blue Suite, performed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on September 29, 2022, with the best cast of characters: Dave, guitar, vocal, and inspirations; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, tenor saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, keyboard; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.
First, Fats’ BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, which (as its lyrics would suggest) is usually slow, verging on the melodramatic (or in the case of Fifties’ Louis, the operatic). But Fats and his Rhythm made a 12″ 78 of this tune for Victor in 1937, completely instrumental and at a faster tempo. Dave sings it but also nudges it along into late-Thirties swing dance tempo:
then, almost without a break, into BLUE DRAG, which many know from early Django:
But no one in the audience felt blue. That’s what Dave does. What a spirit, and what a band!
Dawn Lambeth has been one of my favorite singers for more than fifteen years now. I’d never heard of her (such is the East Coast / West Coast divide in Jazz America) until I was asked to review her CD, MIDNIGHT BLUE, for the much-missed Mississippi Rag, and I was astonished. Her lovely voice, her warm phrasing, her love of the melody, her understanding of the lyrics — all splendidly touching. She swings; she embodies the great traditions but sounds like herself, understated and passionate at the same time.
And I could marvel at her work in a variety of contexts at the most recent Redwood Coast Music Festival. Here she is with Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang: Dave, guitar, vocals, and fun; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.
Many people feel that singing isn’t, after all, so difficult. You learn a song by listening to recordings, perhaps you ask friends who play what key you are singing in, you hope to remember the lyrics and to not hang on to the mike stand too ostentatiously, the pianist plays four bars, you open your mouth — and look, ma, I’m singing! Nice clothing, good hair — also essential.
But this art is so much more complex, and it rests on the dual mastery of the song (how to get from one note to another with grace and personality, and then, how to courageously improvise and land well) and the lyrics (what do those words actually mean? what’s “the story” here? where should I take a breath?) and the deeper understanding of the emotions a song is meant to stir. I could be very wrong here, but an eighteen-year old might not sing THANKS FOR THE MEMORY with the deep rueful sensitivity that the song requires, in the same way that same youthful striver might not deeply understand the feelings of a literary character.
And there’s an even more difficult art — drama without acting — or how to make a group of people in a large hall, through your voice and gesture sent through a microphone, feel the nuances that composer, lyricist, and singer must convey.
I write this perhaps discouraging prelude to simply say that Dawn Lambeth not only knows how to do these rare things, but she embodies the art of communicating information and feeling while the notes roll on. We know, in the song I am about to present here, the joy of past experience and the ruefulness that the experiences are past.
THESE FOOLISH THINGS, by Jack Strachey and Eric Maschwitz (and perhaps Harry Link), has been sung often since its emergence in 1935, and inexperienced singers can make the melody a series of predictable steps, the lyrics a shopping list of sentimental fragments of memory. It has been sung so often that in the wrong hands, its sharp edges have been blurred. But Dawn reaches into the song, without overacting, and offers us the novella of love unattained but recalled that it really is. Hear her poignant variations on “You conquered me!” and know what this rare art truly is.
So moving. Thank you so much, Dawn and friends, for these tender, candid moments.
WHY DON’T YOU PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH has a strong pedigree: recordings by Henry “Red” Allen, the Boswell Sisters, Adrian’s Ramblers, 1934 dance bands, and more. (There are two delightfully odd versions on YouTube — a 1935 duet on film by vaudevillians Blossom Seeley and Benny Davis, and a nearly surrealistic piano / vocal explosion by Speckled Red . . . for you to investigate as you might.)
I suspect that the gentleman in the drawing is “all alone by the telephone,” waiting for the call, promised, that hasn’t arrived.
And for those who want to learn the verse or see the original chords, here is a sample of what people in 1934 would have to practice:
I am certain that the stern patriarch of American popular song, Alec Wilder, would have furrowed his brow over this one: its limited melody, relying on simple patterns and repeated notes (a particular Wilder irritation), and its conversational lyrics with perhaps predictable rhymes. But one could say some of the same things about a number of Berlin songs, and PREACH sticks in the mind. Is it because it is singable? Or is the easy colloquial nature of the lyrics part of the charm — one can imagine a writer in the Brill Building saying in a cranky voice, “For God’s sake, Harry, why don’t you practice what you preach?” and Harry, as they did in films, pushing his fedora back from his forehead and saying, “Say that again. We got a song there!”
But I think the appeal of the song is its light-hearted but serious approach to a universal situation. Who among us has been promised something — and I don’t mean thin-crust pizza, but fidelity, devotion, monogamy — to find that the verbal promise was not matched by behavior. This isn’t a “You lied to me and now it’s all over” aria, but it is, “Why don’t you cut out what you’re doing and be straight with me?” which is all too often the song in our heads.
This performance comes from the second set the OAO and I enjoyed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: Dave Stuckey, guitar, voice, and focused enthusiasm, led his Hot House Gang: Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, tenor saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, keyboard, Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums, with the very special guest Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor saxophone. I have heard Dave perform this song before, so I was ready for joy, and I was entranced by the “right” tempo, the glee club effects, the general we’re-rockin’-this-town spirit, all the way to the vocal triple ending. I loved it in the moment and I love it now. I hope you dig it too:
So swing out. But heed the sermon of Deacon Stuckey. Get yourself together. It’s easier to tell the truth. Collect friends, not enemies. And don’t let your mouth write checks your tail feathers can’t cash. Amen, brothers and sisters.
See you at the 2023 Redwood Coast Music Festival . . . even if you bring all your sins with you in checked luggage.
Some people want to see the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the pyramids at Tulum, the Northern Lights . . . . I’ve done some of those things, but what I want in 2022 is to return to the Redwood Coast Music Festival. Keep your monuments: they’ll be around in November. This festival is enduring, but it was made to take a nap in 2020 and 2021 for reasons that should be clear. I was there in 2019 and had the time(s) of my life. So, in less than three weeks, “if the creeks don’t rise,” or “if breath lasts,” (you pick) the OAO and I will be there, grinning and eager, flushed with anticipation.
I should say right here that this post is an unsubtle but perhaps necessary encouragement to all my jazz friends and colleagues to get off their couches and chairs, stop inspecting those books and labels, and enjoy the real thing, fresh, vivid, and multi-hued.
To make it easier to buy tickets, hear sound samples, have questions answered, and more, visit http://rcmfest.org/ (and be dazzled). If someone’s name is unfamiliar to you, the site is the equivalent of an old-fashioned record store’s listening booth.
Kris Tokarski and Hal Smith will be there:
Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, and Dan Walton too:
Jonathan Doyle, Steve Pikal, and Charlie Halloran will be around:
Dave Stuckey and Western Swing pals as well:
Island spice from Charlie and the Tropicales:
Carl Sonny Leyland also:
Thursday and Friday, September 29 and 30:
Again, friends and connoisseurs, that’s http://rcmfest.org/. It is a very congenial experience — even the musicians I know, who are often downtrodden and vocal about it, praise the management, the environment, and more. Good sound technicians, volunteers who don’t shoot first and ask questions later, and a strip of good restaurants in Eureka, a town with a lovely mural and kind feelings.
Also, if you haven’t gleaned it from the schedules, the RCMF is beautifully expansive.
I went to my first jazz party / weekend / festival in 2004, so I speak from experience. As budgetary pressures made themselves ominously evident, festivals shrank. There might still be five sets a day, but the cast of characters was a dozen musicians, changing places on stage. A certain airlessness set in, as if we’d paid for an all-you-can-eat buffet and every dish was based on canned salmon and green beans. And such constriction made itself heard in the setlists.
No, the RCMF has many musicians, simultaneous sets, and a variety of approaches: zydeco, rhythm’n’blues, soul, New Orleans jazz, piano boogie-woogie, Fifty-Second Street flavors, Western Swing, country, Americana, “roots,” Louis, Jelly, Duke, Joplin, and everyone in between. I delight in the rich menu; I despair of getting to hear all the good sounds.
I won’t run through the usual didactic sermon about how festivals require active support (I mean people willing to go there and pay for the music) but I will note that every time a jazz fan doesn’t go to a festival when they could have, an angel dies. Clarence never gets his wings. Do you want that on your conscience?
TEN YEARS, by the Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith Western Swing All-Stars:
JULIANNE, by Charlie [Halloran] and the Tropicales:
I am very excited by this news that the Redwood Coast Music Festival is returning. It gives my native optimism fertile soil to grow in. This festival is a friendly sustained explosion of some of the best musical talent I know.
Here are some of the glorious people who will be there, singing and playing. Dave Stuckey, Marc Caparone, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Twerk Thomson, Kris Tokarski, Charlie Halloran, Jonathan Doyle, Joel Paterson, Dawn Lambeth, Brian Casserly, Dave Bennett, T.J. Muller, Katie Cavera, Jacob Zimmerman, Duke Robillard, Jessica King, Ryan Calloway, Riley Baker, Chris Wilkinson, James Mason, Jamey Cummins, Josh Collazo, Tom Rigney, Sam Rocha, Nate Ketner, Dave Kosymna, Alex Hall, Beau Sample, Dan Walton, John Gill, Jontavious Willis, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, and more. And more.
The festival runs from Thursday evening to Sunday evening (September 29 to October 2) and there are either five or six simultaneous sets. Simultaneous. I emphasize this because I got the most charming vertigo trying to plot a course through the tentative schedule, an exercise in Buddhist non-attachment or chess (which I never learned): “I want to see X at 5:30 but that means I can’t see Y then, but I can see Y the next day.”
I’ve only been to Redwood Coast once, in 2019, a transcendent experience and I don’t overstate: the only festival that made me think longingly of hiring a camera crew of at least two friends so that we could capture some portion of the good(ly) sounds. one of the nicest things about this festival is its broad love of energized passionate music: jazz, blues, swing, country, zydeco, soul, rhythm and blues, “Americana,” “roots” — you name it.
Did I mention that there’s room for dancing?
Are some of the names listed above unfamiliar to you? Go here to learn more about the artists and see videos of their work
You can buy tickets here. And maybe you’ll think this is the voice of entitlement, but an all-events pass — four days! — is $135, at least until August 1.
Here’s one more musical convincer from 2019:
Remember, every time it rains it rains PENNIES FROM HEAVEN — in this case, rare musical experiences. But you can’t catch them in your ears or outstretched hands by staying at home.
Jazz festivals are like people you meet on a first date: some make you look for the exit within five minutes; some you warm to in spite of their odd ways; some you fall for wholeheartedly. The Redwoood Coast Music Festival is my best example of the festival-as-heartthrob.
I’ve only been there once — the green hills and endless vistas that 2019 now seems to be — but I can’t wait to go back. And I spent 2004-20 chasing festival delights in New York, Cleveland, California, England, and Germany, so I have some experience from which to speak.
But why should my enthusiasm matter to you? For all you know, I am being paid wheelbarrows of currency to write this. (I promise you it ain’t so.) Let’s look at some evidence. Caveat: not everyone seen and heard in my 2019 videos is coming to the 2022 festival, but they will serve as a slice of heavenly experience.
Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND plays IDA:
The Carl Sonny Leyland – Little Charlie Baty Houserockers turn our faces a bright CHERRY RED:
The Jonathan Doyle Swingtet ensures everyone has a CASTLE ROCK:
An interlude for prose.
The poster shows that this is no ordinary jazz festival, relying on a small group of bands and singers within a particular idiom. No, the RCMF offers an aural tasting menu astonishing in its breadth and authenticity.
And hilariously that causes problems — ever since Sir Isaac Newton pointed out that no one can be two places at once, the RCMF makes me want to smack Sir Isaac and say in a loud whine, “Why CAN’T I see / record three groups at three separate venues at once? It’s not fair.” Even I, someone who doesn’t feel the same way about zydeco as I do about swinging jazz, had moral crises at every turn because the variety of delicious choices set out for me eight times a day was overwhelming. (At some festivals, I had time to sit outside and leisurely eat gelato with friends: no such respites at the RCMF. A knapsack full of KIND bars and water bottles just won’t be enough: I need a whole medical staff in attendance.)
What else needs to be said? The prices are more than reasonable, even in these perilous times, for the value-calculation of music per dollar. If you don’t go home sated, you haven’t been trying hard enough. And the couple who seem to be everywhere, helping people out, Mark and Val Jansen, are from another planet where gently amused kindness is the universal language.
Some more music, perhaps?
Walter Donaldson’s LITTLE WHITE LIES by the Jonathan Doyle – Jacob Zimmerman Sextet:
A Charlie Christian tribute featuring Little Charlie Baty and Jamey Cummins on guitar for SEVEN COME ELEVEN:
Asking the musical question, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THE MILL? — Elana James, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, and assorted gifted rascals:
Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales play TABU. Hand me that glass:
KRAZY KAPERS, irresistibly, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:
BLUE LESTER, from Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:
So . . . even though the world, as delineated in the headlines, is so uncertain, consider ungluing yourself from your chair at the end of September. Carpe the damn diem, as we say.
http://www.rcmfest.org/ is the festival’s website; here they are on Facebook. Make it so that something wonderful is, as Irving Berlin wrote, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD for you, for all of us:
I first met Mara Kaye in November 2014, when she was singing the blues with the Yerba Buena Stompers at the San Diego Jazz Festival. “Singing the blues” doesn’t quite express the intriguing cognitive dissonance she created. Imagine a very commanding young woman, dressed as if for a trendy gang meeting in her native Brooklyn, singing the fatal blues of Victoria Spivey (the general theme being either “You broke my heart so you will die,” or “Don’t mess with me or . . . ” you can fill in the blank) with stomp and swerve.
Later on, other foremothers poked their noble heads in through the curtain: Fanny Brice, Memphis Minnie, Billie Holiday. So hearing a performance by Mara is rather like inviting one dear friend over for dinner and finding out that six other women — ready to party or to be very tender — are coming in, and they want to know what there is to eat. Mara doesn’t have multiple-personality disorder, and she isn’t just a gifted impersonator (think Rich Little over 4/4) but she is a complex assortment of musical selves. However, they all have the same roots: passion, tenderness, wit, intensity, ferocity, love, and swing.
Ever since I was allowed to approach Mara — once she established that I was not a stereotypical character in one of her dangerous Twenties blues and that I knew what kugel was — (both qualifications for admission to the clubhouse) I have admired her many selves, recorded her in performance, and nagged her, “When are you going to ‘make a record’ or record a CD, for goodness’ sake?”
And now she’s done just that. True, it’s a little shorter than the standard long-winded CD, but its essence is powerful. (The analog sound is gorgeous.) And this EP on BigTone Records has room for all of her selves.
At some point — one of those turning points we have in our lives — Mara and Carl Sonny Leyland found each other as musical pals, conspirators, eggers-on, and more. Sonny is a hero of mine and so many other people — an emotional dynamo at the keyboard, an invaluable partner and accompanist.
Mara and Sonny adapt themselves to the song they are doing at the moment: they unzip it and climb inside, making themselves the song’s and making the song theirs . . . a complicated verbal formulation, I admit, but immediately audible on each track. The CD is called IT HAD TO BE YOU, and I am deeply fond of this title track, yearning, passionate, content — and grittily open-hearted, a one-act play featuring two actors making the familiar script new:
IT HAD TO BE YOU is so often performed that its emotional contours have been flattened by over-exposure. Without overdramatizing, Mara and Sonny make it beautifully inevitable, making us feel the HAD.
The other songs on this disc are equally intense performances. DYSTOPIAN BLUES, composed by Mara, Alfred Howard, and guitarist Tim McNalley, expresses the angst we feel when we read the news; BLACK SHEEP BLUES is a wondrously gritty mixture of barroom piano and singing that seems to come from Mara’s deep center; Lonnie Johnson’s IN LOVE AGAIN seems a quiet rueful meditation on that subject; in other hands, GOING CRAZY WITH THE BLUES and Memphis Minnie’s STOP LYING ON ME might simply be ancient blues to be “covered” by modern musicians, but Mara and Co. aren’t archaeologists approaching the past with white gloves. The life I hear on this disc erases any distance between us and the original recordings or some dim idea of “the past”: the music and emotions are forceful and immediate, passions honed sharp as a new knife.
I’ve mentioned Sonny Leyland, who lights the way always, but the other musicians on this disc are equally devoted to the ideal of what this music should be: Jon Atkinson doubles guitar and string bass (on the first instrument, reminding me happily of Teddy Bunn); Tim McNalley plays guitar; Randall Ball is on string bass also.
The music feels real, and to me that is what matters. Physical discs can be purchased directly from Mara at marakaye.com or you can, as they say, “find her on Facebook”; the music can be downloaded from Apple Music, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp . . . probably at Petco, Costco, and service stations everywhere, which is only right.
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.