Tag Archives: Chicago Cubs

FAREWELL, HOT MAN

I learned on August 31 that the trumpeter / guitarist / pianist Ted Butterman, much loved in the Chicago area, had died after a long illness. I am not happy when JAZZ LIVES threatens to turn into the obituary pages, but as Linda Loman says, “Attention must be paid.”

I never met Ted, but I have a network of friends who adored and admired him, so the connection, although indirect, is there. It’s also there because an early memorable record that I love is Jim Kweskin’s JUMP FOR JOY, which features him — and it is the way I met him, sonically, perhaps fifty years ago (in the company of Marty Grosz, Kim Cusack, John Frigo, Frank Chace, and Wayne Jones):

I should write first that this post would have irritated Ted immeasurably, because, as his friend Harriet Choice told me, he could not accept compliments; praise annoyed him. So I apologize to his shade, and, rather, embark in the spirit of Ted’s friends, who played YOU RASCAL YOU at his funeral . . . followed eventually by SAINTS, which would have irked him even more — bringing wry levity to a sad time.

And here’s Ted before he came to Chicago, playing hot in San Francisco in 1958:

NASA tells me that the overall temperature of the galaxy drops whenever a hot player moves on: it’s no accident that I had to put on a jacket this morning before sitting down at the computer. (That pale joke is in Ted’s honor: Bess Wade told me he was comical by nature, with a big laugh.)

Some tales, then more music.

Tom Bartlett: He was quite a character and, of course, an excellent musician. Kim Cusack has often said that Ted was the best real musician he ever played with.

My story to share: While playing with the Cubs Band at Wrigley Field, whenever Ted spotted a TV cameraman sneaking up on the band to get a sound bite and often shoving the camera up to Ted’s trumpet bell, Ted always yelled “Rapscallian”. We immediately launched into I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You. That means that every sound bite on all TV stations in Chicago had the same piece of this tune. That was just one of Ted’s private little jokes, Our little trio HAD to play that tune at his gravesite yesterday in his memory.

Rapscallian? Ted enjoyed a play on words.

Although Ted never lost the innate heat of his playing, later in life he could be so mellow, remembering the Teddy Wilson – Billie Holiday classics of the Thirties. Here’s MISS BROWN TO YOU from a 1980 gig:

That middle-register ease makes me think of Buck Clayton, one of Ted’s heroes, and a story about fashion that Harriet Choice told me: One night Ted was playing at the Gate of Horn, and Buck Clayton walked in, horn in hand, and sat in. Ted noticed that Buck, always an elegant dresser, had a particularly lovely shirt with an unusual collar. After the gig, they went back to Ted’s apartment to swap stories, and Ted complimented Buck on the shirt, and asked him where it had come from. Buck simply removed the shirt, gave it to Ted as a token of esteem, and when the evening was over, Buck walked back to his hotel in his undershirt. Hearing this story some time later, Harriet asked Ted to put the shirt on so she could see it, and Ted flatly refused. “Oh no,” he said, “It’s sacred.”

Russ Phillips simply told me, Ted was so unlike anyone I’ve ever known and played with.

And Kim Cusack reiterated, Ted always played and sounded great, no matter the situation and/or band.  I was awed by his playing the first I got a chance to play with him in the late ’50s and he kept me awed in all the variety of bands I got a chance to play in with him.  Everything he played was exactly what it should have been. 

Here is a long interlude of Ted at work — with Kim, Frank Chace, Bob Sundstrom, Wayne Jones, John Deffauw, Ransom Knowling, Art Gronwall, and others — a 1961 gig tape, nearly two hours’ of on-the-job easy heat, given to me by Wayne. (Full disclosure: Kim told me that he didn’t think this was an outstanding example of Ted, but my feeling is that it is quite spectacular, and I can only imagine the music Kim heard that put this in the shade.)

A quirky energy ran through Ted’s playing — he was deep in the idiom but a listener can’t predict the next phrase — and that same quirky energy seems to have animated his approach to life. Harriet told me that once Ted said, “I think I’ll call Hoagy,” found our hero’s phone number in some way, called him, and they spent an hour talking about music. (Although music wasn’t his sole passion: he was an expert builder of model airplanes and loved electric trains.)

His hero was Louis, she said, which you can hear. Ted led the Cubs band at Wrigley Field for more than thirty-five years, and his was the first “five o’clock band” at Andy’s jazz club. He loved good ballads, and Harriet remembers his rendition of CABIN IN THE PINES with tears. They exchanged emails about records to take to that imagined desert island.

More music, if you please. Ted doesn’t come in until the second half, but his beautiful melodic lead and coda are precious:

I am aware that this is quite an inadequate survey of a singular person and musician. For more music, there is Ted’s own YouTube channel, quietly waiting to be marveled at, and Dave Radlauer’s treasure trove of rare live recordings, here.

For the totality, I think we’d have to gather Ted’s friends and let them share their own tales, “Remember the time when Ted . . . ?” or “Ted always used to . . . . ” I know I have provided only the most meager sample. Readers who knew him or have stories are invited to chime in.

And I’ll close with this recording. “Lucky” is not the way I feel writing another jazz obituary, but we are lucky that Ted shone his light so beautifully for us in so many ways:

May your happiness increase!

THE WINNING TEAM: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON and MARC CAPARONE (November 27, 2015)

Were you to call me a “hoarder,” I would be insulted, but I have been hoarding lovely treasures — previously unseen performance videos — since March 12, 2020, which was the last jazz gig I attended.  One of the treasures I dug up recently is a set played and sung by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at 2015 the San Diego Jazz Fest: Ray, piano and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums, Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar, with a guest appearance by Marc Caparone, cornet, on the closing song.

I’d held off on these because my place in the room didn’t allow me to see Ray at the keyboard — a pleasure I always want — and the lighting person, believing that jazz is best played in semi-darkness, had made everyone purple.  Whether it was allegiance to the Lake Isle of Innisfree or a secret love of Barney the dinosaur, I didn’t ask, but it was visually unnerving.

The music, however, was and is delightful.

I missed the first bars of James P. Johnson’s AIN’T ‘CHA GOT MUSIC? — but such lapses are, I hope, forgivable:

Many vintage jazz fans know YOU’RE SOME PRETTY DOLL in George Brunies’ UGLY CHILE — but this version has no mockery in it:

Ray loves the optimistic song LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY (from the 1935 KING OF BURLESQUE, and so do we.  Bring back the New Deal!

Marc Caparone, cornet, always welcome, joins in for I FOUND A NEW BABY, what George Avakian would call “the final blow-off”:

I know I’m out of my depth when I resort to sports metaphors, but these Cubs always win the game.  Bless them, and I hope to see a Reunion.

May your happiness increase!

 

LESSONS IN LEVITATION: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JOSH ROBERTS, MATT WEINER, JEFF HAMILTON (June 30, 2019)

An inspiration for this inspiring little band.

Thanks to the ever=devoted SFRaeAnn, we have a five-minute treatise on the most inspired floating, created in front of an audience at America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, on June 30, 2019.  The players here are Ray Skjelbred, making that old keyboard sound exactly like new; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Josh Roberts, guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And their particular text is LADY BE GOOD, by George and Ira Gershwin, first performed in 1924 and immediately taken up by jazz musicians, dance bands, and singers of all kinds — from Ben Bernie and the California Ramblers to the present day.

Perhaps because tempos in performance naturally increase, and because it is such a familiar set of chord changes (from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Incorporated recording on) it’s usually played at a brisk tempo.  This performance is a sly glide, a paper airplane dreamily navigating the air currents before coming to a gentle landing.  And — taking the Basie inspiration to new heights — this performance so lovingly balances appreciative silence with sound.

It doesn’t need my annotations: it reveals itself to anyone willing to pay attention.  Watch the faces of the musicians; hear their delighted affirmations.  As James Chirillo says, music was made:

Blessings on them all, past and present, visible and ectoplasmic.  The Cubs lift us up but never drop us down.

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER WIN FOR THE CUBS! (July 8, 2017)

I don’t know baseball well enough to carry on the analogy for the length of this sentence, but Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs are my favorite sports team.  The logic of that might not work, but you get the idea.

They performed — splendidly — as part of the annual Skjelbred California Tour — on July 8, 2017, at the Napa Valley Dixieland Jazz Society, and we have lovely videos thanks to the indefatigable chronicler of all things Skjelbred, RaeAnn Berry.  The Cubs were at full strength for this performance — no designated hitters: Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass.

Here’s a sampling:

Where Basie meets Handy, OLE MISS:

Asking the immortal question, HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?

One of my favorites, beginning with a properly martial introduction by General Hamilton, SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

For Sir Charles Thompson and Fred Robbins, ROBBINS’ NEST:

A romping SHINE:

And, for Durante and Noone in equal measure, INKA DINKA DOO:

RaeAnn captured the afternoon’s performance — twenty-three videos — so there is even more pleasure to be had from these Major League Champions.

May your happiness increase!