Tag Archives: Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon

MUSIC FOR TWO PIANOS, AS IMAGINED, CREATED, AND PERFORMED BY RAY SKJELBRED and CARL SONNY LEYLAND, PART TWO (March 9, 2014)

The music you are about to experience was created on the spot at JazzAge Monterey’s 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay — by two of the most expansive improvisers I know: expansive in the sense of imagination and feeling and play. Together and singly,they have  the years of experience that allow them to envision something musical and give it physical shape at the keyboard so that we can rejoice in it.

Exquisitely dancing at the piano, they offer us a magical balance of power and control, abandon and exactness. I do not exaggerate when I speak of Ray Skjelbred and Carl Sonny Leyland, wizards of sound. Here are four more selections from their hour-long offering.

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

WININ’ BOY BLUES:

FAN IT (always good advice!) then OH, BABY!:

You’ll notice a few things. One is how the two deep individualists here blend their singular styles so that their individual selves are never obscured, but they pool their efforts for the larger community of four hands and two keyboards.  Two is that the chosen repertoire bounces back and forth between romping tunes — pop or blues — and deep dark sad mournful utterances . . . covering the whole emotional range, whether evoking Alex Hill, the Chicagoans, Jelly Roll Morton, or Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, the last a name and presence to be reckoned with.

Finally, a cinematographic comment. I wanted to be as close to the pianos as possible for the clearest sound, but even with my wide-angle lens, I had to pan back and forth, which means that at times one can’t see what Ray is doing while Carl is playing, and vice versa.  Sorry about this . . . to be deeper in to the auditorium would give me more muddy sound and (I fear) a bad case of head-in-the-way. I have been listening to these videos through headphones — no picture — and find them particularly entrancing.

My previous posting of the final song of the set, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, can be found here.

Blessings on people who get deep in to the blues and who can romp ecstatically: Ray Skjlebred and Carl Sonny Leyland are two noble souls of those realms.

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TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AT THE IAJRC: THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF JAZZ RECORD COLLECTORS

The IAJRC — the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors –is worth investigating.  Record labels come and go; jazz magazines and clubs surface and vanish, but the IAJRC keeps rolling on.

I have to say that I’ve always found the IAJRC’s title a little misleading.  “Jazz record collectors,” to some, are gentlemen of a certain age who prefer the great indoors; who can rattle off matrix numbers of obscure Argentinian Odeons — the objects of satire, puzzlement, even pity.

The IAJRC members I know don’t fit that stereotype.  More than a few are women.  Many are employed, have families and spouses;  go out in daylight; can have conversations about subjects beyond the unissued LITTLE BY LITTLE.  So if you are reading this post and feeling interested . . . but worried that you will become a swing-Stepford-wife . . . have no fear of collector-contagion.

Seriously, the IAJRC and its members do so much more for and about the music than just acquire these precious artifacts.  Yes, they collect “records,” but that means everything from early ragtime to free jazz, from cylinders to film and video.  And their aim is ultimately to shed light on the accomplishments of the artists they (and we) admire.

And (here I quote), the IAJRC aims “to advance the cause of jazz music by creating more recognition of the great jazz musicians, by creating an atmosphere favorable to increased public acceptance of jazz as a great American art form, and by attracting more young musicians, listeners and patrons of the art into the field of jazz music.”

They accomplish this in several ways — publishing the quarterly IAJRC JOURNAL and other monographs; encouraging various kinds of research; holding meetings where the members can exchange ideas, information, and hear live jazz.

By the way, the IAJRC has a lively new website: here

And they have a Facebook page:  here.

The 2012 IAJRC Convention is being held in New Orleans — in a four-star hotel at the corner of Canal and Bourbon (a sufficiently atmospheric location for the jazz GPS).   It will take place on September 6-8, and will be full of presentations (scholarly / swinging), good friendship and live music.  (My friend Tom Hustad will be giving a presentation on Ruby Braff, complete with video from Ruby’s final recording session — something remarkable!)

The 2011 Convention, by the way, featured creative hot jazz from groups led by our own Mike Durham and the talented Digby Fairweather; the 2010 Convention had the West End Jazz Band with our young hero Andy Schumm.

I have the most recent issue of the JOURNAL — over a hundred large-format pages — and I’ve been reading and admiring it for the last week.  There are serious extended research essays on Jimmy Joy’s Orchestra (complete with the band’s itinerary and rare photographs) and a study of “Black Europe” — early African-American musicians venturing beyond the United States — or the photographs of Camarillo State Mental Hospital, where Charlie Parker recuperated.  More: pages of enthusiastic record reviews, spanning the whole spectrum of recorded jazz.  A chapter of “life-on-the-road” fiction by the venerable Don Manning, and rare advertisements reproduced from old jazz magazines . . . the eye goes from one thing to another, and I found a splendidly balanced mix of information and pleasure.  In the center of the issue I read four pages of (free) classified ads from IAJRC members — some offering to sell records, others looking for information.  Late in the pages there is a large photograph of Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, grinning, with baton raised at a serious angle: the caption is “FAN IT!”  What more could anyone want?

For three dollars, you may have a sample issue sent to you — details here: journal/samples.

Dues for an individual living in the United States or Canada are $45 / year; $55 outside those areas — and one can pay through PayPal on the website.  That’s the cost of three compact discs — and although it’s a paradox to encourage people to join an organization of record collectors by not buying three discs . . . a year’s membership in the IAJRC will give much more pleasure, and you will be part of an enterprise devoted to helping jazz flourish.

P.S.  And if you feel CD-deprived in this transaction, know that the IAJRC has produced splendid discs of its own — previously unheard material featuring Al Cohn, Lucky Thompson, Joe Venuti, Joe Haymes, Buck Clayton, Horace Henderson, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Dick Wellstood . . . which are available to members at seriously discounted prices.

TOO HOT FOR WORDS: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT’S RHYTHMAKERS at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Flemming Thorbye)

In 1932 and 1933, a small but determined group of New York jazz musicians took part in a series of recording sessions that might well still be the hottest jazz on record.  Henry “Red” Allen, Gene Krupa, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Lord, Happy Caldwell, Zutty Singleton, Pops Foster, Jack Bland, Eddie Condon . . .   The vocalists were Red himself, Fats, Chick Bullock, and the elusive Billy Banks — who, like Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, specialized in singing in an abnormally high register.

The sessions were recorded for the Banner and Melotone labels and were meant to be sold inexpensively in “dime-stores,” so I imagine that the recording directors didn’t notice or didn’t care just how unfettered the performances were.  And no one seemed to care that “colored” and “white” musicians were playing together, either — a good omen of things to come, albeit slowly.

Many recordings of this time begin sedately, wooing the prospective buyers with a calm exposition of the melody before launching into improvisation in the last third of the disk: not the Rhythmakers.  It’s often been stated that Philip Larkin saw these sessions as one of the high points of the twentieth century, perhaps of Western civilization.  I wouldn’t argue with this position, although Larkin, chronically morose, saw everything else that came after as somehow small, which is a pity.

The superb reedman (here on clarinet) Matthias Seuffert was asked to close off the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party with his own version of the Rhythmakers.  He had help, of course, in Bent Persson (trumpet); Rico Tomasso (using his many voices and having fun vocalizing); David Sager (trombone); Steve Andrews (tenor sax); Philippe Guignier and Keith Stephen (banjo and guitar); Martin Seck (piano); Henry Lemaire (bass); Richard Pite (drums).

BUGLE CALL RAG:

YELLOW DOG BLUES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

OH, PETER:

SPIDER CRAWL:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

MEAN OLD BEDBUG BLUES:

An ecstatic conclusion to the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, although JAZZ LIVES will have a postscript — courtesy of Flemming Thorbye, who also captured these sets — to come.

FROM THE HEART, FOR THE HEART: RAY SKJELBRED’S “FIRST THURSDAY BAND” (Dec. 1, 2011)

Feeling low?  Got a parking ticket?  Can’t shake that nasty cold?  Worried about the bills?  Did you burn the toast?

It’s going to be all right.  In fact, it’s already all right. 

Make yourself to home and listen to this music.  Or — if you’re swiffing around, turn up the volume and feel the deep swinging joy this band creates.

They’re Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, caught live at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington, on December 1, 2011.  They are Ray Skjelbred, piano / leader; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxes; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums.

And — in the spirit of the season — do you hear what I hear?  I hear a real jazz band.  “What’s that?” I hear someone in the back saying.  Well, that’s an improvising group where all the members love the music and work together towards the same purpose, supporting one another in a gritty joyousness appropriate to the song, picking up each others’ cues, playing witty follow-the-leader so that one hears simultaneously a quartet and four strong-minded individualists taking their own path to get to their own versions of Jazz Paradise.

I also hear echoes of Pee Wee Russell, Rod Cless, Fud Livingston, Guy Kelly, Doc Poston, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Wellman Braud, Milton J. Hinton, Pops Foster, Eddie Dougherty (a relation, perhaps?), George Wettling — all embodied on December 1, 2011, by living creators who have absorbed the tradition and made it their own.  Who cares if people fight cyber-skirnishes in the blogosphere about whether “J**z” is alive or dead?  Call this by whatever polite name you like: it is most certainly alive.

The first song and performance that caught my attention was LOVE ME TONIGHT, which is associated in my mind with Earl Hines and Bing Crosby — one hell of a pair!  It is a lovely song: with lyrics, one of the most insinuating seduction lyrics I know (perhaps more wooing than A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY): a carpe diem pointed towards the bedroom.  But here it’s a bit more lowwdown, suggesting that Chicago jazz was a powerful aphrodisiac as well:

And here’s a lowdown Commodore JADA:

Something unusual from Mister Piano Man — a little solo tribute to someone quite forgotten, Cassino Simpson.  All most of us know of him is that he worked with Tiny Parham and did his own Chicago gigs, before succumbing to mental instability.  After he unsuccessfully tried to kill Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, he was institutionalized and I believe he spent the rest of his life there.  The noble John Steiner took recording equipment to Simpson and recorded him playing piano in 1942: the results, very hard to find even fifty years ago, appeared on a Paramont 10″ lp, which I’ve heard but never seen.  Mister Skjelbred gives us a window into the blues — the Cassino Simpson way:

And something pretty, soulful, as well as funky: Ellington’s BLACK BEAUTY:

Here’s a truly mournful TRAV’LIN ALL ALONE (Ethel Waters – Jimmie Noone – Kenny Davern tempo, not Billie’s ironic bounce):

And a rather obscure tune from 1936 — I associate it only with Henry “Red” Allen, but that’s sufficient pedigree for anyone — NOTHING’S BLUE BUY THE SKY:

Something else from Red (circa 1933), his affirmation that everything is really OK — THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME:

And the song that could stand as the band’s secondary title, summing up their attitude towards their work and their art, LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY (think of Bill Robinson, Fats Waller, and Jeni LeGon in STORMY WEATHER).  Ray sings the delectable lyrics softly, but you might consider memorizing them — you could do far worse for a mantra to get you through every day:

What exquisite music — delicate and raunchy at the same time!

P.S.  I don’t want to be especially preachy, but I would like all the youthful musicians in the house to watch and listen closely to these clips — for the deep unspoken unity of the quartet, the shifting sound-textures, and numberless virtues.  Mister Skjelbred doesn’t cover the keyboard with runs and arpeggios (unless he wants to); his left hand is integral to his playing; he could be a whole orchestra but doesn’t trample on anyone.  Mister Wright knows everything there is to know about “tonation and phrasing”: not a note is out of place and each one has its own purpose, its own sound.  And, children, there were ways of playing the alto saxophone that Charles Parker did not render obsolete.  Mister Daugherty does so much with so few cymbals — bless him! — he knows what his snare drum and bass drum are for; he swings those wire brushes, and he is always listening.  And Mister Brown, whether plucking or bowing, gets a deep resonant yet flexible sound out of his bass.  Want to know what kind of amplifier he uses?  It’s called LOVE.  And although he can play the guitar beautifully, he doesn’t turn his string bass into one.  There!  I have spoken.  Learn it to the younguns!