Tag Archives: Hal Smith

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT: CAFE BORRONE, MENLO PARK: CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, BILL REINHART, TOM WILSON, CRYSTAL HOLLOWAY (June 7, 2019)

Cafe Borrone from the outside.

In my brief and sometimes intermittent California sojourn (2011-14) in Marin County, one of my pleasures was in going to Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park to hear and video Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars.  It was like a regular transfusion of joy and hope, even though the drive was over two hours from where I was living.  I knew not only that I would hear vital music but that I would meet friends — musicians, fellow listeners and dancers, waitstaff, a combination that means the world to me.  The Cafe was another home.  I was welcome there, and I was able to meet people I admire: Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Bill Reinhart, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, Tom Wilson, J Hansen, Robert Young, Jason Vandeford, and some whose names I am forgetting, alas.

Today I present a few videos taken on June 7, 2019, by Rae Ann Berry, not because of nostalgia, but because I am captivated by the band’s easy swing.  Borroneans will note that this is a slightly streamlined band, but that’s fine: what you hear is honest unaffected music, no frills, no gimmicks, no group vocals, no tight-and-bright polo shirts.  The generous-spirited creators are Riley Baker, trombone; his father Clint, trombone, trumpet, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Tom Wilson, string bass; Crystal Holloway, washboard.  The whole band is in some mystically satisfying way engaged in heartfelt relaxed conversation, a great thing to behold.  I’ve left several tracks for you to find on Rae Ann’s YouTube channel, the California traditional jazz rabbit-hole to end all such diversions.

About the band here.  Yes, I could quip, “Two Bakers!  No Waiting!” but I need to be more serious than that.  Clint has long been one of my heroes, not only for what he plays, but for his religious devotion to the Music.  He understands its Holiness, as I do, but he can then pick up any of several instruments and make that Holiness manifest for all of us.  He is always striving towards the great goals, with Hot Lips Page as one of our shared patron saints.  I met Riley, his son, at Borrone, when Riley was starting to be the superb musician he is now — first on drums, then tuba.  And Riley has blossomed into a wondrous young man and player: I am especially taken with his nicely greasy trombone playing, which you will hear here.  And the emotional telepathy between father and son is both gratifying on a musical level and touching on a human(e) one.  A third horn in the front line would be an intrusion.  Such lovely on-the-spot counterpoint; such delightful lead-and-second voice playing, which isn’t an easy thing to do.  You might think that a trombone-clarinet front line would be automatically New Orleans old-school, but Clint and Riley understand the sweet play of swinging voices: people whose love comes right out to the back of the room without the need to get louder.

Riley will be playing the role of Edward Ory in Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band at San Diego this Thanksgiving, and I look forward to that: I’ve already videoed him with Dave Stuckey’s Hot House Gang: check those appearances out for yourself.

Jeff Hamilton is such a joy — not only one of the handful of drummers who lifts any band, but also an enlivening pianist who swings without getting in the way, constructs generous accompaniments and memorable melodies.  He has other musical talents that aren’t on display here, but he never lets me down.  Bill Reinhart knows what he’s doing, and that is no idle phrase.  He understands what a rhythm section should do and, more crucially, what it shouldn’t.  And his solos on banjo or guitar make lovely sense.  Tom Wilson’s rich tone, great choice of notes, and innate swing are always cheering.  And Crystal Holloway (new to me) tames that treacherous laundry implement and adds a great deal of sweet subtle rhythm.  Taking nothing away from Clint and Riley, one could listen to any one of these performances a second or third time exclusively for the four rhythm players and go away happier and edified.

I NEVER KNEW, with nods to Benny Carter and Jimmie Noone:

AS LONG AS I LIVE, not too fast:

BLUES FOR DR. JOHN, who recently moved to another neighborhood.  And — just between us — themeless medium-tempo blues are such a pleasure and so rarely essayed:

I always had trouble with math in school, but FOUR OR FIVE TIMES is just what I like:

TRUE, very wistful and sweet:

THE SWEETHEART OF SIGMA CHI, a song I last heard performed by (no fooling) Ben Webster with strings [a 1961 record called THE WARM MOODS].  Sounded good, too:

Asking the musical question WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

IT HAD TO BE YOU.  Yes, it did:

Bless these folks, this place, and bless Rae Ann for being there with her camera and her friend Roz (glimpsed in little bits to the right).

May your happiness increase!

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SOMETHING FOR THOSE PEOPLE, AND WE KNOW WHO THEY ARE: HEALING SOUNDS FROM The JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

The gorgeous music below is sent out as a moral inducement, less of a rebuke, to the people who “don’t know how to Act Nice.”

The boss who raises his voice at a subordinate; the salesperson who tries to flatter us to make the sale; the insecure person who bullies; the driver who tailgates; the liar; the self-absorbed person too busy recounting their own exploits to ask how you might be or too busy to leave that smartphone alone . . . the list is, sadly, long, and there is no need to add to it here.

To these people I send Jonathan Doyle’s instructive but also healing gift of this performance — called DON’T BE THAT WAY — performed at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.  The artful creators are Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  This easy rocking performance (not too fast, thank you!) summons up Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton small-group recordings rather than the famous Benny Goodman one.

Incidentally, I don’t espouse Goodman-bashing, but the 1934 Webb recording of the song, an instrumental, has Edgar Sampson as composer; later, Mitchell Parish added lyrics; Benny added his name, as the sheet music bearing his image, twice, shows.

The Swingtet scales peaks without stressing itself or us.  How splendidly they glide.  Bless them!  And bless Mark and Valerie Jansen for making this life-changing music happen at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, a sweet explosion of joys which will nuzzle our faces once again on May 7-10, 2020.  For now:

So, please.  Be any way that’s kind, easy, and compassionate.  Be aware that we are all connected.  Be candid, be loving.  Be aware.

But DON’T BE THAT WAY.

May your happiness increase!

A LITTLE EPIPHANY: “JEEP’S BLUES,” THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH: May 11, 2019)

What does one say when the Divine decides to pay a social call?  I don’t know if there’s only one answer, but mine was a quiet “Thank you,” and held-back tears.

JEEP’S BLUES — if examined analytically — is a mixture of the simplest blues phrases, phases that were part of the common musical lexicon in 1938.  But what transforms it as a composition and a performance is what Louis called Tonation and Phrasing — which I translate as musicians achieving vocalized sounds through their instruments, singing with deep feeling, becoming a wordless choir.

The Jonathan Doyle Swingtet (for this set at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, Jonathan, tenor saxophone and arrangement; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums) sang their pure and impure songs to us, to the heavens, and for the musicians present, past, and future. . . . secular hymns that elated us.

I’m sure some listeners will say, “Oh, that’s just a blues.”  Too bad for them, say I.  Blessings on these musicians, on Mark and Valerie Jansen of the Redwood Coast Music Festival (hint: May 7-10, 2020!) on Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington, all of whom make holy music and make holy music possible.

May your happiness increase!

UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part Two): THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, GORDON AU, CHARLIE HALLORAN, JAMEY CUMMINS, ALEX BELHAJ, SAM ROCHA, JOSH COLLAZO (May 12, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

I think I first took notice of Jonathan Doyle — clarinetist, tenor saxophonist, later bass saxophonist, composer, arranger — when he was a member of the Thrift Set Orchestra some six years ago, then working with Hal Smith, leading his own groups, in combos with Ray Skjelbred, part of the Fat Babies, with Hal’s Swing Central, and more than I am no doubt leaving out.  By the time I met him in person, possibly at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest, I was already dazzled.

What Jonathan has and shares with us is a special emotional-spiritual energy, as if he’s connected to electric current, no matter how lazy the tempo might be.  I’ve never seen him coast or fall back on formula: he is fully present and fully engaged.  I offered these two splendid performances by his Swingtet at the Redwood Coast Music Festival (with Jacob Zimmerman, Charlie Halloran, Kris Tokarski, Jamey Cummins, Steve Pikal, Hal Smith) here and they deserved all the enthusiastic prose I could write and all the accolades from audience members.  A day later at the RCMF, Jonathan assembled a slightly different Swingtet: Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Jamey Cummins, Alex Belhaj, guitars.

I love this music dearly.

First, Jonathan’s original A SYBARITE’S DREAM, featuring Gordon, musing and soaring, in the fashion of an Ellington mood-piece but purely Doyle:

Then, an utterly captivating romp on Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, inspired by the 1933 Chocolate Dandies recording — a line on DIGA DIGA DOO.  Watch Gordon’s face as Jonathan solos: it tells you all you need to know.  And if you’d been sitting near me, you would have seen my even more dramatic look of astonished delight as Jonathan announced the song . . . as if I’d been given a lovely present.  I haven’t changed my mind at all since then:

Such remarkable passion, allied to an irresistible swing.  Bless Jonathan and his musicians, and Mark and Valerie Jansen for creating such a splendid space for beauties.  (The 2020 Redwood Coast Music Festival will be next May 7-10, and it will be a doozy, a honey, or a blast: you pick.  I think it will be all three.)

May your happiness increase!

UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part One): The JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (May 11, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

 

It’s lovely to have heroes, and the man in the photograph is one of mine.  The only problem with the photograph is that it’s a still picture, and he is rarely still, but the videos below will remedy that.

When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace on the telephone (now more than twenty years ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, over and over, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers on Commodore. Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Those words kept coming back to me all through my weekend immersion in joy at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: I listened, quite amazed, at the wonderful music I was privileged to hear.  I’m still in a state of blissful amazement: feelings shared by those around me.

One of the reasons for this unearthly happiness has to do with reedman / composer / arranger / imaginative-phenomenon Jonathan Doyle, a rare source of  renewable energy in our time. Here ‘s where you can find him on Facebook as well.  Spiritual electricities course through him without harming him or us, and they come out as the most beautiful surprising patterns of notes, tones, and rests.  He never coasts; he never parodies anyone or himself.

Jonathan was a stimulating presence all through the weekend: with Charlie Halloran’s Calypsonians, leading several sets of his own and with Jacob Zimmerman (one a Walter Donaldson tribute with Doyle on bass sax), as lead horn in Hal Smith’s Swing Central, with the extravagant Western Swing Party co-led by Hal and Dave Stuckey.  (He was also one-third of the double tribute to composer-players Gordon Au and Josh Collazo, but by that time I had collapsed as if I’d been made of damp cardboard.  I’ll do better next year, I hope.)

Here are four uplifting performances from the first set of Jonathan’s Swingtet, a glorious affair consisting of Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

BLUE DRAG (a nod to 1934 Django):

CHICAGO (he’ll show you around!):

THE FED HOP (Jonathan’s irresistible original):

DICKIE’S DREAM (Basie 1939, anyone?  Because of sudden battery demise, I lost the first ensemble chorus and Charlie Halloran’s delicious solo, but what remains is very satisfying):

When you’re through admiring the solo work and the overall joyous bounce of these four performances, I urge you to listen again to Jonathan’s arrangements, their sweet surprises, their dynamics and voicings.  He’s not just a great player and composer: he’s a wonderful orchestral visionary who makes his dreams and ours come true in swing.

More to come from my hero JD and his friends.

May your happiness increase! 

WHAT WOULD JELLY DO? “RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO”: KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSHUA GOUZY, HAL SMITH

Kris Tokarski has been one of my favorite solo and ensemble pianists for some years now.  It can’t be “many” years, because Kris is perhaps half my age, but my admiration is not limited by the length of our acquaintance.  He listens, he creates melodies, he swings, he sounds like himself, and he has a deep appreciation for the past without being chained by narrow historical definitions.

He’s recorded in a variety of settings, but here I draw your attention to two CDs of ragtime pieces done with delicacy and individuality: the first, issued in 2016 on Solo Art, paired him with drummer-scholar Hal Smith and string bassist Cassidy Holden, pleased me and others immensely: read more about it here.  KINKLETS from that disc:

The second disc by Kris and  Hal, now joined by bassist Joshua Gouzy, issued on Big Al Records, is called RAGTIME – NEW ORLEANS STYLE, VOLUME TWO, and it’s a real pleasure. Hear a sample for yourself here (scroll down the page through the evidence of how well Kris plays with others and on his own).

The premise is a collection of rags that Jelly Roll Morton planned to record — or would have known and played.  And it’s not a fanciful vision, as Hal Smith’s  solid annotations show — in 1939, Morton discussed with Roy Carew his plans to play Joplin and others in his own style, because, as he told Carew, “he didn’t know of anyone more qualified to do it than himself,” and he envisioned recording thirty or forty rags.  (Oh, had he lived for another decade!)

He didn’t live to accomplish this, but we have Tokarski, Gouzy, and Smith to make the fantasy real.

I am especially fond of projects that take a gently imaginative look at the past. Let those who feel drawn to such labors reproduce recordings: the results can be dazzling.  It takes decades of skill to play BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and sound even remotely like the Hot Five.  But even more entrancing to me is the notion of “What might have happened . . . .?” going back to my early immersion in Golden Era science fiction.  An example that stays in my mind is a series of Stomp Off recordings devoted to the Johnny Dodds repertoire, with the brilliant Matthias Seuffert taking on the mantle.  But the most memorable track on those discs was Porter’s YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, a pop tune from 1929 that Dodds might well have heard or even played — rendered convincingly and joyously in his idiom.  (It really does something to me.)

That same playful vision applies to this disc.  It merges, ever so gently, Jelly Roll Morton and an unhackneyed ragtime repertoire, mixing piano solos and piano trio.  That in itself is a delightful combination, and I replayed this disc several times in a row when I first acquired a copy.

Kris plays beautifully, with a precise yet flexible approach to the instrument and the materials.  He doesn’t undercut, satirize, or “modernize”; his approach is simultaneously loving and easy. It’s evident that he has heard and absorbed the lessons of James P. Johnson and Teddy Wilson — their particular balance of propulsion and relaxation — as well as being able to read the notes on the page. He doesn’t pretend to be Morton in the way that lesser musicians have done (with Bix, Louis, Monk, and others) — cramming in every possible Mortonism over and over.  What he does is imagine a Mortonian approach, but he allows himself freedom to move idiomatically, with grace and beauty, within it.  And he doesn’t, in the name of “authenticity,” make rags sound stiff because they were written before Joe Oliver and Little Louis took Chicago.  He’s steady, but he’s steadily gliding.  His approach to the rags is neither stuffy reverence nor near-hysterical display.

He’s in good company with Josh and Hal.  Many string bassists working in this idiom confuse percussiveness with strength, and they hit the fretboard violently: making the bass a victim of misplaced enthusiasm.  Not Joshua, who has power and melodic wisdom nicely combined: you can listen to his lines in the trio with the delight you’d take in a great horn soloist.  Every note sings, and he’s clearly there with the pulse.

As for the drummer?  To slightly alter a famous Teagarden line, “If Hal don’t get it, well, forget it right now,” which is to say that Hal’s playing on this disc is a beautifully subtle, completely “living” model of how to play ensemble drums: gracious yet encouraging, supportive.  He doesn’t just play the beat: he creates a responsive tapestry of luxuriant sounds.

The CD is beautifully recorded by Tim Stambaugh of Word of Mouth Studios, and the repertoire is a treat — rags I’d never heard (THE WATERMELON TRUST by Harry C. Thompson, and ROLLER SKATERS RAG by Samuel Gompers) as well as compositions by Joplin, Lamb, Scott, Turpin, Matthews, and May Aufderheide.  Nothing overfamiliar but all melodic and mobile.

Here’s another sample.  Kris, Joshua, and Hal are the rhythm section of Hal’s Kid Ory “On the Levee” band, and here they play May Aufderheide’s DUSTY RAG at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2018:

Hear what I mean?  They play with conviction but their seriousness is light-hearted.  Volume Two is a disc that won’t grow tired or stale.  Thank you, Kris, Josh, and Hal!  And Jelly, of course.

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO TISHOMINGO: A FEW WORDS FOR CONNIE JONES

This morning, I learned through Ed Wise and Tim Laughlin that Connie Jones died in his sleep at home next to his beloved wife Elaine.  Although I hold to cherished ideas about death and transitions — that those who leave their earthly form behind never leave us utterly, that they have merely moved to another neighborhood — I find it hard to write that Connie has left us. He was a great poet without a manuscript, a great singer of immediate heartfelt songs even when he wasn’t singing.

I had the immense good fortune to see and video-record Connie in performance from 2011 to 2015: mostly at the San Diego Jazz Fest, but once at Sweet and Hot and once during the Steamboat Stomp, and I’ve posted as many of those performances as I could.

We didn’t converse much: I suspect he had some native reticence about people he didn’t know, and perhaps he had a perfectly natural desire to catch his breath between sets, ideally with a dish of ice cream.

His playing moved me tremendously.  I tried not to gush, although my restraint failed me once, memorably.  After a particularly affecting set, I came up to him and said, more or less, “Do you think of yourself as a religious man?” and he gave me the polite stare one gives people who have revealed themselves as completely unpredictable, and said, after a pause, “Yes, I do,” and I proceeded to say, quietly, “Well, I think your music is holy.”  Another long pause, and he thanked me.  And I thanked him.  Which is what I am doing in this post.

With all respects to the people who recorded him and played alongside him in various recording studios, I think the real Connie Jones only came through complete when he was caught live — one reason I am proud that I had the opportunity to catch him, as it were, on the wing.  He was the bravest of improvisers, reminding me at turns of Doc Cheatham, of Bob Barnard, of Bobby Hackett — someone so sure of his melodies that he would close his eyes and walk steadily towards a possible precipice of music . . . but creating the solid ground of loving music as he went.

I expect to have more reason to celebrate and mourn Connie in the future, but I think this is one of the most quietly affecting vocal and instrumental performances I will ever hear or witness. See if you don’t agree: Connie, cornet and vocal; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, at the San Diego Jazz Fest on Nov. 29, 2014:

He was so unaffected, so generous in what he gave us.  No one can take his place.

May your happiness increase!