Tag Archives: jazz piano

WAKING UP WITH LIZA, or THREE MEN ON A TOBOGGAN: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, LAKSHMI RAMIREZ, JEFF HAMILTON (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 6, 2020)

The medium, or the message?

The message, or the medium?

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.

May your happiness increase!

LOVABLE ART: JANICE ANDERSON and CHRIS DAWSON (4.30.20)

“Find some beauty every day,” Janice Anderson gently suggests about three-quarters of the way through this nearly hour-long living room concert.

When she’s singing and husband Chris Dawson is at the piano, beauty radiates through very powerfully: no search engines are needed.

And if their music doesn’t win you, I can only shake my head sadly, as I often do these days.

The menu for April 30 — International Jazz Day and also Janice’s birthday — was BLT’s and lemon cake.  Enticing enough to plan a visit to Santa Monica next April.

And if you’d like more (I did and do) go to Janice’s Facebook page for a twenty-minute informal duo concert with Chris.  Simply wonderful.  You’ll notice that neither Janice nor Chris is soliciting contributions for themselves: those who feel uplifted and generous can make a contribution to the Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, where these two have run a music series for fifteen years, bringing in a variety of artists on the second Sunday of every month.

One more thing: at very widely-spaced intervals, I’ve met and heard Chris and Janice over the past nine or ten years.  The most recent encounter — they came to New York in mid-November and appeared magically at Cafe Bohemia: I’m convinced they stopped by just to delight and startle me, but that theory has no evidence behind it.  It’s not always the case that lovable people make lovable art (we all have our stories of the negative exemplars) but in the case of this duo, it is brilliantly true.

May your happiness increase!

 

WISTFUL STRENGTH: CHRIS HOPKINS at the PIANO

Say it simple: Chris Hopkins is such a fine pianist.

He is imaginative without being self-consciously “innovative”; he respects the composer’s intentions without being enslaved by the manuscript; he is both delicate and sure-footed.  The temptation, I think, is to play Eubie Blake’s MEMORIES OF YOU as eulogy or elegy even before the current world so violently changed shape, but Chris’ performance is tender and rueful without getting bogged down.  Admire his touch; his harmonies; his taste [he plays the verse, also].  And subscribe to his YouTube channel — why deprive yourself of pleasures?  It’s here, and there is space in the cyber-clubhouse for you.  Now, the music:

Chris’ “problem,” I say facetiously, is that he is also a world-class improviser on the alto saxophone, which he plays gloriously with the marvelous quartet of shape-changers called Echoes of Swing . . . you could look that up, too.  I think that, like me, you might have four bars of leisure time more than two months ago to admire his work — on CD and on YouTube — thoroughly. But of course I could be mistaken.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET SOUNDS from MEL POWELL (AT HOME)

Gorgeous sounds on battered home-recording discs: the magnificent piano creations of Mel Powell, circa 1941-2 (but that’s only a guess).  Those of you who recoil from surface noise (“How can you hear anything through all those scratches?” frequently said a Philistine I knew at close range) might want to suspend critical severity.  The Complaint Department is located right next to the dumpster.  The discs are courtesy of Kati Powell, Mel’s very gracious and generous daughter.

There’s gold in them there grooves.

One more for Mr. Waller:

and that pretty ballad, suggesting Jimmie Noone and Nat Cole:

It’s a pity he isn’t recognized more: he could really and truly play.

May your happiness increase!

HANDFULS OF KEYS: DAN MORGENSTERN CELEBRATES MARTIAL SOLAL (and ANDRE HODEIR), EDDIE COSTA, and WILLIE “THE LION” SMITH (July 6, 2018)

Another visit with our favorite Jazz Eminence who, having spoken first of saxophonists Dexter Gordon here, Sonny Stitt, and Lee Konitz here, moves on to pianists Solal (with a digression to critic / violinist Hodeir), pianist-vibraphonist Costa, and pianist-force of nature Willie “the Lion” Smith . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a previous conversation Dan had spoken of Solal with great enthusiasm, so I followed his lead:

I also wondered what Dan knew of the brilliant, short-lived, multi-talented Eddie Costa:

and finally, for that afternoon, glimpses of Willie “the Lion” Smith:

Now, some music.

Martial Solal, 1963, playing Django (with whom he recorded) — accompanied by Teddy Kotick and Paul Motian.  (The sessions were recorded in New York City.):

Eddie Costa, Wendell Marshall, Paul Motian:

Willie “the Lion” Smith, 1965, introduced by Humphrey Lyttelton — accompanied by Brian Brocklehurst and Lennie Hastings.

Thank you so much, Mister Morgenstern!  More stories to come . . . Randy Weston, Jaki Byard, Ira Gitler, Slim Gaillard, Harry Lim, Jeff Atterton, Kiyoshi Kuyama . . . and others.

May your happiness increase!

NOT ONLY BUT ALSO: ROBERTA PIKET, “WEST COAST TRIO”

When I taught freshman composition, some of my best students had grown up speaking a language not English.  They were often far more perceptive than the local talent whose radius of exploration was fifty miles. But the “ESL” crew occasionally had trouble with English idioms that native speakers take for granted.  One, memorably, was “not only but also,” and perhaps its apparent negation becoming affirmation was too much to digest at first.

While I was listening to pianist-composer Roberta Piket’s new CD, WEST COAST TRIO, the expression came back as a perfect way to describe her work, a great compliment.

If you don’t know Roberta’s work, you will want to scamper ahead to the video to hear it; she is also, not surprisingly, quietly eloquent about how she perceives what she does, and where she’s come from: here is a recent interview.

But to the music: in a landscape of artists who equate modernism with abstraction, Roberta always remembers that the heart of music is song, so her work, even when she is exploring, is always melodic and soulful, free from cliche, welcoming us in.  And whatever meter or tempo she chooses, her music has the pulse of a heartbeat.  To some, swinging improvisation is no longer relevant.  From the first measures of MENTOR, the first song on the disc, I was bobbing my head: for me, very good evidence of enjoyment.  The result can be innovative or technically sophisticated, but it’s mobile and warm, never chilly.

Here is the behind-the-scenes look at the session, extremely valuable because not only does it provide a tasting menu of the music, but also we see and hear Roberta speaking about it:

and here you can listen to longer samples of the music, download it, or purchase the actual disc — the last of which I recommend because Thirteenth Note Records’ products are superb, and Bob Bernotas’ liner notes equally so.

One of the other things to love about this CD is it shows off Roberta’s wide range of musical affections: standards by Legrand, Rodgers, and Donaldson (MY BUDDY is aimed right at our hearts), compositions by Shearing, Corea, Hicks, and two originals by Roberta.  Beautiful recorded sound and beautiful playing by Joe La Barbera, drums; Darek Olszkiewicz, string bass, with telling cameo appearances by Larry Koonse, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.  There’s great variety: some performances seem dreamy, musing; others are superb dance music.

When I’d played the disc the first time, I wanted to hear it again.  You will, too.

May your happiness increase!

MEL POWELL SENDS HIS LOVE, WITH A FLOURISH

Mel Powell is one of the most brilliant pianists (and later, composers) that most people haven’t heard of, which is a pity.  I never met him, but I knew his music very early in my jazz-listening years through his work with Goodman and Glenn Miller, then his recordings for the Vanguard label in the Fifties.  In this century, I had the immense good fortune to meet his daughter Kati, who now has her home in a Southern town where we hope happiness will find her every day. Here is a 2017 post that combines music and history.

But this post, like some others, is motivated by objects that I delight in sharing.  One crossed my monitor just this afternoon — yes, eBay again — and an autographed photograph of Mel serving his country overseas:

The link is here, should you wish to get in on the fun.  My team of financial advisers held a conference and said, “No,” so the field is clear to bidders.

Kati very generously allowed me to borrow a number of Mel’s home-recorded discs, which I transferred in the least sophisticated way possible, knowing how delicate they are, how they would not stand up well to washing and repeated playings.  Some are difficult to listen to, but all are marvelous.  I’ve chosen two for this posting, because, after all, a photograph without a soundtrack is just a silent picture.

Incidentally, please don’t write to lecture me about the care of fragile discs.  I’m doing the best I can: Ristic is gone, and the Audiofixer is understandably overwhelmed.

Here is Mel’s meditation on I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, which starts in mid-performance because the outer portion of the disc was damaged:

And something I am calling A FLOURISH — Mel practicing the end of a song, although I have not yet figured out what the song is.

There might be more rare Mel Powell music in future.  But savor this now.

May your happiness increase!

RAY SKJELBRED AT THE PIANO: FOR THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 27, 2015)

I read once of how an eminent musician, in a hotel room with musician friends, would open a new bottle of Scotch, and before drinking, pour a little out on the rug and say, “That’s for the guys who have gone before,” or perhaps “That’s for the guys upstairs.”  A libation in honor of the Ancestors.

PIANO keyboard

When Ray Skjelbred plays, no liquids are spilled, but he honors the Ancestors in his own way, by evoking them in his own fashion.  Here are four brilliant evocations that he created at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2015.

SKJELBRED solo

Although Ray is a peerless band pianist (hear him with his own group, the Cubs, and many others, lighting the way from within the ensemble) he comes from the glorious tradition, the days when the pianist was the band.  Perhaps it’s a kind of Scandinavian thrift, a genetic offering from his personal Ancestors, who say, “You have these ten fingers; why only use two or three?”

For Tiny Parham, STOMPIN’ ON DOWN:

For Joe Sullivan, GIN MILL BLUES:

Also for Sullivan and his friends, OH, BABY! — and those delightful startling dissonant surprises at the start:

For Oro “Tut” Soper and the shade of Baby Dodds, IT’S A RAMBLE:

I look forward to seeing and hearing Ray (with Dawn Lambeth and Marc Caparone) at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here’s a sample of what that wonderful combination did in 2015:

May your happiness increase!

HE’S A HERO OF MINE

Who’s that?  Why, the pianist, arranger, and occasional singer Mark Shane.

SHANE

I’d heard Mark on records and bootleg concert tapes going back to the late Eighties, but didn’t get to meet him until 2004.  And I was astonished.  He’s quiet; he doesn’t rely on volume or pyrotechnics, but he swings beautifully.  (He is A Stride Monster, but it’s not his only claim to our hearts.)  His playing is thoughtful, delicate, without being stiff or effete.  Right now, you are most likely to hear Mark as pianist and musical director for that force of nature, Catherine Russell.

But I thought a few minutes of Shane-beauty would help us keep perspective in these troubled times.

Here he is at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party, lovingly making his way through BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL, a hymn of praise and grief for Herschel Evans:

And, a year later, Mark’s stylish romp on MOONGLOW — always melodic, ticking away like a swing clock, with beautiful voicings and subtly varied embellishments:

Please notice how much the musicians onstage (Messrs. Chirillo, Weatherly, and Dorn) are appreciating it as well.  That says a great deal.

Here’s Mark with Tal Ronen and Dan Block — thinking about Fats and his Rhythm — playing YACHT CLUB SWING:

and another salute to gorgeous melody, Mark and Terry Blaine performing SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in 2015:

“Don’t be shy,” says Terry.  And I’m not shy about my absolute admiration for Mister Shane.  Here is his website, where you can hear and learn more from this master.

May your happiness increase!

TWO TICKETS TO CHICAGO: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 27, 2015)

Ray Skjelbred, away from the piano.

Ray Skjelbred, away from the piano.

I tell the Youngbloods, “Yes! Go see Ray Skjelbred play piano and (once in a great while) sing.  It is a magical experience.”

Here are two more beauties from his solo session at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2015.  Ray loves what we call the tradition — as distinguished from “OKOM,” a term I don’t use — by honoring the Ancestors while being himself all the time.  And he continues to surprise and transform, skirting cliche always.

ROSETTA (for Earl Hines and Henri Woode) with a wondrous brooding beginning:

ELGIN BREAKDOWN (in honor of / in mourning for Cassino Simpson):

I hope to see you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, which will take place over the Thanksgiving weekend — November 23 through 27.  Here’s another piece of the magic Ray (with friends Dawn Lambeth and Marc Caparone) created at that same festival:

May your happiness increase!

POETIC SWING, THE SECOND SET: HOD O’BRIEN / RAY DRUMMOND at MEZZROW, JULY 17, 2015

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

The wonderful pianist Hod O’Brien has fans worldwide, so at intervals I get polite emails from people far from me, asking, “Michael, any chance of our getting to see the second set with Hod and Ray Drummond from Mezzrow?” By popular demand, then . . .

And here is the first set, complete with admiring and well-deserved prose.

Now, for the second.  Notice Hod’s precise yet warm lyricism, and don’t ignore the beautiful spirit of Ray Drummond — what a gentle wise person and player.

RIDIN’ HIGH:

STROLLIN’:

IF I WERE A BELL:

THEME FOR ERNIE:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

BLUES BY FIVE:

HOD BOOK

Hod has a new book out — a wonderful unaffected chronicle of his musical adventures — “Have Piano … Will Swing! Stories about the Jazz Life.” Here is an engaging article by David A. Maurer about Hod and the book.  I’ll write more soon about the book, which I’m enjoying, but you can find a copy at Hod’s website.

May your happiness increase!

STRENGTH, POISE, FEELING: ROBERTA PIKET, “EMANATION”

In a world where we are asked to pretend that the hologram is human, pianist / composer Roberta Piket’s music is so refreshing for its integrity and honesty. I feel that she approaches her music with that most winning openness: “Let me see what can come of it,” and the results are elating.  She has power but she isn’t angry at the keyboard or at us.  Rather, hers is a singular balance between toughness and gentleness: her music peers into the darkness without getting downtrodden and brings back light from surprising angles.

Her playing is original without being self-consciously “innovative,” and it isn’t a catalogue of familiar gestures, audience-pleasing bobs and weaves . . . there is nothing formulaic in her art.  Honoring her and our Ancestors, she pays them the best tribute, which is to sound like herself.

Her art — deep and subtle — is wonderfully on display on her new solo CD, which is (happily for us) her second solo exploration, EMANATION.

Roberta-Piket-Emanation-Cover-300x268Roberta’s chosen repertoire is for the most part recognizable — not an ego-display of one “original” after another) but she isn’t trapped by the Past.  Her evocations of Monk, Romberg, Gillespie, Arthur Schwartz, Kern, McPartland, and Hancock are both reassuring and playfully lit from within. One could play this CD for someone who “doesn’t like jazz” without causing trauma, but it is galaxies away from Easy Listening Piano For People Who Aren’t Listening.

Her two originals, the wistful SAYING GOODBYE and the sweetly curious EMANATION, are full of feeling — novellas of sound.  The CD closes with her variations on a Chopin theme . . . both a loving bow to the source and a gentle statement of her own identities.  The CD — beautifully recorded, with wonderful notes by the eminent Richie Beirach — is a fifty-minute journey into other worlds, both nearby and tantalizingly far-off.

Visit here for sound samples and ordering information and here to learn more about Roberta, her music, and upcoming gigs.

Because I know my audience is honest and trustworthy, I offer a boon for those who check out the CD and Roberta’s site (I’ll know!): music from a divine duo concert by Roberta and Lena Bloch, from February of this year, at The Drawing Room — here.  Gorgeous searching music from two modern masters.  (Learn more about Lena here.  Music and musicians like Roberta and Lena give me hope.

May your happiness increase!

MICHAEL KANAN and NEAL MINER at MEZZROW (Part Two): September 16, 2014

One of the recent pleasures of living in or near New York City has been the emergence of new places to hear music, and one of the most restorative of these places is the downstairs oasis MEZZROW, at 163 West Tenth Street.  I haven’t been able to be there as often as I’d liked, but so far I’ve been delighted by the ambiance, the quiet, the good piano, the sweetly natural sound.

On September 16, 2014, which seems so long ago, I was able to experience the floating musical energies of two of my heroes, pianist Michael Kanan and string bassist / composer Neal Miner. Here is the first part of their performance that night, and I am pleased to offer you five more selections.

Neal’s TIMELINE (cleverly, a line built on the harmonies of TIME ON MY HANDS):

ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE — which segues into Neal’s AT THE BISTRO:

THE BEST THING FOR YOU (WOULD BE ME):

BALLAD MEDLEY (EV’RY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE and I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY):

Neal’s BLUES OKURA:

Beautiful music, complex and direct at the same time — the result of deep study and deep feeling, but aimed at our hearts and landing there gently. Human warmth, generosity of spirit: du holde Kunst indeed.

May your happiness increase!

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME: MARK SHANE REMEMBERS AL HAIG

Since jazz musicians know how to improvise on their instruments and their voices, it’s no surprise that many of them are great homespun comic talents as well — the world is their stage for instant improvisation.

In case you don’t know the wonderful pianist Mark Shane, here is a recent on-the-spot example of his swinging melodic mastery:

Yesterday, Mark told me this story about the revered Al Haig:

Al Haig was playing with Chuck Wayne at Gregory’s and I used to sit in.

One night, Al sneaked up in back of me and I heard him say sotto voce right in my ear, “Would you sit in a while longer while I park my car?”

“Sure,” sez I.

“Do you know where I want to park it?”

“No, Al, where?”

“At home.  Goodnight!!”

I never saw Al Haig again. He was sublime on those Bird recordings!! The great Al Haig … indeed, indeed!!

May your happiness increase!

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.

“BLUE NOTES THAT FRAME THE PASSION”: RAY SKJELBRED’S TRIBAL WISDOM

Pianist / composer / scholar / poet Ray Skjelbred is one of the rare ones.

I don’t say this only because of his deeply rewarding piano playing — soloist, accompanist, bandleader — but because of the understanding that it rests upon.  Ray understands that he is one of long line of creators — members of the tribe of improvising storytellers, some of them no longer on the planet but their energies still vividly alive.

He doesn’t strive to copy or to “recreate”; rather, he honors and embodies in ways that words can only hint at.  Call it an enlightened reverence that takes its form in blues-based melodic inventions, and you’ll be close to understanding the essence of what Ray does, feels, and is.

Here are some of his own introspections: “I get ideas by trying to hear the world differently, sometimes even misunderstanding sound on purpose. . . . I like to see things differently, to shape a song, to make it mine. I like to make tempo changes, especially fast to slow, I like to make the notes as round and warm as possible and part of that comes from shading a composition with blue notes that frame the passion. I like to fill in harmonies when the melody feels a little bony to me. . . . I think music is an adventure, a chance to shape sound with your bare hands.”

I’ve admired his playing for some years now — before I knew him as a soloist, I heard him through ensembles on recordings led by other musicians, rather in the way one would hear Hines, Horace Henderson, Joe Sullivan, Frank Melrose, Jess Stacy, Zinky Cohn, Tut Soper, Cassino Simpson, Alex Hill, or a dozen others subversively and happily animating the largest group.

There are several ways to experience this magic — Ray making himself a portal through which the elders can speak, while adding his own personal experiences.  One, of course, is to witness his transformations in person.  To do this, you’d have to know where he is going to be playing — check out the bottom of the page here for his appearances in the near future.

Another way t0 have a portable Skjelbred festival is through his compact discs, recent and otherwise, listed here. I call two new issues to your attention.  One, RAGTIME PIANO, is — beneath its rather plain title — a continued exploration of subversive possibilities, witty and warm.

I remember the first time I began to listen to it — with small surprises popping through the surface like small flowers, catching me off guard, subtler than Monk creating his own version of stride piano but with some of the same effect.  Each track is a small hot sonata, with the surprises resurfacing to make the whole disc a suite of unusual yet comfortable syncopated dance music.

The sixteen solo piano performances offer classics, stretched and reconsidered: SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / SOMETHING DOING / WHOOPEE STOMP / LOUISIANA RAG / MOURNFUL SERENADE / DANCE OF THE WITCH HAZELS / PINEAPPLE RAG / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING, as well as Ray’s originals — inspired by everyone from Emily Dickinson to Julia Child: SMILING RAG / LEAN AND GRIEFY RAG / DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS / COCHINEAL RAG / LITTLE ELMER’S RAG / THE PICOT RAG / REFLECTIONS RAG / BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER.

Another deep lesson in how to get the most music possible — and then some — from the piano can be found in Ray’s PIANO PORTRAITS, which demonstrates his range of endearing associations, from the Hot Five and early blues singers to Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, from Jimmie Noone and early Ellington to Bix, Hines, and Charlie Shavers. It’s a filling and fulfilling musical banquet: SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD / FEELING MY WAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / WEATHER BIRD RAG / SQUEEZE ME / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE / DINAH / READY FOR THE RIVER / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CLARK AND RANDOLPH / CANNED MEAT RAG / BLUES FROM “CREOLE RHAPSODY” / BLUES FOR MILLIE LAMMOREUX / FATHER SWING / WHEN I DREAM OF YOU / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / MY HEART / MUGGLES / UNDECIDED.  Ray’s prose is as forthright and evocative as his playing, so this CD is worth reading as well as hearing for his recollections of Johnny Wittwer, Joe Sullivan, Burt Bales, Art Hodes, and Earl Hines.

Another way to experience Ray, his mastery of “those pretty notes and jangly octaves,” can be through these video performances.  He has been more than gracious to me, allowing me to capture him in a variety of settings.  I offer one here, BULL FROG BLUES, recorded on November 29, 2013, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — with his Cubs, that savory band: Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Mike Daugherty, drums:

Wherever Ray goes, whatever the context in which he makes music, it’s always rewarding.

May your happiness increase!

BLISSFULLY ROCKING THE ROOM at THE 2014 JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY in MONTEREY: RAY SKJELBRED and CARL SONNY LEYLAND (March 9, 2014)

They promised they would do anything for us, and they did.

I had an extraordinarily fine time at the 2014 Jazz Bash by the Bay — the congenial jazz weekend held in Monterey, California that just concluded. Friendship and fine music blossomed in a very comfortably sweet environment.

Today I feel overwhelmed, but in the same way one feels after finishing a wonderful meal: all senses both stimulated and gratified. The good sounds and happiness from this year’s Bash will linger.

Thanks to the kind, generous people I encountered; not all of them singers or players: I celebrate Sue and Betsy and Al and Rebecca and Michele and many gracious folks.

If you were there at the Bash, no matter what bands you were listening to, you know that my enthusiastic words are more than an ad for a product, an inducement to join, to buy. If you weren’t in attendance, you might need some evidence — an initial taste of pleasure and authenticity.

Here is the final performance I caught at the Bash — Sunday afternoon, March 9 — the concluding song of an hour-long set. 

Music for Twin Pianos as Imagined, Created, and Performed by Ray Skjelbred and Carl Sonny Leyland.

Nothing less than remarkable!

The song?  Quite fitting.  Alex Hill’s declaration of love, of fidelity, of devotion — even with the MOST in the title —

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

I will have much more to say and share about the 2014 Bash in the days to come. For the moment, I invite you to regard this video and share my feelings — delight and awe and delight again.

May your happiness increase!

COMING SOON! STEPHANIE TRICK, PAOLO ALDERIGHI, MARTY EGGERS, DANNY COOTS at the ROSSMOOR JAZZ CLUB (Tuesday, March 11, 2014)

On Tuesday, March 11, 2014, I will be away from my computer, but for the best reasons: the Beloved and I will be at the Rossmoor Jazz Club (in Walnut Creek — details here) for a comfortably warm evening of hot music provided by Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, pianos; Marty Eggers, string bass; Danny Coots, drums.  I have been told by the trustworthy Robert Burch that the theatre where all this takes place is comfortable, it seats 500, and dancers are welcome.   Admission is $10 (members) and $15 (non-members), and one can become a member with an annual payment of $30. The concert begins at 7:30, but you’ll want to get their earlier.

And just in case you haven’t heard Stephanie and Paolo, I offer these four beautiful performances from their November 2013 appearance at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  The room was dark; the sounds were glowing.

THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT:

SHREVEPORT STOMP:

TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE (and why not? The rewards are evident):

Their mock-battle, all in fun, on BILL BAILEY:

See you there. And check out the bill of fare for the rest of 2014: excellent music is on the menu.

May your happiness increase!

THREE TALES TOLD BY KATI POWELL. INCLUDING MEL POWELL, MARTHA SCOTT, BILL DICKEY, BABE RUTH, LOUIS ARMSTRONG, and OTHERS

Kathleen “Kati” Powell is a remarkable person on her own: actress, writer — someone lively and ebullient, as you will see and hear.  She also had remarkable parents: the beautiful actress Martha Scott and the inspiring pianist / composer / arranger Mel Powell, a hero to those of us who know his many aspects.

Thanks to the generosity of Hank O’Neal, I got to know Kati about a year ago.  On August 7, Kati sat down in front of my little camera and told three tales.  I won’t spoil them by any preface: JAZZ LIVES readers will, I am sure, be delighted — as I am.  I will just mention the time and place in which they happened:

1.  The Bronx, New York, 1929:

2.  A Manhattan restaurant, 1964-5:

3.  On the telephone, 1946:

Another aspect of Kati’s generosity and love of her parents will show up in a forthcoming blogpost.  Once again, I think of Yeats’ lines, “Say that my glory was I had such friends.”  Thank you, Kati!

May your happiness increase!

DICK HYMAN, FRIENDS, and FAMILY, MAKE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC

HeatherDick

Dick Hyman not only makes beautiful surprising music on his own — as he has for sixty years — but he attracts the best musicians in surprising combinations.  Here are two recent pairings that couldn’t be better.

HYMAN MASSE

One CD joins Dick and the singer Heather Masse for a program of introspective ballads — with one surprise, a frisky reading of I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART with Heather becoming her own cross between Mae Questel and Fats Waller.  Masse is a deep-voiced marvel, someone truly in touch with the songs — and what songs!  BEWITCHED / LULLABY OF BIRDLAND / SINCE I FELL FOR YOU / OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY / SEPTEMBER SONG / LOST IN THE STARS / LOVE FOR SALE / IF I CALLED YOU / I GOT IT BAD AND THAT AIN’T GOOD / A FLOWER IS A LOVESOME THING / MORNING DRINKER / I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART (AND THROW AWAY THE KEY).  Hyman is, as ever, the most brilliant of piano accompanists.

You can obtain the CD here from Red House Records or here from Dick’s site.

Here’s Heather from the January 29, 2011 PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION — with a tender reading of the Ralph Rainger – Leo Robin JUNE IN JANUARY:

DICK JUDY HYMAN COVER

The second disc is more unusual but exceedingly beautiful — a series of duets (plus a friend or two) for Dick and his daughter, Judy, a fine fiddler and composer — who is responsible for the lovely waltzes on the disc.  It’s not always what you’d expect — melancholy in ways that mix Brahms and folk song — but it is music that lingers in the memory for a long time.  I kept returning to the CD, and there’s no greater tribute.

Here’s the  evocative RALPH’S WATCH:

And SAVE A THOUGHT (in a very beautifully done film by Becky Lane):

And should any rigorous readers worry that octogenarian Hyman has “left jazz piano behind,” his two nights earlier in 2013 at the Kitano (Park Avenue and 38th Street, New York City) in duet with Ken Peplowski were evidence to the contrary.  I wasn’t there, but heard ecstatic comments from a few people who were there — SRO, by the way — and the duo has recorded another CD, to be released in the near future.  

Dick’s stature as a jazz pianist hasn’t been in doubt since the late Forties . . . and neither has his reputation as the great explicator of the art form.  With the help of the much-missed Mat Domber of Arbors Records, Dick created a multiple CD / DVD set, A CENTURY OF JAZZ PIANO.  

CenturyOfJazz2

A new book and DVD combination, published by Hal Leonard, DICK HYMAN’S CENTURY OF JAZZ PIANO — TRANSCRIBED! is a welcome extension of that first impulse.  With clear examples in a large-scale readable format, the gifted or diligent player can follow Dick from the cakewalk to McCoy Tyner in 157 pages.  Now, get to work!

Here’s the Master, himself, doing what he does so beautifully — inventing variations on I CAN’T GET STARTED and I GOT PLENTY OF NUTTIN’ for almost fourteen minutes.  Recorded in January 2010 at the second Arbors Jazz Party:

May your happiness increase!

CHRIS DAWSON, DAN LEVINSON, MOLLY RYAN, and FRIENDS (August 23-24, 2012)

A word to the wise should suffice!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 23:

Molly Ryan, vocals; Dan Levinson, clarinet/saxophone; Chris Dawson, piano.

Doors open at 7 PM; dinner from 7-9 PM (chew slowly); music begins at 9 (joy reigns supreme).

Gardenia Restaurant and Lounge, 7066 Santa Monica Blvd. (at La Brea Ave.), Los Angeles, CA (West Hollywood).  Reservations (strongly recommended): (323) 467-7444

FRIDAY, AUGUST 24

6:30 – 9:30 PM

Chris Dawson, piano; Dan Levinson, clarinet/saxophone; Jay Stock, clarinet.

Deluca Trattoria, 225 Richmond Street, El Segundo, CA.  Reservations: (310) 640-7600.  http://www.delucapasta.com

To keep track of Mister Dawson’s swing comings and goings, you could easily visit his Facebook page here.   Chris and his gang make wonderful music.

May your happiness increase.

A TREASURE: JAMES P. JOHNSON, 1921

From the estate of the late Mike Montgomery — offered for sale on eBay by “bixokeh.”  A treasure!

May your happiness increase.