Tag Archives: jazz piano

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!