Yesterday, “on or about” (as the lawyers say) November 2, was Ray Skjelbred’s birthday. But oddly enough, he has the celebration in reverse, for he keeps giving us presents — of swing, whimsy, empathy, and life-affirming joy.
Here’s a sample, with the Cubs, Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar — captured in flight at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 28, 2015.
“I just believe in music,” Ray says. And his faith repays us a thousand-fold.
Butch Thompson, pianist, clarinetist, scholar, bandleader, and superbly gracious human being, just left us on August 14. I had refrained from posting this excellent video because of people crossing in front of the camera, but now it seems precious, and the other members of the trio, Jeff Hamilton, drums, and Clint Baker, string bass, encouraged me to share it with you.
A small irony. NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW is an anthem of the hot jazz Butch created with such ease and energy at the keyboard, but its title is a paradox, for he was the very soul of kindness, making friends out of strangers (even hero-worshiping strangers with video cameras) instantly. I cannot separate the delight of his sounds from the sweetness of the person. Thank you, Butch, for what you did and who you are: they both linger in the mind and heart.
The Concord Jazz record label released its first issue in 1973 at a time when new jazz record labels were blossoming (I think of Norman Granz’s Pablo and Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro, among others). Concord had a particular sound and cross-generational approach: elders like Flip Phillips, Woody Herman, Nat Pierce, Harry Edison, Jimmie Rowles, Rosemary Clooney, Al Cohn, Buddy Tate, alongside newcomers Scott Hamilton and Warren Vache.
The “Concord Jazz All-Stars” also performed in concert, and we are fortunate that some of that material was preserved in video as well as audio form. Here’s the first quarter of an evening performance from July 17 at “Le Festival International du Jazz a Antibes Juan-Les-Pins 1979.”
Marshal Royal, alto saxophone; Snooky Young, trumpet; Ross Tompkins, piano; Michael Moore, string bass; Herb Ellis, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
MOTEN SWING / STARDUST (Marshal) / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL (Snooky) //
Add Scott Hamilton, tenor saxophone; Warren Vache, cornet. C JAM BLUES //
LOVE YOU MADLY Tompkins, Ray Brown, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums //
“Concord” means harmony, and that is true of this music. And there’s a Part Two to come.
Thanks to Scott Hamilton, yes, the Scott Hamilton, for his kind encouragement.
“More than just books”: Eric Whittington’s Bird & Beckett Books (652 Chenery Street, San Francisco, California) is a delightful sanctuary for art, for poetry, for music. And certainly jazz.
July 5, 2022 was an exciting and rare appearance by four of the finest under the banner of RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS: Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
They play and sing:
BLUE AIR BLUES (Ray’s selection of a strain from Sidney Bechet’s BLUES IN THEAIR) / Fats Waller’s THAT RHYTHM MAN / Hines’ ROSETTA, vocal by Ray / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, homage to Joe Sullivan and Bing / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU for Lionel and friends / NOBODY’SSWEETHEART for the Chicagoans / MEMORIES OF YOU for everyone who has memories of Eubie, Louis, Benny, and more / Ray commends the band / OH, BABY! also for the Chicagoans / an intermission / James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE / SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES for Barbara Dane / WHO’S SORRY NOW? for the Blue Note Jazzmen and others / WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD for Bing and Berlin and my friends too / I NEVER KNEW for Benny Carter, Pres, and Berkeley Rhythm / PEG O’MY HEART for Miff Mole / Bubber Miley’s IT DON’T MEAN A THING (IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING) and closing with James P.’s A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID //
Music that’s at once subversive and very direct, with bold statements and tender little explosions. If you can hear the lovely densities, you are tuned to the correct astral channel; if you can’t at first, listen again. And those who are uplifted, as I am, might consider sending a few cyber-lettuce leaves to the sites listed above. Pussycats need food and water; musicians and venues, also.
Or as they say on public radio, THIS JUST IN: Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs (Marc Caparone, trumpet; Clint Baker, guitar; Riley Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums) will be playing a delightful post-pandemic gig on Tuesday, July 5, atBird and Beckett Books (653 Chenery Street), starting at 7:30.
You might hear MICE ISLAND LOVE:
Even though Kim Cusack and Katie Cavera have gigs elsewhere that night, you could also request OH, PETER — because everyone thinks the song and its subject are so nice:
Bird and Beckett is one of my favorite places, temporarily out of reach since I am in New York: a lovely book-and-record store (oh memory! oh memory!) run in the most perceptive hospitable way. You take my seat, please.
And now to the Happy Coincidence portion of our program, although as Poppa Freud is supposed to have said, “There are no accidents.”
I was planning to post the music and commentary below — a precious interlude by Ray at the piano — when news of Bird and Beckett came in. So watch and listen, and get enlightened, and then, if you can get to Chenery Street, hence, begone!
That’s Scott Joplin, Arthur Marshall, and Ray Skjelbred — a thoroughly gratifying melodic corporation if there ever was one — coming together on SWIPSEY CAKEWALK, from 1900, with Joplin composing the trio section, Marshall the main strain, and Skjelbred taking his time to offer us something winning and memorable at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.
Ray understands that the right tempo — casual and leisurely in this case — brings out the beauty of melody and harmony:
I think of this performance as warmly respectful and also groovy: a wonderful combination.
Ray gets to the heart of the song that perhaps we didn’t know was there, but he always does.
The song is CHINA BOY and I believe the next words of the chorus are GO SLEEP, but you couldn’t find a finer example of being brilliantly awake than this performance.
These five musicians are billed as RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS, with Ray at the piano, the occasional vocal, arrangements and spiritual-ethical leadership; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. (Study Hamilton’s melodic accompaniment and solo!)
This performance comes from the Sacramento Music Festival (although I may have the rapidly-changing name wrong) in a delightfully compact room on May 24, 2014:
That is compelling evidence of the magnificence of this little band: hot and delicate all at once, plunging forward with the greatest relaxation. I hope our paths intersect before too long.
In 2014, I had the serious luxury of encountering Ray in a variety of settings at a number of festivals and gigs: I look back on those days and those sounds with wonder — both that they occurred and that I was able to witness them and capture them.
While I was sauntering through my archive of unreleased performances by Ray and friends, I found something unusual — although not unusual for those of us who honor and follow him, those of us who have seen him at jazz festivals, moving from one venue to another, becoming friends with each new piano, taking its pulse by playing it, meditatively yet with strong emotions. During the Jazz Fest by the Bay in Monterey, I knew his meditative ways well enough to turn my camera on him before he became part of the ensemble — Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band, in red polo shirts. And I was rewarded.
Ray told me, “The piano interlude is sort of what I like to do as I adjust to a new piano and setting.” I’ve heard him explore rare Ellington, a Monk blues, Thirties pop songs, and more. I hear the laandmarks of a characteristic blues strain and Bud Freeman’s AFTER AWHILE.
But the interlude so strongly made me think of someone who probably spent no time at the keyboard and who died long before Jess Stacy was born . . . I mean Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote in SELF-RELIANCE, the source of these lines: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.“
Yes, perfect sweetness, mixed with Chicago grit and California musing. Thank you, Cubs. Thank you, Ray.
Let joy be unconfined. It certainly had free room at this July 10, 2014 concert put on by the Dixieland Jazz Club at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek, California. The source of the joy? Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
I always want to celebrate Ray, someone who keeps finding new paths to embody deep truths about life and art and the spirit, but today I post this jubilant video to say WOW in the name of two celebrations — you might know about them or not. Clint Baker has come back from a serious cardiac incident and is recovering well. If it wouldn’t hurt or embarrass him, a line of people would be at his door wanting to embrace him and to thank him for hanging around. And the quietly brilliant Kim Cusack, admired and loved for a million reasons, is celebrating a birthday. It would be indecent to ask him what the relevant number is, and an irrelevancy: he’s here on the planet and we rejoice in that fact.
And we rejoice in this music.
The news might be dark and the skies cloudy, but anytime we can hear the Cubs — ideally, in person, but also on lit screens and through speakers — it is a glorious day. We know them, we love them.
Marc Caparone is a hero of mine, someone who balances passion and control in the nicest individualistic ways. Here he is, heading the most quietly illustrious chamber group at his own birthday party: John “Butch” Smith, alto saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And the song — HOME, so identified with Louis, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Thomas — never fails to move me.
Home, you know, is a state of mind more than an address.
I have particular associations with this performance, having heard the Louis versions and the Jack Teagarden Keynote recording perhaps fifty years ago, and knowing the musicians here for more than a decade. Even if the song and the players are new to you, I hope the passion and joy reaches you:
Just beautiful. Here’s hoping you have your metaphysical HOME, or find one soon.
The title refers to a swing panacea, written by Jimmy Mundy for the Earl Hines band of 1934, named for a libation that mixed rye whiskey with rock candy (sometimes with lemon and herbs) which, I am told, is making a comeback. Whitney Balliett recounted a conversation between Barney Josephson and Helen Humes in the Seventies about the potion, Helen’s drink of choice.
Here’s another version of soothing syrup with a kick, as performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums:
Bring back the Cubs, I say. The world needs their energies.
Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs — that’s Ray, piano and inspiration; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton — answer the musical question at the now-vanished Sacramento Jazz Jubilee (d. 2017), with the notes on the music staff written by Johnny Green as their guide, but also the many performances of this tune, including Bing Crosby, Coleman Hawkins, and Django Reinhardt.
I try to collect rather than hoard — the first is a vocation; the second a disorder — but I’ve been hoarding videos of Ray and his Cubs . . . the way I’d store food for the winter, until I have the good fortune to see them again. Soon, I hope. They mean so much more than canned tuna.
That’s 1929. But here’s 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival — a hot Chicago-style performance (with “surprise vocal”) by the most eloquent Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, who are Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums:
What a gorgeous serving of energies: “infinite propulsion” characterizes the song but also the Cubs, a band I look forward to seeing again . . . soon.
Ray Skjelbred is more than comfortable with taking risks — not hang-gliding or sky-diving, but performing new songs in front of an audience, as he does here. The clues are simple: “Three choruses.” “My favorite Gershwin song,” and he and his Cubs — Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar — take us to another world:
Those of us who follow Ray, and Ray and his Cubs, might quickly associate them with the bedrock of Chicago jazz: dark-blue musings and skyrocket exuberance, and all that would be true. But their deep soulfulness comes out on a quiet but eloquent ballad performance such as this one.
The question is asked, and asked with feeling, leaving listeners to invent their own answers. Bless Ray, and all his friends.
The Sacramento Music Festival, which we miss, was like a sandwich with the cole slaw coming out of the bread on all sides — tasty but messy, a danger to one’s outfit. Bands of all kinds jostled for audibility both in the open air and in unsuitable venues; the whole weekend had the air of a genial traveling carnival slightly awry.
But wonderful music happened in spite of the distractions. Here are two performances, hidden in the JAZZ LIVES archives for moments just such as this, by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, mining deep Chicago gold. They are Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal, Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar. Special effects provided by the winds of fate. (The Cubs should have played BREEZE, but that’s my comic sense, which can be disregarded without harm or wound.)
BULL FROG BLUES:
and that tale of The Ruined Maid, with her new hat and her dubious associations, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW. And NOW as pronounced by Mr. Cusack is a marvel: young actors at the Old Vic study it but is remains elusive:
These performances are nearly seven years “old” but, as Ray says, “We play in the present tense.”
This post doesn’t celebrate an occasion, a birthday, an anniversary, nor does it mourn a death. It’s here so that you, too, can have five minutes of life-affirming joyous sounds . . . and that’s enough or should be.
My meteorological souvenir from the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival.
Here are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, frolicking through the Rodgers and Hart THOU SWELL. They swing from the first note, and my favorite extra pleasure of this is watching Sonny stand up to see just what sonic alchemies Jeff is creating over at the other side of the stage.
As the title says, this was performed at the Evergreen Jazz Festival on July 26, 2o19. I wish I were booked to be there again: I can close my eyes and remember the narrow flight of stairs — blessedly, with a sturdy handrail — that led down from the building to this outdoor stage.
But the music! The propulsion! The panoply of sounds. How very SWELL:
I love this little band, in all its permutations, and I am not alone. When they get onstage, the question posed above becomes completely rhetorical. They most certainly have music, and they share it with us. Here are five lovely (purple-hued) performances from the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, featuring Ray Skjelbred, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dawn Lambeth, vocals.
Here’s LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, evoking Eddie Condon and the first Commodore 78, and the swinging Bing Crosby version a few years earlier:
and James P. Johnson’s song, recorded by Henry “Red” Allen:
and a song associated with Lee Wiley, sweetly sung by Dawn Lambeth:
the beautiful Thirties ballad associated with Billie Holiday:
Finally, Dawn’s exposition of swing frustration (thanks to Walter Donaldson):
Few words. This song has been going through my head since November. It’s appropriate today.
Here’s an uplifting performance by Paolo Alderighi, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Phil Flanigan, string bass, recorded on March 8, 2014, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California:
And a 1958 recording by Ruby Braff, with Roy Eldridge, Hank Jones, Mundell Lowe, Leonard Gaskin, and Don Lamond — one of the shortest performances of the post-78 era, but completely satisfying:
It’s been a long time since I wore shoes that needed to be shined, but changes in fashion are less important than music sweetly offering hope. This song’s optimistic bounce has always pleased me, so I am pleased to share with you the most current version, by the group calling itself THE BIG FIVE. And I can now hear the verse, words and music . . . saying that shiny shoes are the key to success. Were it that easy:
I will also list the credits, because they make me laugh:
The BIG FIVE Robert Young – cornet Robert Young – 1st alto saxophone Robert Young – 2nd alto saxophone Robert Young – tenor saxophone Robert Young – special arrangement Robert Young – just kidding Jeff Hamilton – piano Bill Reinhart – guitar Hal Smith – drums Clint Baker – string bass.
The source of all this pleasure is the Epiphonaticchannel on YouTube, full of quiet swinging marvels. This morning, it had 99 subscribers. Surely JAZZ LIVES readers can add to that number.
Now, a little history. Three versions! — by the Rhythmakers, here under Jack Bland’s name, the recording band whose output Philip Larkin and others thought a high point in the art of the last century. Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Tommy Dorsey, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Happy Caldwell, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Eddie Condon, banjo; Jack Bland, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums; Chick Bullock, vocal. Oct. 8, 1932. Incidentally, admire Froeba’s playing (he’s gotten slandered because of later pop dross) and do not mock Chick Bullock, the perfect session singer — in tune, delivering melody and lyrics in a clear, friendly voice, which gave listeners the welcoming illusion that they, too, could sing on records:
a different take, where Chick sings “find”:
and a third take, a few seconds shorter since they do not perform the whole closing chorus, but at a less incendiary tempo:
and a duet of Monette Moore and Fats Waller, September 28, 1932 — a test recording that was not issued at the time:
A pity that the record company (I think it was Columbia’s predecessor, the American Record Company, then near bankruptcy) didn’t make a dozen records with Monette Moore, sweetly growling, and Fats Waller, at his relaxed best.
It also occurred to me while tracing this song that it documents a vanished time: when hot jazz and new Broadway songs were in the most effusive gratifying embrace. That current pop hits could be swung by Pee Wee Russell for records that ordinary people bought . . . now seems a dream. But I have the BIG FIVE to console me.
As you might have guessed from my last name (which isn’t LIVES) I grew up looking at Christmas as something to get through. And so there’s very little “official” Christmas music I embrace: Johnny Guarnieri’s SANTA’S SECRET; Mark Shane’s Nagel-Heyer CD, WHAT WILL SANTA CLAUS SAY? Louis’s WHITE CHRISTMAS, with its unusual emphasis on the final word of the lyric. In a pinch, Hampton’s GIN FOR CHRISTMAS, but that’s a stretch.
So I report with pleasure that friends of mine, brilliant joy-makers, created two sweetly rocking versions of this pineapple-scented Christmas song, which I am embarrassed to say I had never listened to until now. But it takes its place as the Official JAZZ LIVES Christmas Performance, and there’s even an alternate take.
“Mele Kalikimaka” (pronounced [ˈmɛlɛ kəˌlikiˈmɐkə]) is a Hawaiian-themed Christmas song written in 1949 by R. Alex Anderson. The song takes its title from the Hawaiian phrase Mele Kalikimaka, meaning “Merry Christmas.” One of the earliest recordings of this song was by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1950 on Decca.
The BIG FIVE . . . are Robert Young, tenor saxophone; Jeff Hamilton, piano, arranger; Bill Reinhart, banjo and executive producer; Jessica King, vocal; Mikiya Matsuda, National resophonic lap steel guitar; Clint Baker, string bass.
And before you click: they’re just wonderful — easy tender slightly amused melodic swing. You can hear them smiling.
and the alternate version:
When I look at the new videos on YouTube from “Epiphonatic,” and see that it has only 82 subscribers to this channel, I think, as I often do, “What is wrong with people?” So get there and get your joys. Free, buoyant, and one size fits all. And have a very delightful Christmas. Eat some fresh pineapple.
Yesterday, I posted a video of Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs performing BIG BOY here, and the response was so enthusiastic that I thought, “Let’s have another one right now.”
Ninety-five years ago, people were praising Peter — first instrumentally (Herb Wiedoft, Glen Oswald’s Serenaders, the Broadway Dance Orchestra, Paul Specht, Alex Hyde, Red Nichols) — then vocally (Arthur Fields with Sam Lanin) and the 1932 “Rhythmakers” sessions that Philip Larkin thought the highest art.
Here, as a historical benchmark, is a 1924 version by Glen Oswald’s Serenaders (recorded in Oakland, California) — a varied arrangement, full of bounce:
“Peter” remains a mystery – – but we do know that he was “so nice,” as proven by four versions of this secular hymn of praise to his romantic ardor recorded in April and May 1932 by the Rhythmakers, a beyond-our-wildest-dreams group featuring Henry Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, Jack Bland, Al Morgan, Zutty Singleton. If you don’t know the Rhythmakers sessions, you are honor-bound to do some of the most pleasurable research.
But here we are in 2014, with Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at the one-day al fresco jazz party held at Cline Wineries in Napa, California. This wondrous little band — having themselves a time while making sure we do also — is Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. Members of the Cubs have been known to burst into song, but this time Peter’s praises must be imagined or implied. However, Ray and the Cubs are clearly nice and more: no ambiguity there.
The Cubs continue to delight me for the best reasons. They don’t wear brightly-colored polo shirts; they are humorous but not jokey; they play hot and sweet music — honoring everyone from Frank Teschemacher and Eddie Condon to Jimmie Noone and Jeni Le Gon — without putting on the kind of show that more popular “trad” bands get away with. They are what Milt Hinton called GOOD MUSIC, and I celebrate them. Tell the children that such a thing exists, please.
And a digression (what’s a blog for if the CEO can’t digress?) — OH PETER — no comma in the original — was composed by Herb Wiedoft, Gene Rose, and Jesse Stafford. Wiedoft played trumpet and led his own orchestra, where Rose played piano and wrote arrangements; Stafford played trombone and baritone horn. And hereis the original sheet music, verse and chorus.
I take a deep breath and point out that “peter” has been slang for “penis” since the mid-nineteenth century. . . . so “When you are by my side / That’s when I’m satisfied,” and “There’s nothing sweeter, Peter, Peter,” in the chorus, has always made me wonder, and the verse, new to me, contains the lines, “I’m missin’ / Your love and kissin’ ? And lots of other things too.” The lyrics do state that Peter is a real person who has been “stepping out,” but if the song were titled OH SAMMY, would it have the same effect? (What of Morton’s 1929 SWEET PETER, by the way?) Perhaps you will propose that I need a more virtuous life, but I wonder if this song was sung with a wink at the audience, even though it’s clearly not a double-entendre blues of the period. Do think on it. And please admire my superb restraint in not titling this post IS YOUR PETER NICE?
Note: any connections between BIG BOY and OH PETER that readers might perceive are their own responsibility.
Ray Skjelbred is one of my favorite artists — his scope is too large to be confined to “pianist,” and his Cubs are a favorite band of mine. I can’t say that the pandemic has brought an onslaught of pleasures, but the absence of real-time gigs has sent me back to my archives, and I find many unseen video-recordings of Ray and his Cubs, which it is my pleasure to share with you.
The Cubs are a winning team, although they don’t employ the usual sporting goods: rather, they create uplifting music no matter where they are or what the tempo is. This performance of a song associated with Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverines took place during Ray’s mid-summer 2014 California tour (here, they are playing for the Napa Valley Dizieland Jazz Society). The Cubs — bless them! — are Ray, piano, occasional vocal, ethical guidance; Jeff Hamilton, drums and slyness; Clint Baker, string bass, occasional vocal, moral rectitude; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar, occasional vocal, warmth; Kim Cusack, clarinet, occasional vocal; whimsical sagacity. If you know Claude Hopkins, you’ll get the reference to THE TRAFFIC WAS TERRIFIC, but the Cubs’ vibrations come right through.
Speaking of “big boys,” a story of dubious relevance. Decades ago, my friend Stu (who reads this blog) and I went to lunch at a kosher delicatessen. I was hungry and ordered a good deal of food; Stu had eaten and said to the very theatrical woman holding her pad and pencil, “I’ll just have an order of fries,” which we did as a matter of course then. She looked aghast and said, mixing mock-horror and mock-solicitude, “Such a small portion for such a BIG BOY?” but Stu resisted the Sirens’ song.
All I will say is that this performance — by the clock — is a small portion; it would fit on a V-Disc, but it is a tableful of joy. And there’s more to come.
Take a deep breath, see that your eyeglasses are clean, ask your neighbor to take a break from leaf blowing . . . and get ready to admire.
What follows is a wonderful assemblage of rewarding details that make a performance soar and shine. Everybody knows EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, ninety years old in 2014, and the song flexibly lends itself to many approaches: a slow-drag tempo with the verse (think: Blue Note Jazzmen) or delightedly skittering around the room, making all the turns (any Fifties Eddie Condon performance).
The creators here are Ray Skjelbred, piano and imagination; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar, and this took place at the one-day jazz festival at Cline Cellars Winery in Sonoma, California.
The pleasures of this al fresco performance are double: first, the joy of hearing Ray and his Cubs do anything, and second, the little architectural details that delight and surprise, throughout. Ray says this performance takes some of its inspiration from the 1929 Earl Hines Victor recording of the tune, but it’s clear that the record is a leaping-off place rather than a model to be copied.
The DETAILS I celebrate here are Clint’s arco string bass work, Jeff’s tom-toms, Kim’s magical ability to sing and play at the same time, or nearly so, the duet scored for Cusack and Skjelbred; evocations of Jess Stacy’s 1938 “A-minor thing” even if it’s not in A-minor, and the delicious surprise of the bridge of the last chorus:
I so admire the romping large-scale scope of this performance — people confident and joyous in the sunshine — but the details that poke their heads through from below I find thrilling.
Here’s Earl Hines, playing, leading, and scat-singing:
I couldn’t close this blogpost without commenting that Benny Hill used to announce this song on his television show as EVERY BABY LOVES MY BODY, which works also.
Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs: from left, Clint Baker, gazing skyward; Kim Cusack, arms folded; Katie Cavera, instantly recognizable; Ray, with blue cap, inviting us to come along; Jeff Hamilton, thinking his thoughts.
I’m honored to share the planet with Ray Skjelbred, who turns eighty today.
At the piano bench as well as elsewhere, he is a poet, a teacher, an inventor and then revealer of secrets, a writer of mysteries populated by velvet moles, eagles, and dogs, where no one gets killed. Tenaciously yet delicately, he walks through walls as if they were beaded curtains.
Ray Skjelbred calls his Cubs “my favorite band,” and it’s easy to see why — a lovely combination of Basie and Bobcats, illuminated by a sweet lyricism at once on-the-porch and Milt Gabler-joyous.
We salute him; we salute his Cubs, who are Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. These performances took wing at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 28, 2015.
OH, BABY, DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE:
Kim swears he’s KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, but the jury is still out:
something for the Apex Club Orchestra, EVERY EVENING:
If my wishes aren’t enough, here’s a HAPPY BIRTHDAY (March 10, 1938) from Bobby Hackett, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, Ray Biondi, Artie Shapiro, George Wettling, Leo Watson. Since it’s mislabeled below, I also offer the nostalgic maroon Commodore label, a jazz madeline:
as it appeared on turntables:
To borrow Whitney Balliett’s words, “Bless Ray Skjelbred. And may he prosper.”