Tag Archives: Jeff Hamilton

“FROM THE LAND WHERE PALM TREES SWAY” (December 25, 2020)

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.

May your happiness increase!

PEOPLE SAY THE NICEST THINGS ABOUT PETER

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 here is 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.

May your happiness increase!

SUCH A BIG BOY!

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.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS (July 12, 2014)

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.

May your happiness increase!

ANNIVERSARY STOMP: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to RAY SKJELBRED!

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.”

May your happiness increase!

THE WINNING TEAM: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON and MARC CAPARONE (November 27, 2015)

Were you to call me a “hoarder,” I would be insulted, but I have been hoarding lovely treasures — previously unseen performance videos — since March 12, 2020, which was the last jazz gig I attended.  One of the treasures I dug up recently is a set played and sung by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at 2015 the San Diego Jazz Fest: Ray, piano and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums, Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar, with a guest appearance by Marc Caparone, cornet, on the closing song.

I’d held off on these because my place in the room didn’t allow me to see Ray at the keyboard — a pleasure I always want — and the lighting person, believing that jazz is best played in semi-darkness, had made everyone purple.  Whether it was allegiance to the Lake Isle of Innisfree or a secret love of Barney the dinosaur, I didn’t ask, but it was visually unnerving.

The music, however, was and is delightful.

I missed the first bars of James P. Johnson’s AIN’T ‘CHA GOT MUSIC? — but such lapses are, I hope, forgivable:

Many vintage jazz fans know YOU’RE SOME PRETTY DOLL in George Brunies’ UGLY CHILE — but this version has no mockery in it:

Ray loves the optimistic song LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY (from the 1935 KING OF BURLESQUE, and so do we.  Bring back the New Deal!

Marc Caparone, cornet, always welcome, joins in for I FOUND A NEW BABY, what George Avakian would call “the final blow-off”:

I know I’m out of my depth when I resort to sports metaphors, but these Cubs always win the game.  Bless them, and I hope to see a Reunion.

May your happiness increase!

 

EUREKA! A LITTLE MORE MUSIC FROM LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (Redwood Coast Music Festival, Friday, May 10, 2019)

The words “2020 has been a year of losses” are a painful understatement.  One such human loss was the sudden death of the joyously energetic guitarist Little Charlie Baty, whom I met for the first and only time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, in early May 2019.

Here is one set of facts, as presented by the Sacramento Bee on March 15, 2020:

CHARLES ERIC BATY 1953-2020

Charles passed away suddenly on March 6, 2020 at age 66. He developed pneumonia and died of a heart attack while hospitalized in Vacaville. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to California in 1961. He was preceded in death by his wife Sylvia, sister Paige, and mother Patricia. Charles, a well-known Blues guitarist, taught himself to play the harmonica and guitar at the age of twelve. After graduating from U. C. Berkeley with a degree in mathematics in 1975, he worked for many years at U. C. Davis while performing music at night. In 1976 Charles and Rick Estrin formed the group Little Charlie & the Nightcats. The group signed with Alligator Records in 1987. Charles retired from the group in 2008 but continued to perform in numerous venues. Services will be held Monday, March 16, 11 am at Klumpp’s Funeral Home, 2691 Riverside Blvd. Sacramento CA 95818, followed by interment at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Those facts are useful — coordinates for us to locate ourselves in relation to Little Charlie’s sudden absence — but they are just facts.

Charlie (I find it hard to think of his gently imposing presence as “Little” in any way) was a precise, powerful player, but his appeal to me and to others was emotional.  He created melodies that, even when phrased with delicacy, felt strong; his rhythms caught us; we swayed to his pulse and his lines.

So here is the story behind the performance and the performance videos I present now.  I had an extraordinarily gratifying time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, listening to bands that might otherwise have been fantasies I’d dreamed of — now in the flesh, playing and singing.  Most of the music I heard was in small venues (the Morris Graves Library) and a few larger halls.  I walked to the cavernous Eureka Municipal Auditorium (thanks to Derral Alexander Campbell for supplying the name and also agreeing that it was “a sound man’s nightmare”) — a huge hall with a balcony running around its upper level — but a band led by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, and featuring Little Charlie; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, was scheduled to appear there.

I got to the hall early, and found an energetic band, not to my liking, more rock than jazz or blues, pummeling a rapt audience who had filled the front half of the hall.  It was loud.  When they had mercifully (to me, at least) finished, I looked for a seat in the front from which to video, but the happy listeners had no intention of leaving, and I climbed up to the balcony to catch my friend-heroes in action.  I set up my camera (small) and my microphone (sensitive but also small) and settled in to video-record the performance.

The sound people at this festival were generally superb — and what follows may reflect my predilection for small halls and almost-or-completely unamplified sound — but whoever was running the board for this set wanted a good deal of volume to fill the hall.  I have never been to a rock concert, but this sounded like rock-concert volume.  The music was splendid, but I felt like a pineapple chunk in a blender, and after a few selections I left.  As I walked to the next venue, I could hear the music from far away.  I write this long prelude to explain the unusual sonic ambiance.  I thought these videos were unusable, and when I sent them to a few of the musicians and heard no comment, I felt as if they agreed.

But this year — the desert of music as well as so much else — I thought, “Let me listen again.  These are precious documents: Charlie isn’t going to play anymore,” so I offer them to you — loud, funky, good and greasy.  (“Greasy,” for the timidly scrupulous, is praise.)

47th STREET JIVE, a series of life-instructions and exhortations:

CHERRY RED, a color Big Joe Turner found in life, not in a Crayola box:

FISHERMAN’S BLUES, for my pescatorian readers:

INDIANA BOOGIE: “the moonlight on the water” never sounded like this:

As I wrote yesterday here in a post featuring Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang performing CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans) at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, it’s been postponed to September 30 – October 3, 2021, and I am looking forward to being there.  I’ll tell you more as those months approach, but I have already purchased a 2021 wall calendar and marked off those boxes.  It’s never too early to anticipate joys.

May your happiness increase!

A SWING AVALANCHE IN C: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, LAKSHMI RAMIREZ, JEFF HAMILTON (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

Doctor Leyland, Doctor Ramirez. By appointment only.

Hide the children, and wrap the breakables in bubble wrap — or perhaps the other way around.  But don’t fear: even with the terrifying weather disasters of late this avalanche is only musical and can be enjoyed as something not threatening.

It’s a little set-closing themeless boogie-woogie in C that builds and builds, created by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 7, 2020 — when we thought we would have all the time we wanted for music in a world that wasn’t in flames:

May your happiness increase!

ASKING THE EXISTENTIAL QUESTION: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, LAKSHMI RAMIREZ, JEFF HAMILTON (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

You may think that this blogpost has an overly serious title, but look at the sheet music below, words and music by Charles N. Daniels, who also wrote (in part or wholly) CHLOE, SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, MOONLIGHT AND ROSES, and YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM — under a number of pseudonyms:

“Where shall I go?” is the question for the ages, especially for 2020.  Even Lucille Benstead, “Australian Operatic Star,” with her particularly yearning expression, wants to know the healing answers.  And the GPS had not yet been invented.

It used to be that one answer was “Go out and hear live music,” an option almost closed off, in the name of Prudence.  But I offer an alternative: music that is still alive, even though it comes to us through a lit screen.

This frolicsome example — suggested by alto saxophonist Jacob Zimmerman — is good medicine. Helen Humes recalled that it was the first song she sang with the Count Basie band in 1938, and that’s a wonderful double endorsement.

It comes from a set at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, under the leadership of Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, with Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, performed on March 7, 2020, before the skies darkened.

I don’t know where you’re going to go, but I am going to play the video again.  Better than coffee, clean sheets, a shower, or a phone call from a friend for making the soul feel as if answers are possible.

May your happiness increase!

“IN YOUR HOLLYWOOD BED” and OTHER SEISMIC EXPERIENCES: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, LAKSHMI RAMIREZ, JEFF HAMILTON (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

These posts require a good deal of research.  For instance, in the first song performed by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay (March 7, 2020), Big Joe Turner’s CHERRY RED, the lyrics refer to “your Hollywood bed,” and I had to find out what variety of bed that was.

The general consensus is that it is a bed frame with low legs, a box spring, a mattress, no footboard but with an upholstered or elaborate headboard.  Hence:

In other versions of CHERRY RED, Big Joe sings “your big brass bed,” but Sonny wisely chose an ornate headboard for this performance:

Those lyrics describe pleasure, regularly offered and enjoyed: in fact, the erotic bliss is such that the singer’s athletic female partner raises his blood pressure to possibly dangerous levels, but it’s worth it.  “Eagle rock me, baby.”

IF I HAD MY WAY (in an instrumental version) made famous once again by Bing Crosby, was written in 1913 by James Kendis (music) and Lou Klein (words).  The lyrics, suitable for that year, are chaste and respectful: the singer wants to treat his darling with reverence befitting a queen.  I can’t say that this 2020 version is at all reverent, but it surely rocks just as vigorously as the carnality of CHERRY RED:

And to keep everything in balance — Dionysiac eroticism and Apollonian good behavior, here’s a boogie-woogie jam with no name and no theme: Sonny announces it as NO PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS, which I like tremendously:

More to come from this wonderful little band that does everything so well.  It seems ages ago that I was in this little room, in the front row, camera and notebook, enjoying every thirty-second note.  Gratitude to you, Sonny, Lakshmi, Jeff, and Jacob, for so generously giving of yourselves.

May your happiness increase!

SKATING TEN FEET ABOVE THE GROUND: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS (America’s Classic Jazz Festival, Lacey, Washington: June 28/30, 2019)

An inspiring Cub relic.

Hearing Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, I recall the folktale where the wind and the sun (having nothing better to do) wager about which one can get a man to remove his coat.  The wind blows, but the man merely wraps his coat tightly around him.  The sun gently beams down on the man, and sweat starts to pour off his forehead, so he is glad to take off that coat.  Persuasion, not force.

That tale stands for so much jazz that I admire.  Sometimes it’s ferocious, even bombastic — ensemble choruses at the end of a performance, and we cheer.  Perhaps I am thinking of the Great Dane puppy who just wants to greet you, and then you’re both on the floor.  Surprise!

But I secretly revere the sweet stealth of music that says, “Come a little closer.  Of course, nothing is happening.  Just set a spell and enjoy,” and, seductively, osmotically, we become spellbound.  The finest example is the Basie rhythm section; then, Duke and Blanton; Fats Waller on PRETTY DOLL; Sir Charles Thompson on Vanguard; and Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs.

Thirteen months ago, give or take a day, what I call the Pacific Northwest edition of Ray and his Cubs appeared as a guest band at America’s Classic Jazz Festival, in Lacey, Washington.  I wasn’t there to record it, but Ray’s faithful videographer RaeAnn Berry was, and so I can share a few videos with you: dancing or skating without ever doing something so mundane as touching the ground.

They are Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, acoustic guitar.

OUT OF NOWHERE, June 30:

IDA (for Auntie Ida Melrose Shoufler, of course), June 28:

and with a nod to Joe and Bing, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, again from June 30:

I could have called this post ADVENTURES IN MEDIUM-TEMPO, and you would have gotten the point as well.  Or, this photograph of two Deities who took human form for some decades to show us how it should be done:

Blessings on Ray, his Cubs, and RaeAnn.

May your happiness increase!

 

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!

“A POST-GRADUATE SEMINAR IN NEW ORLEANS CLARINET,” featuring RYAN CALLOWAY with CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND: RYAN CALLOWAY, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, BILL REINHART, JESS KING, HAL SMITH (Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California, March 7, 2020)

“Don’t be afraid,” Clint says to some audience members, timidly straggling in to this session at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, and I would echo his words.  I know that “seminar,” to some, will mean a dry academic exercise . . . heaven forbid, a lecture. But that isn’t the case here.  Clint guides us through the subject, so I don’t have to write much, but this set is a joyous exploration into music that we take for granted, and players unjustly neglected in the rush to celebrate the newest and the most photogenic.  Take your seat: the fun’s about to begin.

This dapper young man spent eight years studying Albert-system clarinet under the tutelage of Professor Baker, and you’ll hear the delicious results.  (More musical than my doctoral orals.)  Clint plays trumpet here; Riley Baker, trombone; Hal Smith, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Bill Reinhart, Jess King, banjo.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE, for Willie Humphrey:

PERDIDO STREET BLUES, for Johnny Dodds:

ORIENTAL MAN, for Dodds and Jimmy Blythe:

JUST TELEPHONE ME, for Tom Sharpsteen and the New Orleans revival players:

WOLVERINE BLUES, for Jelly Roll Morton and his clarinetists:

ST. LOUIS BLUES, for Larry Shields and the ODJB:

BURGUNDY STREET BLUES, for George Lewis:

HIGH SOCIETY, for Alphonse Picou and all the giants who play(ed) it:

I didn’t deceive you.  That was fun, and you’ve gotten some post-graduate music and education also.  Hail Ryan Calloway and his bandmates, and Professor Baker!

May your happiness increase!

LESSONS IN LEVITATION: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JOSH ROBERTS, MATT WEINER, JEFF HAMILTON (June 30, 2019)

An inspiration for this inspiring little band.

Thanks to the ever=devoted SFRaeAnn, we have a five-minute treatise on the most inspired floating, created in front of an audience at America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, on June 30, 2019.  The players here are Ray Skjelbred, making that old keyboard sound exactly like new; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Josh Roberts, guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And their particular text is LADY BE GOOD, by George and Ira Gershwin, first performed in 1924 and immediately taken up by jazz musicians, dance bands, and singers of all kinds — from Ben Bernie and the California Ramblers to the present day.

Perhaps because tempos in performance naturally increase, and because it is such a familiar set of chord changes (from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Incorporated recording on) it’s usually played at a brisk tempo.  This performance is a sly glide, a paper airplane dreamily navigating the air currents before coming to a gentle landing.  And — taking the Basie inspiration to new heights — this performance so lovingly balances appreciative silence with sound.

It doesn’t need my annotations: it reveals itself to anyone willing to pay attention.  Watch the faces of the musicians; hear their delighted affirmations.  As James Chirillo says, music was made:

Blessings on them all, past and present, visible and ectoplasmic.  The Cubs lift us up but never drop us down.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOME, JESS KING!* (with Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 8, 2020) [*AGAIN!]

It’s presumptuous of me to welcome Jess King — a warm-hearted swinging singer and banjo-guitarist-percussionist — to the world, since she has been making music in the Bay Area most happily for a time.  But this is the first opportunity I have to post videos of her performance, so that could count as a welcome — to JAZZ LIVES, at least.  [On Facebook, she’s Jessica King Music.]

I knew of her work for some time with Clint Baker’s All-Stars at Cafe Borrone, performances documented by Rae Ann Berry, and a few other lovely videos of Jess with hero-friends Nick Rossi and Bill Reinhart, and Jeff Hamilton at Bird and Beckett, have appeared in the usual places. . . such as here, which is her own YouTube channel.  I am directing you there because there are — horrors! — other people with the same name on YouTube.  The impudence.

In researching this post, however, I found that my idea of “welcome” above was hilariously inaccurate, because I had posted videos of Jess singing with Clint’s band at a Wednesday Night Hop on January 8, 2014.  That’s a long time back, and I am not posting the videos here because she might think of them as juvenilia, but both she and I were in the same space and moment, which shows that a) she’s been singing well for longer than I remembered, and b) that it’s a good thing that I am wielding a video camera rather than something really dangerous, like a scissors.  I tell myself, “It was really dark there.  I apologize.”

But enough verbiage.

Jess herself is more than gracious, and when I asked her to say where she’d come from, she wrote, “I’d say I’m inspired by blues, traditional jazz, swing, Western swing, and r&b.  Vocally, Barbara Dane has been a big influence on me. I also really love Una Mae Carlisle, Peggy Lee, Nat Cole, Bessie Smith, Anita O’Day, and of course Ella Fitzgerald. I grew up listening to a lot of Nat Cole, Patsy Cline, Aretha Franklin, and Lauren Hill. Random enough for ya? 😂 Clint Baker and Isabelle Magidson have both been so good to me as mentors and dear friends. They’re a huge part of my musical growth in this community.”

Here’s Jess, with Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, on March 8, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay (the four selections taken from two sets that day).  The NOJB is Clint, trumpet; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Riley Baker, trombone; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; [Jeff Hamilton is on ROSETTA]; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

ROSETTA:

SAN FRANCISCO BAY BLUES:

HESITATIN’ BLUES (or HESITATING or HESITATION, depending on which sect you belong to, Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox):

and her gentle, affectionate take on SUGAR:

She has IT — however you would define that pronoun — and the instrumentalists she works with speak of her with admiration and respect.  And when the world returns to its normal axis and rational behavior is once again possible, Jess has plans for her first CD under her own name.  I suggested that the title be THE KING OF SING, but I fear it was too immodest for her.  She makes good music: that is all I will say.

May your happiness increase!

LIKE CURES LIKE, IN B FLAT

Doctor Leyland, Doctor Ramirez. By appointment only.

I’m not a practitioner of homeopathy, although I have used some of its remedies with success.  But I do know that a basic principle is “like cures like”: you suffer from too much heat, you take in a remedy that increases the heat.  Bear with me.

Doctor Hamilton. “May I see your insurance card?”

In gloomy times like this, my first impulse is to share the most effervescent music I can find, and I suppose that might work for some listeners.  But today I am taking a homeopathic approach: offer you some gloomy groovy sounds — and please do wait for the musical punchline!

Doctor Zimmerman. Take as needed.

These four eminent medical professionals got together for a consult on Saturday, March 7, under the auspices of the Jazz Bash by the Bay, in Monterey, California: Carl Sonny Leyland, piano, vocal, and moral enlightenment; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass and mood-enhancement; Jeff Hamilton, drums and philosophical commentary; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and spiritual journeys.  Under Doctor Leyland’s guidance, they performed a Dark Sonata in Bb, otherwise known as the Empty Room Blues, recorded by Memphis Slim in late 1940:

I don’t know why this makes me feel better.  It would make me uncomfortable to think it was Schadenfreude — “Hey, someone’s got it worse and that’s wonderful!” — but perhaps it is the immense joy of hearing these artists bring such light-hearted expertise to a dark text.  And the punchline makes me laugh.

I hope you feel better, too.  Don’t hesitate to call the office if symptoms recur.May your happiness increase!

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE

Mal Sharpe and the “Big Money in Jazz” band

Mal Sharpe moved to another neighborhood on March 10, 2020.  He refuses to go away, so it is both an obligation and a privilege to honor him here.  His official obituary depicts him as a comedian:  

Mal Sharpe, ‘The Man on the Street’ radio gag man, dies at 83

That’s one way to see Mal, but between 2011 and 2014,  I knew him well as the leader of a band of idiosyncratic individualists, playing traditional jazz and standards, and as a friend.  I brought my camera and videoed him and his band, “Big Money in Jazz,” at the No Name in Sausalito, at the Savoy Tivoli and Fior d’Italia in San Francisco, at an outdoor concert in North Beach, and once in Armando’s in Martinez.  You can find my videos on YouTube, of course. 

Even though I celebrate Mal as musician and friend, this demands to be included, with all respect to Larry Scala, who told Mal the joke and was never credited:

You know.”

I checked my email files and found that I first met him through my friend Jeff Hamilton in 2011: I’d written to Mal for permission to video his gig at Armando’s, and he was very gracious, telling me that he had seen my blog many times.  Later, I came to his regular gigs, chatted with him, and took pleasure in the band.  He was physically large — tall and broad-shouldered, even though he slumped down in his chair while playing — well dressed in an intentionally casual way.

In those years I was commuting-for-romance from New York, and although I loved being in California, I missed the banquet of music at home.  I was sustained by Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All-Stars and the occasional swing dance gig, but initially found driving to and parking in San Francisco terrifying.  Going to Sausalito was easier — I clearly recall parking my car on Bridgeway and walking past a vertical bank of nasturtiums, which I ate liberally, much to the horror of my companion: I compromised by eating only those above dog-height.  I digress, of course.

The No Name Bar in Sausalito was quite awful, and since I had not been a bar-goer in my youth, I recoiled from its most remarkable features: the broken toilet in the men’s room, the bill of fare that was microwaved popcorn in paper bags, local beer, ordinary spirits, an odd clientele, Nancy, behind the bar, gracious in a rough-hewn way, the band assembled on a narrow stand parallel to the bar.  I remember coming outside after the gig and feeling that the world was strange because it was so clean and bright.  

I never knew in advance who was going to be on the stand with Mal — sometimes superb players, sometimes those who had once been superb, and some others — but the music was always interesting, if only because it was precarious: would X know the chords to the bridge? would Y accelerate his usual glacial pace to get to the end of the chorus when everyone else did?  And there was always Mal, who had his routines, but delivered them with that combination of “I know this by heart” and “I just made this up” that I found charming.  Hearing and watching him do something as mundane as gently hector the crowd to put tips in the jar was worth the drive. 

Mal also had regular improvisations.  One of them was that he would go to a local thrift store (was it in Berkeley or in Oakland?) and buy nearly-useless trinkets — little plastic toys or medical items of no value but much strangeness — and set up mock-contests whose winners would receive some bizarre prize.  I don’t think I am making this up, but once it was the empty case in which one could carry an enema bag.  The takers were few. 

Here is Mal’s New-England based improvisation with which he closed the afternoon’s music:

He played trombone and sang.  As a singer he could be marvelously affecting, and one of the delights of the band was that it was not a stereotypical Bourbon Street band.  If they played the SAINTS, I don’t recall.  And — in the fashion of the great postwar ensembles of Boston (where Mal had grown up (he’d been to George Wein’s Mahogany Hall) and New York, where I had, the band explored standards.  You were much more likely to hear PENNIES FROM HEAVEN than BOURBON STREET PARADE, although they did perform ICE CREAM and Mal liked women singers who favored Billie and Ella, so the band had a less-raucous air to it.  Here’s an example I found moving at the time and still do:

That’s classic Mal — singing with sly tenderness, but also with new lyrics he probably made up on the drive from Berkeley to the gig.

Mal and I bonded because he saw that I was going to use the blog and camera to celebrate him — not embarrass him — and he once said to me, after a post, “Michael, you made us sound so good!” which pleased me.  He knew he was an amateur trombonist, and he said as much, but he stayed within his limitations and thus did no harm. 

We also drifted into a sideways friendship over delicatessen sandwiches at Saul’s, and talked of our mutual hero Vic Dickenson.  I gave him copies of recordings I’d made of Vic, and sometimes our phone conversation would start with his commenting about what Vic had done on the second chorus of SONNY BOY on the CDs I’d made for him.  When I visited him at home once or twice, he invited me into his den, which had photographs of his and my heroes on the wall, a barber’s chair that he sat in to practice, and other oddments. 

I emailed him often, mostly propelled by my finding a new picture or video that I knew he would like, and his brief responses had a telling comical snap.  Face to face, Mal and I spoke of recordings we were listening to; I brought him jazz gossip from New York and he talked about chance meetings with great people and odd ones, taking perhaps more delight in the latter than the other. 

As noted in the newspaper obituary, he was a great on-the-spot improviser of nearly-surreal sketch comedies, and once that I recall I felt (years after the fact) that I had become a character in a Sharpe sketch.  We both knew someone on the New York scene — a fan, amateur musician, and schnorrer (Mal loved Yiddish) who was always on the lookout for some apparently-altruistic scheme that would benefit no one but himself.  He came into the conversation and Mal and I took turns enthusiastically narrating his small-time thieveries.  The next time we met I brought him up with vengeful glee and told of his latest feats while Mal sat silent, listening.  When I ran out of energy, Mal looked at me after a long pause and said that he had decided to speak of this person no more, that it was not what he should be doing, and so on.  At the time, I felt as if Mal had let me walk blindfolded into a hole he had just dug, and said, “Hey, you could have stopped me at the start of blackening this person’s character,” and I don’t recall what he said.  Years later I understood that he had let me go on for the pleasure of the punchline, and I appreciated it as much as I could.

I am not sure if I discerned it or Mal himself told me, but he was a classic paradox — a shy man who sought the limelight as long as he could control it.  I think he needed to be onstage, to make people laugh and applaud, but (with the tuna or turkey sandwich he had Nancy get for him) he needed even more to drive home in silence, then be at home with no one bothering him.  Later on he told me that it wasn’t just shyness, it was anxiety, and I felt very sorrowful, but it also helped me understand him better: as if someone afraid of drowning forced himself to take swimming lessons, even though they scared him terribly and he never got any better.  

When I came back to New York in January 2015, I was happy to be home but I missed Mal greatly, and I would pick up the phone and call him.  I think the last time we spoke was in 2017, and I sensed that he had retreated from the world more than a little.  He stopped responding to emails as well.  But that is too sad a note to end my recollections on.  

How could you not love a man whose email signature (edited by me) was . . . .

MAL SHARPE
Host of KCSM’s Back on Basin Street 91.1
Man On The Street Productions & Big Money in Jazz
Home phone xxx xxx xxxx cell xxx xxx xxxx
Teenage Home phone in Newton, Ma. Bi-4-9509 (If my mother answers, hang up)

DON’T LOOK AT THE TROMBONES, IT ONLY ENCOURAGES THEM—RICHARD STRAUSS

and then there’s this song and performance.  Larry told me today, as we spoke of Mal, that it was Mal’s opening song for gigs:

I think Mal would be embarrassed by having more than fifteen hundred words written about him, but when he could be by himself in his barber chair, he would be secretly pleased.  Perhaps he would have emailed me to say he never ate turkey.

My condolences to Sandra and Jennifer Sharpe.  And my gratitude to Mal for letting me be one of the band in my own way

.

May your happiness increase!

LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, BLAZING

Clint Baker, Marc Caparone, Jeff Hamilton, Dawn Lambeth, Little Charlie Baty at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 2019

The profoundly swinging guitarist and admirable man Little Charlie Baty has died of a coronary at 67.  I promised myself I would not make this site a necrophile’s amusement park, but I make exceptions for people I knew, people who made strong impressions, and Charlie was one.  I was only in contact with him last May, but his loss is fierce to me.

Saturday night, Marc Caparone joined the conversation at the Jazz Bash by the Bay to tell us that Charlie was gone.  I was physically stunned.  It was sadly appropriate that we should get the news from Marc, because he was the first person to ever mention Charlie’s name — this guitarist who played just like Charlie Christian, who really swung, who was genuine.  I filed that praise away, as one does, hoping that I would hear Charlie in the flesh — which happened at the Redwood Coast Music Festival.

I have evidence, which I treasured when it was happening, treasured through watching and re-watching, and treasure more now — video recordings from May 11 and 12, 2019.  I am reproducing the links in full, not my usual practice, in hopes that readers will stop what they are doing and dig in.

First, a groovy set with boogie, blues, and a lovely HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN:

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2019/06/22/did-your-recent-blood-test-show-decreased-groove-levels-jazz-lives-is-here-to-help-redwood-coast-music-festival-may-12-2019/

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2019/12/16/totally-groovy-carl-sonny-leyland-little-charlie-baty-marc-caparone-clint-baker-jeff-hamilton-dawn-lambeth-redwood-coast-music-festival-may-12-2019/

Then, Baty Plays Christian — rocking not only the room but the neighborhood:

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2019/07/30/for-charlie-by-charlie-part-one-little-charlie-baty-jamey-cummins-jacob-zimmerman-marc-caparone-dan-walton-sam-rocha-jeff-hamilton-dawn-lambeth-redwood-coast-music-festival-may-11-2019/

https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/for-charlie-by-charlie-part-two-little-charlie-baty-jamey-cummins-jacob-zimmerman-marc-caparone-dan-walton-sam-rocha-jeff-hamilton-dawn-lambeth-redwood-coast-music-festival-may-11-2019/

A few thoughts.  Marc told me of Charlie playing I GOT RHYTHM for twenty-five choruses and making the crowd stand up and cheer.  I can believe it: Charlie would have been very happy at the Reno Club in Kansas City c. 1936.

Charlie could thrill a crowd, but virtuosity for its own sake wasn’t what he came for — flaming the fretboard, as a guitarist friend once called it.  He lived the music and he lived to share the feelings of songs with us.  So his playing was strongly melodic, even through the runs and blue notes, the sharp dynamics, the small dramas-in-swing, the shifting harmonies and variations on variations.  A Baty solo was like a short story: it proceeded logically from start to finish; you could analyze its architecture after the fact, although at the time you were swept along by invention and momentum.

He rocked, to put it simply.  And he knew it, so part of the pleasure was watching a master’s sweet assurance in his craft.

When I first saw him in person, my five-boroughs skepticism kicked in.  This was “Little Charlie“?  This broad-shouldered man, like me, might wear a suit from the Portly section (a good deal of real estate in front, around the belt buckle) which he carried without embarrassment: Here I am, and I don’t have a problem with myself.  If you do, find another damn place. 

His assurance wasn’t arrogance, but it was an easy, perhaps hard-won, self-knowledge, and I saw him as an experienced ship’s captain, later a tribal chieftain, as he told a few stories to us after the set.

When I introduced myself to him, he was gracious in an unfussy way and he made me feel comfortable.  Later, when I shared the ecstatic videos with him, he was splendidly grateful and gracious — in private and in public.  I saw him in person for perhaps three hours and exchanged a dozen sentences with him in person, and perhaps another handful of emails and Facebook call-and-responses.

So why do I feel so bereft, why is there a large space in the universe where Little Charlie Baty was, and now is not?

To me, both in his playing and in the way he carried himself — powerful yet sometimes understated — he radiated an authenticity, a disdain for posing, that will remain admirable to me.  One way to walk through the world; one way to make the air full of melody.

Goodbye, Charlie.  Swing out.  And thanks for your brief, blazing visit to my world.

May your happiness increase!

TRANSIT TIME: March 4-9, 2020

This post is more or less to amuse myself before the Jazz Bash by the Bay begins tomorrow, but you can come along as well.  I have just completed, or perhaps begun, the most intense loop of jazz travel I can recall.  It began with my happy viewing of Nancy Harrow and Will Pomerantz’s play, ABOUT LOVE, which is the subject of yesterday’s blogpost.  (“Don’t miss it” is the edited version).

Yesterday, I went to Philadelphia (the World Cafe Live) to hear, witness, and record Marty Grosz’s ninetieth birthday party, and after that I flew to Monterey, California, to the Portola Hotel and Conference Center, where I write these words.

I am sorry that Dan Barrett isn’t attending the Bash this year — for many reasons, but were he to see me with that button and ribbon pinned to my shirt, he would walk over and put his palm on the ribbon and push.  “It says PRESS.” But I shall go on.

On Thursday, at about 2 PM, I asked a favor of a neighbor who gave me — and my knapsack of video gear — a lift to the train station.  Once there, I found Amtrak (twenty minutes late) and eventually got to Philadelphia, where (once again) I imposed on a friend — this time Joe Plowman, a stellar fellow whether playing the string bass or not — to take me to the World Cafe Live.

The Marty Party was a delight, and, yes, if the Tech Goddess favors me, there will be video evidence.  I asked Danny Tobias and Lynn Redmile for a lift back to the 30th Street Station, and Dan Block and I rode back to New York City — arriving around 1:20 AM on Friday.  Dan went off to his home, about four subway stops away, but the next train to my suburban Long Island town was two hours later, so I asked the first cabbie in a line of cabs what he would charge; we settled on a price, and we were off.  (He had been a lawyer in Egypt, by the way).  Around 2:15 I was home and went to sleep for what I knew would only be a brief interlude.  My alarm went off, as planned, at 7; I did what was needed and got in my car to drive to parking for Kennedy Airport.  At 11:30 we were airborne; I arrived in Monterey close to 6 PM.  (I have adjusted none of this for New York and California time zones, but you can imagine that my eyelids are heavy.)

I really have no idea what time it actually is in my body clock, but will find out.  I can tell you that this travel rhapsody will have cost me about fifteen hundred dollars when it is all through.  I am blessedly fortunate to have that money, but the pleasure of seeing Marty Grosz, Vince Giordano, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, Danny Tobias, Randy Reinhart, Brennan Ernst, Joe Plowman, Jack Saint Clair, Jim Lawlor, meeting people in the flesh whom I’d only known in cyberspace — one night! — as well as receiving an autographed copy of Marty’s autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE: MY LIFE IN JAZZ (Golden Valley Press) . . . .and from tomorrow on, seeing Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Hal Smith, Le Jazz Hot, and more — that pleasure is and will be uncountable in mere currency.  And unless you knew my past life well, the immense freedom to do what I want is bliss, a bliss I hadn’t always been able to have.

And I can sleep next week.

May your happiness increase!

FEAR, OR JOY? YOU PICK.

Someone asked me last week why I wore a Louis Armstrong button, and without thinking, I said, “He taught me how to live my life,” which I was proud of saying. I know that CABARET was written by Kander and Ebb, but I encourage you to take three minutes or so and listen — I mean listen — to Louis’s 1966 version (the one with strings).

That song, and Louis’ performance of it, has a special relevance for me at this moment.  Friends and family are devoting their energies to being afraid of the Coronavirus.  I hear of their buying masks and hand sterilizer, stocking up on food and water for when “the lockdown” comes, restricting their travel.  I can hear their voices over the phone, trying to mask their frightened disapproval, when I say I am getting on a plane in perhaps ninety hours to fly to Monterey for the Jazz Bash by the Bay, which begins March 5.  “You’re getting on a plane, Michael?  Well, be careful not to to touch your face.  You could wear a pair of gloves . . . ”

Their caution might be well-founded.  I could contract the virus, it could turn into pneumonia, I could die.  Or, I could get hit by a Range Rover as I cross the street, even when I have the light in my favor. I’m  not being facetious.  And I hear the voices of my loving over-cautious parents, “Be careful.  Be careful!”

But the opposite of Fear is Courage, and Courage has as its reward Joy.  If I stay home, I won’t hear these fellows play and sing:

So I’m on my way to Monterey on Thursday morning, and here‘s the schedule, a wondrous hot-jazz version of Ceres’ cornucopia.  You pick: stay at home with those books you’ve been promising yourself to read, and perhaps some takeout as a treat, or venture forth with plans to live joyously.  (I know some of you can’t fly to Monterey, but adapt my encouragements to your own neighborhood.)

Now I have to finish packing.

May your happiness increase!

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

MONTEREY DELIGHTS! (Jazz Bash By the Bay, 40th Anniversary Edition, March 5-8, 2020)

It’s never too early to get prepared for joy, especially the varieties that the Jazz Bash by the Bay delivers so generously.  (An All-Events badge is available at a discount before December 31, so if thrift makes your eyes gleam, check here.) Now.

I’ve been attending this March festival every year since 2011 (I missed 2018) and have fond memories.  I could write a good deal about the pleasures of this grouping of musicians and fans, and the pleasures of being able to walk around a truly charming town center . . . or the pleasure of being a guest at the Portola Hotel and Spa, with the music just a trot away, but I will simply direct you to the Bash’s website, where you can find out such useful information as the dates (March 6-8), the band schedule (not available yet), ticket prices, and the bands themselves.

For me, the bands and guest stars are the reason to come to a particular festival, so I will list them here (as of January 2020) so you can see the delights to be had.  First, the Musician of the Year is my hero Marc Caparone, so even though I doubt there will be a parasol-laden coronation, I want to be there to see the rites and praises.  Then, guest stars Bob Draga, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Dawn Lambeth, Eddie Erickson, Gary Ryan, Jeff Barnhart, Jerry Krahn, and Katie Cavera.  The bands: Blue Street Jazz Band, Bye Bye Blues Boys Band, Carl Sonny Leyland Trio, Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, Cornet Chop Suey, Crescent Katz, Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Fast Mama Excitement, Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Ivory&Gold, Le Jazz Hot, Midiri Brothers, Sierra Seven, Tom Rigney and Flambeau, We Three (Thursday only), Yve Evans and Company, and the Zydeco Flames.

Looking at the 2019 schedule, the Bash offered four simultaneous sessions for full twelve-hour days on Friday and Saturday, and a half day on Sunday . . . one hundred and fifty sessions, including full bands, singers, solo and duo pianos, youth bands, sets for amateur jammers, and more.  Even someone like myself, who doesn’t fell compelled to see and hear everything, finds it a delightfully exhausting experience.  There’s a separate Thursday-night dance and an appearance by We Three, and I quote: “Kick off Jazz Bash by the Bay on Thursday, March 5, 2020, with a big band dance party featuring Clicktrax Jazz Orchestra. Attendees will enjoy danceable swing and traditional jazz at the Portola Hotel and Spa from 7:30 to 11 pm. Admission is $25.00. Also, in a Special One-Night-Only appearance, the hit trio We3 featuring Bob Draga, Jeff Barnhart, and Danny Coots will be playing from 7 to 8:30 pm. Admission is $30.00. Add the dance for $20 more. All tickets can be purchased by phone, mail, online or at the door.”

Did you notice that there is an Early Bird All-Events Badge at a discount if you order before December 31, 2019?  Yes, I repeat myself: details here.

For me, a post advertising a particular festival is not effective unless some musical evidence can be included.  I broke one of my rules — that is, there are musicians in the 2011-19 videos below who do not appear at this year’s Bash, and I apologize to them if anyone’s feelings are bruised.  But I started to go through the 200+ videos I’d posted of various Monterey Bashes, and some of them were do fine that I couldn’t leave them out.  You’ll get a panoramic sense of the wide variety of good, lively, inventive music that happens here.  And each video has a detailed description of who’s playing and singing, and when it happened.

an old song, swung, 2019:

for Django:

Becky and the blues:

the late Westy Westenhofer:

Ivory&Gold (Jeff and Anne Barnhart):

Paolo Alderighi, Phil Flanigan, Jeff Hamilton:

Katie Cavera and the Au Brothers:

Bob Schulz and the Frisco Jazz Band:

Allan Vache, John Sheridan, John Cocuzzi, Paul Keller, Ed Metz:

High Sierra:

Hot Strings at Monterey 2011:

a jam session with Bryan Shaw, Jeff Barnhart, Dan Barrett, Marc Caparone, John Reynolds, Katie Cavera, Ralf Reynolds:

Carl Sonny Leyland, Marty Eggers, Jeff Hamilton, performing Sonny’s composition that insures that no rodents visit the Portola during the Bash:

It might seem a long way away, but it isn’t.  And it’s a truly enjoyable event.

May your happiness increase!