Tag Archives: Jess Stacy

MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE: “PIANO JAZZ – CHICAGO STYLE!” featuring RAY SKJELBRED

Like other jazz fans and collectors, I have had many dreams of music I would like to hear, and in my lifetime many of those dreams have come true: the alternate takes of the Jones-Smith, Inc. session; airshots of the Basie band at the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing; the Ellington Fargo concert; the Jerry Newman uptown recordings; more Louis and Big Sid, on and on.

Earl Hines and Ray Skjelbred

The pianist Ray Skjelbred — treasured courageous explorer of beauty — is part of this story of dreams taking lovely shape.  I heard him on recordings perhaps fifteen years ago, and I encountered him in videos perhaps eight years ago, first in those of Rae Ann Berry, then in my own attempts, having met him, to capture him with appropriate skill and reverence.

In whatever medium I found him, I was astonished by the spacious, emotionally dense worlds he invented at the keyboard.  I still am.  And although Ray allowed me to capture individual performances that he approved of, solo and in duet; Ray leading his own Cubs — I am proud of the results, but they are beautiful snapshots for the most part.  In my videos, the sound might be imperfect; the audience might be chatting or moving in and out; Ray would speak, memorably, but briefly.

I came to dream of a Skjelbred film, a recital-explanation that would help us capture his secrets and his deep essence, as much of his history and magic that he cared to reveal.  But it remained a dream until Ray’s friend John Ochs, with Ray, created a profound but never sententious portrait of Ray and the musical atmosphere he both swims in and has enriched for decades.  It exists, and it can be seen.

From the first pearly notes of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES to Ray’s reminiscences-with-music of Burt Bales, Johnny Wittwer, Earl Hines, Joe Sullivan, Art Hodes, Jess Stacy, stride piano, octaves, tenths, the blues, tremolos, a stomping LITTLE ROCK GETAWAY, anecdotes of Sullivan — among well-trained kindergarten children, or listening to Bob Zurke play GETAWAY, a  brilliantly meandering chorus of ROSETTA which reminds me of someone picking up glittering beach glass at the ocean’s edge, and a riotous BEAU KOO  JACK, and so much more — the film is a treasure.  It is both the chronicle of a questing artist and his interactions with Hines, Sullivan, Stacy, Hodes, and a series of casual lessons from a Master about other Masters.

I admire it tremendously.  Ray’s deadpan puckish humor animates all of his conversation with us, as when he describes a heart attack at the keyboard turning, for seconds, into stride piano . . .his description of a poor traditional band as “six people with shotguns.”  I encourage viewers to savor his after-midnight introduction to I FOUND A NEW BABY and the last minutes of MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY.

It isn’t a how-to film that entices the viewer with the kinds of promises historically made on matchbooks, “See, you can play _____ too if only you learn these sixteen gestures,” nor is it a chronological autobiography of gigs and encounters, but a warming combination of sounds, techniques, memories and music created right at the moment.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget Ray’s story of Jess Stacy’s summation of a visit from jazz acolytes, at first  unfamiliar to him, as “Those nice boys.”

The film is emotionally filling without being overwhelming: when I finished watching for the first (of several times) I felt as if I had spent a month with Ray, yet it felt like a seamless easy journey, over too soon.

Recorded in one sitting, at a fine piano, with subtle, telling editing, it is so far beyond my best videos that I am both thrilled it exists and slightly embarrassed by my own earnest amateur sallies.

I am not the only person to appreciate this film: it has been selected by the New York Jazz Film Festival and will receive an award for HISTORY / DOCUMENTARY at the end of August.

I am able to share the film with you — and frankly I would find it inexplicable if hundreds of people did not take advantage of the opportunity — but I do not know for how long this will be possible.  These things are mysterious, but Imight not be able to share this film indefinitely.

So I urge and beseech my viewers to be with Ray Skjelbred, man and artist of independent spirit, for one hour (and twenty-three minutes and fifty-eight seconds) tonight, or, if not tonight, then tomorrow night.

Early on in the film, Ray says, as if to himself, “All music is a narrative of some kind — it starts somewhere and it goes somewhere.”  He could have been describing this very fulfilling film as well.

May your happiness increase!

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“IT’S NICE TO SEE YOU FOLKS HERE”: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26, 2016) PART ONE

Ray Skjelbred, poet and explorer, at the piano, musing, feeling, sharing colorful worlds of his own invention.

PINKY ROSE, a blues rumination:

NO COMPLAINTS, a lilting homage to Jess Stacy:

SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD, a blues by the Mississippi Sheiks:

IT’S A RAMBLE, by the mysterious Oro “Tut” Soper, a pianist who once kissed the young Anita O’Day passionately before remembering he wasn’t [because of religious beliefs] supposed to:

HEAH ME TALKIN’ TO YA, celebrating Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Don Redman:

Rambles and saunters in worlds known and unknown: elegant, rough, always alive.

More to come from the Esteemed Mr. Skjelbred.  And this aural bouquet is in honor of Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, who understands.

May your happiness increase!

GLIMPSES OF MISS WILEY and COLLEAGUES (1934-1953)

A small pleasure. seen on eBay.

Here’s what it sounds like:

The facts are: Lee Wiley, vocal; Sterling Bose, Tommy Dorsey, Sid Stoneburn, others; Ernie White, Larry Gomar,  Justin Ring or Victor Young, directing. New York, August 13, 1934 38298-B.

And nearly twenty years later:

Lee’s voice had changed, predictably, as had the band, but I like the new, tougher approach just as much.

We enter the magical world of sheet music covers.  This song is familiar, with the distinct connection to Victor Young — with whom Lee enjoyed a long relationship.  I reprint the cover for comparison:

Although I can’t offer a recording of Lee singing LOVE ME, how about two versions by Jack Teagarden — the first with ornamentation by Sterling Bose, Jimmy Dorsey, Perry Botkin — again directed by Victor Young?  I knew you wouldn’t object:

This is, again, twenty years later, swinging as well as romantic — from the sextet that Jack led after he’d left Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars.  This 1953 band was a family affair, with brother Charlie on trumpet, sister Norma on piano:

Back to Lee.

This piece of sheet music is new to me, and I haven’t found any recordings of the song to offer you:

This song is known to me because Red Allen recorded it at the time, but no recording of Lee singing it exists.  Still, it’s pleasant to hear her voice in one’s mental recording studio:

and, in case you’ve never seen it, here is the justly famous film — silent but with a soundtrack added later, both thanks to Josh Rushton — of Lee and then-husband Jess Stacy, out and about.

May your happiness increase!

“Have one to sell? Sell now #D366 VINTAGE 1950S 8X10″ JAZZ ORCHESTRA NEGATIVE PHOTO Benny Goodman Big Band”

When I looked up “Benny Goodman” and “1938” in preparation for this blogpost, Google quite naturally led me to the Carnegie Hall concert of January 16.  But there was wonderful music made later in the year, by a band elevated by Dave Tough, drums, and Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone.  Here’s a sample:

The link between that performance and my odd title might not be clear, so here’s the answer key: the title is the convoluted language of eBay, that odd treasure house.  And thanks to David J. Weiner, scholar and friend (pal of my childhood days, to be precise) I have the treasure below to share with you.  It’s a remarkable photograph — the negative of one — of the 1938 band, dressed up in performance garb, but not on the stand, and not holding instruments.  And even better, the normally somber-looking Dave Tough has just heard something funny or said something of the same kind (I think that Lionel made Dave laugh): a visage rarely if ever captured on film.

The bad news is that I did not win this photograph for my very own.  The good news is that someone who wanted it even more fervently did . . . to the tune of $105 and some change.  I hope (s)he enjoys it tremendously and hangs it in a place of honor.  For us, the magic of “Save image” means that we can hitch a ride for free, and moral questions aside, that is a great thing.

Now, I will confess ignorance and say that I cannot identify everyone in the picture, and I solicit the assistance of the readers of JAZZ LIVES who know more than I do — when they are irksome, I silently call them The Corrections Officials, but today I invite informed responses.

Here’s what and whom I know.

Front row left, unknown; Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; unknown woman who doesn’t look like Martha Tilton or, for that matter, Gladys Hampton, at all; Lionel Hampton, vibraphone; Dave Tough, drums; unknown (is that Chris Griffin, trumpet?)

Back row left, Vernon Brown, trombone; unknown; unknown; Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; unknown; Harry James, trumpet.

Where’s Benny?  Where’s Jess Stacy?  I assume some of the heroes I couldn’t identify are a second trombone, perhaps Noni Bernardi and Dave Matthews, guitarist Benny Heller.  Does anyone recognize the room?  The fireplace suggests a hotel rather than a recording studio, but that is a guess, nothing more.

And while you’re scrambling to prove your Benny-knowledge is just the best, here’s a soundtrack to inspire you, the deliciously loose rendition of SUGAR by Benny, Lionel, Teddy Wilson, and Dave:

This post is in honor of David Weiner, Kevin Dorn, and Richard Salvucci.  Of course!

May your happiness increase! 

HELEN’S DREAMS

I saw and heard Helen Humes in person only once, in 1975, but she made a lasting impression.  When Ed Polcer was leading the band at the last “Eddie Condon’s,” marvelous players and singers were invited to get up on the narrow bandstand and astonish us.  I was there because Ruby Braff was leading the group; Helen came up and sang IF I COULD BE WITH YOU and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and I have a clear memory of her beautiful smile, heartfelt delivery, and warm voice.

At the early peak of the Swing Era, John Hammond had yet another one of his good ideas: to feature Harry James (then in his first year as a star of the Goodman band) with a small group drawn from the Basie band.  There was a clear rapport, and these under-acknowledged records stand alongside the more heralded Wilson-Holiday sessions.  Helen had recorded a decade earlier, but she was then perceived as a classic blues singer, and those records show only one side of her considerable talent.  In these 1936-38 sides, we hear what made her memorable.  (On YouTube, you can hear the other sides from the James sessions.)

The first session (on December 1, 1937) had Harry, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Earl Warren, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones.  Helen sang several songs; here is I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I?:

On January 5, 1938, the same group reassembled, with Vernon Brown replacing Eddie Durham, and Helen sang IT’S THE DREAMER IN ME:

Other aspects of these recordings (of the two glorious sessions) are memorable: the warm sounds of Harry and Herschel, the beautiful distractions of Jess Stacy at the piano, joined by Walter Page and Jo Jones . . . but at this remove, Helen wins my heart — her deep sincerity, her vibrato, the way she delivers two love songs with complete conviction, even at the faster tempo of the first.  She’s been overshadowed for decades, but what a great artist she is.  In a few minutes, she invites us to live her dreams.

May your happiness increase!

“SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON”: TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, DENNIS LICHTMAN, JARED ENGEL, CRAIG VENTRESCO at the LOST CHURCH (June 8, 2013)

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, my apartment has slowly morphed into a combination library / computer workshop / recording studio / and who knows what, based in the living room, with various effusions of CDs, books, external hard drives, cassettes, photographs — generally confined to the living room.  To my left, cassettes from the late Seventies on; to my right, a four-speed phonograph with (as I write) a Jess Stacy Commodore 78 of RAMBLIN’ and COMPLAININ’ on the turntable, adjacent to a newer stereo system.  Also on my left, long-playing records and hard drives; to my right, a wall of CDs.

There are rules: a new CD will migrate to the kitchen counter, but it knows it shouldn’t be there and it tends to hide and look abashed when discovered.  The bathroom and bedroom are off limits to music-infestation.  No, don’t ask for photographs.

But having JAZZ LIVES since February 2008 is like living inside a giant multi-sensory photograph album.  Insubstantial in some ways, seriously substantial in others.  I’ve posted nearly six thousand videos on YouTube, which means I’ve been a busy tech-primate.  And some more videos haven’t been posted, so the bits of information are thick in this one-bedroom palace of sound and sight.

Photograph by Michael Steinman

Every so often I want to hear and see something that gave me pleasure several times: at the moment of experience and, later, in writing about it, posting it, and enjoying it.  One that came to mind today was a performance I witnessed and savored in California at San Francisco’s The Lost Church, almost four years ago: Tamar Korn, Craig Ventresco, Jared Engel, Gordon Au, and Dennis Lichtman — mellowly celebrating the lunar power of love with SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON:

Awfully sweet, this speaks of a world where young people could ask the cosmos for help in romance and receive it.  Life before phones.

I will indulge myself in this again, and I encourage you to do so also.  When I take a day off from blogging, the search bar on front page will lead you to treats.

May your happiness increase! 

FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: HOLIDAY MUSIC BY BERLIN, READE, and CONDON

Eddie Condon and his friends made hot music lyrical and the reverse, so what they played and sang always makes me glad.  And Eddie loved to improvise on the best popular songs of the time, not just a dozen “jazz classics.”

I think most people associate EASTER PARADE with the film starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, but the song was from the 1933 show AS THOUSANDS CHEER — as the sheet music indicates.  Here is a very sweet contemporaneous version by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra, with Joe very reserved. In addition to a nice orchestral sound, fine lively piano (Schutt?) and guitar (McDonough,Victor, or Kress?) — both unidentified in Lord and Rust — there is a gorgeous vocal by Dolores Reade, who gave up her singing career to marry Bob Hope.  Nothing against the comedian, but that was a real loss to everyone else. (I found a copy of this 78 in a California thrift store, so it might have enjoyed some popularity.)

Here are several “Americondon” improvisations for this holiday, taken from the 1944-45 broadcasts of segments of Eddie’s Town Hall Concerts.  Some of these videos end with the introduction to another song, but you can — I believe — find much more from these concerts on YouTube, almost always mysteriously labeled and presented.  (Performances featuring Hot Lips Page are presented on a channel apparently devoted to Willie “the Lion” Smith, for reasons beyond me — whether ignorance or deceit or both, I can’t say.  But if you know the name of a song performed at a Condon concert, you have a good change of uncovering it there.)

Those who listen attentively to these performances will find variations, both bold and subtle, in the four versions that follow — tempo, solo improvisations, ensemble sound.

Here’s that Berlin song again, featuring Bobby Hackett, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Jess Stacy, Sid Weiss, Gene Krupa:

and featuring Max Kaminsky, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Bob Casey, Eddie, Joe Grauso, at a slower tempo, with wonderful announcements at the end.

and featuring Max, Miff, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and happily, a much more audible Eddie — doing an audition for a Chesterfield (cigarette) radio program:

and from the very end of the broadcast series (the network wanted Eddie to bring in a comedian and he refused), here are Billy Butterfield, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee, Ernie, Gene Schroeder, Sid Weiss, and my hero, Sidney Catlett, whose accompaniment is a lesson in itself, and whose closing break is a marvel:

You’ll hear someone (maybe announcer Fred Robbins?) shout “WOW!” at the end of the first version: I agree.  Happy Easter in music to you all.

May your happiness increase!