Tag Archives: John Smith

IN MEMORY OF TOM BAKER, WHO DID ALL THINGS WELL

I now have an opportunity to share with you some wonderful videos of the amazing musician Tom Baker (1952-2001) who lives on.

Below is a picture of our benefactor and generous friend, Enrico Borsetti, who took a video camera to the 2000 Ascona Jazz Festival and recorded treasures — some of which I have already posted, featuring Dan Barrett, Jeff Hamilton, Ray Sherman, Jon-Erik Kellso, Brian Oglivie, John Smith, Eddie Erickson, Joel Forbes, and Rebecca Kilgore.

Another magnificent band, led by pianist / singer Keith Nichols, was called The Blue Rhythm Makers — and here on YouTube you can see two incarnations with different personnel.  The one I share today features the immensely talented and much-missed Tom Baker (trumpet, trombone, reeds, vocal, and more I am probably leaving out), my friend-heroes Matthias Seuffert, Martin Wheatley, Frans Sjostrom.

Here you can learn more / see more about Tom, who made the transition at 49.

Here’s Tom’s very touching reading of ANNIE LAURIE, which I think unforgettable, especially thinking of such a brilliant man who is no longer with us:

and a searing I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

and a radiant version of Benny Carter’s ONCE UPON A TIME:

Since I believe that “the dead” KNOW, I send tears and reverent admiration to Tom Baker.  And let us not forget the living, to whom I send gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

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THERE ISN’T ANYTHING FINER: MARC CAPARONE, JOHN SMITH, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MIKE FAY, JEFF HAMILTON (August 3, 2013)

The song DINAH poses and answers the question.  Using it as sacred text, here’s the proof that swing is here to stay — under the admiring gaze of Louis and Bill Basie — as enacted by Marc Caparone, cornet; John “Butch” Smith, alto saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Mike Fay, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  Recorded in Paso Robles, California, on August 3, 2013, and offered here by popular demand.

I should note that the performance begins with a few small moments of comedy — what NOT to do — before Maestro Hamilton sets the tempo with a little homage to Sidney.

I’d hop an ocean liner, myself, to hear music like this.  Talk about spreading joy!

May your happiness increase!

HAVE YOU HEARD?

Upon hearing the news, Chloe Lang (the West Coast JAZZ LIVES mascot) was suddenly wide awake and wanted to know more!

What news?

How about a new CD compilation of live recordings  featuring pianist Ray Skjelbred and hot cornetist Jim Goodwin from Port Costa, CA gigs?  The CD is called — simply — RAY SKJELBRED ABD JIM GOODWIN / RECORDED LIVE IN PORT COSTA, and it’s issued on Ray’s own label, “Orangapoid,” number 104.  All the music was recorded at the Bull Valley Inn.

So far it’s available only at Ray’s gigs — which is a good thing: you get to see him and take this home, too! — but I wonder if he would be willing to sell it to those not likely to get to the West Coast soon.  Postage and packing are a nuisance, but you could ask — sweetly — at http://www.rayskjelbred.com.

Lovely songs: SLEEPY TIME GAL, PLEASE BE KIND, THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG, RUSSIAN LULLABY, THE RIVER’S TAKING CARE OF ME, LAZY BONES, EVERYONE SAYS “I LOVE YOU,” CHARLESTON, TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE, BLACK AND TAN FANTASY, SWEET SUE, MY DADDY ROCKS ME, LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY, HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?

You’ll notice some lovely ballads and rhythm ballads, early Ellingtonia, rocking dance music, nods to the Marx Brothers, Red Allen, Bing Crosby, Fats Waller, the blues, Bill Robinson . . . good bones, as they say!

The players — of course Ray and Jim, but also Mike Duffy, string bass; Tom Keats, rhythm guitar; Brett Runkle, washboard, Lueder Ohlwein, banjo; Dan Barrett, trombone; John “Butch” Smith, soprano sax; Norvin Armstrong, piano.  Ray sings — wonderfully — on EVERYONE and IN A GREAT BIG WAY.

What’s so special about this disc, all sixty-nine minutes of it?

This is the kind of music that great jazz players create for themselves when there is a congenial audience or none at all: relaxed, swinging, small intense masterpieces of hot architecture where the second chorus builds in elegantly rough-hewn ways upon the first.  It’s the kind of music that rarely makes it whole into the recording studio — and since the Bull Valley Inn is no longer anyone’s music mecca (we drove serendipitously through Port Costa in the summer of 2011: it looked like the set for a Western that hadn’t been completed) . . . . and since Jim is dead, this CD is priceless evidence of days gone by.  And the past leaps to life in our speakers!

Even Chloe thought so.

For Goodwin in searing hot form, here’s the Sunset Music Company from 1979 romping through I NEVER KNEW with

The band was led by banjoist Ohlwein, with Goodwin, Barrett, clarinetist Bill Carter (temporarily filling in for John Smith), bassist Mike Fay, drummer Jeff Hamilton: every one of their recordings on Dan’s BLUE SWING FINE RECORDINGS is worth hearing.

And in case you’ve never seen or heard the eloquent Mr. Skjelbred, here’s a sample, TISHOMINGO BLUES, recorded by Rae Ann Berry in 2009:

Imagine them together — musing, cracking private musical jokes, digging deep into the songs they are playing.  Heart-stirring music from the first note to the last.

P.S.  I count myself very lucky: having met and / or heard Barrett, Hamilton, Smith, Fay, Carter. Norvin Armstrong – – – and I’ll get to shake Ray Skjelbred’s hand at the Jazz Bash by the Bay this March 2.  Wow!

DAN BARRETT COMES EAST (September – October 2011)

To quote Henry Nemo, “‘Tis autumn,” and one of the more rewarding manifestations of that season is the annual Dan Barrett Comes East tour.  The inimitable Costa Mesa, California trombonist, cornetist, arranger, composer, pianist, singer, comes to this coast for a series of what have proven memorable gigs.

Thursday – Sunday, Sept. 15-18: Dan at Chautauqua Jazz Party, Chautauqua, New York (http://athenaeum-hotel.com/Jazz-at-Chautauqua/)

Monday, Sept. 19: Dan at Arthur’s Tavern, with Bill Dunham’s Grove Street Stompers (Grove Street & 7th Ave South; 7-10 pm)

Tuesday, Sept. 20: Dan in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with Howard Alden & Frank Tate (details to follow)

Wednesday, Sept. 21: Dan at Birdland with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (5:30-7:15 pm): see http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/live/ for details.  Dan will be joined by Bria Skonberg (trumpet), Vinny Raniolo (banjo and guitar), Marion Felder (drums) and others.

Sunday, Sept. 25: a double-header!  Dan will join Terry Waldo’s band at Fat Cat (77 Christopher Street), from 5:45 to 8 pm).  Then, Dan will go south and west for an evening at the Ear Inn, with Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, and New York’s finest, immediately after that (8-11 pm)

Monday, Sept. 26: Dan will again appear alongside Evan Christopher at a concert sponsored by the Sidney Bechet Society, beginning at 7:15 pm.  Evan’s “Clarinet Road” will pay tribute to the Master in “Blues for Bechet.”  Featured guests will include vocalist Catherine Russell, guitar virtuosi Doug Wamble and Matt Munisteri, and LaFrae Sci on drums.  The concert will take place at Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway), and tickets are available here:

http://www.sidneybechet.org/purchase-tickets/

Tuesday, Sept. 27: Dan will join the brass section — on cornet — of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks at “Club Cache'” — the lower floor of Sofia’s restaurant in the Edison Hotel, 211 West 46th Street.

Wednesday, September 28: Dan will again be part of David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland, from 5:45-7:15 pm, alongside Bria Skonberg, Pete Martinez, Howard Alden, Marion Felder, and others.

Sunday, October 2: Another double-header: Dan at Fat Cat again with Terry Waldo’s band; then on to the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York (8-11 pm)

Monday, October 3: Dan will be part of another Arbors Records event at Feinstein’s at the Regency with singers Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Lynn Roberts, and Harry Allen’s Quartet (Harry, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Chuck Riggs).

Alas and woe for New Yorkers, Dan flies home the next day.  Don’t miss out on the Barrett Comes East tour.  There are, as yet, no plans for souvenir sweatshirts, buttons, or pennants — merely fine jazz and many musical surprises.

And in case you are just discovering Mr. Barrett, here’s some musical evidence — his cornet lights up this August 2011 performance of MY BUDDY, recorded at the JAZZ LIVES party (with John Smith, alto; Vinnie Armstrong, piano; Marc Caparone, bass; Mike Swan, guitar):

YOUNGBLOODS

Two great minds with but a single thought: the joy of jazz.  Jon-Erik Kellso (left); Jim Goodwin (right), captured on film in Florida.  Photograph courtesy of the John Smith Jazz Archive / United Swing Federation, LLC.

Jon-Erik is still in fine form and will flash that smile if you say the right thing.  We miss Jim Goodwin.

“JAZZ LIVES” GOES TO A PARTY (August 9, 2011)

Marc Caparone and Dawn Lambeth are dear friends and superb musicians.  When they heard that the Beloved and I were coming to California for much of this summer, Marc proposed a jazz evening to be held at their house, and spoke of it in the most flattering way as the “Michael Steinman Jazz Party,” a name that both embarrassed and delighted me.

And it happened on Tuesday, August 9, 2011.  You’ll see some of the results here: great music from good-humored, generous people.

The guests — of a musical sort — were a small group of warmly rewarding musicians.  Besides Marc (cornet and string bass) and Dawn (vocals), there were Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet), John “Butch” Smith (soprano and alto saxophones), Vinnie Armstrong (piano), and Mike Swan (guitar and vocals).  The listeners included the Beloved, Bill and Sandy Gallagher (fine friends and jazz enthusiasts), Cathie Swan (Mike’s wife), Mary Caparone (Marc’s mother), James Arden Caparone (four months but with a great musical future in front of him), and a few others whose names I didn’t get to record (so sorry!).

Jazz musicians take great pleasure in these informal, relaxed happenings: no pressure to play faster, louder, to show off to an already sated crowd.  In such settings, even the most familiar old favorites take on new life, and unusual material blossoms.  We all witnessed easy, graceful, witty, heartfelt improvising on the spot.  And you will, too.

Jazz itself was the guest of honor.  Everyone knew that their efforts were also reaching the larger audience of JAZZ LIVES, so this happy cyber-audience was in attendance as well, although silent.

The first informal group (Dan on cornet, Butch on soprano, Vinnie, Marc on bass, and Mike) led off with Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY, performed at what I think of as Lionel Hampton 1939 tempo:

Then, evoking memories of Jim Goodwin and the Sunset Music Company (more about that later), the band created a buoyant homage to Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, to Duke Ellington, and to Bill Robinson, in DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN:

A request from the Beloved for ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (in 1945 Goodman Sextet tempo) was both honored and honorable:

Dawn — sweetly full of feeling and casual swing — joined the band for S’WONDERFUL:

After Dan told one of his Ruby Braff stories, Dawn followed up with BLUE MOON, one of her favorites, and you can hear The Boy (that’s James Arden) singing along in his own fashion:

Then the band shifted — Marc put down the string bass and picked up his cornet to lead the way alongside Dan, now on trombone, for ROSETTA:

And a really fascinating exploration of a song that isn’t played much at all (although Billie, Lester, Roy, and the Kansas City Five are back of it), LAUGHING AT LIFE, explored in the best way by Marc, Butch, and Vinnie:

Mike Swan joined this trio for a truly soulful IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Without prelude, Mike launched into the verse of WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Dan couldn’t help himself and joined in): what a singer Mike is (and he’s listened hard to Crosby, always a good thing)!

Mike also began MELANCHOLY with Dan — wait for Marc and Vinnie adding their voices to this improvisation:

And the session ended with GEORGIA ON MY MIND, scored for a trio of Dan, Mike, and Vinnie:

The informal session came to a gentle stop there, but the music didn’t go away.  Butch had brought with him a video (taken from Dutch television in 1978) of the Sunset Music Company — a band featuring banjoist Lueder Ohlwein, cornetist Jim Goodwin, trombonist Barrett, reedman Smith, pianist Armstrong.  Since Vinnie and Dan and I had never seen the video, we all retreated to the den and watched it.

It was both moving and hilarious to see the men of 2011 watching their much younger 1978 selves, as well as a moving tribute to those who were no longer with us.  I wish there had been time and space to make a documentary about those men watching themselves play. . . . perhaps it’s possible.

I feel immensely fortunate to be surrounded by such beauty, and to have my name attached to it in even the most tangential way is a deep honor.  I can’t believe that it happened, and I send the most admiring thanks to all concerned.  Even if you weren’t there, unable to witness this creation at close range, I think the generous creativity of these musicians will gratify you as well.  This post is a gift also to those who will see it and couldn’t be there: Arianna, Mary, Melissa, Aunt Ida, Hal, June, Candace, Dave, Jeff, Barbara, Sonny, Clint, David, Maxine, Ricky, Margaret, Ella, Melody . . . the list goes on.  These gigabytes and words are sent with love.

A postscript.  JAZZ LIVES is so engrossed with music that I rarely write about anything else, but if you are ever in the Paso Robles, California, area, I urge you to consider spending a night (as the Beloved and I did) at the accurately-named INN PARADISO, 975 Mojave Lane (805-239-2800: innparadiso@att.net).  We have never stayed at a more satisfying place.  Everything was beautiful and comfortable — from the room to the view to the quiet to the dee-licious breakfast, to the gentle friendly kindnesses of Dawna and Steve — making it a genuinely memorable experience.  I want to go back!  See for yourself at www.innparadiso.com.

THE MAGIC HORN OF “PAPA RAY” RONNEI (by Hal Smith)

Video by the multi-talented Katie Cavera:

The Magic Horn of ‘Papa Ray’ Ronnei 

by Hal Smith (originally published in JUST JAZZ)

It has been nearly 40 years since I first heard the cornet magic of ‘Papa Ray’ Ronnei… 

In the mid-‘60s I was a dedicated fan of the San Francisco style as played by Lu Watters, Turk Murphy, Bob Scobey, the Firehouse Five and…Vince Saunders’ South Frisco Jazz Band.  In 1966 my parents had taken me to Huntington Beach, California where the South Frisco band played weekends at the ‘Pizza Palace’.  We became instant fans of the SFJB after that first evening and made regular trips up from La Jolla to catch the band on weekends.  The band members were especially kind to a young fan.  Washboardist Bob Raggio, then an employee of Ray Avery’s ‘Rare Records’ was particularly helpful in locating several out-of-print Murphy and Watters LPs for me.   

Late in 1967, Bob sent a note along with an LP he had found for me.  The note mentioned that on the coming weekend, a ‘very special edition of the South Frisco band would perform at the Pizza Palace, with ‘Papa Ray’ Ronnei on cornet.’  I had heard of Ray Ronnei, but had not actually heard him play. 1  Even so, my parents accompanied me to Huntington Beach to hear the band. 

At the Pizza Palace we settled in at a table, not knowing quite what to expect, when the band took off on ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’.  Ray Ronnei’s brassy, staccato attack and almost surrealistic phrasing was like nothing I had ever heard! 2  It was a glorious and unique sound; one I still have not recovered from!  The tune selection was a radical departure from the San Francisco repertoire I was so used to: ‘Bogalusa Strut’, ‘Salutation March’, ‘Big Chief Battle Axe’, ‘One Sweet Letter From You’, ‘Ugly Chile’, ‘Blue Bells, Goodbye’, ‘Sweet Lotus Blossom’, ‘Bugle Boy March’ etc.  This night at the Pizza Palace the first time I had heard any of these numbers! 3 

When the performance ended—much too soon to suit me!—we headed home to La Jolla.  My head was spinning from the spellbinding sound of Ray Ronnei’s cornet.  Despite my continuing interest in the San Francisco style, I wanted to hear this hornman again—as soon as possible!  I did not have to wait too long, as South Frisco’s cornetist Al Crowne took a leave of absence from the band in 1968.  His replacement: Ray Ronnei!  My family made dozens of journeys north to Huntington Beach during Papa Ray’s tenure with the South Frisco in 1968-69. 

The SFJB lineup varied during this period. 4  Trombonist Frank Demond moved to New Orleans and was replaced on by Eric Rosenau, then Roy Brewer.   Mike Baird was usually on clarinet, though Jim Bogen and soprano saxophonist John Smith sometimes filled in for him.  Ron Ortmann was the regular pianist, spelled at times by Dick Shooshan, Bill Mitchell and Robbie Rhodes.  Tubist Bob Rann was usually present, with Mike Fay on string bass in Rann’s absence.  Banjoist-leader Vince Saunders was a constant, as was washboardist Bob Raggio—until the latter moved to Pittsburgh to play at baseball star Maury Wills’ nightclub.  But despite the shifting personnel, that distinctive cornet sound continued to ring joyously over the ensembles.   

When the South Frisco repertoire expanded,  three of the ‘new’ tunes—at least new to me—caught my fancy: ‘Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man’, ‘Messin’ Around’ (by Cook and St. Cyr) and ‘Flat Foot’.  These three have been my favourite ‘trad’ numbers since hearing Papa Ray play them in 1968.  Though Vince Saunders was the bandleader, he frequently let Papa Ray kick off tunes.  The latter tended towards brisk tempos and kicked them off old-style, i.e. ‘one-two-three-four ONE!  TWO!  With only a little imagination I can still hear the powerful band roaring through all-ensemble versions of ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and ‘Cakewalking Babies’ (with Papa Ray playing the same burst of capsicum on the outchorus that Mutt Carey played on the ‘New Yorkers’ record of the same tune).  The South Frisco Jazz Band in 1968-69 was truly one of a kind.   

In 1969, Papa Ray left the South Frisco group and Al Crowne returned.  Earlier, the band recorded an LP for the Vault label entitled ‘Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man.’  Unfortunately, that LP has not yet been reissued on CD.  However, Ted Shafer’s Merry Makers Record Company has released a CD of the South Frisco Band live at the Pizza Palace, recorded in 1968 by clarinetist Ron Going.  This disc ‘tells the story’ of just how exciting a time 1968-1969 was for fans of Papa Ray’s cornet work. 

While still a resident of Los Angeles, Papa Ray played with the Salutation Tuxedo Jazz Band, Crescent Bay Jazz Band and other groups.  Before signing on with South Frisco, he worked with Ted Shafer’s Jelly Roll Jazz Band in the Bay Area.  He returned to the Jelly Roll Jazz Band temporarily in 1969.  I was able to enjoy his music via tapes made previously at the Pizza Palace, LPs by the El Dorado Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Jazz Band and the then-new South Frisco LP.  On one occasion, our family was watching a San Francisco Seals hockey game on tv.  After a Seals goal, a jazz band in the stands struck up ‘Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight’.  Clarinetist Bob Helm and trombonist Bob Mielke were instantly identifiable, as was the peppery cornet—Papa Ray, of course! 

I continued to see and hear Ray Ronnei on his visits to the L.A. area.  Sometimes he would play at a Sunday-afternoon jam session at one of the local jazz societies.  On one memorable occasion, I was asked to play a set with Papa Ray, Dan Barrett, Ron Going, Dick Shooshan, Doug Parker and veteran New Orleans bassist Ed Garland.  I don’t have a recording of this session, but at least I got a photo! 

Living away from California, I would hear occasional news concerning Ray’s appearances on various jobs.  Later, there was a disheartening rumor that he had quit playing.  I had the recordings to listen to, but still hoped to hear the ‘real thing’ again some day.  In the early ‘90s I returned to California and wound up playing once a week at the ‘Hofbrau’ in Fullerton (Orange County), California.  The bands in rotation at the time included Gremoli, Evan Christopher’s Quintet and my own Frisco Syncopators.  One night, Mike Fay came to hear the band—with Papa Ray in tow!  Ray looked the same as he had the last time I saw him, in the ‘70s.  What a blast it was to see him, and in good health at that. 

Later, when key personnel became unavailable to play the Hofbrau, the Frisco Syncopators gradually became the New Orleans Wanderers.  Papa Ray was still making an occasional appearance at the club, though I had not been able to induce him to play.  But Mike Fay stepped in, describing the band’s sound and repertoire and we managed to get Ray on cornet!  With Alan Adams (trombone), Mike Baird (reeds), Vic Loring (banjo), Mike Fay (bass) and myself on drums, we hit ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’.  It unleashed a flood of happy memories, of good times at the Pizza Palace.  And best of all, Ray had his lip and his drive.   No one had to shoulder an extra load that night!  I still don’t know why I didn’t take a tape recorder.  Unfortunately, no one recorded us that night!  The lack of recording is all the more unfortunate because Ray was unable to make the job on a regular basis.  The Golden Eagles’ Ken Smith stepped in and became our regular hornman. 

My last encounter with Papa Ray was in 1995, when the Wanderers recorded a session for release on cassette.  We assembled in Mike Fay’s living room in Claremont, California and saw that a guest was settling in to listen to the session.   Papa Ray was happy to see his musical friends and obviously enjoyed our performances.  He would not join in on cornet, but we managed to coax him into singing ‘How Long Blues’, which was released on the cassette. 

Since then, I continue to hear that Papa Ray has taken part in occasional sessions and the report invariably includes the line ‘He sounded as great as ever’.  I am sure the reports are true.  Hearing Papa Ray Ronnei on cornet has always been a magical experience; one of the biggest thrills I have experienced in jazz.   To me, he will always be one of the greats!

  

Notes

  1. I never heard the El Dorado Jazz Band in person.  They played mostly in bars where a teenager could not enter, according to California state law.  I bought the El Dorado Epitaph and Item-1 LPs after hearing Ray with the South Frisco band.  The band finally broke up in mid-1966, but this ‘special edition’ of the South Frisco Jazz Band would be composed almost entirely of El Dorado veterans. 
  2. At the time I was unfamiliar with the recordings of Freddie Keppard, Abbie Brunies and especially Mutt Carey, who were the premier inspirations for Ray Ronnei.   (Ray studied with Mutt Carey in the late ‘40s).
  3. I discovered Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Kid Ory and ‘British Trad’ after hearing this ‘New Orleans’ version of the South Frisco band.  Bassist Mike Fay played that night, as did pianist Dick Shooshan.  Besides hearing Ray Ronnei for the first time and hearing a wealth of ‘new’ tunes, this was my first exposure to New Orleans style string bass and Jelly Roll Morton type piano.
  4. There were surely more substitutes and guests with the South Frisco Jazz Band during this period.  My listing is based on those I actually heard, or who were recorded at the Pizza Palace.

P.S.  Ray Ronnei, born in 1916, is happily still with us!  Although he no longer plays the cornet, his composition SALTY BUBBLE can be heard in the 2009 Woody Allen film WHATEVER WORKS, and Ray plans to continue composing!  The original recording can be purchased here: http://www.worldsrecords.com/pages/artists/r/ronnei_ray/ray_ronnei_64328.html