Tag Archives: Katie Cavera

INDIGO HUES: DAVE STUCKEY and THE HOT HOUSE GANG at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, JOSH COLLAZO (September 29, 2022)

Dave Stuckey is a beacon of swing and fun, presenting both while compromising neither. He lives the double truth, that jazz can be hilarious without being childish, and that entertainment can be high-level art, simultaneously satisfying. Before the band comes in, he’s set a danceable groove, and even people like myself, who leave their seats only when the set is over, feel it. Although Google Maps will tell you something else, Dave and the Hot House Gang are firmly situated at the intersection of Cindy Walker Drive and Fats Waller Terrace, which is to say the mid-Thirties meadow where sad songs were swung so hard that we couldn’t remember how sad they actually were. And he feels the music: no postmodern irony for this fellow.

Here’s a little Blue Suite, performed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on September 29, 2022, with the best cast of characters: Dave, guitar, vocal, and inspirations; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, tenor saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, keyboard; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.

First, Fats’ BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, which (as its lyrics would suggest) is usually slow, verging on the melodramatic (or in the case of Fifties’ Louis, the operatic). But Fats and his Rhythm made a 12″ 78 of this tune for Victor in 1937, completely instrumental and at a faster tempo. Dave sings it but also nudges it along into late-Thirties swing dance tempo:

then, almost without a break, into BLUE DRAG, which many know from early Django:

But no one in the audience felt blue. That’s what Dave does. What a spirit, and what a band!

There’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

“I JUST BELIEVE IN MUSIC”: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO RAY SKJELBRED (with KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 28, 2015)

Yesterday, “on or about” (as the lawyers say) November 2, was Ray Skjelbred’s birthday. But oddly enough, he has the celebration in reverse, for he keeps giving us presents — of swing, whimsy, empathy, and life-affirming joy.

Here’s a sample, with the Cubs, Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar — captured in flight at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 28, 2015.

“I just believe in music,” Ray says. And his faith repays us a thousand-fold.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, HOW THE GHOST OF YOU CLINGS”: DAWN LAMBETH (with DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, JONATHAN DOYLE, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, JOSH COLLAZO: Redwood Coast Music Festival, September 29, 2022)

Dawn Lambeth has been one of my favorite singers for more than fifteen years now. I’d never heard of her (such is the East Coast / West Coast divide in Jazz America) until I was asked to review her CD, MIDNIGHT BLUE, for the much-missed Mississippi Rag, and I was astonished. Her lovely voice, her warm phrasing, her love of the melody, her understanding of the lyrics — all splendidly touching. She swings; she embodies the great traditions but sounds like herself, understated and passionate at the same time.

And I could marvel at her work in a variety of contexts at the most recent Redwood Coast Music Festival. Here she is with Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang: Dave, guitar, vocals, and fun; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, Jonathan Doyle, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.

Many people feel that singing isn’t, after all, so difficult. You learn a song by listening to recordings, perhaps you ask friends who play what key you are singing in, you hope to remember the lyrics and to not hang on to the mike stand too ostentatiously, the pianist plays four bars, you open your mouth — and look, ma, I’m singing! Nice clothing, good hair — also essential.

But this art is so much more complex, and it rests on the dual mastery of the song (how to get from one note to another with grace and personality, and then, how to courageously improvise and land well) and the lyrics (what do those words actually mean? what’s “the story” here? where should I take a breath?) and the deeper understanding of the emotions a song is meant to stir. I could be very wrong here, but an eighteen-year old might not sing THANKS FOR THE MEMORY with the deep rueful sensitivity that the song requires, in the same way that same youthful striver might not deeply understand the feelings of a literary character.

And there’s an even more difficult art — drama without acting — or how to make a group of people in a large hall, through your voice and gesture sent through a microphone, feel the nuances that composer, lyricist, and singer must convey.

I write this perhaps discouraging prelude to simply say that Dawn Lambeth not only knows how to do these rare things, but she embodies the art of communicating information and feeling while the notes roll on. We know, in the song I am about to present here, the joy of past experience and the ruefulness that the experiences are past.

THESE FOOLISH THINGS, by Jack Strachey and Eric Maschwitz (and perhaps Harry Link), has been sung often since its emergence in 1935, and inexperienced singers can make the melody a series of predictable steps, the lyrics a shopping list of sentimental fragments of memory. It has been sung so often that in the wrong hands, its sharp edges have been blurred. But Dawn reaches into the song, without overacting, and offers us the novella of love unattained but recalled that it really is. Hear her poignant variations on “You conquered me!” and know what this rare art truly is.

So moving. Thank you so much, Dawn and friends, for these tender, candid moments.

May your happiness increase!

DAVE STUCKEY and THE HOT HOUSE GANG PREACH A MELLOW SERMON AGAINST HYPOCRISIES (Redwood Coast Music Festival, September 30, 2022)

Try to behave better, will you?

WHY DON’T YOU PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH has a strong pedigree: recordings by Henry “Red” Allen, the Boswell Sisters, Adrian’s Ramblers, 1934 dance bands, and more. (There are two delightfully odd versions on YouTube — a 1935 duet on film by vaudevillians Blossom Seeley and Benny Davis, and a nearly surrealistic piano / vocal explosion by Speckled Red . . . for you to investigate as you might.)

I suspect that the gentleman in the drawing is “all alone by the telephone,” waiting for the call, promised, that hasn’t arrived.

And for those who want to learn the verse or see the original chords, here is a sample of what people in 1934 would have to practice:

I am certain that the stern patriarch of American popular song, Alec Wilder, would have furrowed his brow over this one: its limited melody, relying on simple patterns and repeated notes (a particular Wilder irritation), and its conversational lyrics with perhaps predictable rhymes. But one could say some of the same things about a number of Berlin songs, and PREACH sticks in the mind. Is it because it is singable? Or is the easy colloquial nature of the lyrics part of the charm — one can imagine a writer in the Brill Building saying in a cranky voice, “For God’s sake, Harry, why don’t you practice what you preach?” and Harry, as they did in films, pushing his fedora back from his forehead and saying, “Say that again. We got a song there!”

But I think the appeal of the song is its light-hearted but serious approach to a universal situation. Who among us has been promised something — and I don’t mean thin-crust pizza, but fidelity, devotion, monogamy — to find that the verbal promise was not matched by behavior. This isn’t a “You lied to me and now it’s all over” aria, but it is, “Why don’t you cut out what you’re doing and be straight with me?” which is all too often the song in our heads.

This performance comes from the second set the OAO and I enjoyed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: Dave Stuckey, guitar, voice, and focused enthusiasm, led his Hot House Gang: Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, tenor saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, keyboard, Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums, with the very special guest Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor saxophone. I have heard Dave perform this song before, so I was ready for joy, and I was entranced by the “right” tempo, the glee club effects, the general we’re-rockin’-this-town spirit, all the way to the vocal triple ending. I loved it in the moment and I love it now. I hope you dig it too:

So swing out. But heed the sermon of Deacon Stuckey. Get yourself together. It’s easier to tell the truth. Collect friends, not enemies. And don’t let your mouth write checks your tail feathers can’t cash. Amen, brothers and sisters.

See you at the 2023 Redwood Coast Music Festival . . . even if you bring all your sins with you in checked luggage.

May your happiness increase!

MAKE PLANS! The 30th ANNUAL REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL IS COMING (September 29 – October 2, 2022: Eureka, California)

Before you read a word, please groove on these performances from the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival:

BOTTOMS UP, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:

TEN YEARS, by the Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith Western Swing All-Stars:

JULIANNE, by Charlie [Halloran] and the Tropicales:

I am very excited by this news that the Redwood Coast Music Festival is returning. It gives my native optimism fertile soil to grow in. This festival is a friendly sustained explosion of some of the best musical talent I know.

Here are some of the glorious people who will be there, singing and playing. Dave Stuckey, Marc Caparone, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Hal Smith, Twerk Thomson, Kris Tokarski, Charlie Halloran, Jonathan Doyle, Joel Paterson, Dawn Lambeth, Brian Casserly, Dave Bennett, T.J. Muller, Katie Cavera, Jacob Zimmerman, Duke Robillard, Jessica King, Ryan Calloway, Riley Baker, Chris Wilkinson, James Mason, Jamey Cummins, Josh Collazo, Tom Rigney, Sam Rocha, Nate Ketner, Dave Kosymna, Alex Hall, Beau Sample, Dan Walton, John Gill, Jontavious Willis, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, and more. And more.

The festival runs from Thursday evening to Sunday evening (September 29 to October 2) and there are either five or six simultaneous sets. Simultaneous. I emphasize this because I got the most charming vertigo trying to plot a course through the tentative schedule, an exercise in Buddhist non-attachment or chess (which I never learned): “I want to see X at 5:30 but that means I can’t see Y then, but I can see Y the next day.”

I’ve only been to Redwood Coast once, in 2019, a transcendent experience and I don’t overstate: the only festival that made me think longingly of hiring a camera crew of at least two friends so that we could capture some portion of the good(ly) sounds. one of the nicest things about this festival is its broad love of energized passionate music: jazz, blues, swing, country, zydeco, soul, rhythm and blues, “Americana,” “roots” — you name it.

Did I mention that there’s room for dancing?

Are some of the names listed above unfamiliar to you? Go here to learn more about the artists and see videos of their work

You can buy tickets here. And maybe you’ll think this is the voice of entitlement, but an all-events pass — four days! — is $135, at least until August 1.

Here’s one more musical convincer from 2019:

Remember, every time it rains it rains PENNIES FROM HEAVEN — in this case, rare musical experiences. But you can’t catch them in your ears or outstretched hands by staying at home.

May your happiness increase!

FIVE MINUTES OF HEATED BLISS: RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS at SACRAMENTO (KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA: May 24, 2014) and A BRIEF EMERSONIAN INTERLUDE: RAY SKJELBRED, March 8, 2014.

The song is CHINA BOY and I believe the next words of the chorus are GO SLEEP, but you couldn’t find a finer example of being brilliantly awake than this performance.

These five musicians are billed as RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS, with Ray at the piano, the occasional vocal, arrangements and spiritual-ethical leadership; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. (Study Hamilton’s melodic accompaniment and solo!)

This performance comes from the Sacramento Music Festival (although I may have the rapidly-changing name wrong) in a delightfully compact room on May 24, 2014:

That is compelling evidence of the magnificence of this little band: hot and delicate all at once, plunging forward with the greatest relaxation. I hope our paths intersect before too long.

In 2014, I had the serious luxury of encountering Ray in a variety of settings at a number of festivals and gigs: I look back on those days and those sounds with wonder — both that they occurred and that I was able to witness them and capture them.

While I was sauntering through my archive of unreleased performances by Ray and friends, I found something unusual — although not unusual for those of us who honor and follow him, those of us who have seen him at jazz festivals, moving from one venue to another, becoming friends with each new piano, taking its pulse by playing it, meditatively yet with strong emotions. During the Jazz Fest by the Bay in Monterey, I knew his meditative ways well enough to turn my camera on him before he became part of the ensemble — Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band, in red polo shirts. And I was rewarded.

Ray told me, “The piano interlude is sort of what I like to do as I adjust to a new piano and setting.” I’ve heard him explore rare Ellington, a Monk blues, Thirties pop songs, and more. I hear the laandmarks of a characteristic blues strain and Bud Freeman’s AFTER AWHILE.

But the interlude so strongly made me think of someone who probably spent no time at the keyboard and who died long before Jess Stacy was born . . . I mean Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote in SELF-RELIANCE, the source of these lines: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.“

Yes, perfect sweetness, mixed with Chicago grit and California musing. Thank you, Cubs. Thank you, Ray.

May your happiness increase!

REASONS TO BE JOYOUS: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at ROSSMOOR (KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON: JULY 10, 2014)

Let joy be unconfined. It certainly had free room at this July 10, 2014 concert put on by the Dixieland Jazz Club at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek, California. The source of the joy? Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

I always want to celebrate Ray, someone who keeps finding new paths to embody deep truths about life and art and the spirit, but today I post this jubilant video to say WOW in the name of two celebrations — you might know about them or not. Clint Baker has come back from a serious cardiac incident and is recovering well. If it wouldn’t hurt or embarrass him, a line of people would be at his door wanting to embrace him and to thank him for hanging around. And the quietly brilliant Kim Cusack, admired and loved for a million reasons, is celebrating a birthday. It would be indecent to ask him what the relevant number is, and an irrelevancy: he’s here on the planet and we rejoice in that fact.

And we rejoice in this music.

The news might be dark and the skies cloudy, but anytime we can hear the Cubs — ideally, in person, but also on lit screens and through speakers — it is a glorious day. We know them, we love them.

May your happiness increase!

“ROCK AND RYE”: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS at the SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE: KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON (May 24, 2014)

The title refers to a swing panacea, written by Jimmy Mundy for the Earl Hines band of 1934, named for a libation that mixed rye whiskey with rock candy (sometimes with lemon and herbs) which, I am told, is making a comeback. Whitney Balliett recounted a conversation between Barney Josephson and Helen Humes in the Seventies about the potion, Helen’s drink of choice.

Here’s another version of soothing syrup with a kick, as performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums:

Bring back the Cubs, I say. The world needs their energies.

May your happiness increase!

“TELL ME AGAIN. WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?”

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs — that’s Ray, piano and inspiration; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton — answer the musical question at the now-vanished Sacramento Jazz Jubilee (d. 2017), with the notes on the music staff written by Johnny Green as their guide, but also the many performances of this tune, including Bing Crosby, Coleman Hawkins, and Django Reinhardt.

I try to collect rather than hoard — the first is a vocation; the second a disorder — but I’ve been hoarding videos of Ray and his Cubs . . . the way I’d store food for the winter, until I have the good fortune to see them again. Soon, I hope. They mean so much more than canned tuna.

May your happiness increase!

INFINITE PROPULSION: RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, May 25, 2014)

The Original, itself.

That’s 1929. But here’s 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival — a hot Chicago-style performance (with “surprise vocal”) by the most eloquent Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, who are Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums:

What a gorgeous serving of energies: “infinite propulsion” characterizes the song but also the Cubs, a band I look forward to seeing again . . . soon.

May your happiness increase!

“FINDING ANOTHER WORLD”: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS ASK A DEEP QUESTION (KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON, Sacramento, May 25, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred is more than comfortable with taking risks — not hang-gliding or sky-diving, but performing new songs in front of an audience, as he does here. The clues are simple: “Three choruses.” “My favorite Gershwin song,” and he and his Cubs — Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar — take us to another world:

Those of us who follow Ray, and Ray and his Cubs, might quickly associate them with the bedrock of Chicago jazz: dark-blue musings and skyrocket exuberance, and all that would be true. But their deep soulfulness comes out on a quiet but eloquent ballad performance such as this one.

The question is asked, and asked with feeling, leaving listeners to invent their own answers. Bless Ray, and all his friends.

May your happiness increase!

SOME SPLENDID NEWS: THE RETURN OF THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (Sept. 30 – Oct. 3, 2021)

Given the landscape we have been traveling through, when good news shows up, it’s almost a shock. So brace yourself: I have some, as spelled out in the title of this post.

The Redwood Coast Music Festival is going ahead, energetically and intelligently, for 2021.

I did not take the pandemic lightly, and I spent a good deal of last year scared to bits . . . but I’m going. And I hope you will also, if you can.

Details here — but I know you want more than just details.

Although for those who like it very plain, some elementary-school math: four days, more than a hundred sets performed at eight stages, from intimate to huge. Dance floors. And the festival is wonderfully varied, presenting every kind of “roots music” you can imagine: “jazz, swing, blues, zydeco, rockabilly, Americana, Western Swing, country.”

Off the top of my head — when I was there in 2019, I heard the music of Charlie Christian, Moon Mullican, Pee Wee Russell, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Pete Johnson, Billie Holiday, and much more. Bob Wills said howdy to Walter Donaldson, which was very sweet.

And here are some of the jazz and blues artists who will be there: Carl Sonny Leyland, Duke Robillard, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Jonathan Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, Dan Walton, Marc Caparone, Joe Goldberg, Bill Reinhart, Joshua Gouzy, Joel Patterson, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Kris Tokarski, Nate Ketner, Brian Casserly, Josh Collazo, Ryan Calloway, and two dozen other worthies whose names don’t yet appear on the site. And of course, bands — ad hoc units and working ones.

For the justifiably anxious among us, here is the RCMF’s Covid update: several things stand out. First, California has mandated that ticket sales must be in advance. And understandably, there will be fewer people allowed in any space . . . so this translates for you, dear reader, as a double incentive to buy tickets early. I know that festivals always urge attendees to do this, but you can see these are atypical reasons.

How about some musical evidence?

CASTLE ROCK, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, by Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet:

REACHING FOR SOMEONE, by the Doyle-Zimmerman Sextet:

HELLO, LOLA! by Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:

SAN ANTONIO ROSE, by Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith’s Western Swing All-Stars:

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, by Marc Caparone and his “Louis Armstrong All-Stars”:

If the videos don’t act as proof, my words may be superfluous. But to paraphrase Lesley Gore, “It’s my blog and I’ll write if I want to.”

I come to this festival-jazz party circuit late — both late for me and for the phenomenon — September 2004. Chautauqua, California, Connecticut, Newcastle, Westoverledingen, and others. I’ve attended a hundred of them. Meaning no offense to any festival organizer, I think Redwood Coast delivers such quality and such range that it is astonishing. I told Mark Jansen that it was the SUPERMARKET SWEEP of festivals: so much to pick up on in so short a time. And readers will understand that my range is narrow: there is much music on the list of genres above that doesn’t stir me, although it might be excellent.

However: in 2019 I came home with over 150 videos in four days of enthusiastic observation-participation. I slept as if drugged on the plane ride home. I’d been perforated by music of the finest kind.

I also need to write a few darker sentences.

There is a blessed influx of younger people — dancers, often — to music festivals like this one. But festivals are large enterprises, costly to stage and exhausting to supervise. Those of us who want to be able to see and hear live music must know that this phenomenon needs what realistic promoters call Asses in Seats.

So if you say, “Well, I’ll come in a few years when I’m retired,” that’s understandable. But Asses at Home mean that this festival, and others, might not wait for you. Grim, but true.

So I hope to see you there. There are a million reasons to stay at home. But who will come in and dust you?

May your happiness increase!

STIFF BREEZES, AN AMPHIBIAN LAMENT, and A LAPSED DARLING: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS — KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON (Sacramento Music Festival, May 25, 2014)

The Sacramento Music Festival, which we miss, was like a sandwich with the cole slaw coming out of the bread on all sides — tasty but messy, a danger to one’s outfit. Bands of all kinds jostled for audibility both in the open air and in unsuitable venues; the whole weekend had the air of a genial traveling carnival slightly awry.

But wonderful music happened in spite of the distractions. Here are two performances, hidden in the JAZZ LIVES archives for moments just such as this, by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, mining deep Chicago gold. They are Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal, Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar. Special effects provided by the winds of fate. (The Cubs should have played BREEZE, but that’s my comic sense, which can be disregarded without harm or wound.)

BULL FROG BLUES:

and that tale of The Ruined Maid, with her new hat and her dubious associations, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW. And NOW as pronounced by Mr. Cusack is a marvel: young actors at the Old Vic study it but is remains elusive:

These performances are nearly seven years “old” but, as Ray says, “We play in the present tense.”

May your happiness increase!

DANCE WHILE PURRING, AND THE REVERSE: HAL SMITH’S JAZZOLOGISTS (2021)

A long prelude, but with a point.

Julian Barnes has an extraordinary story in his 2005 collection THE LEMON TABLE, “A Short History of Hairdressing,” in which the narrator recounts his life as a series of haircuts.

It amuses me to offer my life in a few lines as a purchaser of recorded music:

Fifty-five years ago, when my mother went shopping in a department store, I ran off and bought a Louis Armstrong long-playing record for $2.79 plus tax.  Thirty years ago, I stopped off at Tower Records on my way home from work and bought an Arbors or a Concord CD for $16 and hid it in my briefcase so it wouldn’t be seen and cause an argument.  In the past twelve months, although I still buy music from Amazon and eBay and the musicians themselves, the music cornucopia has become Bandcamp.com, where one can hear and purchase all sorts of divinely inspired improvised music — from Bob Matthews to Brad Linde and Freddie Redd, to Gordon Au, Keenan McKenzie, Jonathan Doyle, The Vitality Five, The Dime Notes, Andrew Oliver, Michael McQuaid and two dozen more . . . and now, a wonderful addition to Hal Smith’s catalogue of inspiring music.

This isn’t a collection of howling, meowing, and hissing: no need to open the window and shout “STOP THAT!” at the feline orgy below.  Rather, it’s hot New Orleans dance music.  Hal [one of the greatest swinging drummers on the planet, and that’s no stage joke] says, of this brand-new session, “a sound somewhere between Bunk’s band (if Don Ewell had been the pianist) and the 1964 ‘Jazzology Poll Winners.'”

Filet of soul — not canned or freeze-dried.  I confess to always entering into an emotional relationship with music — those rare and delicious effusions that make me feel warmly embraced.  Hal’s new disc does that.

Here, listen.  And I believe that Bandcamp waives its fees on Friday, so the musicians get more of the hot savory pie.

The facts, ma’am (thinking of Jack Webb, if you remember):

Hal Smith (drums, leader); Clint Baker (trumpet, vocal on MY LITTLE GIRL); John Gill (trombone); Ryan Calloway (clarinet); Kris Tokarski (piano); Bill Reinhart (banjo); Katie Cavera (string bass).  YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE / ARKANSAS BLUES / BLUE MASK STOMP / HONEY BABE / SAN SUE STRUT / BLACK CAT ON THE FENCE / BLUE FOR YOU, BUNK / MY LITTLE GIRL //

Jake Hanna said — often — “What are you waiting for the last chorus of a tune to swing?  Start swinging from the beginning!” and this band does, no matter what the tempo.  Twenty years ago, a work-colleague would say, “You ROCK!” as

Before I heard a note, I was happy with the tune list.  Occasionally I think, “If I hear one more JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH ME or PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE or SI TU VOIS MA MERE I will bang my head into the wall — don’t try this, it ruins the paint — but the avoidance of tediously overplayed songs was immediately refreshing.  Aside from the homage to Bunk Johnson’s repertoire, there are affectionate glances at Messrs. Morton, Manone, Bechet, and others.

It’s a band with New Orleans in their hearts — strong melodic improvisations, a pulsating supportive rhythm section, and a delightfully idiosyncratic front line making SOUNDS.  There is a refreshing reliance on ensemble playing, and a return to one of my favorite things: one player offering a straight but swinging melody while the other improvises around it.

I said it was warm — and warming — music.  I hear other bands full of players I admire hewing so closely to the recordings that the collective effect is technically dazzling but a little cool to the touch.  The Jazzologists know the score (pun intended) but they romp all on their own.  And they don’t fall into the reverent trap of imitating the limitations of venerable senior players.  They play.

And it’s a triumph of passion as well as technology.  Yes, it was created remotely, with players in six cities — but the groove is such that you wouldn’t know it.

Not for the first time in my adult life have I lamented the disconnect between my ears and heart (those parts that receive the music and revel in it) and my rather stiff stubborn legs.  But hearing this disc, I would happily dance around the kitchen, not caring how goofy I might look.  It’s that inspiring.

To be a good critic, one must find flaws, or so it seems.  That was hard with this session — now on its fifth playing as I write this — but I did find one thing to complain about.  I wish this had been a digital two-CD set.  Maybe in a few months (what is the feline gestation period?) there can be Kittens?

Swing, you cats! — here.

May your happiness increase!

OH, THEY DO: RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS (November 25, 2016)

I love this little band, in all its permutations, and I am not alone.  When they get onstage, the question posed above becomes completely rhetorical.  They most certainly have music, and they share it with us.  Here are five lovely (purple-hued) performances from the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, featuring Ray Skjelbred, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dawn Lambeth, vocals.

Here’s LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, evoking Eddie Condon and the first Commodore 78, and the swinging Bing Crosby version a few years earlier:

and James P. Johnson’s song, recorded by Henry “Red” Allen:

and a song associated with Lee Wiley, sweetly sung by Dawn Lambeth:

the beautiful Thirties ballad associated with Billie Holiday:

Finally, Dawn’s exposition of swing frustration (thanks to Walter Donaldson):

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!

WHEN JOY WAS UNCONFINED: MARC CAPARONE, JOHN REYNOLDS, KATIE CAVERA, RALF REYNOLDS, CLINT BAKER, BOB DRAGA, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS (Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California, March 1, 2013)

Ten years ago, this band changed my life.  Because of RaeAnn Berry’s videos of the Reynolds Brothers, I urgently wanted to visit California, to hear and see them, which I did in 2011.  I’d already admired Marc Caparone’s work on records with Dawn Lambeth as far back as 2003, so it was a natural development.

I had visited California once before, but that was in utero.  There, no bands were playing, although my mother had a swinging 4 / 4 heartbeat and my father certainly knew how to arrange two-part harmony.

Back to our subject: here are four glorious jam-session styled performances, previously unseen, by the Brothers and Friends from March 1, 2013, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, in Monterey, California, by John Reynolds, resonator guitar, vocal, whistling; Marc Caparone, cornet; Katie Cavera, string bass, vocal; Ralf Reynolds, washboard, and guests Bob Draga, clarinet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; later, Clint Baker, resonator tenor guitar.

Every jazz festival should have at least one Lillie Delk Christian tribute.  Katie Cavera sings TOO BUSY with a band and guests never too busy to swing:

A riotously fast CHINA BOY, Clint Baker joining on resonator tenor guitar, in honor of the many Mike McKendricks:

Something tender to follow, EMBRACEABLE YOU, sung by John:

and a romping SOME OF THESE DAYS to close off this segment:

The next Jazz Bash by the Bay is planned for 2021, and we live in hope that such gatherings can happen again, and I can return, if not to the land of my birth, to the closest thing, for more joy.  I know “you can’t go home again,” but you can park across the street and take phone pictures.

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!

 

“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!