Tag Archives: Leon Oakley

BY POPULAR DEMAND, MORE HEALING WARMTH: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 25/26, 2016)

Like balm to the afflicted areas, with no side effects.  Apply as needed. And here‘s the first part of the prescription for all ailments, delivered promptly by those expert board-certified practitioners of joy, John Gill, Leon Oakley, Duke Heitger, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Conal Fowkes, Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn — drawing on the phamacopeia created by Oliver, Armstrong, Morton, Dodds, ory, Murphy, Watters, and other esteemed scientists of Stomp.

ybs-portrait

WILLIE THE WEEPER (Parental advisory: this song depicts the use of illegal substances, although this is a wholly instrumental version):

TACK ANNIE (and thanks to Professor Gill, a major mystery has been solved):

WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO (performed by Johnny Dodds, composed by Sam Coslow, Larry Spier, and Sammy Fain — anachronistic for the late Twenties but a good song to improvise on):

NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE (thanks to the Halfway House Dance Orchestra, 1925, and later versions):

And two sides of King Oliver, late and early.  First, a request for RHYTHM CLUB STOMP (the YBS attracts hip audiences):

And early — SOUTHERN STOMPS:

I’ve learned from official sources that we will indeed see and hear the Yerba Buena Stompers at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest (that’s November 22 – 26), a pleasing bit of news for sure.

May your happiness increase!

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HEALING WARMTH: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, PART ONE (November 25/26, 2016)

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There is a small-scale blizzard outside my window, with ten inches of snow predicted, so the need for something warming — hot stomping music — is intense, and medically necessary. Therefore I present some videos of one of my favorite bands, the Yerba Buena Stompers, as they rocked the room at the San Diego Jazz Fest, last November 25 and 26th.

The YBS is a working band, with a fairly consistent personnel for the last fifteen years, and their music shows it — the friendly comfort of an ensemble where everyone knows everyone else.  I’ve seen and videoed them at a variety of festivals — most often, I think, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, which (coincidentally) is a place of friendly comfort and hot music.  (I look forward to their return appearances!)

They are: John Gill, banjo / vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone / vocal; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Although — on paper — they honor the music of Lu Watters and, by extension, Turk Murphy, their roots are deeper, going back to the hot Chicagoans, Freddie Keppard, Louis, Kid Ory, Joe Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, venerable pop tunes, and more.  They honor the revered recordings, but their solos — hot and spicy — are their own.  And they make the world a warmer place.

Honoring Doc Cooke and Keppard, HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

For Kid Ory and Louis, SAVOY BLUES:

Ostensibly for Scott Joplin, but I think of Paul Mares as well, MAPLE LEAF RAG:

Turk Murphy’s theme song, BAY CITY:

A new dance from the early Twenties, SHIM-ME -SHA -WABBLE:

The snow is abating somewhat.  Thank you, Stompers!  (And there will be more video from their time at the San Diego Jazz Fest.)

May your happiness increase!

FOUR DAYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24-27, 2016)

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THINGS I LEARNED (OR RE-LEARNED) AT THE 2016 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST:

1. Never set up a travel schedule that gets you home (after a long weekend of life-changing music) at 5:20 AM Monday.  Not “sleeping” on a plane is worth a higher fare.

2. Music is best experienced in the company of friends — those on the bandstand, those in the audience.  The former, a partial list: Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Ray Skjelbred, Conal Fowkes, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Duke Heitger, Jeff Hamilton, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Dan Barrett, Tom Bartlett, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Katie Cavera, Josh Duffee, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Dave Stuckey, Dan Barrett, Larry Scala, David Boeddinghaus, Nobu Ozaki, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Mike Davis.

Off the stand: John Ochs, Pamela Ochs, Donna Feoranzo, Allene Harding, Rae Ann Berry, Barbara L. Sully, Judith Navoy, Mary (“The Ambassador of Fun”) and her twin, Chris and Chris, Paul Daspit, Jim and Mary McNaughton, Gretchen Haugen, Patti Durham, Angelica, Carol Andersen, Bess Wade, Cat and Scotty Doggett, Ed Adams.

Much-missed and I await their return: Hal Smith, Janie McCue Lynch, Donna Courtney, Mary Cross.

I know those lists are incomplete, and I apologize to any reader I’ve accidentally omitted.

3. This festival is delightfully overwhelming.  At any given time, music was happening in seven rooms simultaneously.  There was a Wednesday night session, a Thursday night session, full days on Friday and Saturday (with approximately seventy offerings of music, most an hour long) and a full afternoon on Monday.  By six PM on Monday, I was full and sloshing.

4. I am a man of narrow, precisely defined “tastes.”  I didn’t grow up sitting in Turk Murphy’s lap — now there’s a picture! — I began my listening education with Forties and Fifties Louis, so I need lyricism and melody the way plants need sun and air.

Many of the bands so dear to my California friends strike me as perhaps over-exuberant.  And when a fellow listener, politely curious, asked me “When did you get into trad?” I had to consider that question for a moment before saying, “I didn’t start listening to ‘trad’ . . . ”  As I get older, I find my compass needle points much more to subtle, quiet, sweet, witty, delicate — rather than the Dixie-Apocalypse.  Each to his or her own, though.

5. Videos: I videoed approximately eighteen sets, and came home with perhaps ten times that number of individual videos.  They won’t all surface; the musicians have to approve.  And I probably didn’t video your favorite band, The New Orleans Pop Tarts.  Rather than mumble about the unfairness of it all, come to next year’s Fest and live in reality rather than virtually!  Or buy an RV and a good camera so that you can become an official NOPT groupie-roadie-archivist.

6.  For the first time in my life I helped sponsor a group.  It was extremely rewarding to think that I had helped some music to be heard in public that otherwise would not have.  I’ve offered to do it again for 2017.  And, not incidentally, sponsors get to sit in the very front row, a great boon for people like me who want to capture the music to share with you.  Videographers like myself want to be made welcome.

7.  Moral tradeoffs are always possible and sometimes happily inevitable.  At the San Diego Jazz Fest, one can share a large platter of tempura-batter-fried pickle slices and fresh jalapenos . . . because one is doing so much walking that the second activity outweighs the first.  Or one tells oneself this.

8.  On a darker note, odd public behavior is more pungently evident. People who call themselves jazz fans talk through a whole set about the new puppy (and I like puppies).  Years ago I would have blamed this on television and the way viewers have been able to forget the difference between private and public behavior.  Now I simply call it self-absorption, and look for a window that I can open.

Others stand up in front of a band to take iPhone photos of the musicians, pushing their phones into the faces of people who are playing and singing. Photographers have treasured costly cameras that beep, whir, and snap — we ignore these aberrations at many events (I think some photographers are secretly excited by such things) but at musical performances these noises are distracting.

I won’t say anything about those folks who fire off flash explosions in well-lit rooms.

I cannot be the only person who thinks of creatively improvised music as holy, a phenomenon not to be soiled by oblivious behavior.  As a friend of mine says, “You’re not the only person on the planet.”

9. The previous paragraph cannot overshadow the generosity of the people who put on the Fest and the extreme generosity of those who create the music.  Bless them.  And the nice young sound people who worked hard to make music sound as it should!

It’s appropriate that the Fest takes place at Thanksgiving: I feel so much gratitude as I write these words, upload videos, and look at my notes of the performances I attended.

More — including videos! — to come.  Start planning to come to the 2017 Fest, to bring your friends, to sponsor a band.  Any or all of these activities are so much more life-enhancing than Black Friday.

May your happiness increase!

SIX TO STOMP BY: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the STEAMBOAT STOMP: JOHN GILL, CLINT BAKER, CONAL FOWKES, KEVIN DORN, TOM BARTLETT, ORANGE KELLIN, DUKE HEITGER, LEON OAKLEY (Sept. 18, 2015)

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As Heidegger used to ask himself, “What would a Stomp be without Stompers?” (I’ve translated from the original.)  And when the query becomes even more specific, “What would a Steamboat Stomp be without the Yerba Buena Stompers?” the answer is even clearer.  And so it was, on September 18, 2015, the Stompers took to the stage for the first night’s concert.  And they did indeed Stomp.  They are John Gill, banjo / vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet, playing a program of New Orleans-associated hot jazz.

CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME:

WABASH BLUES:

WILLIE THE WEEPER:

MILENBERG JOYS:

OLD STACK O’LEE BLUES:

THE GIRLS GO CRAZY:

It’s not just the Girls.  I look forward to future YBS encounters.

A serious word about those six performances.  I think the test of any band of this sort is the measure of energy — I don’t mean volume or velocity — they can bring to familiar material.  Everyone in that room had heard or perhaps played MILENBERG JOYS many times.  But the Stompers approached the material with the curiosity and love that made the familiar into something vibrant.  And that is both precious and rare, the very opposite of rote performance.

When I know more about the 2016 Steamboat Stomp, you can be sure I will let you know.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BLISS HAPPENS! AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH, BEAU SAMPLE (Nov. 30, 2014)

SAN DIEGO 2015 flyer 2

One of my friends recently asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving, and I said, “I’m flying to San Diego for a wonderful jazz festival,” and this is why: the San Diego Jazz Fest (all schedules subject to change, but this is a filling menu indeed).

The names you don’t see on the flyer above are Marc Caparone, Kim Cusack, Chris Dawson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Duke Heitger, Leon Oakley, Clint Baker, Dawn Lambeth, and many others.  I know that some of you will say, with good reason, “That’s too far away,” and I understand that.  But if you say, “Oh, that’s just another California trad festival,” I hope you are not within swatting range, for it isn’t.  But rather than take this uncharacteristic vehemence as merely the expression of the writer’s personality, look below.

Evidence from November 30, 2014: a small-group session led by Ray Skjelbred, piano and vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello, Marc Caparone, trumpet.  I’ve posted other videos from this session, but here are the two that closed it.  One lyrical, one steaming.

The first song, ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE, which I associate with Lee Wiley — who recorded it a half-dozen times between 1950 and 1972.  Wiley wrote the lyrics; Ned Washington and Victor Young the melody.  I suspect that Ray knew it first from the Mills Brothers recording, but perhaps from the Chick Bullock, Ellington, Hackett, or Nat Cole sides, too.

It is one of those rare love songs that isn’t I WISH I HAD YOU or YOU BROKE MY HEART, but a seriously intent paean to fidelity (rather like I’LL FOLLOW YOU, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, or I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN).  Yet unlike those two songs, it doesn’t stress super-heroic behavior as testimony of diligent indefatigable fidelity.  There are no caveats: “I have to check my calendar.  I can’t be devoted to you this Tuesday.  How about Wednesday?” There aren’t any mighty distances, rivers, or mountains.  The singer simply says, “Ask for me and I’ll be there,” which I find touching. And Ray’s spare, whispered declaration of the lyrics makes it even more so.  I don’t hear his singing as evidence of a limited vocal range; rather, he sounds like someone uttering his deepest heart-truths about devotion in the form of a vow. A Thirties pop song about love — what could be more common — that suddenly seems a sacred offering:

From a sacred offering delivered in hushed tones to another song-of-relationships, the critical / satirical NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, which — with lyrics — details the small-town girl who has come to the big city and quickly become unrecognizable.  Perhaps she’d come to the South Side of Chicago and started hanging around the Lincoln Gardens?  If so, I’d assess her transformation as an improvement.  Note the easy hot tempo — that’s no oxymoron — and how Marc Caparone sounds a bit like a holy ancestor from Corsicana, Texas.  To quote Ring Lardner, you could look it up.  Or you could simply immerse yourself in the video:

Here’s the festival’s home page and the relevant Facebook page.  I hope you’ll heed the siren call of Good Music and join us there.  Festivals need more than enthusiastic watchers-of-videos to survive.

I hope I will be forgiven for ending on an autobiographical note.  Five years ago, I had some cardiac excitement that was repaired by the best kind of Western medicine: open the patient up and put a little machine in.  It works; I’m fine.  Ask my electrocardiologist.  But when I watch and listen to music at this level — music that I experienced then and have revisited often — I think, “Goodness, I could have died and never seen / heard this,” in a state of astonished gratitude. Not a bad place to be. Rather like the San Diego Jazz Fest.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT BETTER WAY TO CARPE THE DIEM? (September 18-20, 2015)

NATCHEZ

I am not sure that Ralph Waldo Emerson would have instantly taken to jazz, although its energy, self-reliant independent passion might have pleased him. But he did write these words in Nature, words I have tried to take to heart: “Life only avails, not the having lived.”  Put more simply, the experience of life is both intense and fleeting: it must be savored while it is here, not in retrospect, as if leafing through a photograph album.  Or, as Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame says [in the play of the same name], “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!”  (It became “suckers” in the film version, alas.)

What has all this to do with JAZZ LIVES?  It is my unsubtle way of saying that the Steamboat Stomp is once again happening in New Orleans, on the dates shown above and below, and that if you can be there, your happiness will measurably increase.  This is not an idle bit of press-agentry on my part: I was there two years ago and had a wonderful time.

STOMP 2015

The poster tells you all you need to know, with one emendation.  The Dukes of Dixieland won’t be performing at the Stomp; instead, there will be Jacques Gauthe’s New Orleans Classic Jazz Orchestra.  AND my brilliant friends and pianists Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi will be there also.

The musical festivities will begin Friday night with performances “held at a local offisite location,” which means somewhere nearby, comfortable, and on land. (Incidentally, I do not like small boats and do tend to suffer from mal-de-mer . . .  I felt fine on the Natchez.)

The main Saturday evening concerts will take place aboard a special sailing of the Steamboat Natchez. The evening will include two stages of simultaneous music along with New Orleans-style food served by the Natchez‘s own renowned chef (food not included in price).  On Sunday, a New Orleans style gospel jazz brunch (food included) will conclude the musical festivities, followed by a reception for patrons and sponsors.

Now, with all good things, a little investigation on your part is required. Emerson talked mightily of self-reliance, so one must do some legwork — or some clicking in this modern technological age. Here is the Stomp’s Facebook page.  Here you can reserve tickets and learn more.  And because — as Lester Young said in a comment I will expurgate — seeing is believing, here are a few video posts from the inaugural Stomp.  Oh what fun it was.  And will be.

Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stompers

The Yerba Buena Stompers and Vince Saunders

Banu Gibson’s Rhythmic Heart

New Orleans Joys With Ray, Tim, Steve, and Jeff

If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to double the dosage of Joy.

May your happiness increase!

SHE TAKES A STAND: MISS IDA BLUE and THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS (June 27, 2015)

In a nice way, Miss Ida Blue is a strong-willed person.  Definite rather than ambivalent.  And it comes through in her singing, with this 1938 song a particularly fine example.

I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART is firmly associated with Billie Holiday in her early golden period, and Billie made the song multi-layered.  The message of the lyrics is, if taken seriously, rather bleak: my heart has been broken and so I am never falling in love again.  But the song itself is curiously jaunty, in the best pop tradition: I will sing about my woes in a swinging way, because you and I really know that this is only a song.

I'M GONNA LOCK MY HEART clearer

I am delighted to have this video — thanks to the diligent generosity of Rae Ann Berry, the crowned Queen of West Coast Hot Jazz Video.  She recorded it on June 27, 2015, at the 25th Annual America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington.

Miss Ida is accompanied by that spectacular hot band, the Yerba Buena Stompers: Kevin Dorn, drums, Clint Baker, tuba; John Gill, banjo; Conal Fowkes, piano; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jon-Erik Kellso (subbing for Duke Heitger), trumpet:

And Miss Ida’s deep love for Billie Holiday is nothing new, as you can read https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/havin-herself-a-time-miss-ida-triumphs-joes-pub-may-15-2015/ — my frankly ecstatic report on her May 15 gig at Joe’s Pub.  Ida’s evocation of Billie is not a matter of learned gestures; Ida sounds like Ida, and we are terribly glad about that.  She has never locked her heart, and that quality of openness comes through in every note.

May your happiness increase!