Tag Archives: Leon Rene

HOME, JAZZ. JAZZ, HOME: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY BAND (RAY SKJELBRED, STEVE WRIGHT, DAVE BROWN, JAKE POWEL: December 6, 2012)

Wherever there’s music like this — sweet, warm, hot, impassioned but restrained in its beauty, there’s home*.

These videos celebrate and document Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington, on December 6, 2012.  The players and singers are Ray, piano, trombone, vocal; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal, and videographer too; Jake Powel, banjo, guitar, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal.  

Here’s OH, BABY!  And in case you are tempted to say, “Oh, I’ve heard that song a thousand times since it was a new pop tune in 1920-whatever,” please sit still for the deliciously surprising duet of Steve (alto) and Ray (piano) in the first chorus.  And the duet between Jake and Dave is like a wonderful ripe tangerine for the ears:

I really try to wish no one harm, so please take this rocking rendition of YOU RASCAL YOU in the spirit of amused kindness — especially since the music is anything but threatening.  I suppose someone might fall out of his / her chair while smiling and having a good time, but just hold on:

WHEN DAY IS DONE, where Steve, on clarinet, sounds much like my heroes Bujie Centobie or Rod Cless — but primarily like my hero S. Wright.  Music to dream by:

And another sweet dream — the one the Rene brothers laid on Mr. Strong and he gave us all every night of his performing life for forty years, WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH — here performed as a Thirties romp — at a tempo Ruby Braff liked later in life.  It will keep you awake, but you’ll never regret it:

Would you care for some more?  Click here to visit Steve Wright’s YouTube channel, where he has posted THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME / ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE / ROAMIN’ / IT’S BEEN SO LONG / LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY / JIG SAW PUZZLE BLUES from this session, and more wonderful music — especially from a session that had Chris Tyle joining in.

*I thought of several things while listening to this video — all personal, so I place them down here to be less distracting.  One is that I can’t hear HOME — by Louis, by Jack Teagarden / Joe Thomas / Coleman Hawkins — without finding tears gather in my eyes.  Home, wherever you find it, and it could be a suitcase that has your cherished things in it, opened up in the motel room, is precious and we need to have something like it for ourselves.  This is why being “homeless,” however you define it, strikes terror at the very center of our beings.

But one other story about “home.”  I grew up in suburban Long Island, and my parents loved me.  When they set up my “new room” for me in the house (I was not yet six years old) they would not let me come in until it was all ready.  I had to close my eyes and when I opened them, there was my bed, a desk, and my phonograph playing my favorite music — a Danny Kaye children’s record.  So home is where you can hear the sounds that make you glad and even more glad that you are alive.  And, by the way, this incredibly fortunate little boy has grown up and still thinks himself lucky in ways that his five-year old mind could not have put into words.

May your happiness increase.

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THAT PRINCESS OF RHYTHM and THE INVISIBLE MAN

This particular piece of sheet music must have sold well when the song was new in 1931 — if the number of copies that have surfaced in this century is evidence: THAT PRINCESS OF RHYTHM sang WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra:

Incidentally, the song takes on new shadings of meaning when you hear the verse: the speaker is dreaming of going back to Virginia, hardly the Deep South.

This sheet music cover is new to me: I note that Mildred was no longer a Princess, although she Featured songs With Great Success.  (I wouldn’t argue with that.)  And the original publishers seem to have been delicately consumed by Mills Music.  I have no idea of the date of this second issue, but the picture suggests the mid-to-late Thirties.

Here’s a small mystery.

A man — you’d know him once I mention his name — recorded this song first, almost six months before the Whiteman record.  He sang and played it every night onstage for forty years.  Why is there no sheet music with him on the cover?  In the period before his great popularity in the Fifties, I’ve seen him on the cover of one song — LIGHTS OUT, circa 1936.  He was anything but invisible in all other media: you could see him in theatres, in concerts, at dances here and abroad; he broadcast on the radio and had his own program; he stole the show in films. But no WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.

I wonder why.

P.S.  I don’t see his invisibility as a racial issue: other African-Americans got their bands or their pictures on sheet music.  The only hypothesis I can invent is that Mr. Collins and then Mr. Glaser wanted too much money for Our Hero’s visage to be Visible. May your happiness increase.