Maybe it’s human nature, but many duets between two improvisers become playfully combative. They sound so much like two elementary-school boys arguing over some debated fact or incident. Baseball cards, perhaps, or superheroes. I think of Irving Berlin’s ANYTHING YOU CAN DO (I CAN DO BETTER).
But true artists like Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, understand that the purpose of art is to pass feelings and sensations back and forth so that a duet isn’t a scuffle but a conversational exercise in friendly synergy. And our engagement in their conversation, which might be elegant or greasy or both, ennobles us as well as them.
The texts for these mellow sermons are two rarely-played Thirties tunes. The first, I’LL NEVER SAY ‘NEVER AGAIN’ AGAIN, I associate with Henry “Red” Allen:
And Dana Suesse’s MY SILENT LOVE, which Ray converted (upgraded), with lyrics, to MICE ISLAND LOVE:
It would be easy for the casual listener / viewer to say, “Oh, that’s just two guys playing duets at a festival. Where’s my favorite band, THE CRASHING CLIMAX, playing?” But music like this is beyond compare, and should it ever vanish from the planet, our skies would be so much grayer. Thank you, Ray, and thank you, Marc.
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?
Too good to ignore: Steve Pikal, string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone, clarinet; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet. THREE LITTLE WORDS, key-changing from C to Ab:
That swinging love song from 1930 is much loved by jazz musicians — perhaps beginning with the Ellington version. It’s also the setup for a famous Turk Murphy joke, and Pee Wee Russell used to call it THREE LITTLE BIRDS. Here it’s a playground for this swinging band to enjoy themselves and bring joy to us.
Not that I need a reason! But I am posting this today for two: the HCJF version of LULU’S BACK IN TOWN made many people happy, if the statistics are valid proof — here — and today is Brian Holland’s birthday. So we celebrate him and the band!
It intrigues me that so many of the songs that are classics of hot jazz sing the praises of the American South, although many of the African-American musicians went at least partway North as soon as they could, and for good reason. Louis Armstrong really loved his home town, so there was no irony in his singing and playing WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH for forty years; other musicians, however, felt the disconnect keenly — that Fats Waller could record MY WINDOW FACES THE SOUTH but while he was touring that region the hotels and restaurants frequented by the dominant race were closed to him. Alas.
All this is prelude to the Bennie Moten – Thamon Hayes instrumental hit, simply called SOUTH — recorded in 1924 and 1928, and kept in the Victor catalogue into the Fifties. I found out that lyrics — quite pedestrian ones — were added by “Ray Charles,” but if my source is correct and they were written in 1936, that RC is not the famous one. And the lyrics aren’t worth the space here.
My window faces north-west, but I can always make it face the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. And no, I don’t need more catsup. But thank you. The only thing that troubles me is that I cannot remember the name of this eatery: was it THE FIRE PIT? Oh, well, the music lasts longer than beer does.
I think of a performance like this as brightly colored but full of shadings, a compendium of Fifty-Second Street camaraderie brought into our century. Or, more simply, five minutes of expert joy. Notice I write expert: it’s only in the movies where Jack Webb picks up a cornet and is — voila! — proficient. For these jovial fellows and their colleagues, swing is a life’s work.
They are, from left, Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal (whose birthday is today), string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet. (Dear Jacob: my apologies for not swinging the camera around sufficiently to always capture you.)
And the song here is the Al Dubin – Harry Warren delight, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN.
This performance has its own extra added emotional kick. Not only is it musically wonderful, but it is a souvenir of the last time I saw this band in action, the last festival I attended. We live in hope for a swinging future, you know.
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):
No elk in the parking lot and no double rainbows at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival, but the music was full of natural wonders: especially the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, featuring Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Steve Pikal, string bass; and, playing clarinet and alto saxophone, John Otto. Here are three sprightly performances to prove that the altitude helped get people higher rather than tiring them out.
A positively jaunty WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:
A key-changing romp through THREE LITTLE WORDS:
Fats Waller’s composed-in-the-taxi 0pus of 1929, MINOR DRAG:
It will be lovely to hear this band once again in person — someday soon? And perhaps to make my way to Evergreen, Colorado, for a rewarding summer weekend of inventive hot music.
I’m happy to have gone into the JAZZ LIVES archives for more good sounds (and sights as well) from the Ivory Club Boys — a band that knew how to groove in the best Swing Street ways. Caution: you might have to hold on to your chair. Here are some more delights, previously unseen, from Paul Mehling’s evocation of Stuff Smith’s hot little band: Paul, guitar; Evan Price, violin; Marc Caparone, cornet (subbing for Clint Baker); Sam Rocha, string bass; Isabelle Magidson, guitar. Recorded on May 31, 2014, at Armando’s in Martinez, California.
I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:
AVALON, “with vocal chorus” by Isabelle:
I’ve posted a good deal more from this gig: search for IVORY and you will find an abundance of joyous heat.
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.
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.
The words “2020 has been a year of losses” are a painful understatement. One such human loss was the sudden death of the joyously energetic guitarist Little Charlie Baty, whom I met for the first and only time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, in early May 2019.
Here is one set of facts, as presented by the Sacramento Bee on March 15, 2020:
CHARLES ERIC BATY 1953-2020
Charles passed away suddenly on March 6, 2020 at age 66. He developed pneumonia and died of a heart attack while hospitalized in Vacaville. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to California in 1961. He was preceded in death by his wife Sylvia, sister Paige, and mother Patricia. Charles, a well-known Blues guitarist, taught himself to play the harmonica and guitar at the age of twelve. After graduating from U. C. Berkeley with a degree in mathematics in 1975, he worked for many years at U. C. Davis while performing music at night. In 1976 Charles and Rick Estrin formed the group Little Charlie & the Nightcats. The group signed with Alligator Records in 1987. Charles retired from the group in 2008 but continued to perform in numerous venues. Services will be held Monday, March 16, 11 am at Klumpp’s Funeral Home, 2691 Riverside Blvd. Sacramento CA 95818, followed by interment at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Those facts are useful — coordinates for us to locate ourselves in relation to Little Charlie’s sudden absence — but they are just facts.
Charlie (I find it hard to think of his gently imposing presence as “Little” in any way) was a precise, powerful player, but his appeal to me and to others was emotional. He created melodies that, even when phrased with delicacy, felt strong; his rhythms caught us; we swayed to his pulse and his lines.
So here is the story behind the performance and the performance videos I present now. I had an extraordinarily gratifying time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, listening to bands that might otherwise have been fantasies I’d dreamed of — now in the flesh, playing and singing. Most of the music I heard was in small venues (the Morris Graves Library) and a few larger halls. I walked to the cavernous Eureka Municipal Auditorium (thanks to Derral Alexander Campbell for supplying the name and also agreeing that it was “a sound man’s nightmare”) — a huge hall with a balcony running around its upper level — but a band led by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, and featuring Little Charlie; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, was scheduled to appear there.
I got to the hall early, and found an energetic band, not to my liking, more rock than jazz or blues, pummeling a rapt audience who had filled the front half of the hall. It was loud. When they had mercifully (to me, at least) finished, I looked for a seat in the front from which to video, but the happy listeners had no intention of leaving, and I climbed up to the balcony to catch my friend-heroes in action. I set up my camera (small) and my microphone (sensitive but also small) and settled in to video-record the performance.
The sound people at this festival were generally superb — and what follows may reflect my predilection for small halls and almost-or-completely unamplified sound — but whoever was running the board for this set wanted a good deal of volume to fill the hall. I have never been to a rock concert, but this sounded like rock-concert volume. The music was splendid, but I felt like a pineapple chunk in a blender, and after a few selections I left. As I walked to the next venue, I could hear the music from far away. I write this long prelude to explain the unusual sonic ambiance. I thought these videos were unusable, and when I sent them to a few of the musicians and heard no comment, I felt as if they agreed.
But this year — the desert of music as well as so much else — I thought, “Let me listen again. These are precious documents: Charlie isn’t going to play anymore,” so I offer them to you — loud, funky, good and greasy. (“Greasy,” for the timidly scrupulous, is praise.)
47th STREET JIVE, a series of life-instructions and exhortations:
CHERRY RED, a color Big Joe Turner found in life, not in a Crayola box:
FISHERMAN’S BLUES, for my pescatorian readers:
INDIANA BOOGIE: “the moonlight on the water” never sounded like this:
As I wrote yesterday here in a post featuring Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang performing CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans) at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, it’s been postponed to September 30 – October 3, 2021, and I am looking forward to being there. I’ll tell you more as those months approach, but I have already purchased a 2021 wall calendar and marked off those boxes. It’s never too early to anticipate joys.
“She plays a mean castanet.” What better compliment could one receive?
Delicious hot music from the recent past. Come closer, please.
Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang perform this venerable song, one many of you know because of Bix and Goldkette — verse and chorus, and lyrics — for our delight at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019. The gifted co-conspirators alongside Dave are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Josh Collazo, drums; Wally Hersom, string bass; Nate Ketner, clarinet; Marc Caparone, cornet.
There was no Redwood Coast Music Festival in May 2020 because of certain cosmic problems you might have been aware of. However, brothers and sisters, one is planned for September 30 – October 3, 2021. We live in hope, as my mother used to say.
Because the microphone setup doesn’t always favor rapid-fire lyrics, especially from someone so animated as Dave, I reprint the words (by Henry Creamer: music by none other than Harry Warren) so you can sing along:
VERSE: Say, look up the street, / Look up the street right now! / Hey, look at her feet, / Isn’t she neat, and how! / Oh, ain’t she a darlin’, / Oh, isn’t she sweet, / That baby you’re wild to meet! / Here comes Miss Clementine, / That baby from New Orleans, / She’s only seventeen, / But what a queen, oh my! /
CHORUS: She has those flashing eyes, / The kind that can hypnotize, / And when she rolls ’em, pal, / Just kiss your gal goodbye! / And oh, oh, oh, when she starts dancing, / She plays a mean castanet, / You won’t forget, I mean, / Down in that Creole town / Are wonderful gals around, / But none like Clementine from New Orleans! / Now, you talk about Tabasco mamas, / Lulu Belles and other charmers, / She’s the baby that made the farmers / Raise a lot of cane! / She vamped a guy named Old Bill Bailey, / In the dark she kissed him gaily, / Then he threw down his ukulele / And he prayed for rain! / Look out for Clementine, / That baby from New Orleans. / She’s only seventeen, / But what a queen, oh my! / She has two yearning lips, / But her kisses are burning pips. / They make the fellows shout, / Lay right down and die die die! / Her dancing movements / Have improvements, / She shakes a mean tambourine / Out where the grass is green. / I’ve seen asbestos dames / Who set the whole town in flames, / But none like Clementine from New Orleans!
AND “She shakes a mean tambourine”!
So, make a space on your 2021 calendar for the RCMF. Bring your partner and the family. But perhaps leave the castanets and tambourine at home.
And, to pass the time, Dave Stuckey has been doing a series of virtual Facebook broadcasts of songs — he sings, he plays. Relaxing, refreshing, and my spiritual gas tank gets filled:
We like to think that everything can be known, and in many cases answers can be found by the diligent, but I am sharing a small mystery with my readers, for their pleasure and perhaps our mutual enlightenment.
Certain jazz soloists are immediately recognizable: you can make your own list. Other superb players are less familiar because of the paucity of evidence (we know what Charlie Shavers sounds like because of his distinctive approach, but we also have hours of his recorded work to compare any unidentified playing against.) I think also of Coleman Hawkins’ comment about being on the road: that you could go to some small town and there would be a tenor player who no one ever heard of who would be as good as the famous ones.
When I saw this record — rather obscure and rare — I wanted it, for those reasons. Also because Edgar Sampson, saxophonist, composer, arranger, never produced any music that was less than superb. I knew one song — DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME — because of Fats Waller’s UK recording. When I played it, though, I was impressed and mystified. A great trumpet solo on JIVE, and rippling swing piano on both sides.
I have some vanity about knowing the great soloists of the period, and it piqued me that I couldn’t identify anyone except Sampson. But I have friends who are also experts, and I tried their knowledge as well — let me list their names in alphabetical order: Marc Caparone, Menno Daams, Jan Evensmo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bent Persson, Rob Rothberg, Bo Scherman — but no definitive answers.
About The Three Swingsters, I can only surmise that they were a vocal group with some regional fame — I think Pennsylvania — but I do not know whether the record was made to showcase them or not.
Before we go deeper, here is the mysterious listing in Tom Lord’s online discography:
Edgar Sampson And His Orchestra : 2 tp, tb, Edgar Sampson (as) unknown p, b and d, The Three Swingsters (vcl-1)
New York, May 25, 1939
WM1023-A Don’t try your jive on me (1) Voc 4942
WM1024-A Pick your own lick (1) –
WM1025-A Sly mongoose (1) (unissued)
My experts (I apologize if that seems too possessive) came up with names of who the trumpet soloist couldn’t be, and proposed Dick Vance or Benny Carter as the trumpeter, and Tommy Fulford as the pianist, with some thoughts of perhaps Eddie Heywood or Kenny Kersey. Vance and Fulford were stalwarts of the Chick Webb band — this disc was recorded very late in Chick’s life — and at that time Sampson was the band’s musical director. I have heard Fulford with Chick’s “Little Chicks,” and he is plausible — fleet and swinging.
On first hearing, I thought the pianist was Billy Kyle, but the player does not reach for Kyle’s beloved downward run, and Billy recorded that day with Jack Sneed for Decca (of course he could have made two sessions in one day). The connection to Master Records suggests the salutary influence of Helen Oakley. And PICK YOUR OWN LICK (written by “newcomers to songdom” Roy Jacobs and Gene de Paul, according to Billboard) was published by Mills Music. de Paul went on to write DON’T TAKE YOUR LOVE FROM ME and I’LL REMEMBER APRIL, but LICK is not his finest hour. Or three minutes.
Here’s DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME:
About PICK YOUR OWN LICK: I try never to write these words, but what a terrible idea — an attempt to have a pop hit by cannibalizing bits of other pop hits. But the band sounds good, even while the lyrics pummel us with obvious hopeful thefts.
Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler were not in attendance at the Jazz Bash by the Bay on March 8, 2020, but we didn’t miss them, because the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet (Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Jacob Zimmerman, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet) chased the clouds away at a fraction of the cost of a Ziegfeld musical:
Pandemic-time moves so slowly and so rapidly at once. Here we are. September looms. It’s Sunday again. And you know where we spend our Sunday nights, whether in actuality or virtually: 326 Spring Street, New York City. This is the twelfth post in my series, and for those of you who have missed a few, here is a link to the eleven sessions that have gone before. Make yourself to home.
Let me guide you gently back to a wonderful night, April 18, 2010.
Hello, Benny! AVALON, with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, electric guitar; Julian Lage, acoustic guitar; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Jon Burr, bass:
How about ONE HOUR, even compressed, of joy? (Ask Einstein’s grandma.) Cornetist Marc Caparone joins the band. Somewhere, Ruby Braff smiles:
Marc is in charge of WHISPERING, with Harvey Tibbs, Dan Block, clarinet, Matt Munisteri, Jon Burr, Julian Lage:
PERDIDO, to start –Jon-Erik, with Marc Caparone, Harvey Tibbs, Dan Block, Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Julian Lage, Matt Munisteri, Jon Burr:
PERDIDO (concluded) .
THREE LITTLE WORDS (you can make up your own) with Jon-Erik, Marc, Harvey, Dan, Nick Hempton, alto saxophone; Andy, Matt, Julian, and Jon:
THREE LITTLE WORDS, concluded:
This wonderful long session — these videos capture the entire second set — is offered in the New York bagel spirit. The Ear Inn doesn’t serve bagels, but in most bagel shops, when you order twelve, there’s “a baker’s dozen,” an extra.
For those of you who wrote in to inquire about her health, Ms. Jazz Lives Ear Inn is back, her tennis elbow and carpal tunnel quieted down by time off and some physical therapy.
At the end of my teaching career, I came to feel that knowing was overrated, that the willingness to say, “Gee, I can’t really tell you,” was so liberating. I could place the burden of Knowledge tenderly on the sidewalk and scoot away, not even looking back to see if someone had picked it up.
The enlightened state of not-knowingness is even more exalted when it has a soundtrack.
Here, it’s a swinging one, provided by the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet with guest star Riley Baker, trombone — Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Marc Caparone, cornet. All of this spiritual shape-shifting happened at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 8, 2020.
It doesn’t hurt that the spirit smiling on all this lovely business is Benny Carter: if you don’t know his 1933 recording of I NEVER KNEW, set aside some time to be dropped into bliss.
Bless these fellows who so open-heartedly share not only what they play but who they are with us.
This performance was created only five months ago by the calendar but it seems like decades have passed. But perhaps counting the days and mourning our powerlessness is just another attempt at knowing — a reliance on evidence that constricts us, like a sweater that has become too tight that we can put in the thrift-store bag and give away without a second thought? I wonder. (Wondering is an activity approved of by JAZZ LIVES, in case you have any concerns.)
To me, music like this doesn’t require much explication, and to begin to label and analyze it (in the style of Gunther Schuller) would be an insult. Here are six of my friend-heroes — guest Riley Baker, trombone; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; the very amused Steve Pikal, string bass — improvising on an Irving Berlin classic, BLUE SKIES. (The place? Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California. The time? Before the world changed.)
But notice how much respect these jazz improvisers — who, in this century, are supposed to be enthralled by harmonic density and innovation — give to Berlin’s melody, even as they are turning phrases this way and that. Hear how six instrumentalists, by eschewing the ensemble-solos-ensemble format, create an ever-shifting small orchestra, full of variations of texture . . . so that the performance is fulfilling rather than formulaic.
Listen, watch, and delight:
They really know how to do it. And “we’ll be together again.” I guarantee it, to quote the late Justin Wilson, king of the properly-made roux.
Jacob Zimmerman, Riley Baker, March 7, 2020, Monterey, California
Good music for a Saturday night, or anytime. In performance at the 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay, this composition wasn’t announced by name, but it’s really Jacob Zimmerman’s RADIATOR — dedicated to Ray Skjelbred — an improvisation on the venerable theme SHINE. (And before you get all het up about SHINE, please read this to get the real story about that song, written by African-Americans as a proud affirmation. But I digress.) The result is some fine riffin’ by Jacob, alto saxophone and head arrangement; Marc Caparone, cornet; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; guest star and friend Riley Baker, trombone.
Righteous stuff, wouldn’t you say? I look forward to our next reunion, when all the cacophony (emotional, medical, political — you name it) has subsided. I hear that medical staffs worldwide are working on a vaccine for hateful ignorance, too.
Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman
Here is some wonderful music from one of my favorite bands, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, appearing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival (that’s Evergreen, Colorado) in July 2019. For this weekend, the quintet was Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, clarinet and alto saxophone; Steve Pikal, string bass.
I might be paraphrasing Yogi Berra, but this piece of music is so famous that no one every plays it anymore. I’m referring to the 1923 CHARLESTON, words and music by Cecil Mack and Jimmy Johnson, as noted below:
In my childhood, when several television shows purported to reproduce the ambiance and music of “The Roaring Twenties,” one by that title starring Dorothy Provine, CHARLESTON was played and sung often. But now, I can’t remember the last time I heard a jazz band play or sing it. (Note: I know there are wonderful recordings, and as I write this, the Original Boulevardiers of Bucharest are driving audiences wild with their rendition, but you don’t need to write in.) Here’s the HCJQ’s frisky version:
and a cool tender IMPROVISATION on a theme recorded but not composed by Fats Waller — the performers are John Otto and Steve Pikal:
Another HOT DANCE (as it would say on the record label), KRAZY KAPERS, perhaps harking back to the comic strip? — variations on the theme of DIGA DIGA DOO:
This band knocks me out, song after song. I saw them most recently at the Jazz Bash by the Bay . . . and you will get to see and hear them also, more . . . .
Let me be plain: before the skies darkened to the shade they are now, I flew from New York to Monterey in March to immerse myself in the 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay, and I am deeply glad that I did. Here are the first three performances I saw and captured — by one of my favorite bands, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, which is Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet.
MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS — now, for most of us, a dream out of reach:
Rodgers and Hart, 1927:
and the vengeance song that sounds like a love ballad to those unaware of the lyrics:
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put my mask and gloves on to go get my mail. It’s the thought that someday soon I might see and hear my friends play jazz again that keeps me from eating the decorative molding. Be well, dear readers.
The JAZZ LIVES quarantine-collection of venerable lively recordings, ever-expanding.
Every Monday night, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera has been gathering the Hot Club of New Yorkfor a Zoom session from 7-10 PM, playing wonderful 78 rpm jazz records with great flair and great sound. You can become a member here. And there’s more information here.
Last Monday night, one of the sides was Clarence Williams’ MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — whose composer credits read Clarence Williams, (Banjo) Ikey Robinson, and Alex Hill. My money is on Mister Hill. Matthew, who knows things, has suggested wisely that Mister Robinson would have been responsible for the jivey lyrics. I wish I could trace the story I once read that Clarence, late in life, told someone that none of the compositions under his name had been his. Amazing if so.
But this post is about MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — a song of great melodic simplicity, with two-note phrases that have burned themselves into my brain, and lyrics that are unforgettable because they are so much a part of their time that they have a majestic silliness. And we could all use a Serenade. Please join me in Incid. Singing.
Here’s the first version, with Eva Taylor singing first (her voice is catnip) and Cecil Scott, clarinet; Herman Chittison AND Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Ikey Robinson, banjo, tenor-guitar; Clarence Williams, jug; Willie Williams, washboard; Clarence Todd, vocal. New York, August 7, 1933:
That recording has so many delights: the almost staid way it begins with Eva’s demure yet emotive delivery, and the underrated Cecil Scott, Chittison’s very “modern” piano — remember, this is 1933 . . . then the short pause while the band has to get it together for the key change into Clarence Todd’s much more exuberant Calloway-inflected vocal AND the rollicking duo-piano background. It may be a Silly Symphony, but it is a symphony nonetheless.
Here’s the second Williams version, brighter, with the leader’s potato-ey vocal: Ed Allen, cornet; Cecil Scott, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Roy Smeck, guitar, steel guitar; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba; Floyd Casey, washboard. New York, January 17, 1934:
Notable for me is the emphasis on steady rocking ensemble playing — and the sound of Clarence’s closing inquiry: he means it.
But wait! there’s more! — a frolicsome big band version from the little-known Tiny Bradshaw band: Lincoln Mills, Shad Collins, Max Maddox, trumpet; George Matthews, Eugene Green, trombone; Russell Procope, Bobby Holmes, alto saxophone; Edgar Courance, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Clarence Johnson, piano; Bob Lessey, guitar; Ernest Williamson, string bass; Harold Bolden, drums; Tiny Bradshaw, vocal. New York, September 19. 1934:
The Williams recording looks backwards to chugging leisurely ways (it feels rural in its approach) where the Bradshaw band is aerodynamic, speeding down the Swing highway — beautiful solos (Maddox, Procope, Courance, Matthews?) and an uncredited effective arrangement. That band’s eight Decca sides (autumn ’34) deserve more attention.
Here’s a more recent version, at a lovely tempo, with the verse, the group led by Ted des Plantes with some of my friends : Leon Oakley, cornet; Larry Wright, clarinet, saxophones, ocarina; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Ted des Plantes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Ray Cadd, tuba, jug; Hal Smith, washboard. Berkeley, California, August 15-17, 1997:
The most contemporary version — reminiscent of a Teddy Wilson session! — by Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers: Marc Caparone, cornet; Alan Adams, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Dawson, piano; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. San Diego, California, November 29 & 30, 1999.
See if you can go through the next few days without humming a phrase from this song. I dare you.
I love the arc of this chronology — even though I couldn’t produce versions by Mike Durham and Bent Persson — that starts with a rare record from 1933 and ends up with performances by some of my most respected friends.