Yesterday, I presented the first half of this joyful set:
Here are the remaining performances by Duke Robillard, guitar; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, reeds; Dan Walton, keyboard; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.
I NEVER KNEW:
IF I HAD YOU:
ALL I DO IS DEAM OF YOU (vocal Dawn Lambeth):
And onwards to 2023:
You can hear Duke say, “You know you’re in the right place,” and Mister Robillard’s judgment is impeccable.
Lord Byron wrote, “… let joy be unconfin’d.” He didn’t make it to the 2022 Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, but everyone on this set took his words to heart.
Duke Robillard brought his swinging bluesy self and his guitar for a set with trumpeter Marc Caparone’s Back O’Town All-Stars: Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, reeds; Dan Walton, keyboard and vocal; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.
The mythology of jazz (and sometimes the reality) is full of primate-competitiveness, where the Old Lion must defend his kingdom against the Young Cub. Johnny Dunn and Jabbo Smith tried to unseat Louis Armstrong; a myriad of Kansas City tenor saxophonists did their best to outblow Coleman Hawkins.
I’d heard about young — sixteen year-old — reedman Nathan Tokunaga from Marc Caparone and Clint Baker, and although the video evidence was splendid, I came to the Jazz Bash by the Bay last weekend with some ingrained skepticism about musicians too young to drive themselves to the gig.
But Nathan quickly showed himself an adult in every conceivable way except the number on his birth certificate. In conversation, he revealed himself as assured yet humble, gracious and warm. And on the bandstand, he has an adult musical intelligence, which is to say he is not simply someone who has mastered the clarinet, that unfogiving hybrid of wood and metal, but he is a musician, creating phrases that make sense which become choruses with structure, energy, and personality. His solos are compact and satisfying; his ensemble playing is respectful yet inventive. The clarinet lends itself to shrill forays into its highest register, strings of notes where two would be so much more eloquent: Nathan avoids these excesses. The musicians who were meeting and hearing him for the first time were, shall we say, blown away.
Nathan is the featured clarinetist with Marc Caparone’s marvelous new band, the Sierra Stompers, who are Marc, cornet and vocal; Howard Miyata, trombone and vocal; Brian Holland, piano; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar, vocal; Paul Hagglund, tuba; Gareth Price, drums, washboard, and voca. In one set, Nathan stood next to Bob Draga, a clarinet star and festival veteran who made his first recordings in 1980. It could have been a spectacularly bloody display of ego, but it was gentle, playful, and very musical. Here is RUNNIN’ WILD and Bob’s comments afterwards:
Bob celebrates Nathan:
What a wonderful surprise! And I am honored to know and chronicle Nathan, mature beyond his years.
I could write this post in under ten words, like a telegram. GREAT MUSIC COMING. WE’LL BE THERE. SEE YOU TOO, but even my very hip audience might need some elaboration, so here goes.
The OAO and I will be going to the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California. It’s held at the comfortable Portola Hotel and Convention Center, and the fun begins Thursday evening, March 2, and skitters to a stop on Sunday afternoon, March 5. It is one of the more convenient festivals I know, because all of the music is under one roof, so the most arduous walking one has to do is from one room to another, and when something nie is happening above, there’s an escalator. (Even youngbloods appreciate such conveniences.)
Here are some of the musicians who will be appearing, a list too long for me to pretend it will be complete: Brandon Au, Justin Au, Clint Baker, Anne Barnhart, Jeff Barnhart, Dan Barrett, Chris Calabrese, Marc Caparone, Katie Cavera, Josh Collazo, Danny Coots, Bob Draga, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Eddie Erickson, Yve Evans, Corey Gemme, Paul Hagglund, Brian Holland, Marilyn Keller, Nate Ketner, Rebecca Kilgore, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Howard Miyata, Don Neely, John Otto, Steve Pikal, Gareth Price, Tom Rigney, Sam Rocha, Andy Schumm, Hal Smith, Dave Stuckey, Stephanie Trick, Nathan Tokunaga, Jason Wanner, and a cast of hundreds.
Like most festivals, the opportunities for existential dilemmas abound, with sometimes eight events going on (separated at times by a half-hour start time) so there is too much going on to see and hear it all. To wit: the vertigo-inducing schedule. I suggest that one bring a highlighter or a set of Sharpies to delineate where one MUST be at any given time. Possibly people blessed with greater tech skills know how to do this on their new iPhone 206; perhaps someone will teach me.
I could go on about what a wonderful festival this is. How festivals, deprived of active support, dry up and fly away and are no more. But you know all this, or I hope you do. Rather, I’d present some delightful video evidence: I began coming to this festival in 2011, and I think I missed one year between then and 2020. So I will let the music, hot and sweet, do the explaining for me. I apologize to any musician who’s in a video who’s not at the Bash this year: I mean no offense, and hope to show off your glories to this audience.
LOVE POTION NUMBER NINE:
SOLID OLD MAN:
TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME:
THE YAMA YAMA MAN:
I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:
TENDER IS THE NIGHT / I GOT RHYTHM:
CHARLEY, MY BOY:
YOUNG AND HEALTHY:
To quote Mister Tea, “If that don’t get it, well, forget it for now.” See you there! And here‘s how to order, as they used to say.
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!
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.
Honoring Sidney Catlett while remaining completely himself: that’s what the masterful artist-percussionist Josh Collazo does here in spellbinding ways. It was the set closer of Marc Caparone’s Back O’Town All-Stars set at the Redwood Coast Music Festival because nothing — except perhaps SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH or the national anthem could follow that.
And for those of us who understand the music, STEAK FACE (named for Louis’ Boston terrier, a happy carnivore) IS a national anthem. It’s thrilling, a complete drama embodied on a drum set.
The band is modeled on Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, majestically. Marc Caparone, trumpet, vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums. This marvelous six-minute natural event took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, Eureka, California, September 30, 2022:
Josh inhabits the world of that solo so splendidly that it would be an affront to post a photograph of Big Sid here. But I hope he’ll forgive me for posting the source of this composition’s title: “General,” Louis Armstrong’s Boston terrier (Joe Glaser bred dogs) who obviously had deep culinary awareness:
but the real story is told here . . . STEAK FACE in action!
I apologize if the canine candids have distracted you from the glories Josh and the band create — music, to paraphrase Whitney Balliett, that makes you want to dance and shake and shout. All in six minutes: beyond remarkable.
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.
I am delighted to report that the wonderful singer Alice Spencer has just issued her first solo session — on Hal Smith’s TUXEDO CAT label — called SING IT WAY DOWN LOW. She has the eminently groovy support of Marc Caparone, cornet; Kris Tokarski, piano; James Singleton, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. And you can purchase the download and hear samples here. I’m a fan — no, more a devotee — and here are my notes to the session:
I remember very clearly the first time I heard Alice Spencer (on disc: I haven’t had the pleasure of encountering her in person). My reaction was loud pleased astonishment, and the expurgated version would read: “Who in the sacred name of Jack Kapp is she?”
“Jazz singers” proliferate these days, but some seem to have given more thought to their hair stylist or their cover photograph than to the music. Alice’s love for this music and this period bubbles up on every track.
For me the great singer-virtues are a deep understanding of the emotional content of the lyrics — without jokes on one hand or melodrama on the other. An unforced swing, a willingness to improvise without undermining melody or lyrics, plain-spoken diction, and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to convey joy.
We gravitate to music that doesn’t hurt our feelings, or our ears. Alice understands that as well as embodying it.
This disc reminds me, perhaps at an unusual angle, of the miracles Basie and friends created, imbuing the saddest song (hear DRAGGIN’ MY HEART AROUND) with a wink at the listener (“Isn’t it fun to swing along so gloomily?”) or reminding us that there is a touch of melancholy in any elation.
I’d direct you first to I HATE TO LEAVE YOU NOW, one of the gorgeous Thirties songs (linked to Fats and Louis, one of the ideal combinations of Western civilization) that are the gems in the constellation of this disc. What I hear, and I hope you do also, is a rare combination of emotional intelligence — Alice knows how to feel, how to tell a story in song — and light-heartedness.
Her art is both delicate and sincere. She doesn’t have to take off her shoe and hit us over the head, but we know the tale of hope, longing, and ardor the song, and she, convey. And the subtly memorable variations on the theme between her first and second choruses are a Jazz Studies program in themselves. No, better.
It’s also clear that although this might not be Alice’s conventional repertoire (the wonderful program is inspired by the deep listening of Hal Smith, scholar and swing percussionist) that she is being herself on every performance. Yes, I hear echoes of young Ella and of Helen Humes and Connee, but Alice has not spent her evenings mimicking them. What Louis called TONATION and PHRASING are all hers, and they touch our hearts in each phrase. Hear her “I need you!” in BABY, WHERE CAN YOU BE? The way she handles the verse to SUNDAY, rising to pure pleasure at the end. Wow is what I say. The wistful tenderness of THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION and HOW CAN I? The “It’s my birthday today!” delight of I’M HAVING MY FUN. To paraphrase Whitney Balliett, Alice is a great actress who doesn’t need a script.
The same mastery comes through in the instrumentalists who join Alice on her musical journeys. No one needs multiple choruses to tell their tale. Perhaps you’ll hear echoes of the great Holiday-Wilson sessions, of Bing, Jack, Louis: I could call the names of the Heroic Ancestors who have informed the music of honored individualists Marc, Kris, James, and Hal, but I’ll leave that to you — what Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like.” A lifetime research project with a lifetime of rewards.
If these notes go on too long, I might get in the way of your absorbing the delights captured here, not once but many times. In an extended California sojourn, I learned about “sound healing,” how the right vibrations could put a psychically lopsided being into happy balance. I think that Doctor Spencer and her practitioners have just the remedy for what ails us, and I hope the prescription is renewable for many more sessions.
I confess that I held myself back in writing the words above, for fear of hyperbole, but I think this session is a triumph — aesthetically and emotionally — and I hope enough of us agree so that there are more sessions to come. I didn’t list the songs, but here they are: WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET / I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT, BABY / BELIEVE IT, BELOVED / I HATE TO LEAVE YOU NOW / BLUE RIVER / BABY, OH WHERE CAN YOU BE? / SUNDAY / HOW CAN I (With You in My Heart)? / SING IT WAY DOWN LOW / THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION / I’M HAVING MY FUN / SAY IT SIMPLE / DRAGGIN’ MY HEART AROUND / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU.
The digital download costs very little, and it is your introduction to Alice Spencer and the swinging affection she inspires among these fine musicians. You will arise from listening feeling gratified. Again, here is the link.
And for those who, like me, are utterly captivated, here’s more evidence, Alice with Hal and Kris, Clint Baker, Sam Rocha, Bill Reinhart, Loren Schoenberg:
“Mahogany Hall,” Lulu White’s ‘Octoroon Parlour,'” photograph by E. J. Bellocq:
The Spencer Williams composition it inspired:
Into the present for a band modeled on Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, majestically. Marc Caparone, trumpet, vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.
They performed two sets at the 2022 Redwood Coast Music Festival, Eureka, California, and the wondrous seismic uproar hasn’t quieted down yet.
Power and delicacy, an eye to the details and a rollicking energy. More to come!
. . . we’ll remember all winter long. No videos yet, just some words. Oh, and a portrait.
Thursday night, two sets in a row by Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang, which began with Dave (vocal, guitar, ebullience) and Marc Caparone, Nate Ketner, Carl Sonny Leyland, Katie Cavera, Josh Collazo — featuring memorable Thirties classics such as GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — and then adding Jonathan Doyle for a set that offered a choral vocal on WHY DON’T YOU PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH? — a song whose rendition led many in the audience to closely consider their past hypocrisies.
Friday, after brief subversive explorations of Willard Robison and others by Jacob Zimmerman at the piano, we had Marc Caparone and his Back O’Town All-Stars, the band honoring Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars even though the sign said “Back O’Day.” They were Marc, Jacob, Charlie Halloran, Dan Walton, Jamey Cummins, Steve Pikal, and Josh, with vocals by Marc and Dawn. The set started explosively with MAHOGANY HALL STOMP and ended with STEAK FACE, and Eureka, California, will never be the same. But in a nice way. Or maybe a Nice 1948 way.
Next, Joel Paterson, Jonathan Doyle, Carl Sonny Leyland, Beau Sample, and Alex Hall got dangerously groovy with compositions by Illinois Jacquet, Freddie King, Bill Jennings, and others. A Chicago club circa 1955, right in front of us.
The Back O’Town All-Stars returned, but with the cosmic gift of Duke Robillard. They began with JUMPIN’ THE BLUES and the set only paused its jumping for a tenderly lyrical PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, sung as if shiny and new, by Dawn Lambeth.
Saturday began with Hal Smith’s Mortonia Seven, with Kris Tokarski, John Gill, Sam Rocha, Dave Kosmyna, T.J. Muller (on trombone), and Dave Bennett: a set notable for energized renditions of MILENBERG JOYS and PANAMA, but also BLUE BLOOD BLUES, MAMIE’S BLUES, and a positively vivid rendition of BALLIN’ THE JACK, sung and nearly-demonstrated by Dave, who told me he was playing a Conn Victor cornet once owned and played by our mutual hero Jim Dapogny. Jim was surely there, “no doubt,” in spirit.
The temperature rose for Charlie and the Tropicales — that’s Charlie Halloran and his musical voyages through the Caribbean, featuring Jonathan Doyle, Nate Ketner, Kris Tokarski, Twerk Thomson, Josh Collazo, and Jamey Cummins. There was calypso — Lord Melody’s FIFTY CENTS, sung nimbly by Charlie, as well as a few waltzes, a “belly-rubber,” and some all-out romps.
Next, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, with Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Marc Caparone, Jacob Zimmerman, and Steve Pikal, which started with Fats Waller’s MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’ went SOUTH for that song and PARDON MY SOUTHERN ACCENT, and ended with the Claude Hopkins’ affirmation, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU.
T.J. Muller switched to cornet for a King Oliver tribute — hotter than a forty-five! Even though he told us he had damaged his lip being over-ambitious on trombone, it was in o way audible. Young Louis was Dave Kosmyna, and the rest of the band was Hal Smith, Clint Baker, Ryan Calloway, Kris Tokarski, John Gill, Twerk Thomson, and their opening DIPPER MOUTH BLUES pushed us back in our seats with its expert hot velocity. I wasn’t around at the Lincoln Gardens in 1923, but this band made me feel that I was.
Then, Jonathan Doyle’s “four horn set,” with a front line of Jonathan, Zimmerman, Halloran, and Kosmyna, and the rhythm of Riley Baker, Tokarski, Cummins, and Collazo. I love Jonathan’s compositions — WHAT’S THE RUMPUS?, WHO’S THAT SCRITCHIN’, YOU CAN’T TAKE THOSE KISSES WITH YOU, but he also performed Moten’s HARMONY BLUES, Clarence Williams’ CUSHION FOOT STOMP, the Ellington-small-band GOOD GAL BLUES, and closed with SIX CATS AND A PRINCE. I had the leisure to admire his arrangements, the ways horns and rhythm gently slid over one another.
Sunday began with Twerk Thomson’s DORO WAT, which was streamlined and gutty at once, with Kris Tokarski, Halloran, Doyle, and Kosmyra — no set list, just a whimsical journey through BOUNCING AROUND, DREAMING THE HOURS AWAY, PONCHARTRAIN, and the whimsically-described CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME. This set — straight out of Marvel comics — also featured an exploding bass bridge (I mean the piece of wood itself) and festival angel Mark Jansen coming to the rescue in seconds with yet another string bass. And yes, I have it all on “film.”
Then, Hal Smith’s Jazzologists, a seriously NOLA band of John Gill, Katie Cavera, T.J. Muller (back on trombone), Clint Baker, Ryan Calloway, Kris Tokarski, offering MOOSE MARCH (a favorite of bassist Mike Fay), BLACK CAT ON THE FENCE, and MY LITTLE GIRL, in honor of Esther Muller, one month old.
In between, we went to the Eagle House (I became a civilian for an hour and left my camera in its nest) to hear Dave Stuckey’s Western Swing ecstasy, which finished with SMOKE, SMOKE, SMOKE — most riotously.
And (for us) the festival closed with a gentle set by Holland-Coots, with a highlight being Dawn’s sweet POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS and a solidly romping IF DREAMS COME TRUE.
Were there other glorious sets we missed? Did I take notes? Did I video everything here except the Western Swing yee-haw? Hell yes. Or “That’s for darn sure.”
Will you get to see the videos? As many of them as the musicians say YES to. And should you come to next year’s Redwood Coast Music Festival?
Do you even have to ask?
October 5-8, 2023.
P.S. I apologize to any musician whose name I misspelled above (I am sure I did): my excuse is that yesterday’s travel day began before 7 AM in California and ended after 1 AM in New York.
Some people want to see the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the pyramids at Tulum, the Northern Lights . . . . I’ve done some of those things, but what I want in 2022 is to return to the Redwood Coast Music Festival. Keep your monuments: they’ll be around in November. This festival is enduring, but it was made to take a nap in 2020 and 2021 for reasons that should be clear. I was there in 2019 and had the time(s) of my life. So, in less than three weeks, “if the creeks don’t rise,” or “if breath lasts,” (you pick) the OAO and I will be there, grinning and eager, flushed with anticipation.
I should say right here that this post is an unsubtle but perhaps necessary encouragement to all my jazz friends and colleagues to get off their couches and chairs, stop inspecting those books and labels, and enjoy the real thing, fresh, vivid, and multi-hued.
To make it easier to buy tickets, hear sound samples, have questions answered, and more, visit http://rcmfest.org/ (and be dazzled). If someone’s name is unfamiliar to you, the site is the equivalent of an old-fashioned record store’s listening booth.
Kris Tokarski and Hal Smith will be there:
Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, and Dan Walton too:
Jonathan Doyle, Steve Pikal, and Charlie Halloran will be around:
Dave Stuckey and Western Swing pals as well:
Island spice from Charlie and the Tropicales:
Carl Sonny Leyland also:
Thursday and Friday, September 29 and 30:
Again, friends and connoisseurs, that’s http://rcmfest.org/. It is a very congenial experience — even the musicians I know, who are often downtrodden and vocal about it, praise the management, the environment, and more. Good sound technicians, volunteers who don’t shoot first and ask questions later, and a strip of good restaurants in Eureka, a town with a lovely mural and kind feelings.
Also, if you haven’t gleaned it from the schedules, the RCMF is beautifully expansive.
I went to my first jazz party / weekend / festival in 2004, so I speak from experience. As budgetary pressures made themselves ominously evident, festivals shrank. There might still be five sets a day, but the cast of characters was a dozen musicians, changing places on stage. A certain airlessness set in, as if we’d paid for an all-you-can-eat buffet and every dish was based on canned salmon and green beans. And such constriction made itself heard in the setlists.
No, the RCMF has many musicians, simultaneous sets, and a variety of approaches: zydeco, rhythm’n’blues, soul, New Orleans jazz, piano boogie-woogie, Fifty-Second Street flavors, Western Swing, country, Americana, “roots,” Louis, Jelly, Duke, Joplin, and everyone in between. I delight in the rich menu; I despair of getting to hear all the good sounds.
I won’t run through the usual didactic sermon about how festivals require active support (I mean people willing to go there and pay for the music) but I will note that every time a jazz fan doesn’t go to a festival when they could have, an angel dies. Clarence never gets his wings. Do you want that on your conscience?
“More than just books”: Eric Whittington’s Bird & Beckett Books (652 Chenery Street, San Francisco, California) is a delightful sanctuary for art, for poetry, for music. And certainly jazz.
July 5, 2022 was an exciting and rare appearance by four of the finest under the banner of RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS: Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
They play and sing:
BLUE AIR BLUES (Ray’s selection of a strain from Sidney Bechet’s BLUES IN THEAIR) / Fats Waller’s THAT RHYTHM MAN / Hines’ ROSETTA, vocal by Ray / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, homage to Joe Sullivan and Bing / ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU for Lionel and friends / NOBODY’SSWEETHEART for the Chicagoans / MEMORIES OF YOU for everyone who has memories of Eubie, Louis, Benny, and more / Ray commends the band / OH, BABY! also for the Chicagoans / an intermission / James P. Johnson’s OLD-FASHIONED LOVE / SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES for Barbara Dane / WHO’S SORRY NOW? for the Blue Note Jazzmen and others / WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD for Bing and Berlin and my friends too / I NEVER KNEW for Benny Carter, Pres, and Berkeley Rhythm / PEG O’MY HEART for Miff Mole / Bubber Miley’s IT DON’T MEAN A THING (IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING) and closing with James P.’s A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID //
Music that’s at once subversive and very direct, with bold statements and tender little explosions. If you can hear the lovely densities, you are tuned to the correct astral channel; if you can’t at first, listen again. And those who are uplifted, as I am, might consider sending a few cyber-lettuce leaves to the sites listed above. Pussycats need food and water; musicians and venues, also.
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.
Or as they say on public radio, THIS JUST IN: Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs (Marc Caparone, trumpet; Clint Baker, guitar; Riley Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums) will be playing a delightful post-pandemic gig on Tuesday, July 5, atBird and Beckett Books (653 Chenery Street), starting at 7:30.
You might hear MICE ISLAND LOVE:
Even though Kim Cusack and Katie Cavera have gigs elsewhere that night, you could also request OH, PETER — because everyone thinks the song and its subject are so nice:
Bird and Beckett is one of my favorite places, temporarily out of reach since I am in New York: a lovely book-and-record store (oh memory! oh memory!) run in the most perceptive hospitable way. You take my seat, please.
And now to the Happy Coincidence portion of our program, although as Poppa Freud is supposed to have said, “There are no accidents.”
I was planning to post the music and commentary below — a precious interlude by Ray at the piano — when news of Bird and Beckett came in. So watch and listen, and get enlightened, and then, if you can get to Chenery Street, hence, begone!
That’s Scott Joplin, Arthur Marshall, and Ray Skjelbred — a thoroughly gratifying melodic corporation if there ever was one — coming together on SWIPSEY CAKEWALK, from 1900, with Joplin composing the trio section, Marshall the main strain, and Skjelbred taking his time to offer us something winning and memorable at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.
Ray understands that the right tempo — casual and leisurely in this case — brings out the beauty of melody and harmony:
I think of this performance as warmly respectful and also groovy: a wonderful combination.
Ray gets to the heart of the song that perhaps we didn’t know was there, but he always does.
Hot Lips Page is one of my absolute heroes — for fiery emotive playing and more — and to find “new” music by him is a dream. In this case, an audible dream for sure. Although this session has been available on YouTube for three years, which I find inconceivable, I only stumbled across it yesterday, thanks to trumpet man and scholar Yves Francois.
Here is what the blessed YouTube poster, a nephew or niece we bow low to, says.
These 5 tunes (including 2 takes of Struttin’ With Some Barbecue) were recorded on 1-19-54 in my uncle Robert C. Oswald’s basement studio on Mosley Lane in Creve Coeur, Missouri (the house is long gone). This session may have been the last one of Hot Lips Page, who died on 11-5-54; I have been unable to find evidence of any recordings by him after the 1-19-54 date. The musicians were Hot Lips Page, trumpet and vocal; Al Guichard, clarinet; Druie Bess, trombone; Val Thompson, piano; Singleton Palmer, tuba; Lige [Lije] Shaw, drums; Jerry Potter, drums on Struttin’*
*Bob’s notes indicate Jerry Potter on drums for Cornet Chop Suey, a tune not on the tapes or otherwise mentioned in his notes of the session. I suspect that he confused Chop Suey with Barbecue, understandable given that both tunes were early Armstrong recordings that were certainly well known to him. It Had To Be You was very likely played informally as a jam tune, as the recorder was started a few measures late, solos are 64 bars long, and there is constant banter in the background.
Lips — in the last year of his life, with cardiac problems looming and dental problems in attendance — plays like the man Marc Caparone calls ATLAS. Such power, such accuracy, such playful enthusiasm leaping out of the bell of his horn. And his gutty, grainy singing voice on DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE makes that song far less of a cliche. And his blues singing!
It Had To Be You was very likely played informally as a jam tune, as the recorder was started a few measures late, solos are 64 bars long, and there is constant banter in the background.
and the oddly named [Google didn’t help: was PALADIUM USA a club or concert venue?] slow blues, again with peerless singing:
and a swinging melodic feature for Palmer:
and a longer rehearsal of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE — catch the start of Lips’ second chorus and the way he leads the band out, majestically:
and a “final” version, with an equally heroic rideout:
I’ve included about ½ minute of band discussion preceding the this second version of Struttin’. Toward the end of this segment one hears Bob in the control room reminding the band, “Any time.” His desire to move things along may reflect his use of 1200’ reels of recording tape, each reel good for only 15 minutes of full track recording at 15 inches per second.
Thrilling. And the band has history: Singleton Palmer lived until 1983, played many brass instruments (starting on cornet) and was Basie’s string bassist 1948-49; Guichard was his clarinet player in 1950; Druie Bess played with Jesse Stone in 1927 and with Earl Hines twenty years later; Lije Shaw played drums with Palmer. I can find nothing about Thompson; Jerry Potter might be the same person who played with Tiny Grimes and Red Allen.
What delightful surprises. Atlas doesn’t shrug here, not even for a thirty-second note.
Blessings to Hot Lips Page of Corsicana, Texas, my friends Yves Francois and Marc Caparone, and to Robert C. Oswald and the generous YouTube poster. VERY BLOWINGLY to you all.
Jazz festivals are like people you meet on a first date: some make you look for the exit within five minutes; some you warm to in spite of their odd ways; some you fall for wholeheartedly. The Redwoood Coast Music Festival is my best example of the festival-as-heartthrob.
I’ve only been there once — the green hills and endless vistas that 2019 now seems to be — but I can’t wait to go back. And I spent 2004-20 chasing festival delights in New York, Cleveland, California, England, and Germany, so I have some experience from which to speak.
But why should my enthusiasm matter to you? For all you know, I am being paid wheelbarrows of currency to write this. (I promise you it ain’t so.) Let’s look at some evidence. Caveat: not everyone seen and heard in my 2019 videos is coming to the 2022 festival, but they will serve as a slice of heavenly experience.
Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND plays IDA:
The Carl Sonny Leyland – Little Charlie Baty Houserockers turn our faces a bright CHERRY RED:
The Jonathan Doyle Swingtet ensures everyone has a CASTLE ROCK:
An interlude for prose.
The poster shows that this is no ordinary jazz festival, relying on a small group of bands and singers within a particular idiom. No, the RCMF offers an aural tasting menu astonishing in its breadth and authenticity.
And hilariously that causes problems — ever since Sir Isaac Newton pointed out that no one can be two places at once, the RCMF makes me want to smack Sir Isaac and say in a loud whine, “Why CAN’T I see / record three groups at three separate venues at once? It’s not fair.” Even I, someone who doesn’t feel the same way about zydeco as I do about swinging jazz, had moral crises at every turn because the variety of delicious choices set out for me eight times a day was overwhelming. (At some festivals, I had time to sit outside and leisurely eat gelato with friends: no such respites at the RCMF. A knapsack full of KIND bars and water bottles just won’t be enough: I need a whole medical staff in attendance.)
What else needs to be said? The prices are more than reasonable, even in these perilous times, for the value-calculation of music per dollar. If you don’t go home sated, you haven’t been trying hard enough. And the couple who seem to be everywhere, helping people out, Mark and Val Jansen, are from another planet where gently amused kindness is the universal language.
Some more music, perhaps?
Walter Donaldson’s LITTLE WHITE LIES by the Jonathan Doyle – Jacob Zimmerman Sextet:
A Charlie Christian tribute featuring Little Charlie Baty and Jamey Cummins on guitar for SEVEN COME ELEVEN:
Asking the musical question, WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH THE MILL? — Elana James, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, and assorted gifted rascals:
Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales play TABU. Hand me that glass:
KRAZY KAPERS, irresistibly, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:
BLUE LESTER, from Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:
So . . . even though the world, as delineated in the headlines, is so uncertain, consider ungluing yourself from your chair at the end of September. Carpe the damn diem, as we say.
http://www.rcmfest.org/ is the festival’s website; here they are on Facebook. Make it so that something wonderful is, as Irving Berlin wrote, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD for you, for all of us:
News flash (April 14, 2022): the correct personnel is Bill Napier, clarinet; Larry Stein, soprano saxophone; Tom Baker, tenor saxophone; Robin Hodes, trumpet; Bob Mielke, trombone; Tom Keats, rhythm guitar; unidentified, solo guitar; possibly Jim Cumming, string bass.
The beloved and much-missed string bassist and spiritual leader Mike Fay brought recording equipment to gigs — a blessing, as you will hear. I have been privileged to hear some of the results and will share a brief surging interlude, performed live. Mike’s homemade CD read HOT REEDS 1983, nothing else, and that brief description is surely accurate. (I apologize for not having a good photograph of Mike, who moved on in 2017: those I took show him hidden in the rhythm section, which is I think where he always wanted to be.)
Here is a hot track from a live session that stretches over two CDs — wonderful, leisurely and relaxed.
I will post more in future; this hot rendition of THEM THERE EYES is a proven mood-enhancer. Blessings on Mike Fay and his friends, here and in other neighborhoods, and thanks to Marc Caparone and Clint Baker for their detective work.
Marc Caparone is a hero of mine, someone who balances passion and control in the nicest individualistic ways. Here he is, heading the most quietly illustrious chamber group at his own birthday party: John “Butch” Smith, alto saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And the song — HOME, so identified with Louis, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Thomas — never fails to move me.
Home, you know, is a state of mind more than an address.
I have particular associations with this performance, having heard the Louis versions and the Jack Teagarden Keynote recording perhaps fifty years ago, and knowing the musicians here for more than a decade. Even if the song and the players are new to you, I hope the passion and joy reaches you:
Just beautiful. Here’s hoping you have your metaphysical HOME, or find one soon.
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.