“I love music that shows passion, daring and surprise.” — Ray Skjelbred
I know there is a mythlogy in jazz of the one night or session when the all-stars are on the stand, never to play together again. But what is more beautiful than a working band? Such assemblages are, at their best, small families, with everyone knowing everyone else’s talents and idiosyncracies. And on a non-musical level, a working band is a sign of economic health: there are enough regular gigs for the musicians to stick together. For me, certain working bands stand out as instantly memorable: the George Barnes-Ruby Braff Quartet; Soprano Summit; the EarRegulars in their various permutations; Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs.
The last-named band is an engaging mixture, at turns ferocious and sweet, of hot Chicago jazz, deep blues, and a rocking momentum that suggests both a Count Basie small group and the closing choruses of an Eddie Condon IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE.
Through the generosity and foresight of the Dutch jazz scholar and enthusiast Frank Selman, I can now share with you a remarkable interlude created by Ray and his Cubs: that’s Ray, piano and moral leadership; Clint Baker, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal. They performed at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest, and the songs captured are AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL; GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON (vocal by Katie); SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE.
Ray told me, “By the way, Clint knew we were going to play Special Delivery that set and he plays bowed bass on that number. But he was playing a borrowed bass with no bow, so he also borrowed a tuba to simulate bowed bass”:
That band! — the epitome of swinging delicacy and force.
The only mystery is why they don’t get invited to jazz festivals these days.
Promoters and producers, lend me your ears!
With gratitude to Ray, Kim, Clint, Katie, Mike, and of course Frank.
I’ve been thinking about WISE GUYS of late. But first, a story.
My friend in graduate school, Sal, once told me, “My father grew up poor, so he had a very loose attitude toward property. If it was unattached, it became his. So I grew up thinking that was OK, that ‘everybody does it’ — sugar packets, office supplies. Nothing big, but it was an attitude. Then when somebody broke into my car and stole all the Christmas presents I had stashed in the trunk, I thought, ‘Somebody is trying to tell me something.’ Now, I don’t swipe anything. I buy my own paper clips and it won’t break me. You know I’m a dog-lover. If your puppy is stealing a sock or a cookie, you make eye contact and say, ‘Is that yours?’ and he’ll drop it. Why aren’t we that smart?”
WISE GUYS sounds as if written in 1890, but it was composed by Bonnie Windsor, about whom I know very little except that she collaborated with Tom Glazer on RUGGED BUT RIGHT c. 1952. Our song was recorded and performed by Julia Lee, Turk Murphy, Pat Yankee, and John Gill. (In his essay on Julia Lee, Bill Millar refers to its “anti-mobster” theme, but Windsor is describing behavior not limited to the Mafia.)
The message of WISE GUYS is plain: cheating people is shameful and stupid, because you will be punished. (Also, Windsor suggests that the people you are trying to fool are smarter than you, hence Bumpkin and Slicker.)
It’s performed here by Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Bob Schulz, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jim Maihack, tuba; Mike Daugherty, drums, at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 26, 2014:
Any resemblance to real-life characters is, of course, unintentional.
Jen Hodge is the real deal — as melodically propulsive ensemble player or soloist, singer, bandleader, or jazz-instigator / investigator. (Now we can add “whistler” to the list of credits, by the way.) So I’m not at all surprised that her new CD, THE GIRL IN THE GROOVE, is lively, varied, and flavorful. Incidentally, the second link will lead you to Jen’s online CD release party via Facebook, on Friday, October 2, from 9-11, EDT. Consider yourself invited.
And since Jen and friends often play for swing dancers, the music on this disc has a definite warm pulse, felt rather than being a matter of volume, that is consistently cheering. That’s evident from the first notes of the aptly named HODGE PODGE (all right, it was named for Johnny Hodges) that keeps the bounce of late-Thirties Ellington without being a museum piece. Brad Shigeta growls and snarls his way through the main strain of HERE LIES LOVE before involving the rest of the band in the swinging elegy. Incidentally, any 2020 CD that has a little-played Ralph Rainger composition, made famous by Bing Crosby, has already curled up at the foot of my bed — even before Mike Daugherty’s stop-time chorus and the singular Chris Davis and Joseph Abbott.
What could be more overdone than I GOT RHYTHM, you ask? Not in Jen’s version, which begins with her winsome singing of the verse, rubato, over Josh’s guitar tapestries . . . sliding into a rocking vocal chorus with the band taking turns around her — then taking things to a cheerfully higher level with vocal twists and turns. Jen’s singing is sweetly unfussy and genuine, charming because she isn’t imitating anyone, just having a good time sharing the song with us. SUMMERTIME, also teetering on the brink of extinction, sounds both fresh and ominous — March of the Aliens, and they are coming to your town in the next hour! — but it continues on its own singular path with Joseph Abbott’s lyrically clear improvisation on the melody, then Brad Shigeta’s affectionate snarl (he means no harm) and Abbott’s sky-blue tones as the band riffs somewhat menacingly underneath. You’ll have to hear it to understand.
USE YOUR HEAD, an old-time-modern original by Jen, starts off at marvelously low volume — as if the band had decided to jam the insinuating composition in whispers. Apparently the lyrics are a series of instructions to a prospective lover, auditioning for the gig. I hope so. More blessed to give, and all that. When the performance was over, rocking itself to a kind of pleasurable summit, thanks to Clara Rose as well as the band, I was only disappointed that Jen didn’t come back to sing a half-dozen more choruses. Yes, it’s 2020, but it’s a song that would have done nicely for Clara, Mamie, or Bessie in 1931. Or Fats Waller, any decade. I played it three times before moving on, and I expect to repeat the pleasurable experience tomorrow. Come for the philosophy, stay for the swing.
I must halt matters here and praise Jen’s string bass playing. As wonderful as the other musicians are on this CD — and they damned well are — my ears kept coming back in delight to the lines she was creating under and through the ensembles, and her concise swinging “speaking” solo work. And her arco passage on DEAD MAN BLUES is so poignant, so focused. And, just for the record, she plays with equal beauty and conviction in person: I have shared videos of Jen at Cafe Bohemia, where no one talked through a single solo, because every solo kept us rapt.
Then there are the arrangements, mostly group efforts by the band, three by Jen herself, and HODGE PODGE by the sterling Alan Matheson. On Joseph Abbott’s THE EARTHQUAKE DRILL, I had to look at the band personnel again to remind myself that this was a compact, flexible, sauntering sextet — no piano — because so much was going on in this fast blues, and not only a SING SING SING interlude for clarinet and drums. You could — and you will want to — listen to the whole disc several times, once focusing on the soloists, once on the charts, once . . . you will figure it out. It sounds happy and natural: this band floats on the fun it creates.
Every jazz CD needs some side-glances at The End, to keep the hoodoo away: this one has not only HERE LIES LOVE, but a jaunty variation on the “New Orleans Function” theme, where FLEE AS A BIRD turns the corner into DEAD MAN BLUES — less Morton than Manone, I think, until the final choruses, reminiscent of MOURNFUL INTERLUDE, providing a splendid trot home from the imagined gravesite. Be not afraid: nothing’s dead on this disc, even with some ancient repertoire, frisky and bold.
Speaking of frisky and bold, there’s Jen’s soulful rendition of UP ABOVE MY HEAD, which has the appropriate words, “I really do believe / there’s joy somewhere.” How true for this disc. And although the original composition reaches all the way back, Jen’s version hints both at a revival service and something Charles Mingus might have invented and played — spirituality with a deep (mildly whimsical) seismic motion.
And the CD ends with a lovely tribute — not only to generations of trumpet players who gently begin STARDUST with the verse — but to the much-missed swing matriarch and Sage, Dawn Hampton, who left us a YouTube video of her whistling that composition in the most heartfelt manner. Jen’s whistling reminds me not only of the mysterious Maurice Hendricks (look him up, do), but also of someone whistling — earnestly and passionately — on her way home from school or a tennis match. And, in ways that surprised me, of Louis: I felt the same chills up and down my spine. I don’t write such praise lightly.
Hereyou can pre-order the digital CD (it will slide down the birth canal on October 2) and hear samples. It’s a wow.
JAZZ LIVES has not changed its nature to advertise automobiles, but this is one instance where the music related to the car is memorable to those who remember and I hope it will become irresistible to those who have never heard it.
Sheet music, 1931
From the subversive geniuses at the Fleischer Studios, in the early Thirties, this tuneful piece of advertising (as old as 1905) — thanks to Janette Walker:
I always hear the invitation of the lyrics as not too subtly lascivious, because I dimly remember the statistics that showed the birth rate in this country ascended once more people had automobiles . . . but the couple in the song is also headed for marriage, lest you worry that this blog condones sinful behavior.
Thanks to Emrah Erken, the beautiful transfer of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra’s 1927 version:
and the first take:
and a sweet-hot version from this century, by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band at the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society on December 18, 2011, with Ray Skjelbred, piano, leader; Chris Tyle, trumpet; Steve Wright, reeds; Jake Powel, banjo; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal:
and a two-minute wartime coda, reminding me of the days when music was our common language, when everyone knew the words and the tune:
The song suggests that one could have fun being with one’s sweetheart, which is always a wonderful goal. The couple in the Oldsmobile were even speaking to each other — cellphones not being in evidence when the song was new.
Sheet music, 1905
Incidentally, this post is in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, who understand.
Maybe I should visit Washington State this summer.
Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Vashon Island. I’ll have to give it some thought. I know the scenery is lovely, the marionberries peerless, and the few people I know who hail from that state are grand.
But what would draw me is the hot jazz happening on a regular basis, in a quartet led by pianist / singer / expedition-leader Ray Skjelbred, with cohorts Mike Daugherty, drums / vocal; Dave Brown, string bass / vocal; Steve Wright, trumpet, cornet, clarinet, alto, C-melody / vocal.
Readers of JAZZ LIVES know I am especially entranced by Ray’s work and have been for a long time. But you owe it to yourself to familiarize yourself (if you’re new to them) with the very swinging, melodic work of Steve, Dave, and Mike.
Here these four delightful players are as “the Yeti Chasers” at the Royal Room on April 16 of this year:
TAKE ME BACK TO MY BOOTS AND SADDLE:
BLUE AND BROKEN-HEARTED:
Here’s the same band (from a different angle) on April 2 at the Bellingham Traditional Jazz Society:
WHAT’S THE REASON (I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU)?:
HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY:
And a very tender SO SWEET, which I associate with the Sunshine Boys:
All of this hot goodness — organic, locally-sourced, cruelty-free, free-range, wild-caught — comes to us through the expert generosity of Steve Wright, who not only plays a half-dozen instruments and sings, but also knows how to video-record gigs like this.
What wonderful music from the Pacific Northwest, and how lucky are they to have it.
I am sitting in my suburban New York apartment awaiting a predicted blizzard, which means reacquainting myself with my essential inanimate pals, Ms. Down Parka and Mr. Snow Shovel. The thought fills me with dread and gloom.
But there are always palliatives, and what I offer you requires no prescription, no copay, no trip to the pharmacy. And it works just as well if the sun is blazing in through your windows.
Hot jazz — performed and recorded in this century — is the organic remedy offered here.
The thermodynamic healing practitioners are known both as the First Thursday Band and the Yeti Chasers: Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal, leader; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal. They created these sounds at the Royal Roomin Seattle, Washington.
CARELESS LOVE is often performed as a dirge — a cautionary tale, “You see what careless love can do / has done?” but here it’s a swinging romp, with no weeping or moaning:
Another romp built on the threat of impending doom (thanks to Henry “Red” Allen for this and so many other inspirations), YOU’RE GONNA LOSE YOUR GAL. Watch out for that cymbal (Mike’s performance-art piece in tribute to Zutty Singleton, 1928)!
And another tribute to the Red Allen small-band recordings, ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON, which is the only song that can make me think of J. C. Higginbotham and Bob Hoskins at once. Steve Wright reminds us that this approach to the alto saxophone, so satisfying, did not utterly vanish in 1945:
Improvisers have always loved the subversive challenge of taking apparently inappropriate material (sweet love ballads) and making them swing. Here’s a fine example: the Yeti Chasers’ LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:
In honor of Mister Morton, who didn’t like snow either, the BLUE BLOOD BLUES:
Andy Razaf had it right — the world can’t do without THAT RHYTHM MAN (especially when he uplifts us at such a swinging tempo):
THE TORCH — evoking memories of Turk Murphy (commentary below*). It sounds as if it was written in 1885 to be performed in a barroom, which is emotionally although not factually correct:
Say the word. You’ll be heard. Ray’s always touching performance of ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE:
My favorite DIGA DIGA DOO, with a lovely leap into its second chorus before Ray’s Stacy ecstasy:
Finally, SKID ROAD BLUES, which I hope isn’t prophetic for future driving:
I don’t think this band needs a serious explication of its virtues, individual and collective. Don’t they sound fine? I feel better, and hope you do, too.
*Thanks to generous and erudite Bill Haesler, I now know everything worth knowing about THE TORCH:
“The song is called variously: The Torch That Didn’t Go Out The Kansas City Torch The Torch of Kansas City When You Carry The Torch
and was, allegedly, taught to Turk Murphy by Patsy Patton (cabaret
singer and wife of banjo player Pat Patton. We know him from when he
came to Sydney on the Matson Line ships). The first ‘jazz’ version was recorded by Turk Murphy for a Columbia LP on 19 Jan. 1953. The notes by George Avakian to that ‘Barrelhouse Jazz’ LP says that Turk came to it from the Castle Jazz Band (who recorded it later in Aug 1957) via Don Kinch and Bob Short, ex Castle band members).
It was composed (music and lyrics) in 1928 by the great Harry Warren
(we all know him) using the name Harry Herschel and originally
published by Robbins Music Corp.
WHEN YOU CARRY THE TORCH [Verse]:When the gang has turned you down, And you wander ’round the town, Longing for someone in sympathy. As you go from place to place, Looking for some friendly face, You can hear the old town clock strike three; Then you wish you had your old gal back again. You’re lonesome, oh, so lonesome, And your poor hear cries in vain:
[Chorus]: Oh, gee, but it’s tough, When the gang’s gone home; Out on the corner, You stand alone; You feel so blue With nothing to do; You’re cravin’ someone’s company. The gang leaves you there With an old time stall, While you go home and gaze At the four bare walls. Ev’ry tear seems to scorch, When you carry the torch And the gang’s gone home.
[2nd Verse]: When you haven’t got a friend, And your worries never end, When the future doesn’t look so bright. As you sit there in the gloom Of an empty silent room, As the hallway clock ticks through the night, Then you long to hear a knock upon your door. You’re weary, oh, so dreary, And your poor heart cries once more:
Pianist, bandleader, composer, and occasional vocalist Ray Skjelbred is gently but obstinately authentic, a prophet and beacon of deep Chicago jazz — whether it’s tender, gritty, or romping. He and the Cubs proved this again (they always do) at their November 2013 appearances at the San Diego Jazz Fest. For this weekend, The Cubs were Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass, tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.
SIX POINT BLUES:
A highlight for all of us — heartfelt and quietly fervent — ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE:
Alienation of affections or kidnapping was never so festive as this rendition of SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:
DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL:
That music is good news for us all. But more good news — larger and more tangible than the computer monitor — is coming: the Cubs are making a California tour in early July 2014, beginning in two weeks. Jeff Hamilton will be on drums, along with the regulars you see above.
Thursday, July 10: Rossmoor Dixieland Jazz Club in Walnut Creek CA. For more information visit here.
Friday, July 11: Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California. 7:30 – 10:00 PM. (1010 El Camino Real, dress casual, good food and drink and a sweet atmosphere).
Saturday, July 12: Cline Wine and Jazz Festival in Sonoma, California. The Cubs will play three sets: for details, visit here.
Sunday, July 13: Napa Valley Dixieland Jazz Society. For more information visit: here.
Monday, July 14: Le Colonial in San Francisco, California (20 Cosmo Place). For more information visit here.
The admiring shades of Alex Hill, Sidney Catlett, Lee Wiley, Eddie Condon, Count Basie, Earl Hines, Sippie Wallace, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Cassino Simpson, Tut Soper, Frank Melrose, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Wellman Braud, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, and scores of unheralded blues musicians stand behind this band — as the Cubs make their own lovely ways to our ears and hearts. Panaceas without side-effects.
Next Friday morning, I will be in my New Old Car, heading to Sacramento, California, to spend the Memorial Day weekend amidst music-making friends . . .
Here is the Festival’s site, and the complete list of artists is available here.
I’ll simply note a few JAZZ LIVES’ favorites (in an ecumenical alphabetical order): the Au Brothers, Gordon Au, Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band, Clint Baker, Dan Barrett, Dave Bennett and the Memphis Boys, Eddie Erickson, the Freebadge Serenaders, Grand Dominion, High Sierra, Katie Cavera, Kim Cusack, Meschiya Lake and the Lil Big Horns, Marc Caparone, Midiri Brothers, Mike Daugherty, Pat Yankee, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Hal Smith, Stephanie Trick, Allan Vache, Johnny Varro, Vaud and the Villains, Vince Bartels All-Stars . . . and more.
And for every band / performer listed above, there are four I haven’t named — all having a wonderful time in simultaneous sessions. I hope to meet readers new and already-known at Sacramento.
Living in New York, twenty and more years ago, I had heard Ray Skjelbred in a variety of contexts: with Berkeley Rhythm, with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers featuring Bobby Gordon and Rebecca Kilgore, and on his own. One of the great pleasures of being on this coast is the chance to see him and his band at various festivals (at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 23-26; and at various California locations July 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 — see here for details).
I am glad that Ray and his Cubs have steady gigs on the West Coast, but I wish they were better known worldwide.
It would be ironic but somehow fitting if what I see as their essential virtues had kept them slightly out of prominence in the world of “traditional” jazz. The group isn’t loud and it doesn’t have an identifying trademark unless you consider a deeply-rooted blues-based hot lyricism a trademark. No parasol parades; no singing along. Just intense yet relaxed Chicago jazz for this century.
They call it music.
I shy away from “best” or “favorite,” but I am drawn to this band as if magnetically. I know that a set from Ray or from Ray and his pals will make me feel better — and the side effects of deep elation and gratitude won’t wear off soon if at all.
The band in its most recent incarnation was Ray, piano, vocals, intuition; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass and tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.
Here is a full set (why skimp on pleasure?) from the Thanksgiving 2013 San Diego Jazz Fest (November 30, 2013, to be exact).
BULL FROG BLUES:
WHO’S SORRY NOW?:
OUR MONDAY DATE:
OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE):
OUT OF NOWHERE (with a lovely streamlined homage to Bing by Mister Daugherty, man of many talents):
AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:
GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON (Katie always gives such good advice);
Although I’ve been coming to California on a regular basis only since summer 2010 (which hardly makes me a native plant) I’ve been attending the Memorial Day jazz weekend at Sacramento every year I could.
In fact, I seem to have brought my video camera and notebook with me in 2011 and 2012, too. Evidence below.
But before any reader gets engrossed in Recent Glories, may I direct your attention — as the attorneys always say in courtroom dramas — to what is happening in May 2014?
Jazz purists, please don’t be alarmed if you don’t recognize all of the headliners: the SMF has taken a broader view of “Americana” and “roots music” than it did in earlier years, but there is a wide variety of pleasing sound for all. The complete list of artists is available here.
I’ll simply note a few JAZZ LIVES’ favorites (in an ecumenical alphabetical order): the Au Brothers, Gordon Au, Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band, Clint Baker, Dave Bennett and the Memphis Boys, Eddie Erickson, the Freebadge Serenaders, Grand Dominion, High Sierra, Katie Cavera, Kim Cusack, Meschiya Lake and the Lil Big Horns, Marc Caparone, Midiri Brothers, Mike Daugherty, Pat Yankee, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Stephanie Trick, Vaud and the Villains, Vince Bartels All-Stars . . . and more.
The thought of all that, even spread out over multiple venues from Friday through Monday, is both elating and exhausting. While I lie down, perhaps you’d like to peruse Years Gone By . . .
Pianist / composer / scholar / poet Ray Skjelbred is one of the rare ones.
I don’t say this only because of his deeply rewarding piano playing — soloist, accompanist, bandleader — but because of the understanding that it rests upon. Ray understands that he is one of long line of creators — members of the tribe of improvising storytellers, some of them no longer on the planet but their energies still vividly alive.
He doesn’t strive to copy or to “recreate”; rather, he honors and embodies in ways that words can only hint at. Call it an enlightened reverence that takes its form in blues-based melodic inventions, and you’ll be close to understanding the essence of what Ray does, feels, and is.
Here are some of his own introspections: “I get ideas by trying to hear the world differently, sometimes even misunderstanding sound on purpose. . . . I like to see things differently, to shape a song, to make it mine. I like to make tempo changes, especially fast to slow, I like to make the notes as round and warm as possible and part of that comes from shading a composition with blue notes that frame the passion. I like to fill in harmonies when the melody feels a little bony to me. . . . I think music is an adventure, a chance to shape sound with your bare hands.”
I’ve admired his playing for some years now — before I knew him as a soloist, I heard him through ensembles on recordings led by other musicians, rather in the way one would hear Hines, Horace Henderson, Joe Sullivan, Frank Melrose, Jess Stacy, Zinky Cohn, Tut Soper, Cassino Simpson, Alex Hill, or a dozen others subversively and happily animating the largest group.
There are several ways to experience this magic — Ray making himself a portal through which the elders can speak, while adding his own personal experiences. One, of course, is to witness his transformations in person. To do this, you’d have to know where he is going to be playing — check out the bottom of the page here for his appearances in the near future.
Another way t0 have a portable Skjelbred festival is through his compact discs, recent and otherwise, listed here. I call two new issues to your attention. One, RAGTIME PIANO, is — beneath its rather plain title — a continued exploration of subversive possibilities, witty and warm.
I remember the first time I began to listen to it — with small surprises popping through the surface like small flowers, catching me off guard, subtler than Monk creating his own version of stride piano but with some of the same effect. Each track is a small hot sonata, with the surprises resurfacing to make the whole disc a suite of unusual yet comfortable syncopated dance music.
The sixteen solo piano performances offer classics, stretched and reconsidered: SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / SOMETHING DOING / WHOOPEE STOMP / LOUISIANA RAG / MOURNFUL SERENADE / DANCE OF THE WITCH HAZELS / PINEAPPLE RAG / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING, as well as Ray’s originals — inspired by everyone from Emily Dickinson to Julia Child: SMILING RAG / LEAN AND GRIEFY RAG / DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS / COCHINEAL RAG / LITTLE ELMER’S RAG / THE PICOT RAG / REFLECTIONS RAG / BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER.
Another deep lesson in how to get the most music possible — and then some — from the piano can be found in Ray’s PIANO PORTRAITS, which demonstrates his range of endearing associations, from the Hot Five and early blues singers to Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, from Jimmie Noone and early Ellington to Bix, Hines, and Charlie Shavers. It’s a filling and fulfilling musical banquet: SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD / FEELING MY WAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / WEATHER BIRD RAG / SQUEEZE ME / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE / DINAH / READY FOR THE RIVER / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CLARK AND RANDOLPH / CANNED MEAT RAG / BLUES FROM “CREOLE RHAPSODY” / BLUES FOR MILLIE LAMMOREUX / FATHER SWING / WHEN I DREAM OF YOU / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / MY HEART / MUGGLES / UNDECIDED. Ray’s prose is as forthright and evocative as his playing, so this CD is worth reading as well as hearing for his recollections of Johnny Wittwer, Joe Sullivan, Burt Bales, Art Hodes, and Earl Hines.
Another way to experience Ray, his mastery of “those pretty notes and jangly octaves,” can be through these video performances. He has been more than gracious to me, allowing me to capture him in a variety of settings. I offer one here, BULL FROG BLUES, recorded on November 29, 2013, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — with his Cubs, that savory band: Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Mike Daugherty, drums:
Wherever Ray goes, whatever the context in which he makes music, it’s always rewarding.
I agree with Ray Skjelbred, whose words I’ve taken as the title of this post. (He says this, and more, before the first performance.)
I also think that he and his Cubs make miraculous music.
Here they are at the 2013 San Diego Jazz Fest on November 29, 2013 — Ray on piano, spiritual enhancement, and vocal; Kim Cusack on clarinet and vocal; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums.
Remembering Henry “Red” Allen and Coleman Hawkins in 1933 with MY GALVESTON GAL*, a pop tune made immortal by way of swinging creativities:
A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, for Billie Holiday and Lester Young. I hold my breath during the lovely thirty-second trio interlude from 4:22 — watch Messrs. Skjelbred and Daugherty, caught up in the same sacred currents:
Romping Chicago-style with NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW — vocal by Brother Cusack (I’ve left in the introductions of the band members because they deserve our applause as well as what was evoked in the room):
There were four more songs performed at this concert, but this music is so good that I am parceling it out in bites rather than gulps, for I will be sad when these videos from San Diego come to an end . . . even though there will be other opportunities to see Ray and his Cubs: click here.
In case you missed the magnificent — and I do not use that word lightly — WAILING BLUES (evoking Frank Melrose and Frank Teschemacher) — here it is again.
This band brings together in the present moment so much that is beautiful from the past — as if the Basie band had paid a visit to 1931 Chicago and stayed awhile. Ray and his Cubs create timeless music, a breathing space where the great spirits can relax and have their say, gently allowing us to listen in.
A postscript on MY GALVESTON GAL. It is not the most subtle of popular tunes, with an up-and-down melodic / rhythmic / harmonic waveform, and lyrics that require the most nimble singer to squeeze in all the syllables, some of those words being lifted from other 1933 hits. But it is a remarkable creation simply because of Henry “Red” Allen and Coleman Hawkins — not only because it is the only example I know on record of Henry Allen beginning a vocal with the word, “Yowzah!” (It pops up later, too.) To fully appreciate the alchemy of Allen and Skjelbred, first hear a quite good “dance band” rendition of the tune by Harry Reser:
Then, Ray’s inspiration, the Allen-Hawkins Orchestra — with an utterly entrancing Benny Morton solo and an adventurous Hawkins one, as well as Allen’s vocal:
Easy. Carl Sonny Leyland and Eeco Rijken Rapp, stompin’ em down at one piano with the noble assistance of Marty Eggers, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums. Better than any pharmaceutical for raising serotonin levels, letting joy be unconfined. Recorded at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 29, 2013:
If you’re at home while you’re reading this post, take a moment to look around you. If you’re elsewhere, close your eyes and visualize your home and the largest room of your house or apartment. (If you’re reading this on your phone while walking, I wish you wouldn’t. But enough of that.)
Now, look at this picture.
Imagine that your place has suddenly been transformed into a swing-dance sock hop (or, if you prefer, the dancers can keep their Capezios on).
Impossible, you say.
Highly possible, I tell you. No, you probably can’t make your studio apartment larger, and the neighbors below would get restive if you brought in all these Peabodying friends. But the transformation can be done musically with the help of a small plastic artifact weighing around an ounce:
Yes, the new CD by Glenn Crytzer and his Syncopators, SKINNY MINNE, recorded live on May 4 and 5 at the Midwest Lindy Fest in Minneapolis (hence the title) has just that effect. I know the idea bends time and space and delivers an uppercut to the laws of physics, but when Swing is concerned, it trumps anything you learned in high school science class. And this CD is all about the many colors and flavors of Swing.
The Syncopators are Steve Mostavoy, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Solomon Douglas, piano; Glenn Crytzer, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums; Meschiya Lake, vocals.
And, typically, they mix fresh readings of venerable songs (with roots in Count Basie, Fats Waller, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, Illinois Jacquet, Artiie Shaw, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, and Sidney Bechet) with originals that are so deeply idiomatic that they are both delicious surprises and totally in the groove(s). And Meschiya’s singing is as rich, smoky, and enticing as ever.
The songs are ONE O’CLOCK JUMP / J’ATTENDRAI / SKINNY MINNE / BOTTOMS UP / THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER / THE SAD SACK / YACHT CLUB SWING / BLUE SPIRIT BLUES / JACQUET IN THE BOX / EL SALON DE GUTBUCKET / THE GRABTOWN GRAPPLE / DEEP DOWN IN CAROLINE / C JAM BLUES / HOP, SKIP AND JUMP / EGYPTIAN FANTASY / BLUES FOR NORMA / IT DON’T MEAN A THING (IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING).
And because this music was recorded live at a Lindy Fest, the band is especially loose and animated . . . there’s none of that constriction that sometimes befalls musicians in the recording studio where they can’t see each other, they hear each other through headphones, and they are understandably xonxerned that no mistakes be made. You’ll hear what it sounded like to be there: an immense asset!
To effect this magic in your own home, which translates as “To order the CD,” clickhere. Once you’re on Glenn’s site, you can hear samples of the music he has created on three compact discs.
The subject today is The Illusion of Musical Purity in Jazz.
I think it began in the Twenties, when jazzmen themselves made divisions between “commercial” and “hot” music. The former was what you were paid to play — often trivial, unswinging, unimaginative — reading stock arrangements while someone in a tuxedo waved a baton. The latter — the ideal — was what you played at 4 AM with enough gin or muggles or spaghetti (or all three) to make sure that everyone was mellow. Later on, when the fans started to anatomize the music in ways the musicians had never cared to, the fans and journalists built walls stronger than the Berlin version. “Commercial” music was “Swing,” where good guys played insipid pop tunes and took eight-bar solos once a night; “the real thing” was an ideal, rarely achieved.
Think of the posthumous scorn heaped on Paul Whiteman because his Orchestra wasn’t Bix and his Gang; think of those serious jazz fans who traced The Decline of Louis Armstrong to I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE taking the place of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP.
But the musicians themselves — while preferring looseness, open-mindedness, swing, and an escape from the paper — never much cared what songs they were playing. Was PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA unworthy of Bunk Johnson? He didn’t think so. Did John Coltrane disdain MY FAVORITE THINGS, or Charlie Parker A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA?
I have remembered, more than once, Wild Bill Davison’s comment to an interviewer that he never learned or knew THAT’S A PLENTY until he came to New York: in Chicago, he and his friends played swinging improvisations on current and classic pop tunes. As did Eddie Condon, Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey.
These thoughts were especially prominent in my mind when I found the latest videos from the estimable First Thursday Band — led by pianist Ray Skjelbred — at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington . . . on September 6, 2012. The other members of the FTB are drummer Mike Daughterty, skilled at roll play; bassist Dave Brown, whose beat can’t be beat; multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright. Some of the tunes you will see and hear below — by virtue of jazz instrumentalists playing them memorably — have become “jazz classics.” But they were all popular tunes, premiered in vaudeville, Broadway musicals, the movies, around the parlor piano.
The ambiance here is so reminiscent of an otherwise unknown Chicago club, circa 1934, with the good guys having the time of their life playing requests and songs they like. Close your eyes and you’ll hear not only Wright, Brown, Daugherty, and Skjelbred, but Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Alex Hill, Zinky Cohn; Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone, Frank Teschmacher, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett — the list of happily approving ghosts is very long.
I begin this history / music theory lesson with Wayne King’s theme song — in the wrong hands, as soggy as uncooked French toast, but here snappy and sweet:
THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME :
Richard Whiting’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, which had a life long before John Hammond handed it to Billie Holiday:
A zippy Harry Barris song from the film extravaganza THE KING OF JAZZ — in our century, adopted as music for penguins — HAPPY FEET (with the verse — and then Skjelbred leaps in like a man possessed):
Isham Jones’ pretty, mournful WHAT’S THE USE? (with a rhythm section that won’t quit):
And from 1919, one of those songs suggesting that happiness could be conveyed by facial expressions, in fact, by loving SMILES:
Image courtesy of SWING FASHIONISTA (www.swingfashionista.com)
You’ll need these to watch the videos below. Now, don’t fuss. Put them on. There!
I now have yet another Favorite Band. In case you wonder, one can have a whole cornucopia of Favorites — and the Rain City Blue Blowers are just another example of what Roswell Rudd calls “playing your personality.” The videos below come from their appearance at the Seattle Jazz Party on March 16, 2012.
Here they are, tenderly (but with a beat) exploring the possibly dark Jimmie Noone classic READY FOR THE RIVER:
Who ARE these gently brilliant folks?
Closest to us is the absurdly talented Steve Wright (cornet, trumpet, clarinet, vocal). Hidden behind a forest of reeds is the delightful Paul Woltz (clarinet, soprano, tenor, alto, bass sax, vocal); the inquisitive Ray Skjelbred (piano); the unerringly rhythmic Candace Brown (banjo, guitar); the Swing Superhero Dave Brown (string bass, vocal); the rocking Mike Daugherty (drums, vocal).
An ebullient reading of one of my favorite songs — the happy shade of Louis stands behind it always — SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, with the rhythm section romping like the Luis Russell band, 1929:
Since humility and a readiness to admit you’ve made an error are among the most prized virtues, how about a smoothly hot I MAY BE WRONG to keep us in the mood? It was the theme song of the Apollo Theatre when it opened in 1934, and the RCBB bring us back there with no hint of museum-stuffiness:
MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS is or are the place I wish I was right now, even if her embrace would slightly impede my ability to type and blog. Sing it, Mister Woltz!:
Truly wonderful! In the groove, too: ARKANSAS BLUES:
I’ve been humming this tune all morning: no reason why you shouldn’t join in the cyber-chorus. It’s MY SYNCOPATED MELODY MAN (think 1929, Lang, Venuti, and Red McKenzie, if you will):
One more — let the RCBB whisper swing in your shell-pink ears with WHISPERING. (The front line knows the old trick of having one horn play a swinging version of the melody while the other horn dances around it — exhilarating!):
And just because we tend, naturally, to focus on the brilliance of the soloists — horns and reeds are shiny and catch our attention as if we were children in a toystore — may I quietly point out that the beauty of the RCBB starts in the rhythm section? I have heard Paul and Steve generously and mightily lift bands where not everyone was on the same spiritual or rhythmic wavelength, so I greet them as epic heroes of hot jazz.
But what Candace, Dave, Mike, and Ray do on each number here is frankly magical. “A house without a strong foundation cannot stand.” It may be coarse of me to say that this rhythm section could “swing the dead,” but that is how I feel. As an experiment in Rhythm, may I urge my readers to revisit the video they liked best — if they can make such hard choices — and listen hard, all through it, to The Groove that this foursome creates? Better than a Master’s in Jazz Studies, I think.
The city that is home to such a band can’t be quite so damp and foreboding as popular myth would have it. When the RCBB plays, the sun blazes. A nice coat of sunscreen wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
And there’s more! Visit swr2408018 for more meteorological wonders.
P.S. If I were in charge of a jazz festival, I would be tripping over myself in my eagerness to book this band . . . am I being sufficiently subtle? Please consider it!
My silly title shouldn’t distract you from the hot jazz to follow. The song is YOU (no, not the Cole Porter classic) — music by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by Harold Adamson, performed first in the 1936 THE GREAT ZIEGFELD. I think of it as the songwriter’s solution to the problem of potential sheet music buyers being unable to remember the title.
Here’s a hot performance of YOU by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band — at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle on March 1, 2012: Steve Wright, alto; Ray, piano; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums:
I know that in this century we value NEW and IMPROVED very highly, but music isn’t detergent. And what I love about this rocking performance is the way it eagerly and expertly brings musical styles of “the past” into “the present” so convincingly that these distinctions fall away. Since everything is transitory, we may live in the Moment that this music offers so generously. Yes, Virginia, people did play this way before Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Jimmy Garrison, and Max Roach changed the musical landscape — to say nothing of Ornette Coleman, whose radicalism is now fifty years old . . .
Anyway, put aside the musical categories and critical “schools” and listen to the beautiful swinging sounds: the sweet racing turns of Steve’s alto; the rollick and frolic of Ray’s right and left hands; the sustaining heartbeat of Mister Brown to You on the bass; the exuberant slap and dance of Mike’s drums.
Music for YOU, YOU — and especially YOU!
Thanks to “islandstarfish” and “swr2408018,” a great team, for making it possible for us to see and hear this wonderful jazz.
A band that calls itself “the Blue 4 Trio” has a touch of surrealism about it — reminiscent of the Magritte painting of a pipe that is subtitled “This is not a pipe.” But don’t let the quartet-that’s-really-a-trio disconcert you.
Casey MacGill and his colleagues make delicious music — in the best old-fashioned ways without being a “repertory orchestra” devoted to copying vintage 78s.
Casey, Matt, and Mike all sing — in that infectious way that recalls the Mills Brothers, the Spirits of Rhythm, the early King Cole Trio, Duke Ellington’s 1937 vocal trio, Slim and Slam, the Cats and the Fiddle, with touches of Fats, Louis, and Bing added to the mix.
Instrumentally, Casey is a fine pianist, ukulele player, and a heartfelt middle-register cornet serenader. You’ve heard Mike Daughterty swing the First Thursday Jazz Band; here he gets many opportunities to show off his skill on the wirebrushes; bassist Matt Weiner who would make Milt Hinton proud.
I stress the inherent musicality of the B4T because many groups across the country market themselves as “swing bands” offer a rigid, by-the-numbers version of swing. Sartorially, they are perfect: the hats, two-tone shoes, suits, but their music is rigid and limited. Not this little band.
I listened to the Blue 4 Trio at length — two CDs worth — while driving back and forth to work. I would testify under oath in Jazz Court that they swung, that every track lifted my spirits.
There’s no postmodern irony here, no “distance” from the material: their readings of I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY or I AIN’T LAZY, I’M JUST DREAMIN’ (memories of Jack Teagarden in 1934) are deep inside the song. I now know the verse to CRAZY RHYTHM, which is no small boon.
Here’s a three-minute video portrait of these fellows and the band — created in Casey’s Seattle living room by filmmaker Keith Rivers:
Although the Trio’s repertoire is drawn from the Swing Era, they aren’t prisoners of 1936: their CDs and performances feature a few idiomatic originals and some more recent material: DAYDREAM (by John Sebastian) and the Leiber-Stoller THREE COOL CATS.
And if you visit here and click at the top of the page, you can hear Casey and Orville Johnson play and sing ALOHA OE BLUES . . . a pleasure.
The two CDs I got so much pleasure from are THREE COOL CATS (which has guest appearances from guitarists Orville Johnson and Del Ray, as well as tenor sax and clarinet from Craig Flory). The songs are GANGBUSTERS / THREE COOL CATS / I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY / LULU’S BACK IN TOWN / SUNNY AFTERNOON / UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE / THE SPELL OF THE BLUES / EVERYTHING BUT YOU / IT’S MY LAZY DAY / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / CHICKEN DINNER / DAYDREAM.
and the newest one, BARRELHOUSE (a MacGill original with clever lyrics), features the Trio plus Orville Johnson, Hans Teuber on tenor sax and piccolo, and New York’s own guitar master Matt Munisteri. It begins with the title tune, and goes on to PALM SPRINGS JUMP / CHANGES / ME AND THE MOON / OUT OF NOWHERE / SMALL FRY / CRAZY RHYTHM / COW COW BOOGIE / I AIN’T LAZY, I’M JUST DREAMIN’ / I’VE GOT TO BE A RUG CUTTER / BLUE BECAUSE OF YOU / WARM IT UP TO ME.
More from the First Thursday Band — a small hot jazz ensemble that appears on a particular day at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington. They are Steve Wright on reeds and cornet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums. Each member of the band occasionally takes a casual but expert vocal, and these four players swing as soloists — and, even better, as an ensemble. Here are a few selections from their their Thursday date of 2.2.12 — a harmonious-looking date in itself.
A song I love deeply — could it be from hearing Louis, Bobby, Joe Thomas, Jack Teagarden, and others perform it? — HOME. And this version perfectly balances Sweet and Hot:
SO SWEET comes from Jimmie Noone, and the title describes it perfectly:
Disorientation and perhaps even homelessness never swung so hard or sounded so good as in SONG OF THE WANDERER:
MOANIN’ should be a depressing exercise, but this performance is quite uplifting:
One of my favorite tunes — which other Thirties cowboy number has ties to Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, and a doomed Bob Hoskins? Take another one, Mike! ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:
To me, this compact little band is a triumph of both sound and intuition. The players hark back to a time when you could tell an instrumentalist or singer in a few notes — instantly recognizable personal identities, like the great film stars. No one ever confused Bette Davis or Benny Morton with anyone else! Each member of this quartet has his own identity, and although the whole concept honors the past (so you could, if you liked, talk about Charlie Holmes and Jess Stacy, George Wettling and Al Morgan among a hundred other heroic figures), you hear Skjelbred’s traceries, Brown’s resonant pulse, Daughterty’s cornucopia of rocking sounds, Wright’s lyrical messages. And the quartet is more than simply four great players bundled together onstage: they remind me of the great string quartets who worked together for years and played better than four individuals with bigger names. Intuition is at work here — so that each player is both advancing his own vision and listening deeply to what the other fellow just “said,” or anticipating what he thinks is coming next. A little family of people who know the same language and love its possibilities.
I don’t know when I will end up in Seattle, but I would like it to be a First Thursday.
These videos — and more! — are posted on YouTube by the very gifted Mr. Wright — you might want to subscribe to his channel, swr2408018 — so you don’t miss even a four-bar break.
A few days ago, I re-posted a few videos by this wonderful band in performance at the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society, and I had hopes of more. Now, thanks to Steve Wright and Candace Brown, the cornucopia has overflowed . . .
As I write this, twenty — twenty — new video performances have emerged on YouTube. Not only are they notable for good clear sound and clear videography — the band is sweetly spectacular. The jazz heroes on the stage are Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal, leader; Chris Tyle, trumpet and vocal; Steve Wright, reeds and vocal; Jake Powell, banjo and guitar; Dave Brown, acoustic string bass (arco and pizzicato); Mike Daugherty, drums and vocal.
I won’t post all twenty here: the cornucopia overwhelms emails and I receive puzzled comments. You can visit Steve Wright’s channel
There, you’ll get the good stuff first-hand: romping ensembles, lyrical solos, swing from the first note, and a rhythm section that just won’t quit . . . but here are three tastes:
a musing, Commodore Records-in-mind JADA:
Who’s that coming down the street? Looks like a boy from my home town — that’s Charlie Alexander. How about a surprisingly swinging WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH (all those people are wide awake and cutting a rug in Puget Sound):
Feel like a drive? Take the Goldkette band — I mean the First Thursday Jazz Band along — no matter how small your car is. IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE (remember, “you can go as far as you like with me”):
I could explain why these performances are so life-enhancing, but you’d gain more by watching them — more than once, perhaps. Students of what is called “jazz history” in “the academy” should put down their textbooks and enroll for this very lively, totally enlightened intensive workshop in swing: this is music aware of the traditions but happily situated in 2011: nothing antiquarian here. Not nostalgic — just superb. And I know “the state of the jazz economy” is just as dismal as you imagine it to be — but this band should be starring at festivals and have a shelf of CDs . . .
These two elevating performances come from a Dec. 18, 2011, concert by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Jazz Band for the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society in Seattle, Washington. The band members are Ray Skjelbred (leader, piano), guest artist Chris Tyle (trumpet), Steve Wright (reeds), Mike Daugherty (drums), Dave Brown (bass), guest artist Jake Powell (guitar and banjo).
Echoes of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and a thousand other Twenties blues records, BARRELHOUSE BLUES. But this performance, although deep-down, has a sweet propulsive Thirties rock to it — imagine an Albert Ammons band circa 1936 allowed to go on for a good long time. Or one of those groups that we know Frank Melrose led in a smoky Chicago basement club:
And something equally gutty, NOBODY’S FAULT BUT MINE — a rocking jazz sermon by Pastor Skjelbred and friends:
I take my title from the notion that these two performances swing dangerously — not at high volume or excessive speed, but deep-down velocity. And since the Beloved and I are going to be on a plane in a few days, I was reminded of the flight attendant’s often-stated reminder that I should fasten my seat belt “low and tight around my hips.”
I wanted to call this post — in tribute to this Hot Music — LOW AND TIGHT AROUND THE HIPS — but thought it might seem distracting. You choose!
Feeling low? Got a parking ticket? Can’t shake that nasty cold? Worried about the bills? Did you burn the toast?
It’s going to be all right. In fact, it’s already all right.
Make yourself to home and listen to this music. Or — if you’re swiffing around, turn up the volume and feel the deep swinging joy this band creates.
They’re Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, caught live at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington, on December 1, 2011. They are Ray Skjelbred, piano / leader; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxes; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums.
And — in the spirit of the season — do you hear what I hear? I hear a real jazzband. “What’s that?” I hear someone in the back saying. Well, that’s an improvising group where all the members love the music and work together towards the same purpose, supporting one another in a gritty joyousness appropriate to the song, picking up each others’ cues, playing witty follow-the-leader so that one hears simultaneously a quartet and four strong-minded individualists taking their own path to get to their own versions of Jazz Paradise.
I also hear echoes of Pee Wee Russell, Rod Cless, Fud Livingston, Guy Kelly, Doc Poston, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Wellman Braud, Milton J. Hinton, Pops Foster, Eddie Dougherty (a relation, perhaps?), George Wettling — all embodied on December 1, 2011, by living creators who have absorbed the tradition and made it their own. Who cares if people fight cyber-skirnishes in the blogosphere about whether “J**z” is alive or dead? Call this by whatever polite name you like: it is most certainly alive.
The first song and performance that caught my attention was LOVE ME TONIGHT, which is associated in my mind with Earl Hines and Bing Crosby — one hell of a pair! It is a lovely song: with lyrics, one of the most insinuating seduction lyrics I know (perhaps more wooing than A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY): a carpe diem pointed towards the bedroom. But here it’s a bit more lowwdown, suggesting that Chicago jazz was a powerful aphrodisiac as well:
And here’s a lowdown Commodore JADA:
Something unusual from Mister Piano Man — a little solo tribute to someone quite forgotten, Cassino Simpson. All most of us know of him is that he worked with Tiny Parham and did his own Chicago gigs, before succumbing to mental instability. After he unsuccessfully tried to kill Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, he was institutionalized and I believe he spent the rest of his life there. The noble John Steiner took recording equipment to Simpson and recorded him playing piano in 1942: the results, very hard to find even fifty years ago, appeared on a Paramont 10″ lp, which I’ve heard but never seen. Mister Skjelbred gives us a window into the blues — the Cassino Simpson way:
And something pretty, soulful, as well as funky: Ellington’s BLACK BEAUTY:
Here’s a truly mournful TRAV’LIN ALL ALONE (Ethel Waters – Jimmie Noone – Kenny Davern tempo, not Billie’s ironic bounce):
And a rather obscure tune from 1936 — I associate it only with Henry “Red” Allen, but that’s sufficient pedigree for anyone — NOTHING’S BLUE BUY THE SKY:
Something else from Red (circa 1933), his affirmation that everything is really OK — THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME:
And the song that could stand as the band’s secondary title, summing up their attitude towards their work and their art, LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY (think of Bill Robinson, Fats Waller, and Jeni LeGon in STORMY WEATHER). Ray sings the delectable lyrics softly, but you might consider memorizing them — you could do far worse for a mantra to get you through every day:
What exquisite music — delicate and raunchy at the same time!
P.S. I don’t want to be especially preachy, but I would like all the youthful musicians in the house to watch and listen closely to these clips — for the deep unspoken unity of the quartet, the shifting sound-textures, and numberless virtues. Mister Skjelbred doesn’t cover the keyboard with runs and arpeggios (unless he wants to); his left hand is integral to his playing; he could be a whole orchestra but doesn’t trample on anyone. Mister Wright knows everything there is to know about “tonation and phrasing”: not a note is out of place and each one has its own purpose, its own sound. And, children, there were ways of playing the alto saxophone that Charles Parker did not render obsolete. Mister Daugherty does so much with so few cymbals — bless him! — he knows what his snare drum and bass drum are for; he swings those wire brushes, and he is always listening. And Mister Brown, whether plucking or bowing, gets a deep resonant yet flexible sound out of his bass. Want to know what kind of amplifier he uses? It’s called LOVE. And although he can play the guitar beautifully, he doesn’t turn his string bass into one. There! I have spoken. Learn it to the younguns!