Tag Archives: Nick Robinson

THE EASY WINNERS FILL THE AIR WITH LOVELY MELODIES

There are so many names for the music The Easy Winners create (is it string-band music, ragtime, roots music, Americana, or venerable popular song?) that I have given up the quest to name it.  But it’s light-hearted, sweet, sometimes hilarious, sentimental in the best ways, old-fashioned without being stuffy.

THE EASY WINNERS, photograph by Wendy Leyden.

Here’s RAGGED BUT RIGHT, swinging and comedic at once:

Who are these gifted and friendly people?  In the middle, that’s Nick Robinson, to his left is Zac Salem; for this appearance at the 2019 Historic Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival they are joined by Robert Armstrong — you’ll know which one he is because he sings with great subtle skill.  I’m also pleased to point out that the very fine videos are the product of Unigon Films: video and audio by Rob Thomas, edited by Lewis Motisher.
To me, this music is completely charming — what I envision people who lived some distance from cities playing and singing at home (ideally on the porch in summer), old songs, pop songs, swinging without trying hard to, joining their individual string sounds and vocal harmonies to entertain family, friends, neighbors.  They feel a million miles away from music funneled through the iPhone into earbuds or blasting from someone’s car speaker: they remind me of a time when people made music on their own and they were expert at it even when Ralph Peer didn’t offer them a record contract: a landscape full of wonderful sounds, people creating beautiful melodies for their own pleasure.
One of the additional pleasures of this group is their varied library, “ragtime era music of the Americas on mandolin and guitar . . . classic rags, waltzes, cakewalks, tangos, marches, and songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”  For those whose little “is this jazz?” alarm bells are going off, calm down and remind yourself that Oliver, Henderson, Gioldkette, and other fabled bands (we celebrate them as hot ensembles) played tangos and waltzes because the crowd wanted them and expected them — as delights for the ears and intriguing dance music, variety over the course of an evening.
A little personal history: in 2013 I delighted in Nick’s former band, The Ragtime Skedaddlers, at the Cline Wine & Jazz Festival, and it was my pleasure to write about them and post video from their performance here.  Nick happily reminded me that I called the R.S. “old-fashioned melodists,” true then, true now, no matter what the band is called.
The R.S. gave way to The Easy Winners — an optimistic title with echoes of Joplin (and much easier to spell).  I wasn’t at the Sutter Festival, but 17 (!) beautiful videos have emerged and I am delighted to share a few with the JAZZ LIVES audience in hopes of introducing them to this beautiful expert unaffected group.  You can see them all
here or here (the first is Nick’s playlist; the second the filmmakers’ channel).
But here are two more that I particularly like because the songs have deep jazz connections for me and perhaps you as well:
DIANE always makes me think of Jack Teagarden, although the verse is new to me — as is Robert’s fine playing on that home-improvement item (he doesn’t sing “Did you see what I saw?” but perhaps he should):

BREEZE, which I associate with Clarence Williams and Jess Stacy:

I didn’t have the good fortune to grow up among people so talented (although my father played a round-back mandolin in his youth) but the Easy Winners are not only a musical delight but a kind of spiritual one.  Although we are listening to them digitally through our computers, they link us to a time and place where sweet music helped us to perceive the world as a benevolent place.  I hope they prosper.
If I had a house with a porch (my apartment complex has unyielding concrete benches) I would want to hire The Easy Winners for late-spring serenades.  There could be pie and lemonade, too.
May your happiness increase!

THE RAGTIME SKEDADDLERS: A FINE TIME AT CLINE WINE (July 2013)

The 2013 Cline Wine and Dixieland Festival was a glorious success: a lovely setting, jubilant music both hot and sweet, with sweet-natured people enjoying themselves everywhere.  I will be offering videos from that delicious day — featuring Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Bill Reinhart, Marty Eggers, Scott Anthony, Bob Schulz, Ray Skjelbred, Robert Young, and other noble souls.

skedaddlers_without_mics

But right now I want to introduce you to THE RAGTIME SKEDADDLERS — a delightful string trio whose music and gentle approach captivated the Beloved and myself as we sat on a porch in a soft breeze.  Unlike other “traditional” groups who take their inspiration from various notions of New Orleans jazz or Chicago jazz, the Skedaddlers go back to a time when string ragtime, light-hearted yet propulsive, was America’s true popular music.  This trio doesn’t speed up or approach the music with either clownish levity or undue scholarly seriousness.  Rather, they are old-fashioned melodists, creating sweet lines that arch and tumble over one another in mid-air. It is as if Dvorak had been transplanted to a Southern or Middle Western backyard picnic or country dance in 1895 and had immersed himself in sweet harmonies and dance-like motions. The Skedaddlers are entrancing on their own, and a delightful change from the often heavy ensembles so prevalent in occasions of this sort.

Neither of the RS’s CDs says much about the band, so I asked for a bit of background on the Ragtime Skedaddlers. Dennis Pash (banjo-mandolin) is the leader of the group. (He’s the fellow in the center of the videos that follow.) Dennis has been playing string ragtime since the Seventies when he was one of the founders of the Etcetera String Band. For more information about the ESB, click here.  In addition to being a great interpreter of ragtime on the mandolin, Dennis has researched and collected materials on string ragtime. He has lectured extensively, co-hosted a series of radio shows on string ragtime, and published an article on the Joplin string arrangements in the Rag-Time Ephemeralist. Dennis formed the Ragtime Skedaddlers in 2009 to perform and record ragtime era music in arrangements for two mandolins and guitar. Dave Krinkel (guitar) and Nick Robinson (mandolin) mostly played old-time string band music before Dennis sparked their interest in ragtime. The Skedaddlers have become regular performers at ragtime festivals in California, and have also played to audiences more used to the sounds of old-time and bluegrass string bands. The Cline festival was their first appearance at a traditional jazz festival, and they held audiences — both the people on the porch and others walking around listening to the sweet strains — entranced.

Now, you’ve read enough.  Enjoy this rare and delicious pastoral music!  In the videos below, Nick is closest to the camera, playing a National Reso-Phonic mandolin; Dennis is in the center playing a banjo-mandolin, and Dave farthest from the camera playing guitar.

PEACHERINE RAG:

DENGOZO:

EASY MONEY:

ST. LOUIS RAG:

GOLDEN SPIDER:

The Skedaddlers have created two CDs, both of which have scholarly (but not dry) information about the songs and their composers.  Both CDs can be purchased here, and can also be found through CDBaby, Amazon, and iTunes.  The next few shows that the RS will be playing are Saturday, October 19: Wine Country Ragtime Festival, Sonoma, CA 95442, and Saturday-Sunday, November 23-24: West Coast Ragtime Festival, 1401 Arden Way, Sacramento, CA 85815.

MANDOP0902They make lovely music.

May your happiness increase!