Tag Archives: poetry

OUR PRIDE AND JOY: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO, at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26-27, 2016)

Those of us who have heard Ray Skjelbred play the piano will not be at all surprised that he is also a poet of words and images, captured at a different keyboard.

Sycamore

One day all the leaves blow away.
I have been worrying
about the wrong things.

Let those words take up residence inside you before moving on, in a southerly direction, to the rest of this post.  You can read more of his poetry at the link above.

Ray has written a sketch of his development as a poet, starting as a boy who “got up early to listen to the birds in the courtyard of our apartment building,” which tells me more than a hundred pages of analytic prose by an outsider would.

A rare and deep fellow.

Most of us encounter Ray when he has settled himself on the piano bench and is ready to fill us with sounds and colors, as he did at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here is my earlier presentation of music he created there on November 26, 2016.

And more.  I will preface these selections by saying only that tenderness is so rare in life, and certainly more so in jazz played for audiences.  Let Ray’s melodic explorations, gentle and whimsical, move into your house.

Joe Sullivan’s MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY:

“a tiny shred” of I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, with a beautiful ending that loops around to the opening phrase of the verse:

A version of THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT that has the quiet intent seriousness of a hymn at the start:

Ray told me that he thinks of Joe Sullivan or Ginger Rogers in this scene from SWING TIME — so if you haven’t seen it recently, you might want to steal three minutes from your day and dream into this world of lovely possibilities:

May your happiness increase!

“THE MOST BEAUTIFUL TOGETHERNESS WE HAVE”: DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS TONY PARENTI, HARRY JAMES, HERSCHEL EVANS, BOB CASEY, ROBERT CLAIRMONT (April 20, 2017)

Here are several more interview segments from Dan Morgenstern (the second series).  What an honor to be permitted to capture Dan’s generosity and insights.

Here, Dan speaks of the great (and now nearly forgotten) clarinetist and bandleader Tony Parenti:

Here’s some music from Tony, Ralph Sutton, and George Wettling:

And a little “digression,” so tenderly revealing, with the characters being Harry James and Herschel Evans — maybe two minutes in the recording studio, but a short example of great kindness:

The man pictured below might not be familiar — Robert Clairmont — but he is obviously a fascinating figure, someone Dan knew:

And here’s Dan’s recollection — by way of great string bassist Bob Casey:

In honor of Mister Casey and young Mister Morgenstern, buying his first jazz records in Denmark:

The music played at W.C. Handy’s April 1928 Carnegie Hall concert, made possible by Robert Clairmont, as listed on the BIXOGRAPHY Forum, thanks to the research of Albert Haim.  I had not heard of Clairmont before this, but he gave Handy $4000 — a large sum of money — to finance that concert, where James P. Johnson’s YAMEKRAW was given its premiere, Fats Waller at the piano.

(Internet research, that funny thing, identifies Clairmont as “poet” and “Wall Street investor,” an unusual pairing.)  I also found this brief biographical sketch:

ROBERT CLAIRMONT, poet, was born in 1902 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he grew up. He attended the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University. Clairmont is author of Quintillions, Star in the West, and Forever X; and the first volume of the series Poets of Today (1938) is given to his work. He was editor of the periodical New Cow of Greenwich Village and, in the early 1950’s, of the poetry magazine Pegasus.

And . . . because I find it irresistible, here is one of Clairmont’s poems for children, THE ANSWERS, later set to music by Alec Wilder:

The Answers

“When did the world begin and how?”
I asked a lamb, a goat, a cow:

“What’s it all about and why?”
I asked a hog as he went by:

“Where will the whole thing end, and when?”
I asked a duck, a goose and a hen:

And I copied all the answers too,
A quack, a honk, an oink, a moo.

Here’s an inscription from Handy to his friend and benefactor:

“Togetherness” and kindness: Tony Parenti making spaghetti for Buck Clayton and teaching him the new / old repertoire; Harry James helping Herschel Evans out at that Lionel Hampton record date; Robert Clairmont saving a man’s life and then making it possible for W.C. Handy to have a Carnegie Hall concert; Dan Morgenstern’s uncountable gifts, which continue as I write this.

May your happiness increase!

THE MANY LIVES OF THE BLUES: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO PIANO, AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Yesterday I posted two duets between pianist Ray Skjelbred and cornetist Marc Caparone, and encouraged my viewers to take a chance by watching and listening — even if they’d never heard either player — and some people did.  One of them wrote to me and asked if I could post some more of Ray.  Nothing simpler and nothing more gratifying, so here are a bundle of blues and blues-related solos from a set Ray did at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.  He introduces them, so you won’t need explanations from me:

Dr. Bunky Coleman’s BLUE GUAIAC BLUES [medical explication, not for the squeamish*]:

Jimmie Rodgers’ TUCK AWAY MY LONESOME BLUES:

Ray’s own SOUTH HALSTEAD STREET, for Jane Addams and Art Hodes:

THE ALLIGATOR POND WENT DRY (for and by Victoria Spivey):

SUNSET BOOGIE (for and by Joe Sullivan):

Ray Skjelbred is a poet — also when he gets up from the piano bench — of these shadings and tone-colors, of the rhythms of the train heading through the darkness.  We are fortunate to live on his planet.

May your happiness increase!

And the promised medical bulletin: [*guaiac is a resin found i our happiness increase!n certain trees, and it is used in medical testing to check for blood, otherwise invisible, in one’s stool.  If the guaiac turns blue, one has that problem described above.  Now you know.]

RAY SKJELBRED AND THE BLUES (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 25, 2016)

skjelbred-at-piano

There might be other, very attractive galaxies and universes, but as far as I can tell, none of them has Ray Skjelbred . . . which is a very good argument for ours. It’s a true critical cliche to say of an artist that (s)he is “a poet,” but in Ray’s case this is true in several interlocking ways.  He is not simply someone who tosses off a poem now and again: he is a poet.  Here are two of his poems (three books of his poetry are available here.)

Sycamore

One day all the leaves blow away.
I have been worrying
about the wrong things.

*********************************************************************
Magic Show

You see him sawing a woman in half
and you know it’s real,
but how did he get her to keep smiling,
when he wheeled her head to one side of the stage
and her legs to the other?
That’s the trick, really,
and it’s a very old one.

Well, she needed a job,
people said she was pretty,
and she was willing to travel, somewhat.

Most of all she learned to stay silent,
never say how much it hurt.

******************************************************************

What makes those poems so quietly resonant?  Oh, their casual language that conveys deep feeling in sly ways; the way they ask us to look at what we think we already know as if we’d never seen it before; the way they go straight to our emotions without ever tugging at our clothing.  There is no self-conscious poeticizing about them, but they hit solidly without raising their volume.

I feel the same tendencies working through Ray’s piano playing. We know he is at the keyboard, but his reverence is for the song, its exoskeleton and internal turmoils, the possibility it offers for waywardness inside its established form. He is genuinely playing, with courage and ardor.
joe-sullivan-gin-mill-blues-honey

Here is his recent solo performance of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES from the November 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  He knows it by heart but he’s also so thoroughly internalized both Joe and the song itself that he’s free to revere it but also — a Huck Finn of Chicago Hot — free to leave his socks and shoes on the bank and wade in it, joyously and cautiously at once — having a good time and sharing his pleasures so generously with us:

O rare Ray Skjelbred — who looks and sees and embodies.

May your happiness increase!

FOR CONNIE JONES

small purple flower

Only a few words here, because the subject is, as Kris Tokarski wrote, “bittersweet.”  One of my heroes — a player and singer of amazing grace, the cornetist and singer Connie Jones, has retired from performance due to ill health.

The trombonist Charlie Halloran wrote this morning on Facebook, “Pretty amazing playing alongside Connie Jones for his final performance.  He’s headed into an unbelievably well earned retirement.  But man, how am I going to hear those melodies without him just to my right?!  Even today he played at the highest level, world class.  Congrats Connie!”

That was Connie — among friends Tim Laughlin, Michael Pittsley, Chris Dawson, Katie Cavera, Marty Eggers, and Hal Smith — in November 2012 at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

Connie’s art comes from his heart, and it has touched ours.  His music has been quiet, gentle, searching — apparently simple melodic embellishment for those who aren’t listening closely, but truly a journey of small elegant surprises.  A Connie solo is like walking in a field and discovering a small purple blossom, fragrant, fragile.

His has never been a loud art.  It doesn’t abuse the air.  But it has been the most singular lesson: how to breathe warm air into metal and create lasting song. How to take familiar words and melody and infuse them with new yet lasting truth.

Another example.

When I was a semi-Californian, I had the privilege of seeing and hearing Connie in performance in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 (as well as in New Orleans at the Steamboat Stomp in 2015).  I came to him late in his career, and thus missed thousands of opportunities, but Connie never objected to being video-ed . . . so I have posted more than a hundred of his quiet poetic masterpieces on this blog and on YouTube.  (And more have not yet been seen.)  Most of those performances have had Connie at the side of Tim Laughlin, someone who completely understood Connie’s genius and took very good care of him.

I urge you to return to those performances and to Connie’s recordings with Tim, with Dick Sudhalter, and in other contexts.  Connie’s delicacy, his striving to find deep emotions in familiar material, has always shown him the most subtle of poets.

I wish him joy and health and ice cream in his retirement, alongside Elaine.  I send love and admiration and gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

BOBBY GORDON, JAZZ POET

Clarinetist / singer Bobby Gordon is one of the great poets of jazz.  I won’t say he’s “unsung” because the people who know love his delicate traceries.  And Bobby certainly knows how to sing!

I could write a paragraph on his sweet quirky lyricism, his way of finding the delicious surprising notes that go right to our hearts — but eight bars of Bobby will do it better than any description.

Here he is at the 1997 Mid-America Jazz Festival — thanks to Don Wolff for the video! — with Marty Grosz and Greg Cohen, on a tender IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Something sweet from the same session (with Peter Ecklund, cornet; Greg, string bass) prefaced by one of Philosopher / Social Anthropologist / Professor Grosz’s analyses, so true:

Thank you, Bobby, Marty, Peter, Greg, and Don.  This music brings the sun in the room.

May your happiness increase.

FACING “MYRIAD SONIC WORLDS,” THE POET CONSIDERS AN UNSOLICITED EMAIL SENT BY A MUSIC PUBLICIST

THE PRELUDE:

Bring me my Basie alternate takes;

Bring me my Commodores of desire:

Bring me my Cornet: O clouds unfold!

Bring me Lips Page soaring higher!

 

I will not cease from Celebrating Swing,

Nor shall my Blog sleep or my Stats:

Till we have built Fifty-Second Street,

God bless Tom Waller (Fats).

(after William Blake, “And did those feet in ancient time,” much after)

This burst of friendly parody — or is it four-to-the-bar doggerel? — is the result of reading another mass email sent to JAZZ LIVES from a music publicist, which I excerpt below, with details omitted to take it out of the realm of personal abuse:

HOOBOY is the solo project of 23-year old – – – – -, an artist who builds on frenzied electronic tensions with a futuristic take on psychedelic electronic and sampling.  With a highly anticipated debut record, HOOBOY has released a new single, showcasing his expert manipulation and interest in translating the surreal into music.  The music site Yeehaw, notes how the song “starts at a peak, deconstructs itself and builds vertically from there on, finding intriguing ways to explore the tension between pop formality, the orderly nature of computer programming, and the wild artistic impulses that are currently pulsing.”   Another music site, Yesma’am, writes “It’s frenetic, phantasmagoric pop, and it’s often brilliant…- – – – – is lost in the myriad sonic worlds he meticulously crafts throughout this sublime album.”

You get the picture.  Asked to choose between the sound of Dave Tough’s drums in the opening choruses of TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL and music that evokes “the orderly nature of computer programming,” it’s a hard choice.  I’d have to struggle for many nanoseconds to figure it out.  I might have to ask my friend Stompy Jones for help.

It’s enough to make me want to delete every piece of email unread that comes in without being addressed to “Dear Michael” or “Dear Mr. Steinman.”  Music publicists and other cyber-soliciters, take a note from the South: know your audience and address people by name.

And for me, I’m going to translate the surreal into music by getting up from the computer and taking a walk with the Beloved.

May your happiness increase. 

POETIC: MICHAEL KANAN, JOEL PRESS, SEAN SMITH, JOE HUNT (Smalls, May 13, 2011)

There are many first-rate jazz players and many inspiring ones — but only a few reach deeply into the poetry at the heart of the music. 

Last Friday, May 12, 2011, I saw four of these jazz poets at work at Smalls: Michael Kanan, piano; Joel Press, tenor and soprano sax; Sean Smith, bass; Joe Hunt, drums.  Their two sets reached heights that even the best music doesn’t always attain.

I could attempt to describe what I heard in words: Joel’s soulful, conversational approach to melody and his rhythmic energies; Michael’s thoughtful, surprising lines and deep harmonies; Sean’s pulse and empathy; Joe’s array of sweetly musical sounds that embrace the group and push it along.  The animation this quartet brought to well-known material.  But I’d rather let these shining performances speak for themselves . . .

THAT OLD FEELING:

INDIANA:

LOVER MAN:

ERONEL:

BLUES FOR LESTER:

Pure poetry — deep art that doesn’t call attention to itself but lingers in the mind and the heart.  And there’s more to come.

HOT LINKS, TENDER BUTTONS, AND YOU

Is this post about sausage?  No, but I might have gotten your attention.

Will JAZZ LIVES now focus on Gertrude Stein’s book TENDER BUTTONS? 

Also unlikely. 

Many readers have told me that their efforts to reward the musicians they love got nowhere.  “The button doesn’t work.”  “The link doesn’t show up in my email.”  And, most painfully, “You’re discriminating against Mac users.”

I apologize for my temporary technical difficulties and technological limitations. 

But the hot link below, the tender button, is now workingProceed boldly.

REMEMBER!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  SO CLICK BELOW!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

TOP HAT, WHITE TIE AND TAIL

A portrait by Amy King of two faithful blog-followers: poet Ana Bozicevic and Walt Whitman King-Bozicevic.  To quote Trummy Young, “‘T’aint what you do, it’s the way that’cha do it.”  Some of us have style, others only dream of it. 

ana-and-waltie

LISTENING FOR HENRY CROWDER

The music historian ANTHONY BARNETT does nothing halfway, and his enterprises are never predictable. He is a scholar — a term I do not use casually – on the subject of Jazz violin who has published extensive bio-discographies of Eddie South and Stuff Smith. He has also done remarkable research on less famous players (Harry Lookofsky, Ginger Smock), and published a journal devoted to violin improvisation. But Barnett does not restrict himself to print: his AB Fable CDs are full of marvels: airshots of Stuff Smith leading a band of Fats Waller alumni; homemade 78s of Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, and Sonny Greer jamming; a 1966 home recording of Rex Stewart and Stuff Smith chatting and playing. Scratchy one-of-a-kind acetates are restored carefully and annotated superbly. And all of his research is presented in lively, witty, and sharp-edged prose. I would expect no less from a poet who has also been a percussionist with Don Cherry and John Tchicai.

Barnett’s newest project is unusual even for him, and its lengthy title doesn’t even begin to explain it: LISTENING FOR HENRY CROWDER: A MONOGRAPH ON HIS ALMOST LOST MUSIC with the poems and music of Henry-Music (Allardyce Book / AB Fable Recording, 2007, paper, 128 pages, with CD). I had never heard of Crowder or his music, but that is the point. The most superficial way to explain Crowder as a fit subject for Barnett’s investigations is that Crowder (1890-1955), a Jazz pianist, singer, and bandleader, recorded with Eddie South’s Alabamians in 1927-28. The “almost lost” of Barnett’s title first becomes comprehensible when we learn that all discographies prior to 2000 incorrectly stated that Antonio Spaulding was the pianist on these Victor sessions, unwittingly erasing Crowder in his two most accessible musical appearances.

But this is not simply a book about “finding” Crowder, a Jazz legend; readers should not hope to discover a homegrown Tatum, for Crowder was a capable player and improviser on the basis of the limited evidence we possess. But his pianistic talents are only a small part of his portrait and of this book. No other study justifiably intertwines Ezra Pound and the singer Bee Palmer (“The Shimmy Queen”), Jelly Roll Morton and Nancy Cunard, Samuel Beckett and Sidney Bechet (a felicitous although unlikely pairing). Crowder, the book reveals, was more than a little-known African-American musician and sideman whose band Morton fronted for a 1927 tour. He and Cunard had a seven-year relationship, with Crowder the inspiration for and a contributor to her 1934 Negro: An Anthology. Henry-Music, a tantalizing part of Barnett’s title, was a 1930 folio of poems by Cunard, Richard Aldington, Beckett, and others, with musical settings by Crowder. He is thus a tangential but intriguing figure – someone who visited Pound in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital — in the cross-continental modernist culture of the period.

Barnett’s book contains everything knowable at this distance about Crowder: a forty-page biographical profile, an itinerary of the places he played, press clippings, many photographs, reproductions of letters, record labels, drawings, articles written by and pertaining to Crowder, the poems and musical settings in Henry-Music, a discography of recordings and piano rolls and more. Crowder was, it should be said, a fine prose writer: his “Hitting Back,” published in Negro, should be far better known. And – sensibly and graciously – the book has its own CD, broad in scope but exceedingly relevant, containing not only the thirteen 78 sides on which Crowder plays and sings, but the half-dozen 1926 piano rolls he made (restored and played on modern equipment), new recordings of Crowder’s compositions – sung beautifully by Allan Harris, and four sides by orchestras with whom Crowder was associated although he did not play on these sessions.

Here, I can imagine readers muttering their version of poet Philip Larkin’s Law of Reissues, which (paraphrased) is “If you haven’t heard of this musician or these recordings before, he or they can’t be worth your interest,” which is amusing but reductionist and illogical. Crowder himself is not the sole subject of Barnett’s book, although his life, alternating between highly illuminated and shadowy, is. It isn’t one of those pretentious books about My Search for Some Famous Recluse where the author’s ego becomes the subject. This book and the accompanying CD provoke philosophical stirrings on the chord changes of “What can and cannot be known about anyone’s life?” followed by “How can anyone assemble – properly and doing justice to the subject – the posthumous fragments of evidence anyone will leave behind – to make some valid overview of what has been lived?” This book may not be Barnett’s Citizen Kane, but it awakened some of the same concerns and speculations. Because his research is so scrupulous and diligent, his delight in fact over conjecture so enlivening, I would like to see this book in universities – not just on the library shelves – because it is an essential text for anyone interested in the culture of the last century and its implications. I am also certain that readers who would profess no interest in Crowder or Cunard will delight in its perceptive, stubborn, inquiring ways.

(Copyright 2008 Cadence Magazine: www.cadencemagazine.com.)