Tag Archives: Rae Ann Berry

“FESTINA LENTE”: RAY SKJELBRED, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER at BIRD and BECKETT (July 11, 2019)

σπεῦδε βραδέως.  “Make haste slowly.” 

Yes, this post begins with classical Greek and a photograph of Louis Armstrong singing to a horse — all relevant to the performances below, recorded just ten days ago at the remarkable cultural shrine of San Francisco, Bird and Beckett Books and Records (653 Chenery Street).  Thanks, as always, to the faithful Rae Ann Berry for documenting this facet of Ray Skjelbred’s California tour.

As bands play familiar repertoire over the decades, tempos speed up.  Perhaps it’s to stimulate the audience; perhaps it’s a yearning to show off virtuosity . . . there are certainly other reasons, conscious as well as unexamined, that are part of this phenomenon.  But Medium Tempo remains a lush meadow for musicians to stroll in, and it’s always pleasing to me when they count off a familiar song at a groovy slower-than-expected tempo.  I present two particularly gratifying examples, created by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Clint Baker, trumpet; Riley Baker, drums.  Here, JEEPERS CREEPERS is taken at the Vic Dickenson Showcase tempo, or near to it, reminding us that it’s a love song, even if sung to a horse:

and a nice slow drag for AFTER YOU’VE GONE, in keeping with the lyrics:

I don’t know how many people have seen the film clip below from the 1938 Bing Crosby film GOING PLACES, where Louis Armstrong introduced the Harry Warren – Johnny Mercer song JEEPERS CREEPERS.  (There is a brief interruption in the video: the music will resume.)

For the full story of Louis, the horse (a mean one), and the movie, you’ll have to wait for Ricky Riccardi’s splendid book on Louis’s “middle years,” 1929-47, HEART FULL OF RHYTHM.  For now, who knows the uncredited rhythm section on this clip?. I imagine it to be Joe Sullivan and Bobby Sherwood, but that may be a fantasy, one I happily indulge myself in.

And what Eric Whittington makes happen at Bird and Beckett Books is no fantasy: he deserves our heartfelt thanks, whether in classical Greek or the San Francisco demotic of 2019.

May your happiness increase!

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A DREAM COME TRUE: THE RETURN OF RAY SKJELBRED and CARL SONNY LEYLAND (WARREN JENNINGS’ HOUSE PARTY, July 14, 2019)

Both Ray Skjelbred and Carl Sonny Leyland are bright skies in my night sky, deep quirky soulful individualists.  Each is a strong-willed person and player.  Although they have some of the same ends in mind — swing, lyricism, and a deep immersion in the blues — they always take different routes to get to those ends.  Having them sit down at two pianos in a room is a great dream of mine; having them do so in front of a quiet audience with an expert videographer is almost more than I could hope for.  But it happened, as you will see.

I was at perhaps their first public conversation — at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 9, 2014 — which rings in my ears and heart, although the pianos were widely spaced making them hard to video simultaneously. However, the blessed jubilant evidence remains! — this and this and this, too.  (It makes me nostalgic for Monterey, but we’ll be there in March 2020 if the creeks don’t rise.)

But here, thanks to Rae Ann Berry, is a selection from their most recent collaboration.  I haven’t posted all of what happened at the Jennings’ house party — there are more than two dozen songs and one prose poem — but you can chase down the delights on your own.  Here are treasures.

SONG OF THE WANDERER:

Ray, musing his way through Fats Waller’s CHELSEA:

The Rhythmakers’ YES, SIR!:

KMH DRAG (for Max Kaminsky, Freddie Moore, Art Hodes):

Sonny’s RAT CATCHER’S BLUES:

PANAMA:

Sonny’s delicate boogie version of TOGETHER, which I would guess is in honor of Denis Gilmore:

an indigo reading of HOW LONG BLUES:

and a frolicsome SWIPSEY CAKEWALK, so wonderfully orchestral:

Living at a cosmic intersection where Sonny and Ray can create together is a great uplifting boon.  Bless them, Rae Ann, and Warren Jennings too.

May your happiness increase!

WON’T YOU PLEASE ARRANGE IT? (July 10, 2019)

We love Ray Skjelbred, who loves Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, and Joe Sullivan.  Here, he starts THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT — dedicated to Ginger, her hair a mass of shampoo-suds — as a rubato exploration, then shifts into dreamy dance music:

And here’s the original scene from SWING TIME, which makes me wish that the fantasies of 1936 were plausible: that our lovers could serenade us so tenderly through the bathroom door.  I don’t know where the RKO studio orchestra would fit themselves, but no matter.

Thanks to Ray for evoking such a sweet moment, and to Rae Ann Berry for the video.  And here‘s Ray’s November 2016 solo rendition of this song (he told me it was the first time he’d performed it) along with several other gems.

May your happiness increase!

RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS at OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON (June 2019): RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JEFF HAMILTON, MATT WEINER, JOSH ROBERTS

I was closer to home — Beantown in Beverly, Massachusetts — when Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs played several sets (more than forty videos recorded and posted by Rae Ann Berry) at the 28th Annual Greater Olympia Dixieland Jazz Festival, in Lacey, Washington.  Ray also appeared at a crucial member of the Evergreen Jazz Band, which Rae Ann also captured on video for us.

Three of the Cubs were the heroes we know: Ray, piano, vocal, and moral leadership; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums, banter.  But two other stars — Clint Baker and Katie Cavera — couldn’t be there, so Ray brought two splendid young musician-colleagues from the Pacific Northwest, whom you should get to know right away: Matt Weiner, string bass, vocal; Josh Roberts, guitar.  What music they make!

Here are a few glorious samples: finding the rest is not difficult and worth the clicking and mousing.

BOLL WEEVIL BLUES, one I’ve never heard Ray play and sing:

I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU: what if Kim Cusack had been the right age to sit in with the 1937 Basie band?

IDA (for Ida Melrose Shoufler, of course, “Auntie”):

and a blues inspired by an Eddie Condon Commodore record, BEAT TO THE SOCKS:

and another Condon homage, IMPROVISATION FOR THE MARCH OF TIME:

I think of “Buy them, trade them, collect the set!” but that isn’t right: how about “Watch them, enjoy them, honor this music!” You can find more of Rae Ann’s treasures here.

May your happiness increase!

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT: CAFE BORRONE, MENLO PARK: CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, BILL REINHART, TOM WILSON, CRYSTAL HOLLOWAY (June 7, 2019)

Cafe Borrone from the outside.

In my brief and sometimes intermittent California sojourn (2011-14) in Marin County, one of my pleasures was in going to Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park to hear and video Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All Stars.  It was like a regular transfusion of joy and hope, even though the drive was over two hours from where I was living.  I knew not only that I would hear vital music but that I would meet friends — musicians, fellow listeners and dancers, waitstaff, a combination that means the world to me.  The Cafe was another home.  I was welcome there, and I was able to meet people I admire: Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Bill Reinhart, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, Tom Wilson, J Hansen, Robert Young, Jason Vandeford, and some whose names I am forgetting, alas.

Today I present a few videos taken on June 7, 2019, by Rae Ann Berry, not because of nostalgia, but because I am captivated by the band’s easy swing.  Borroneans will note that this is a slightly streamlined band, but that’s fine: what you hear is honest unaffected music, no frills, no gimmicks, no group vocals, no tight-and-bright polo shirts.  The generous-spirited creators are Riley Baker, trombone; his father Clint, trombone, trumpet, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Tom Wilson, string bass; Crystal Holloway, washboard.  The whole band is in some mystically satisfying way engaged in heartfelt relaxed conversation, a great thing to behold.  I’ve left several tracks for you to find on Rae Ann’s YouTube channel, the California traditional jazz rabbit-hole to end all such diversions.

About the band here.  Yes, I could quip, “Two Bakers!  No Waiting!” but I need to be more serious than that.  Clint has long been one of my heroes, not only for what he plays, but for his religious devotion to the Music.  He understands its Holiness, as I do, but he can then pick up any of several instruments and make that Holiness manifest for all of us.  He is always striving towards the great goals, with Hot Lips Page as one of our shared patron saints.  I met Riley, his son, at Borrone, when Riley was starting to be the superb musician he is now — first on drums, then tuba.  And Riley has blossomed into a wondrous young man and player: I am especially taken with his nicely greasy trombone playing, which you will hear here.  And the emotional telepathy between father and son is both gratifying on a musical level and touching on a human(e) one.  A third horn in the front line would be an intrusion.  Such lovely on-the-spot counterpoint; such delightful lead-and-second voice playing, which isn’t an easy thing to do.  You might think that a trombone-clarinet front line would be automatically New Orleans old-school, but Clint and Riley understand the sweet play of swinging voices: people whose love comes right out to the back of the room without the need to get louder.

Riley will be playing the role of Edward Ory in Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band at San Diego this Thanksgiving, and I look forward to that: I’ve already videoed him with Dave Stuckey’s Hot House Gang: check those appearances out for yourself.

Jeff Hamilton is such a joy — not only one of the handful of drummers who lifts any band, but also an enlivening pianist who swings without getting in the way, constructs generous accompaniments and memorable melodies.  He has other musical talents that aren’t on display here, but he never lets me down.  Bill Reinhart knows what he’s doing, and that is no idle phrase.  He understands what a rhythm section should do and, more crucially, what it shouldn’t.  And his solos on banjo or guitar make lovely sense.  Tom Wilson’s rich tone, great choice of notes, and innate swing are always cheering.  And Crystal Holloway (new to me) tames that treacherous laundry implement and adds a great deal of sweet subtle rhythm.  Taking nothing away from Clint and Riley, one could listen to any one of these performances a second or third time exclusively for the four rhythm players and go away happier and edified.

I NEVER KNEW, with nods to Benny Carter and Jimmie Noone:

AS LONG AS I LIVE, not too fast:

BLUES FOR DR. JOHN, who recently moved to another neighborhood.  And — just between us — themeless medium-tempo blues are such a pleasure and so rarely essayed:

I always had trouble with math in school, but FOUR OR FIVE TIMES is just what I like:

TRUE, very wistful and sweet:

THE SWEETHEART OF SIGMA CHI, a song I last heard performed by (no fooling) Ben Webster with strings [a 1961 record called THE WARM MOODS].  Sounded good, too:

Asking the musical question WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

IT HAD TO BE YOU.  Yes, it did:

Bless these folks, this place, and bless Rae Ann for being there with her camera and her friend Roz (glimpsed in little bits to the right).

May your happiness increase!

THE VIEW FROM THE FRONT ROW (Jazz Bash By The Bay, Monterey, March 1-2, 2019)

A garden of earthy delights and delightful people.

 

 

It’s the late afternoon of March 2 at the Bash, and it has been wonderful and promises to continue.  So far, I’ve heard Carl Sonny Leyland, Marty Eggers, Jeff Hamilton, Brian Holland, Marc Caparone, Jacob Zimmerman, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, Dawn Lambeth, Paolo Alderighi, Sam Rocha, Danny Tobias, Jim Lawlor, and I’ve swapped hellos, stories, and hugs with Clint Baker, Riley Baker, Stephanie Trick, Paul Hagglund, Katie Cavera, Jeff and Anne Barnhart, Amy Holland, Rae Ann Berry, Barbara Sully, Bill Reinhart, and more.  Tonight, if the stars align, I’ll meet the Crescent Katz with Jacob Zimmerman, Holland-Coots again (they blew the roof off yesterday and construction crews have been called in), GROOVUS, and Dawn Lambeth with Clint and Riley Baker, Jerry Krahn, and Ike Harris.  Sunday . . . . more Carl Sonny Leyland, Jacob Zimmerman, and GROOVUS.

There are, of course, many other bands and itinerant musicians . . . but these are the people I’ve flown across the continent to see.  And I’ll be smiling all the way home.  Videos to come, if the Tech Goddess smiles on my efforts.  Next year is the Bash’s fortieth anniversary — about fifty-one weeks from now.  Make plans!

May your happiness increase!

FOUR DAYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24-27, 2016)

san-diego-jazz-fest-stock-photo

THINGS I LEARNED (OR RE-LEARNED) AT THE 2016 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST:

1. Never set up a travel schedule that gets you home (after a long weekend of life-changing music) at 5:20 AM Monday.  Not “sleeping” on a plane is worth a higher fare.

2. Music is best experienced in the company of friends — those on the bandstand, those in the audience.  The former, a partial list: Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Ray Skjelbred, Conal Fowkes, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Duke Heitger, Jeff Hamilton, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Dan Barrett, Tom Bartlett, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Katie Cavera, Josh Duffee, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Dave Stuckey, Dan Barrett, Larry Scala, David Boeddinghaus, Nobu Ozaki, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Mike Davis.

Off the stand: John Ochs, Pamela Ochs, Donna Feoranzo, Allene Harding, Rae Ann Berry, Barbara L. Sully, Judith Navoy, Mary (“The Ambassador of Fun”) and her twin, Chris and Chris, Paul Daspit, Jim and Mary McNaughton, Gretchen Haugen, Patti Durham, Angelica, Carol Andersen, Bess Wade, Cat and Scotty Doggett, Ed Adams.

Much-missed and I await their return: Hal Smith, Janie McCue Lynch, Donna Courtney, Mary Cross.

I know those lists are incomplete, and I apologize to any reader I’ve accidentally omitted.

3. This festival is delightfully overwhelming.  At any given time, music was happening in seven rooms simultaneously.  There was a Wednesday night session, a Thursday night session, full days on Friday and Saturday (with approximately seventy offerings of music, most an hour long) and a full afternoon on Monday.  By six PM on Monday, I was full and sloshing.

4. I am a man of narrow, precisely defined “tastes.”  I didn’t grow up sitting in Turk Murphy’s lap — now there’s a picture! — I began my listening education with Forties and Fifties Louis, so I need lyricism and melody the way plants need sun and air.

Many of the bands so dear to my California friends strike me as perhaps over-exuberant.  And when a fellow listener, politely curious, asked me “When did you get into trad?” I had to consider that question for a moment before saying, “I didn’t start listening to ‘trad’ . . . ”  As I get older, I find my compass needle points much more to subtle, quiet, sweet, witty, delicate — rather than the Dixie-Apocalypse.  Each to his or her own, though.

5. Videos: I videoed approximately eighteen sets, and came home with perhaps ten times that number of individual videos.  They won’t all surface; the musicians have to approve.  And I probably didn’t video your favorite band, The New Orleans Pop Tarts.  Rather than mumble about the unfairness of it all, come to next year’s Fest and live in reality rather than virtually!  Or buy an RV and a good camera so that you can become an official NOPT groupie-roadie-archivist.

6.  For the first time in my life I helped sponsor a group.  It was extremely rewarding to think that I had helped some music to be heard in public that otherwise would not have.  I’ve offered to do it again for 2017.  And, not incidentally, sponsors get to sit in the very front row, a great boon for people like me who want to capture the music to share with you.  Videographers like myself want to be made welcome.

7.  Moral tradeoffs are always possible and sometimes happily inevitable.  At the San Diego Jazz Fest, one can share a large platter of tempura-batter-fried pickle slices and fresh jalapenos . . . because one is doing so much walking that the second activity outweighs the first.  Or one tells oneself this.

8.  On a darker note, odd public behavior is more pungently evident. People who call themselves jazz fans talk through a whole set about the new puppy (and I like puppies).  Years ago I would have blamed this on television and the way viewers have been able to forget the difference between private and public behavior.  Now I simply call it self-absorption, and look for a window that I can open.

Others stand up in front of a band to take iPhone photos of the musicians, pushing their phones into the faces of people who are playing and singing. Photographers have treasured costly cameras that beep, whir, and snap — we ignore these aberrations at many events (I think some photographers are secretly excited by such things) but at musical performances these noises are distracting.

I won’t say anything about those folks who fire off flash explosions in well-lit rooms.

I cannot be the only person who thinks of creatively improvised music as holy, a phenomenon not to be soiled by oblivious behavior.  As a friend of mine says, “You’re not the only person on the planet.”

9. The previous paragraph cannot overshadow the generosity of the people who put on the Fest and the extreme generosity of those who create the music.  Bless them.  And the nice young sound people who worked hard to make music sound as it should!

It’s appropriate that the Fest takes place at Thanksgiving: I feel so much gratitude as I write these words, upload videos, and look at my notes of the performances I attended.

More — including videos! — to come.  Start planning to come to the 2017 Fest, to bring your friends, to sponsor a band.  Any or all of these activities are so much more life-enhancing than Black Friday.

May your happiness increase!