Tag Archives: RaeAnn Berry

SKATING TEN FEET ABOVE THE GROUND: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS (America’s Classic Jazz Festival, Lacey, Washington: June 28/30, 2019)

An inspiring Cub relic.

Hearing Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, I recall the folktale where the wind and the sun (having nothing better to do) wager about which one can get a man to remove his coat.  The wind blows, but the man merely wraps his coat tightly around him.  The sun gently beams down on the man, and sweat starts to pour off his forehead, so he is glad to take off that coat.  Persuasion, not force.

That tale stands for so much jazz that I admire.  Sometimes it’s ferocious, even bombastic — ensemble choruses at the end of a performance, and we cheer.  Perhaps I am thinking of the Great Dane puppy who just wants to greet you, and then you’re both on the floor.  Surprise!

But I secretly revere the sweet stealth of music that says, “Come a little closer.  Of course, nothing is happening.  Just set a spell and enjoy,” and, seductively, osmotically, we become spellbound.  The finest example is the Basie rhythm section; then, Duke and Blanton; Fats Waller on PRETTY DOLL; Sir Charles Thompson on Vanguard; and Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs.

Thirteen months ago, give or take a day, what I call the Pacific Northwest edition of Ray and his Cubs appeared as a guest band at America’s Classic Jazz Festival, in Lacey, Washington.  I wasn’t there to record it, but Ray’s faithful videographer RaeAnn Berry was, and so I can share a few videos with you: dancing or skating without ever doing something so mundane as touching the ground.

They are Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, acoustic guitar.

OUT OF NOWHERE, June 30:

IDA (for Auntie Ida Melrose Shoufler, of course), June 28:

and with a nod to Joe and Bing, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, again from June 30:

I could have called this post ADVENTURES IN MEDIUM-TEMPO, and you would have gotten the point as well.  Or, this photograph of two Deities who took human form for some decades to show us how it should be done:

Blessings on Ray, his Cubs, and RaeAnn.

May your happiness increase!

 

WHEN IN DOUBT, PLAY THAT THING! (March 8, 2020)

From here

to here

is a wonderful wiggly line, elevated by individualism and joy, expertise and passion.

I present here a glorious burst of enthusiasm — in honor of Joe Oliver and Little Louis — created by Clint Baker, trumpet; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Riley Baker, trombone; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. Jess King also sang, but not on this performance. And late in the video, we have an unscheduled cameo appearance by RaeAnn Berry, the queen of Bay Area videographers. Don’t miss it.

I was privileged to witness and record this on March 8, 2020, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California.

A postscript, and those who are tired of words on a lit screen have my encouragement to skip it and watch the video again.  The other night, I had an extended telephone conversation with a person who might have become a new friend, who chose to tell me that my emphasis on happiness was inexplicable, because it meant I was ignoring the full range of emotions.  I wish I’d thought to play that person this DIPPER MOUTH BLUES: maybe it would have made tangible some of the things I believe in.  (If art doesn’t evoke feeling, it may be splendid intellectually, but to me it seems incomplete.)  And should you wonder, the conversation is not continuing.  There!  Ruminate on that, if you like.

For now, go and PLAY THAT THING! — whatever shape it might take.  You understand that you don’t need a cornet to be joyous.

May your happiness increase!

TALES OF THREE MEN: CLINT BAKER’S CAFE BORRONE ALL-STARS: CLINT BAKER, ROBERT YOUNG, DAN BARRETT, RAY SKJELBRED, BILL REINHART, MIKIYA MATSUDA, JEFF HAMILTON (Menlo Park, September 13, 2019)

Clint Baker has been leading various aggregations at Cafe Borrone since 1990, with no sign of stopping or slowing down, and for this we are grateful.  During my Northern California sojourn, it was an oasis — not only for the music, but the good food, the regulars I grew fond of, and the very friendly staff.  It was at least a two-hour drive each way down 101, but it was worth it.  And it remains a treasure, even though I am nowhere near Menlo Park (with its wonderful thrift stores).

Thanks to the indefatigable RaeAnn Berry, we have video evidence of those Friday-night jamborees.

September 13, 2019, was even more special, because of visiting luminaries Ray Skjelbred, piano, and Dan Barrett, trombone — in addition to Clint, trumpet and vocal, Robert Young, soprano and alto saxophone and vocal, Bill Reinhart, guitar and banjo, Mikiya Matsuda, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums.

Cafe Borrone from the outside, in daylight.

In no way is JAZZ LIVES turning into a men’s support group, but these three performances are tied together by a male presence in their titles: wonderful hot music, in this case, out on the patio.

The first fellow is Sweet, perhaps someone’s Papa, but he’s gone away.  I hope he’s only gone to the supermarket for lowfat milk and cookies:

The second gent is a senior citizen, or perhaps Old is a term of affection and no one offers to help him put his carry-on bag in the overhead compartment, but he is known for being Solid:

The third brother is always welcome: he’s got Rhythm and it defines him, to everyone’s delight:

The world can’t do without those Rhythm Men.

I could  get nostalgic for Borrone’s fish sandwich and cakes, too.  A warm scene.

May your happiness increase!

THE PURSUIT OF SWEETNESS, OR, LIFE BEYOND “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, a/k/a “THE HOT CORNER” (September 15, 2019)

Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, on the subject of repertoire one could improvise on, “The material is immaterial.”  Or, as a segment on the Benny Goodman Camel Caravan was headlined, “Anything can swing!”  Many jazz fans cling to a favored selection of songs, performed loud and fast — you know the tunes that the audience is ready to applaud even before a note is played, the lure and comfort of the familiar.  Not so here.  This is music for people willing to pay close attention, and to feel what’s being created for them.

Ray Skjelbred goes his own way, deep in the heart of melody, and we are glad.  Here he is with Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, documented for all of us and for posterity by RaeAnn Berry.  Ray’s renamed this trio “The Hot Corner,” a reference to third base in baseball, but the music lives up to the name in very subtle ways.  In fact, it’s quiet and thus even more compelling, reminding me of the passages on 1938-40 Basie records where only the rhythm section is playing, quiet and even more quiet: enthralling!

Ray loves Bing Crosby, and Bing inspired some of the best songs, including his theme, a melody almost forgotten now:

Here’s what my dear friend Mike Burgevin would call “another Bingie,” this one best listened to over a dish of fresh — not canned — pineapple:

We wander from Bing to King — Wayne King, “the Waltz King,” that is:

Notice, please, the sweet patience of musicians who don’t have to jump into double-time, who can stay contentedly in three-quarter time, and it all swings so affectingly.  And here, just because technology makes it so easy, for those listeners who might not know the originals (and can now marvel even more at what Ray, Jeff, and Marty make of them), here they are.

Bing, with added attractions Eddie Lang and Franklin Pangborn:

and in a Hawaiian mood:

That famous waltz (which Bob Wills and Tamar Korn have also made their own):

and the Wills version, because why should I deny us the pleasure?

May your happiness increase!

MELLOW IN MENLO PARK: CLINT BAKER, JESSICA KING, BILL REINHART, ROBERT YOUNG, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (July 19, 2019)

Refreshing evocations of Thirties New York City and of late-Twenties Chicago, with cooling iced tea to spare, at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California, captured for us by RaeAnn Berry on July 19, 2019.

Cafe Borrone from the outside.

The joyous creators are Clint Baker, clarinet and vocal; Robert Young, alto saxophone and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Riley Baker, string bass; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jessica King, washboard and vocal.

IF I WERE YOU would have been a fairly obscure 1938 song by Buddy Bernier and Robert D. Emmerich had it not been recorded by Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson (with Nan Wynn) and Hot Lips Page — more recently, by Rebecca Kilgore and Dawn Lambeth.  Bernier is not especially famous as a composer, although he wrote THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, but he adapted melodies from other cultures — POINCIANA and OUR LOVE perhaps the most famous, so he is responsible for rewarding pop music.  Emmerich’s lyrics are sly, clever, another example of the Brill Building genius of making memorable songs from common phrases.

Jessica sings it with sweet understated conviction, supported in the best Fifty-Second Street tradition by Clint, Jeff, and Riley (without the dark haze of smoke and the taste of watered drinks that I am told were characteristics of Swing Street):

SWEET SUE, JUST YOU moves us back a decade and east to Chicago’s South Side, with Robert Young and Bill Reinhart added — Noone, Poston, and a vocal duet.  What could be sweeter?  Victor Young just texted me to say he approves:

California dreamin’ isn’t the property of the Beach Boys, I assure you.  If you can get to Cafe Borrone while Clint and friends are playing and singing, you will drive home with a smile.

May your happiness increase!

GRAB YOUR HIGHLIGHTERS: THE BAND SCHEDULE FOR FRESNO “SOUNDS OF MARDI GRAS” 2019 IS HERE (with some delightful MUSICAL EVIDENCE)

I’ve already posted this cheering bouquet of balloons, and I’m making my first trip to Fresno for “the sounds of Mardi Gras” early next month.  And not simply in hope of finding balloons.

Now, we can all get down to the delightful business of planning what to see and hear.  I’m sure there are people who simply amble through a festival, guided by the sounds they hear coming from one room or another.  But I’m a man with a mission: I know the bands I particularly want to hear and video . . . so I have to plan.  If I go to see X and her Jelly Whippers at 6, then I can’t (as Sir Isaac Newton reminds me) hear Y and her Joy Boys at the same time.  So either in the solace of my apartment or perhaps on the airplane, I bring out the highlighters so that I can plot and plan . . .
NEWS FLASH: as of January 25, some last-minute changes – – – –
On Friday, in Salon C/D, the morning – afternoon sequence is now Young Bucs / Yosemite / Climax / Tom Hook / High Sierra.  The evening sequence in C/D is now Bob Schulz, Dave Stuckey, and the rest unchanged.    As far as  my nearsighted eyes can tell, those are the only changes.  But the sole way to be sure you have the right schedule is to go to the Sounds of Mardi Gras and pick up the current paperwork.
I believe that an even larger version — spread it out on the floor so the whole family can play — can be found  here.  Since this is my maiden voyage to this festival, I haven’t any videos of my own to share.  But my colleagues have filled that need for years — one of them being the faithful Bill Schneider, who captured Bob Schulz’s band playing a lyrical YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY at the 2018 festival — with lovely work from Bob, Kim Cusack, Ray Skjelbred, Doug Finke, Scott Anthony, Jim Maihack, and Ray Templin:

and a very hot MONA LISA from a 2010 performance by the New El Dorado Jazz Band co-led by Hal Smith and Clint Baker, with Marc Caparone, Howard Miyata, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, Katie Cavera, and Georgia Korba.  Not everyone in this band will be at the 2019 festival, but their music is preserved for us thanks to RaeAnn Berry:

I look forward to the 2019 banquet of good sounds.  For details, visit the festival’s website and their Facebook page.  But don’t take so long looking for the right color highlighter that this hot weekend passes you by.

May your happiness increase!

“WHICH WAY TO FIFTY-SECOND STREET?”: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN REYNOLDS, KATIE CAVERA at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (Monterey, March 2, 2018)

I missed out on the 2018 Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, March 2-4 of this year.  But once again the First Lady of Hot Video, RaeAnn Berry, brought back some good sights and sounds for us.

A particular favorite was this set featuring Marc Caparone, trumpet; Dawn Lambeth, piano; John Reynolds, guitar; Katie Cavera, string bass — with nifty vocals from each of the four.  Completely charming, light-hearted melodic swing, with no tricks.  They would have been a hit at the Hickory House or the Onyx Club, and what a blessing to have them with us now.

RaeAnn posted all ten performances, but here are the four I was especially charmed by because the songs are rarely performed — and, as JAZZ LIVES readers know, these four musicians are dear to me.

Anyone want to split cab fare to Fifty-Second Street?

PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY:

WHEN THE RED RED ROBIN COMES BOB BOB BOBBIN’ ALONG (another thing to thank Harry Woods for, as Dawn offers us some tender optimism):

LITTLE GIRL (I dream of the ten-CD set called JOHN REYNOLDS SINGS FOR YOU):

I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED (with a sparkling conversation between Marc and John near the end):

With luck and a GPS, I’ll be at the 2019 Jazz Bash by the Bay.  It beats worrying about snow and then shoveling it, which is March in my world of New York.

May your happiness increase!

BIRD, BECKETT, and THE BEAT: JEFF HAMILTON, CLINT BAKER, ROBERT YOUNG (February 16, 2018)

That’s Jeff Hamilton, piano; Clint Baker, cornet; Robert Young, bass saxophone, brought to us by rara avis Eric Whittington of Bird & Beckett Books at
653 Chenery Street, San Francisco, California: (415) 586-3733, and captured on video by the indefatigable RaeAnn Berry of that same city.

Photograph by Angela Bennett

I needed to share CRAZY RHYTHM with you for Jeff’s splendidly playful introduction and what happens next:

Clint switches to clarinet for IF I HAD YOU:

and sings on a frolicsome I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

What musical evening would be complete without Alex Hill’s DELTA BOUND?

Bird and Beckett offers a variety of music, readings — a wise comfortable place.  And books.  Of course.

At this writing, RaeAnn has posted fifteen videos, found here.  Her YouTube channel introduced me to the wonders of California hot almost a decade ago, so I value her continued work.

And to Clint, Jeff, Robert, and Eric: thanks for keeping the heat on.  We need it.

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER WIN FOR THE CUBS! (July 8, 2017)

I don’t know baseball well enough to carry on the analogy for the length of this sentence, but Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs are my favorite sports team.  The logic of that might not work, but you get the idea.

They performed — splendidly — as part of the annual Skjelbred California Tour — on July 8, 2017, at the Napa Valley Dixieland Jazz Society, and we have lovely videos thanks to the indefatigable chronicler of all things Skjelbred, RaeAnn Berry.  The Cubs were at full strength for this performance — no designated hitters: Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass.

Here’s a sampling:

Where Basie meets Handy, OLE MISS:

Asking the immortal question, HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?

One of my favorites, beginning with a properly martial introduction by General Hamilton, SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

For Sir Charles Thompson and Fred Robbins, ROBBINS’ NEST:

A romping SHINE:

And, for Durante and Noone in equal measure, INKA DINKA DOO:

RaeAnn captured the afternoon’s performance — twenty-three videos — so there is even more pleasure to be had from these Major League Champions.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST LIKE 1943, ONLY BETTER”: AT THE BOOTLEGGERS’ BALL! with CLINT BAKER, MARC CAPARONE, ROBERT YOUNG, DAWN LAMBETH, JEFF HAMILTON, MARTY EGGERS, BILL REINHART, RILEY BAKER (July 15, 2017)

I couldn’t make it to the Bootleggers’ Ball (I’ve supplied the apostrophe, if anyone wants to know) in San Francisco on July 15, 2017, because they haven’t perfected Swing Teleportation yet — or if they have, it’s out of my price range for now — but JAZZ LIVES’s readers are well-covered.

First, Clint Baker’s Golden Gate Swing Band was in charge: Clint, trombone and vocal; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Robert Young, saxophone and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Bill Reinhart, guitar; Riley Baker, drums.  RaeAnn Berry was on the case, possibly in the second balcony, shooting video, which I can now share with you.  I also knew that things would go well with Lori Taniguchi at the microphone and (unseen but sending out swing vibrations) Brettie Page on the dance floor.

My title is my invention: that is, everything in this band is beautifully in place in ways that connect to the jazz paradise we love — but the music is better, because it is created and accessible in the here and now.  I love blue-label Decca 78s with surface noise, but we’re also living in 2017, and Miniver Cheevy’s life in swingtime is not I one I think is a good model.

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (with the delightful Dawn Lambeth, whose phrasing is a model of swing elegance):

I WANT A LITTLE GIRL (at a nice tempo, with riffs, no charge):

LINGER AWHILE (I feel Harry Lim, Fred Sklow, Jack Crystal, and Milt Gabler grinning):

MILENBERG JOYS (with the Palme du Joy to Messrs. Caparone and Hamilton — but the whole band is a marvel.  During the outchorus, the spice jars in my kitchen were swinging.):

IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE (Dawn eases us into the moral lesson: lying and romance don’t mix: and what an easy tempo for this!)  And by the way, was that Dicky Wells who just walked in?:

And that nifty Ellington blues, SARATOGA SWING:

Making the most of a documented meteor shower, Dawn sings STARS FELL ON ALABAMA:

They sparkle!  They bubble!  (Dawn sings THEM THERE EYES):

Care for an extended ocean voyage on the S.S. ROMANTIC CAPTIVITY? Dawn sings ON A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA:

JOE LOUIS STOMP (with an unexplained shriek at 2:57, echoed by quick-thinking Maestro Hamilton.  I hope it was a shriek of delight):

MY BUDDY (sung by ours, Robert Young):

DIGA DIGA DOO (for Lips Page and Specs Powell — some Krazy Kapers there, too, as mandated by moral law):

I like Dawn’s reading of Mercer’s optimism: “DREAM . . . and they might come true”:

A dozen performances are still yours to watch here. “Mighty nice,” as we say.

May your happiness increase!

JUST AN HOUR OF LOVE: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, RAY SKJELBRED (June 23, 2017)

Heroes and friends: Ray Skjelbred, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 2015.

To some JAZZ LIVES’ viewers, what follows will simply be another set recorded at a recent jazz festival — America’s Classic Jazz Festival at Lacey, Washington (through the great generosity of videographer RaeAnn Berry).

And if those viewers, possibly glutted with stimuli, perceive only that, who am I to deny that perspective?  But to me, performances that allow us to revel in the joy created by singer Dawn Lambeth, trumpeter Marc Caparone, and pianist Ray Skjelbred, are more than special.  In their swing, lyricism, courageous improvising while respecting the songs, they are remarkable offerings.

We begin with Ray and Marc having a good time — a la Louis 1928 — with BASIN STREET BLUES, a song so often reduced to formula that this version is thrilling:

The leader joins in for a touching IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

I fell in love with this from the introduction on!  I’ll go back to stevia some day:

Who remembers Paul Denniker?  But this beauty of a tentative love song, ‘S’POSIN’ — is always a pleasure:

Ah, Marc and Ray think of Henry “Red” Allen: always a good idea:

Another evocation of Red circa 1936, THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME.  I love the lyrics and the idea that the River gives me breakfast — not poached eggs on English muffin, but recalling the days when one went fishing and cooked one’s catch of the day immediately.  Huckleberry Finn, anyone?

Isham Jones!

And Walter Donaldson:

One of those wonderful songs that brings together Louis and Fats:

Walter Donaldson’s YOU — also recorded by Red Allen and others:

I know I am going to see Marc, and Dawn, and Ray — separately and perhaps together — at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest . . . so this is indeed something to look forward to.  For the moment, we have this hour of love, thanks to the musicians and to RaeAnn.

May your happiness increase!

YEATS, SKJELBRED, FORRESTER

In W.B. Yeats’s poem “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory,” a memorial for Lady Gregory’s son who had died in the First World War, these lines appear: Always we’d have the new friend meet the old / And we are hurt if either friend seem cold.”

I’ve been following the quietly explosive creator Ray Skjelbred for some time now, always shaking my head in silent admiration at the dynamic worlds he manifests at the keyboard and elsewhere.

So when I began to have friendly conversations with another man of large imagination, pianist / composer Joel Forrester, I talked with him about “eccentric” pianists I thought he would enjoy.  We shared a love of Joe Sullivan, so I felt comfortable speaking with Joel of Frank Melrose, Alex Hill, Cassino Simpson, Russ Gilman, and a few others.

When this video (captured by RaeAnn Berry on June 24, 2017 at the 27th Annual America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington) of Ray playing Alex Hill’s composition (most thoroughly inhabited by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines) BEAU KOO JACK, I sent it to Joel to see what he thought.

His reaction was perfect.

Terrific! Utterly surprising!

Here it is:

Blessings on Ray and Joel, on RaeAnn too.  On Alex Hill and Louis and Earl. And on every viewer and listener who’s in the spirit.  And even those who aren’t.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’VE GOT THAT THING: DAWN LAMBETH and CONAL FOWKES (June 24, 2017)

The clearly indefatigable RaeAnn Berry captured some wonderful performances at the 27th Annual America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington.  So far, I am most fond of these duets between the consistently delightful singer Dawn Lambeth and the nimble, sensitive pianist Conal Fowkes.  Here’s a selection.

Conal runs the risk of being typecast as Cole Porter in Woody Allen’s films, but he bears up nobly under the burden, we think.  Here’s his sparkling solo rendition of Porter’s YOU’VE GOT THAT THING (to be defined ad lib) — I think of this as Park Avenue barrelhouse:

The Festival’s sound system doesn’t do Dawn’s rich voice justice, but you can get a good idea of the sweet subtleties that endear her to us on MORE THAN YOU KNOW:

Dawn charms us with the evergreen (certainties undermined in swingtime) I MAY BE WRONG.  Incidentally, I read somewhere that the conceit of the lyric is that the optimistic singer is seriously visually impaired, so the song then makes better sense:

The moral of MOONBURN — Hoagy Carmichael’s first song for films, composed with Edward Heyman — might be “Always carry protection,” or not.  Most of us know it from a wonderful 1935 Decca recording featuring Bing Crosby and Joe Sullivan.  Dawn and Conal make me want to research lunar moonscreen:

Harold Arlen’s song of emotional confusion (I guess?) BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, occasion for a lengthy and splendid Frolick by Conal:

Finally, for this posting, here’s that paean to the magic powers of caffeine when mixed with love, YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE:

To see and hear more from Dawn and Conal, and other glowing artists recorded live, visit SFRaeAnn — our video benefactor’s YouTube channel.  Another thousand subscribers would please her mightily.

May your happiness increase!

“WESTWARD HOT”: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON (July 7-10, 2016)

ray skjelbred

Every year at about this time, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs make a tour of the Bay Area in Northern California, including visits to the Dixieland session at Rossmoor, the Cline Wine and Dixieland Festival, Pier 23, Cafe Borrone, and other fortunate locations.  (Don’t let the “Dixieland” label throw you; what Ray and Company play is light-years away from that manufactured product. Marketing isn’t music.)

Note: I realize that my title is geographically inaccurate, since everyone in this band lives in the West, as one of my Corrections Officers is sure to point out, but it made more sense than titling this post SOUTHBOUND, in honor of Alex Hill.

Here are the details from Ray’s own site, a remarkable place to spend a few hours.

Ray and his Cubs onstage at Rossmoor, perhaps 2014.

Ray and his Cubs onstage at Rossmoor, perhaps 2014.

Ray has the good luck to have a dedicated videographer and archivist, RaeAnn Berry, somewhere between tireless and indefatigable, who will offer up large helpings of the music performed in these few delightful days.

Here’s a deliciously satisfying taste: DARKTOWN STRUTTERS BALL at an enticing tempo — in a thoroughly Commodore manner that reminds me, and perhaps you, of TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL:

That’s one performance from their July 7 concert at Rossmoor.  I encourage you to subscribe to RaeAnn’s channel, where you can see the other dozen or so performances from that concert (made possible by the energetic devotion of Robert Burch and Vonne Anne Heninger, to give that kind pair their full monickers) and several thousand other musical delights.

As I write this in New York, RaeAnn is surely videoing something . . . and I know there will be more Ray / Cubs epiphanies to come.

May your happiness increase!

KATIE AND FRIENDS PLAY FATS AND FRIENDS! (KATIE CAVERA, CHRIS CALABRESE, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, SAM ROCHA): Hot Jazz Jubilee, August 30, 2014)

FATS 1939 Howard Theatre Shep Allen Scurlock Studio

Fats Waller created joy.

In the 1939 photograph, he is with his manager Shep Allen at the Howard Theatre: credit to Scurlock Studios and thanks to Chuck Slate.

Although Fats has been elsewhere for almost sixty-five years, he continues to inspire. One example is this sweetly energetic session recorded by the ubiquitous, diligent Rae Ann Berry (all hail!  all hail!) at the second annual Hot Jazz Jubilee in Rancho Cordova, California.

This energized band — titled JUST KATIE AND FRIENDS — was, for this wonderful gathering, our Miss Cavera, guitar, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Clint Baker, trombone, clarinet, vocal; Chris Calabrese, piano; Sam Rocha, string bass, vocal.

Their repertoire for this set was primarily Fats — songs composed / featured by him — as well as by fellow pianists Claude Hopkins and Earl Hines. A ringer, WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, is by Irving Berlin — but both Fats and the Paul Whiteman band recorded it.

Notice that JK&F doesn’t aim to reproduce the Waller-Autrey-Sedric-Casey ambiance; there is a welcome absence of “Wallerisms,” either in rapid tempos or shouts by the ensemble. Chris Calabrese, bless him, can hold his own in any stride session, so the relaxed approach is everyone’s choice.

What you will experience is a congenial group of swinging pals, and you might hear echoes of Henry “Red” Allen, Mouse Randolph, J.C. Higginbotham, Al Morgan, Carmen Mastren, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Count Basie, the Rhythmakers — an aesthetic roundtrip between 1936 and 2014 — but the individual resonances and loving nods coalesce into a joyous whole.

THAT RHYTHM MAN:

HOW CAN YOU FACE ME? (with Katie’s rather plaintive inquiry):

FAIR AND SQUARE (in memory of Lueder Ohlwein and the Sunset Music Company as well as Fats, with an egalitarian vocal by Marc):

UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG:

LONESOME ME (a feature for the extremely talented Mr. Calabrese):

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (with hopeful vocalizing by Clint):

ROSETTA (sung by our Sam, with echoes of THE SOUND OF JAZZ):

BABY BROWN (by Alex Hill, who is reputedly the true composer of the next tune as well):

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, an earnest assertion from Clint:

Fats gave us everything he had, and we are still smiling at what (Just) Katie and Friends have made from his inspirations.

We don’t have to wait for The Real Thing To Come Along. Surely it’s here.

Ms. Berry is essential to our edification, for here  is her regularly-updated list of San Francisco / Bay Area hot jazz attractions; here  is her YouTube channel, where she has nearly a thousand subscribers (she’s been posting videos since March 2008).

And she’s had a direct influence on my life, because I saw all there was to see of hot California jazz through her efforts, and you know the rest.  She’s also on Facebook, displaying the same energies as her improvising heroes.

May your happiness increase!

BEAUTY IN THE MORNING, THANKS TO JOHN GILL and FRIENDS

If you take regular doses of Beauty, Misery afflicts you far less.

I think that all people who choose to watch the carnage (real and psychic) on the eleven o’clock news are ruining their REM sleep, and if the first thing you do in the morning is turn on the radio to hear who is being victimized your breakfast will stick in your throat.

Some may accuse me of being intentionally ignorant of the larger wickednesses and sorrows of the world, but that is not a debate for JAZZ LIVES at this time, in this place.

I awoke this morning with a need for some music — music to prepare breakfast by — and I knew it couldn’t be too assertive.  Some mornings I could listen to the Basie band or the Blue Note Jazzmen and it will lift me up above the clouds.  Today, those stirring sounds would have been too much.

John Gill

So I turned — as I often do — to one of the most beautiful CDs I know, or have: John Gill’s Sentimental Serenaders (Stomp Off) performing the songs of Bing Crosby, mostly from 1931-5.  That means PLEASE, JUST ONE MORE CHANCE, WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT MEETS THE GOLD OF THE DAY, DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING, RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET, and more.  John sings them from deep in his heart, yet with a swing, and he is accompanied by a wonderful, wonderful orchestra.

Here’s some visual evidence (thanks to the tireless SFRaeAnn) of John showing how deeply he understands that music.  If you don’t know it, you are taking a chance on missing out on beauty.  Wait, I mean Beauty.

The CD itself is available here or here.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOME BACK, RAY SKJELBRED!

Some JAZZ LIVES readers might wonder why my title warrants an exclamation point.  The music, I think, will speak for itself — but the singular pianist Ray Skjelbred had suffered a broken hip earlier this summer . . .  and he is now back playing and sounding like himself.

Here are four video performances (thanks to Candace Brown) recorded at the monthly gig of the First Thursday Jazz Band, with guest Craig Flory on reeds,  at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, Seattle.  Along with Ray, you’ll hear and see Dave Brown, bass, and Mike Daugherty, on drums.

Here’s I NEVER KNEW, where the sound of the band is reflected in the swinging dancing of Natalie Bangs and Kevin Buster:

And a quartet like this can swing as fiercely as a Thirties big band — hear how on BLUE LOU:

A fast blues (situated between Count Basie and Albert Ammons), named for the championship racehorse, WHIRLAWAY:

Finally (for now), here’s a bit of pretty New Orleans gutbucket — an exploration of the 1919 hit JADA:

So happy you’re back on the bench, Mister Ray!  And thanks to Craig, Dave, Mike, Natalie, Kevin, and especially Candace (without her, this would all be hearsay).

I have it on the best authority that Ray and his Cubs (the Chicago kind) will be performing for the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society this Sunday, September 11, 2011, at The Dante Club, 2330 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95825, from noon to 5 PM.  For more information visit: http://www.sacjazz.org/calendar.html.  I know that my friend and colleague RaeAnn Berry will be there: join her in the fun!

FINEST FIG JAM

fig jam

Some history might be needed here.  “A fig,” “a Moldy Fig,” even “a Mouldy Figge,” is now-archaic language invented during the Forties, when jazz found itself divided into warring factions called Dixieland and Bebop.  This divisiveness may have splintered the music and its audiences irrevocably.  Much of the noisy conflict was fomented by journalists and publicists seeking to attract audiences through controversy.  At this distance, we know that GROOVIN’ HIGH is only WHISPERING with a new blouse, but people allowed themselves to ignore this.  I find the poet Philip Larkin very endearing in his art and his vinegary energies, but his jazz prose embodies this point of view, where the world had reached an artistic peak in 1932 with the Rhythmakers recordings and had gone steadily downhill.  I agree with the first part of this formulation but not the second. 

I began my devotional listening as a Fig, so it took a long gradual period of contemplative immersion before I could understand that, say, John Coltrane wasn’t The Enemy out to destroy the music I loved.  In truth, I was never an extremist but I had strong, narrow likes and dislikes.  I remember having a brief conversation with another student in a middle-school Music Appreciation class who was deeply immersed in the New Thing — this was forty-plus years ago and the new thing was Archie Shepp, and the conversation went like this:

“Alan,” which might not be his name, but is a good guess: “I hear you like jazz.”

Me (brightening at having found a fellow subversive): “Oh, yes, I do!”

“Alan”: “Do you listen to Archie Shepp?”

Me (horrified that he hadn’t mentioned Louis, and coming up with a wise-acre New Yorker rejoinder): “Archie Shepp?! I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”

“Alan”: “Well, the hell with you!”

So goes critical discourse at its finest! 

I would like to boast that I’ve seen the light and the scales have dropped from my eyes, but if you told me I had to choose only one jazz recording to spend eternity with, it still might be AFTER YOU’VE GONE by the Blue Note Jazzmen, even though I can understand and appreciate music that would have perplexed and repelled me in my youth.  And the music was always there, I just didn’t get it. 

This self-scrutiny is provoked by a phone conversation I had yesterday with Bob Rusch (or RDR), editor and chief spiritual guide of the quarterly journal devoted to Creative Improvised Music, CADENCE.  Full disclosure requires me to say that I write reviews for CADENCE, and I continue to admire the journal’s honesty.  And working with Bob has always been a pleasurable lesson in Emersonian candor: when I have felt an inexplicable need to tactfully cloak the truth in polite words, he has always asked, “Why?” 

If you’ve never read CADENCE, you have been missing something special and rare.  See for yourself (www.cadencebuilding.com).

In the course of our conversation — we speak infrequently, but over the past five years it has always been both bracing and affectionate — Bob said gently that he thought I was “getting more figgish,” and I agreed.  But it made me think, and perhaps my experience will ring true with my readers. 

There used to be “the jazz record industry,” and I am not talking about sixty-five years ago, the Commodore Music Shop, and listening booths.  Ten years ago, perhaps, there were many more active companies producing compact discs.  (If you want to have a sobering experience, casually inspect the spines of any fifty CDs in your library and note how many of those labels no longer exist.)  This, of course, has to do with the economy, an aging audience, and more. 

It has had an double-edged result.  On one hand, no more new issues from Chiaroscuro, no more Pablo, fewer ways for musicians to be encouraged by a label.  But because labels no longer exist, many energetic musicians have gone into business for themselves and produce their own discs.  

This can be a boon: musicians can record what they want, have it sound the way they want, without the interference of recording engineers or the heads of record companies . . . and splendid personal statements emerge.  But this asks musicians to be both courageous and affluent (or at least credit-worthy): a self-produced CD might require a $10,000 investment that the artist might get back over ten years of selling the discs one at a time on the gig.  We should all live and be well! 

(Musician joke: “My latest CD is a million-seller.  I’ve got a million in my cellar.”)

Many players I know have made a virtue of necessity, but I think many of them look back nostalgically to the dear dead days when they got a call to go to a studio at noon to make a date, they played their hearts out, they got paid, and eight months later they knew that the disc they had appeared on was being sold all over the world.  Yes, their control over the music was compromised, their pay was a percentage of the profit, but someone else was handling all the annoying business.  

What this means for someone like myself, reviewing CDs, is that a good deal of what I am asked to listen to is by artists new to me (a good thing) who are offering their own music (potentially a good thing).  And occasionally it leads me to sit up in my chair and say, “By God, (s)he’s got it!”  Melissa Collard was new to me when I first heard her OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, and she is one of those singers whose work I most treasure.  Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Danny Tobias, Lyle Ritz, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, and more.  

But much of what I hear is both competent yet entirely forgettable.  I know that Lips Page said, “The material is immaterial,” but hand me a CD full of original compositions by a player and I wonder, “Gee, you’ve already decided that there’s nothing new for you to say on the blues or on I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR?”  Funny, that hasn’t occurred to Sonny Rollins.

And it is sad to receive a CD by a singer or musician, male or female, where great effort has gone into burnishing the exterior at the expense of other things.  When the artist credits his or her hair stylist and wardrobe person first, I think, “Oh no.  Repertoire, not manicure.  No one listens to the cover.” 

So my “figgishness” or “figitude” (both my own coinings) is a way to get back to what music means to me — a spiritual / intellectual / experience that makes me want to grin foolishly and shout exultantly.  I would indeed rather hear a wonderful performance of an original composition by musicians I don’t know than a tired rendition of OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS, but I need to hear jazz that makes me remember why I began to listen to the music in the first place: joy, inventiveness, clear delight in being alive in the face of death.  If your listening is purely an intellectual exercise and you find that gratifying, fine, but mine is tied up with the emotions.  Is the music beautiful?  Does it make me feel some strong emotion, preferably happiness?  Can I admire the players?            

So I close this post with a new example of FINEST FIG JAM — pure, organic, and locally sourced.  It’s another YouTube clip from the lucky and generous SFRaeAnn of the Eldorado Serenaders, whose front line is Don Neely on reeds, Robert Young on reeds, trumpet, and vocal, Dave Frey, plectrum banjo, Jim Young, tenor banjo, Steven Rose, sousaphone, Stan Greenberg, percussion.  This performance of BALTIMORE (one of those delightful songs-about-a-new-dance-craze) honors Bix and Wingy and Red, and I think this band is terribly, admirably brave to be shouting it out in a bookstore.  “Fit audience, though few,” said Milton, but he never had to worry about the tip jar.  It was recorded on October 25, 2009 at North Light Books in Cotati, California.  

LEON OAKLEY SMILES!

“RaeAnn Berry” is, I believe, what it says on her driver’s license — but for fans of Hot Music, she’s “SFRaeAnn,” and we owe her many thanks for the jazz she posts with unflagging regularity on YouTube.  She takes her camera down to Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California, to record a few performance by Clint Baker’s All-Stars, and every week I watch the clips with pleasure.  Two tiny mysteries always are a part of the experience: Clint is truly multi-instrumental and multi-talented, so I always wonder, “What instrument(s) will he be playing this week?”  And most sessions feature the wonderful work of trumpeter Leon Oakley.  But Leon always looks serious, pensive, even when he’s just played a beautiful impromptu creation.  I was beginning to wonder about his worldview, although no unhappy man could play so well.

Thus, it is with elation and relief that I post two clips from the All-Stars’ performances of October 23, 2009.  And, rather like the advertisements for early sound pictures that told us GARBO TALKS! — I report with pleasure that 1) Leon is playing splendidly, beyond splendidly, and 2) he grins now and again through these two performances.  You had me worried, my man!

The first performance is EXACTLY LIKE YOU — which Leon starts off with a melodic improvisation instead of a straight melody line — quite fetching — and things get hotter from then on!

Then, a rarely-played Twenties favorite, paying tribute to that kid from New Orleans, PAPA DIP.  Here, I delight in Clint’s directing of musical traffic during the breaks.  Good job!

The other All-Stars are having a good time, as always: Clint on clarinet; Katie Cavera, banjo and vocal; Robert Young, alto and tenor sax; Jim Klippert, trombone; Bill Reinhart, bass; Tom Wilson, guitar; J. Hansen, drums.  Visit Clint at: http://www.clintbakerjazz.com