Tag Archives: Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs

“TELL ME AGAIN. WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?”

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs — that’s Ray, piano and inspiration; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton — answer the musical question at the now-vanished Sacramento Jazz Jubilee (d. 2017), with the notes on the music staff written by Johnny Green as their guide, but also the many performances of this tune, including Bing Crosby, Coleman Hawkins, and Django Reinhardt.

I try to collect rather than hoard — the first is a vocation; the second a disorder — but I’ve been hoarding videos of Ray and his Cubs . . . the way I’d store food for the winter, until I have the good fortune to see them again. Soon, I hope. They mean so much more than canned tuna.

May your happiness increase!

INFINITE PROPULSION: RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, May 25, 2014)

The Original, itself.

That’s 1929. But here’s 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival — a hot Chicago-style performance (with “surprise vocal”) by the most eloquent Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, who are Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums:

What a gorgeous serving of energies: “infinite propulsion” characterizes the song but also the Cubs, a band I look forward to seeing again . . . soon.

May your happiness increase!

STIFF BREEZES, AN AMPHIBIAN LAMENT, and A LAPSED DARLING: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS — KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON (Sacramento Music Festival, May 25, 2014)

The Sacramento Music Festival, which we miss, was like a sandwich with the cole slaw coming out of the bread on all sides — tasty but messy, a danger to one’s outfit. Bands of all kinds jostled for audibility both in the open air and in unsuitable venues; the whole weekend had the air of a genial traveling carnival slightly awry.

But wonderful music happened in spite of the distractions. Here are two performances, hidden in the JAZZ LIVES archives for moments just such as this, by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, mining deep Chicago gold. They are Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal, Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar. Special effects provided by the winds of fate. (The Cubs should have played BREEZE, but that’s my comic sense, which can be disregarded without harm or wound.)

BULL FROG BLUES:

and that tale of The Ruined Maid, with her new hat and her dubious associations, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW. And NOW as pronounced by Mr. Cusack is a marvel: young actors at the Old Vic study it but is remains elusive:

These performances are nearly seven years “old” but, as Ray says, “We play in the present tense.”

May your happiness increase!

OH, THEY DO: RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS (November 25, 2016)

I love this little band, in all its permutations, and I am not alone.  When they get onstage, the question posed above becomes completely rhetorical.  They most certainly have music, and they share it with us.  Here are five lovely (purple-hued) performances from the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, featuring Ray Skjelbred, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dawn Lambeth, vocals.

Here’s LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, evoking Eddie Condon and the first Commodore 78, and the swinging Bing Crosby version a few years earlier:

and James P. Johnson’s song, recorded by Henry “Red” Allen:

and a song associated with Lee Wiley, sweetly sung by Dawn Lambeth:

the beautiful Thirties ballad associated with Billie Holiday:

Finally, Dawn’s exposition of swing frustration (thanks to Walter Donaldson):

May your happiness increase!

PEOPLE SAY THE NICEST THINGS ABOUT PETER

Yesterday, I posted a video of Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs performing BIG BOY here, and the response was so enthusiastic that I thought, “Let’s have another one right now.”

Ninety-five years ago, people were praising Peter — first instrumentally (Herb Wiedoft, Glen Oswald’s Serenaders, the Broadway Dance Orchestra, Paul Specht, Alex Hyde, Red Nichols)  — then vocally (Arthur Fields with Sam Lanin) and the 1932 “Rhythmakers” sessions that Philip Larkin thought the highest art.

Here, as a historical benchmark, is a 1924 version by Glen Oswald’s Serenaders (recorded in Oakland, California)  — a varied arrangement, full of bounce:

“Peter” remains a mystery – – but we do know that he was “so nice,” as proven by four versions of this secular hymn of praise to his romantic ardor recorded in April and May 1932 by the Rhythmakers, a beyond-our-wildest-dreams group featuring Henry Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, Jack Bland, Al Morgan, Zutty Singleton. If you don’t know the Rhythmakers sessions, you are honor-bound to do some of the most pleasurable research.

But here we are in 2014, with Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at the one-day al fresco jazz party held at Cline Wineries in Napa, California. This wondrous little band — having themselves a time while making sure we do also — is Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. Members of the Cubs have been known to burst into song, but this time Peter’s praises must be imagined or implied.  However, Ray and the Cubs are clearly nice and more: no ambiguity there.

The Cubs continue to delight me for the best reasons.  They don’t wear brightly-colored polo shirts; they are humorous but not jokey; they play hot and sweet music — honoring everyone from Frank Teschemacher and Eddie Condon to Jimmie Noone and Jeni Le Gon — without putting on the kind of show that more popular “trad” bands get away with.  They are what Milt Hinton called GOOD MUSIC, and I celebrate them.  Tell the children that such a thing exists, please.

And a digression (what’s a blog for if the CEO can’t digress?) — OH PETER — no comma in the original — was composed by Herb Wiedoft, Gene Rose, and Jesse Stafford.  Wiedoft played trumpet and led his own orchestra, where Rose played piano and wrote arrangements; Stafford played trombone and baritone horn.  And here is the original sheet music, verse and chorus.

I take a deep breath and point out that “peter” has been slang for “penis” since the mid-nineteenth century. . . . so “When you are by my side / That’s when I’m satisfied,” and “There’s nothing sweeter, Peter, Peter,” in the chorus, has always made me wonder, and the verse, new to me, contains the lines, “I’m missin’ / Your love and kissin’ ? And lots of other things too.”  The lyrics do state that Peter is a real person who has been “stepping out,” but if the song were titled OH SAMMY, would it have the same effect?  (What of Morton’s 1929 SWEET PETER, by the way?)  Perhaps you will propose that I need a more virtuous life, but I wonder if this song was sung with a wink at the audience, even though it’s clearly not a double-entendre blues of the period.  Do think on it.  And please admire my superb restraint in not titling this post IS YOUR PETER NICE?

Note: any connections between BIG BOY and OH PETER that readers might perceive are their own responsibility.

May your happiness increase!

SUCH A BIG BOY!

Ray Skjelbred is one of my favorite artists — his scope is too large to be confined to “pianist,” and his Cubs are a favorite band of mine.  I can’t say that the pandemic has brought an onslaught of pleasures, but the absence of real-time gigs has sent me back to my archives, and I find many unseen video-recordings of Ray and his Cubs, which it is my pleasure to share with you.

The Cubs are a winning team, although they don’t employ the usual sporting goods: rather, they create uplifting music no matter where they are or what the tempo is. This performance of a song associated with Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverines took place during Ray’s mid-summer 2014 California tour (here, they are playing for the Napa Valley Dizieland Jazz Society). The Cubs — bless them! — are Ray, piano, occasional vocal, ethical guidance; Jeff Hamilton, drums and slyness; Clint Baker, string bass, occasional vocal, moral rectitude; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar, occasional vocal, warmth; Kim Cusack, clarinet, occasional vocal; whimsical sagacity. If you know Claude Hopkins, you’ll get the reference to THE TRAFFIC WAS TERRIFIC, but the Cubs’ vibrations come right through.

Speaking of “big boys,” a story of dubious relevance.  Decades ago, my friend Stu (who reads this blog) and I went to lunch at a kosher delicatessen.  I was hungry and ordered a good deal of food; Stu had eaten and said to the very theatrical woman holding her pad and pencil, “I’ll just have an order of fries,” which we did as a matter of course then.  She looked aghast and said, mixing mock-horror and mock-solicitude, “Such a small portion for such a BIG BOY?” but Stu resisted the Sirens’ song.

All I will say is that this performance — by the clock — is a small portion; it would fit on a V-Disc, but it is a tableful of joy.  And there’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS (July 12, 2014)

Take a deep breath, see that your eyeglasses are clean, ask your neighbor to take a break from leaf blowing . . . and get ready to admire.

What follows is a wonderful assemblage of rewarding details that make a performance soar and shine.  Everybody knows EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, ninety years old in 2014, and the song flexibly lends itself to many approaches: a slow-drag tempo with the verse (think: Blue Note Jazzmen) or delightedly skittering around the room, making all the turns (any Fifties Eddie Condon performance).

The creators here are Ray Skjelbred, piano and imagination; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar, and this took place at the one-day jazz festival at Cline Cellars Winery in Sonoma, California.

The pleasures of this al fresco performance are double: first, the joy of hearing Ray and his Cubs do anything, and second, the little architectural details that delight and surprise, throughout. Ray says this performance takes some of its inspiration from the 1929 Earl Hines Victor recording of the tune, but it’s clear that the record is a leaping-off place rather than a model to be copied.

The DETAILS I celebrate here are Clint’s arco string bass work, Jeff’s tom-toms, Kim’s magical ability to sing and play at the same time, or nearly so, the duet scored for Cusack and Skjelbred; evocations of Jess Stacy’s 1938 “A-minor thing” even if it’s not in A-minor, and the delicious surprise of the bridge of the last chorus:

I so admire the romping large-scale scope of this performance — people confident and joyous in the sunshine — but the details that poke their heads through from below I find thrilling.

Here’s Earl Hines, playing, leading, and scat-singing:

I couldn’t close this blogpost without commenting that Benny Hill used to announce this song on his television show as EVERY BABY LOVES MY BODY, which works also.

May your happiness increase!

ANNIVERSARY STOMP: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to RAY SKJELBRED!

Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs: from left, Clint Baker, gazing skyward; Kim Cusack, arms folded; Katie Cavera, instantly recognizable; Ray, with blue cap, inviting us to come along; Jeff Hamilton, thinking his thoughts.

I’m honored to share the planet with Ray Skjelbred, who turns eighty today.

At the piano bench as well as elsewhere, he is a poet, a teacher, an inventor and then revealer of secrets, a writer of mysteries populated by velvet moles, eagles, and dogs, where no one gets killed.  Tenaciously yet delicately, he walks through walls as if they were beaded curtains.

Ray Skjelbred calls his Cubs “my favorite band,” and it’s easy to see why — a lovely combination of Basie and Bobcats, illuminated by a sweet lyricism at once on-the-porch and Milt Gabler-joyous.

We salute him; we salute his Cubs, who are Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. These performances took wing at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 28, 2015.

OH, BABY, DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE:

Kim swears he’s KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, but the jury is still out:

something for the Apex Club Orchestra, EVERY EVENING:

If my wishes aren’t enough, here’s a HAPPY BIRTHDAY (March 10, 1938) from Bobby Hackett, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, Ray Biondi, Artie Shapiro, George Wettling, Leo Watson.  Since it’s mislabeled below, I also offer the nostalgic maroon Commodore label, a jazz madeline:

as it appeared on turntables:

To borrow Whitney Balliett’s words, “Bless Ray Skjelbred.  And may he prosper.”

May your happiness increase!

THE WINNING TEAM: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON and MARC CAPARONE (November 27, 2015)

Were you to call me a “hoarder,” I would be insulted, but I have been hoarding lovely treasures — previously unseen performance videos — since March 12, 2020, which was the last jazz gig I attended.  One of the treasures I dug up recently is a set played and sung by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at 2015 the San Diego Jazz Fest: Ray, piano and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums, Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar, with a guest appearance by Marc Caparone, cornet, on the closing song.

I’d held off on these because my place in the room didn’t allow me to see Ray at the keyboard — a pleasure I always want — and the lighting person, believing that jazz is best played in semi-darkness, had made everyone purple.  Whether it was allegiance to the Lake Isle of Innisfree or a secret love of Barney the dinosaur, I didn’t ask, but it was visually unnerving.

The music, however, was and is delightful.

I missed the first bars of James P. Johnson’s AIN’T ‘CHA GOT MUSIC? — but such lapses are, I hope, forgivable:

Many vintage jazz fans know YOU’RE SOME PRETTY DOLL in George Brunies’ UGLY CHILE — but this version has no mockery in it:

Ray loves the optimistic song LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY (from the 1935 KING OF BURLESQUE, and so do we.  Bring back the New Deal!

Marc Caparone, cornet, always welcome, joins in for I FOUND A NEW BABY, what George Avakian would call “the final blow-off”:

I know I’m out of my depth when I resort to sports metaphors, but these Cubs always win the game.  Bless them, and I hope to see a Reunion.

May your happiness increase!

 

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!

 

LESSONS IN LEVITATION: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JOSH ROBERTS, MATT WEINER, JEFF HAMILTON (June 30, 2019)

An inspiration for this inspiring little band.

Thanks to the ever=devoted SFRaeAnn, we have a five-minute treatise on the most inspired floating, created in front of an audience at America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, on June 30, 2019.  The players here are Ray Skjelbred, making that old keyboard sound exactly like new; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Josh Roberts, guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And their particular text is LADY BE GOOD, by George and Ira Gershwin, first performed in 1924 and immediately taken up by jazz musicians, dance bands, and singers of all kinds — from Ben Bernie and the California Ramblers to the present day.

Perhaps because tempos in performance naturally increase, and because it is such a familiar set of chord changes (from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Incorporated recording on) it’s usually played at a brisk tempo.  This performance is a sly glide, a paper airplane dreamily navigating the air currents before coming to a gentle landing.  And — taking the Basie inspiration to new heights — this performance so lovingly balances appreciative silence with sound.

It doesn’t need my annotations: it reveals itself to anyone willing to pay attention.  Watch the faces of the musicians; hear their delighted affirmations.  As James Chirillo says, music was made:

Blessings on them all, past and present, visible and ectoplasmic.  The Cubs lift us up but never drop us down.

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!

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!

TWO BY EDDIE: RAY SKJELBRED, DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Eddie Condon (pictured above in 1946) has a well-deserved reputation as a superb leader, a musical catalyst, a guitarist — but not as a composer of popular songs. He wrote only a few, but their melodies are memorable.

By way of illustration, a 1944 record label:

Although we associate Eddie more with the hard-charging small-band jazz he loved so well (think of Wild Bill, Pee Wee Russell, Lou McGarity, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, Cliff Leeman playing RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE) it’s clear he had a deeply romantic spirit, and WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE — not only De Vries’ lyrics — exemplifies this.

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, and Jeff Hamilton admire Eddie and his musicians, thus they happily gave shape to Marc’s tribute to Eddie as composer, which happened at the San Diego Jazz Fest last November 25, 2016.

Here is Dawn’s tender version of WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE:

and Eddie’s LIZA — written with George Rubens, not Gershwin — first performed on the 1927 McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans date:

For me, the test of a song is that it lodges in my ear and memory.  Those two Condon compositions do, helped immeasurably by the passion and swing of these musicians.

May your happiness increase!

DAWN LAMBETH SINGS! (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2016)

Singing looks as if it should be effortless.  Learn the words or keep them visible, remember the melody, get some good accompaniment, open your mouth and let the swing come out.  No valves to oil, no reeds to pamper, no dishes to wash. We all have voices and they sound good inside our head. Jazz singing — no worries. We’ve all heard Louis and Billie, maybe even sung along with them in the car.

Dream on, I say.  Singing is the most treacherous act, requiring great courage and skill.  There is an art to staying on pitch, having the proper intonation, remembering the lyrics, not getting lost.

Then there are the mysteries arts of appearing natural, having a pleasing voice (whether it is beautiful or not), understanding the song so that one can deliver its message without copying the famous recorded performance.  Telling a story. Telling several stories.

DAWN headshot

Dawn Lambeth isn’t simply someone who sings.  Dawn is a singer, and there is a great difference.

I first heard her on a CD, her debut as a leader, a dozen years ago, and I was enchanted by her lovely dark voice, her graceful swing, her great variety of easy medium tempos, her gentle expression of the apt feeling for each song.

She also possesses great humility — something rare — which one sees in her choice to serve the song rather than making the song a blank canvas for her own ego.  Dawn wants us to hear just how beautiful a song is — Hart’s wry rhymes, Rodgers’ soaring melody — rather than insisting that we admire her, her hair stylist, her attitude.  She doesn’t belt; she doesn’t carry on or dramatize.  Among other singers, she admires Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, Connee Boswell, but she makes sure that any performance is more than her download of an mp3 of the original Brunswick or Vocalion.

So one of the greatest pleasures of the recent San Diego Jazz Fest was a plenitude of performances by Dawn: she sang with her own trio (Ray Skjelbred and Marc Caparone, with a guest appearance by John Otto), with Ray’s Cubs (Ray, Marc, Jeff Hamilton, Katie Cavera, Clint Baker), with Conal Fowkes in a wonderful duo, and with Dave Stuckey’s Hot House Gang (among others, Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, Nate Kettner, Katie Cavera) . . . abundance in abundance.

Here are three very subtle, very warm performances by Dawn, Ray, piano; Marc, cornet, on November 25, 2016.

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME:

S’POSIN’:

More to come, thank goodness.  And thank Dawn for keeping swinging sweet melody so alive.

May your happiness increase!

A HOT BAND IS GOOD TO FIND: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, CLINT BAKER (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 2016)

The “where” in this case is the San Diego Jazz Fest, which delighted me last weekend.  I wrote about some of my experiences here.  Words first, then music.

a_good_man_is_hard_to_find-pdf

The song has several virtues that account for its durability: a hummable melody, enough material for several vaudeville routines (complete with patter), and it lends itself to a variety of tempos and to improvisation.

good-man-label

A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND goes back to 1918, and Lord lists an early recording by the Louisiana Five.  The recorded version pictured above (it’s only the label) is justifiably famous: four 12″ 78 sides recorded in 1940 by an assemblage of brilliant improvisers for Milt Gabler’s Commodore label.

But I promised you music, and music you shall have.

A performance created on November 25 by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, who were Ray, piano; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet [sitting in for reedman Kim Cusack):

The weekend was full of delights like this.  More to come.

May your happiness increase!

“UNEEDA BISCUIT?” RAY SKJELBRED and THE CUBS with MARC CAPARONE at the HOT JAZZ JUBILEE (Sacramento: Sept. 4, 2016)

cubs_photo_sm

Over the past few years, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have given me and others immense consistent pleasure.  (How lovely to see a band with a steady personnel, a rarity in these times.)  They are Ray, piano; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  At the recent Hot Jazz Jubilee in Sacramento, California, held over Labor Day weekend, the Cubs were joined by cornetist (and hero) Marc Caparone for several sets.  Here are three particular delights, captured for us by the tireless Rae Ann Berry.

In honor of radio disc jockey [how archaic that familiar phrase now seems] and concert host Fred Robbins, here is ROBBINS’ NEST, co-composed by Sir Charles Thompson, a particular hero of Ray’s, and Illinois Jacquet — a lovely Forties groove even in 2016:

and a sad blues, sung by Ray, the only composition I know that has a weeping rabbit at center stage.  (Ray’s version also adds a famous cracker, a snack of my childhood):

Here’s Exhibit A, the photograph from a fascinating blog:

uneeda-biscuit

and another ancient favorite, taken here at a nice tempo (some bands play it so quickly that I worry that the BABY is found for a minute only before slipping out of the finder’s affectionate grasp):

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!

WORDS AND MUSIC BY RAY SKJELBRED (and HIS CUBS) at SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 28, 2015

norwegian-farm-photos

There’s a particularly hurried or perhaps impatient species of video-critic who comments on many of my YouTube productions when the musicians have the temerity to speak before playing, “Music starts at 2:30.”  That particular kind of data-notation is true enough, but I like to keep my video camera running, because many musicians are fascinating raconteurs and verbal improvisers. And I think of future generations : what wouldn’t we give to hear Alex Hill say, “Wow, it’s cold in here,” or Jimmie Blanton say, “Excuse me, what did you say?” So the passages of musician-monologue or -dialogue are always interesting to me.

Ray Skjelbred is a thrillingly individualistic pianist — he loves the tradition and it courses through him, but he knows that all journeys are wildly irregular.  So his little band, his Cubs, is always surprising.  They rock, also, at any tempo.  Here’s their performance of SUGAR from the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest: that’s Ray, Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass — from November 28, 2015.  (Jeff’s face is hidden by the music stand but you certainly hear and feel him — all to the  good.)

Public service announcement for the unusually restless.  The music in the video below begins at 1:40.  But if you skip it, you will have missed an opportunity to learn a great deal about an arcane but relevant subject:

Wherever Ray and his Cubs are, there’s lovely music and wondrous surprises. And I hope to see you at the San Diego Jazz Fest this Thanksgiving.

May your happiness increase!

CHICAGO STYLE GOES WEST: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS (SAN DIEGO, NOV. 27, 2015)

CHICAGO STYLE

No submachine guns or taxi wars, simply hot jazz with deep soul.  But the spirit is always moving, never restricted by time and space, so a Chicago circa 1928 resurfaced on the bandstand at the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest whenever Ray Skjelbred and His Cubs took charge.

For this set, the Cubs (Ray, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kim Cusack, clarinet / vocal; Clint Baker, string bass) were joined by Marc Caparone, cornet, and Dawn Lambeth, vocals.  Here are the two closing instrumentals of their performance: a 1927 pop classic with deep jazz roots, and a serious blues.

Painted lips!  Painted eyes!  Oh, goodness gracious — what a scandal:

And an intense, easy blues:

Dear viewers and listeners: it is easy to take this music for granted, to start the video while you go in the other room to make breakfast.  And that’s no sin: this music was played for lovers, talkers, and drinkers in clubs (and continues to be). But the Cubs are that rare community, a BAND, where the members support each other and play off of each other, so these performances will repay your most loving close attention.  Something’s always going on, and it’s always fulfilling.  Bless them for the beauty they embody.

I’ll see you at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

May your happiness increase!

FEEL THAT REFRESHING BREEZE

BREEZE

As a “Fox Trot”: 

As a “Blues”: 

Willie “the Lion” Smith, in 1935, with Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, and Willie Williams, feels it too:

Clarence Williams feels the breeze, but it’s a very slow sad one (with Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, Floyd Casey:

And, on an Edison cylinder, the Premier Quartet:

And perhaps a century later — in our century (2014), Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs celebrate those very same zephyrs:

It was a hit song in 1919, and it stays in our minds today.  Is it that it is so easy to sing, with whole notes and easily remembered steps up and down the scale?  I don’t know.  Perhaps the spirit of Zephyrus is ready to animate us at any moment.  I hope so.

Breeze sheet

My title comes from another place — a John Cheever story, “The Jewels of the Cabots,” where after the narrator’s father and mother have had their ritual Sunday argument about his inability to carve the roast, this passage emerges:

She would sigh once more and put her hand to her heart. Surely this was her last breath. Then, studying the air above the table, she would say, “Feel that refreshing breeze.”

Would it spoil the effect for JAZZ LIVES readers to know that Cheever’s narrator then states, ruefully or realistically, that there was seldom a breeze.

But there is always BREEZE.

May your happiness increase!

KEYNOTE SPEECHES: RAY SKJELBRED AND HIS CUBS (plus MARC CAPARONE) at SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 27, 2015

Don’t get worried.  JAZZ LIVES hasn’t suddenly turned political, nor will there be any mention of plenary sessions at the great JAZZ LIVES convention.  The “Keynote” I am thinking of, with great affection, is the record label run by Harry Lim in the Forties, which turned out classic after classic, often on longer-running 12″ 78s.  If you’re like me, this label should be immensely dear to you, even if this particular sacred artifact hadn’t been autographed by the leader:

Keynote WettlingAnd this flyer — a new cyber-discovery — evokes some of the same emotions, even for people like myself who now have all the records from that label. “Advanced Jazz” is also pleasing, reminding us that today’s Historical Sounds were once The New Thing:

KEYNOTE ad

Now, this isn’t a post mooning about records made seventy years ago.  I offer two performances created and captured on November 27, 2015, by a band of eminences . . . but the performances so reminded me of the Keynote label that it became a useful jumping-off point.  For one thing, the hot numbers that Lim supervised built up to an almost unbearable tension: after one of those sides, I feel depleted, exhausted, as if the whole band had been jamming in my apartment.  And when the session called for something slower — whether plaintive or a “rhythm ballad,” the time stretched out, as if the players had all the time in the world to tell their stories.

Consider these performances by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, plus Marc Caparone on cornet.  That’s Ray on piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

The first song, ROCK AND RYE, a product of Earl Hines’ 1934 band, is indeed rocking: it refers to a combination of rye whiskey and rock candy / rock sugar. And since it pains me when people are reaching for information and not finding any of it there, here is a recipe for it.

RockCandyRyeWhiskeyHag

Not entirely tangentially, in a Whitney Balliett profile of Helen Humes, when she was appearing at The Cookery in New York, we hear Barney Josephson telling Helen that she has to drink some, that he had bought a whole case for her.

But enough stories.  Music, please!

And the second selection is a poignant journey through IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN, that Thirties ballad about a broken relationship, a broken-off engagement.  Marc doesn’t imitate anyone, but I always think of this song in connection with trumpeter Joe Thomas (who liked to sing it as well as play it) and who was a particular favorite of Harry Lim’s, which is a blessing, since Joe’s Keynote recordings increase his discography by perhaps fifty percent.  Here’s a portrait of Joe by William Gottlieb, taken at the Pied Piper in New York City (which still stands although with no music) in late 1947:

JOE THOMAS

And here’s the 2015 rendering:

Blessings on the Cubs and on Ray and Marc, and on Paul Daspit, whose dear guidance makes such things happen.  Oh, and there are more videos from this session.  See you at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest (November 23-27, 2016).

May your happiness increase!