Tag Archives: Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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:

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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)

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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

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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!