Tag Archives: Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs

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!

“IT’S ALL AN EXPLORATION,” RAY SKJELBRED with KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON (a/k/a HIS CUBS) at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 28, 2015)

cubs_photo_sm

Ray Skjelbred quoted Earl Hines before launching in to a musing yet energized improvisation on ROSETTA during this set at the San Diego Jazz Fest (November 28, 2015).  Along for the ride, creating a deliciously swinging band — are Jeff Hamilton, drums; Katie Cavera, guitar; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass:

What’s the point of going somewhere if the route and the destination are already made tiresome through over-familiarity?  Ray Skjelbred, another jazz Emersonian, takes us along, tipping his hat to the Fatha, to Jess, to the Basie rhythm section, to the world of Commodore Records.

And Ray and his Cubs arrive at someplace more glowing than we’d ever expected we’d get to.

May your happiness increase!

PAINTED LIPS, PAINTED EYES

Clara Bow

Clara Bow

One more from this delicious band — Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs — on their 2015 West Coast Tour.  I posted a life-affirming (no, life-improving) selection from their July 9, 2015 concert at the Rossmoor Jazz Club here, and you could do worse than watch it again.

This delight  — again thanks to SFRaeAnn  (who is known to the law as Rae Ann Hopkins Berry) — comes from the very next night, when Ray and his Cubs performed at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California. For those who haven’t kept up, the band is Ray Skjelbred, piano / vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet / vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar / vocal; Clint Baker, string bass / vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

(About Cafe Borrone, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, were I there, I would be there.)

I pointed out in my previous post how much I enjoy Kim Cusack’s singing. Perhaps to the uninitiated, he sounds a little like a character in a good Warner Brothers film circa 1933, his phrases clipped, his delivery conversational (a useful corrective to so many singers orally swooning over their own long vowel movements).  But listen closely to how he lingers over a note here and a note there, how he swings, how he delivers the goods.

I belong to a small select group of people who not only delight in Kim’s singing, but who treasure his elongation of certain sounds, especially in this case — at the end of the chorus, what he often does to NOW, stretching it out so that it reminds me of the annoyed comment of a Siamese cat whose imperial will is being disregarded.  On this July 10 performance, it’s a little less cheerfully caustic than usual, but perhaps this was the last tune before a break and everyone was thinking of dinner.

I also adore — and I will stop shortly — his final hand gesture, amused yet charming: “Ladies, don’t rush the band.  Don’t knock me off my stool.  Form a single line and don’t push.  Thank you, my people!”

AND THE BAND ITSELF.  Swing made lucent and portable — the music stand on Ray’s keyboard was not the only thing rocking, I know.  The ripe-peach rhythm wave of Clint and Katie, and the beautifully melodic waves of sound that Jeff creates.

If you’re not smiling, I urge you — as a healing practitioner — to play the video again until it has its proper palliative effect.

May your happiness increase!

JOIN THEIR FUN: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, CLINT BAKER (Rossmoor Jazz Club, July 9, 2015)

One of the deep pleasures of being a temporary / intermittent California resident for large chunks of the past few years was being able to savor the beautiful music created by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs: Ray, piano, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass, vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

It’s nice to know that through the miracle of technology, I don’t have to miss out on much: Rae Ann Berry took her camera and tripod to Walnut Creek, California, just the other day (July 9, 2015) and captured an evening of Ray and the Cubs at Rossmoor, thanks to the “Rossmoor Jazz Club,” the generous invention of Bob and Vonne Anne Burch.

Here is my absolute favorite from that evening:

SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

Everything this band does cheers me — I want a CD devoted to Kim’s vocals! — but this performance has out-in-the-open spectacular drumming, ensemble and solo, from one of the finest on the planet, Jeff Hamilton.  The whole band rocks and soars, but Hamilton elevates it all several stories in the air.  And bring the children into the room to let them hear what a rhythm section sounds like.  It’s not too early to teach them right.

And I have a special fondness for this song because of this fellow.  I think I first heard this recording before I had a driver’s license: I can summon up the picture of the cover of the German Odeon lp which contained it:

I love everything about this 1930 recording, including Lionel Hampton’s drum accents behind Louis’ muted melody statement, the guitar obbligato by Bill Perkins behind the vocal (that vocal!) . . . . and that trumpet solo, which I would stand up against Joyce, Stravinsky, or Kandinsky.  Yeah, man.

Now, I urge you, enjoy the Cubs once again.  Yes, they can follow Louis!

Send this post to your Sweetheart.  And if (s)he says, “What is this?” you can have a good time explaining the mystery of it all, can’t you?

May your happiness increase!

TEN MINUTES OF SPIRITED PLEASURE: RAY SKJELBRED and THE CUBS at SACRAMENTO (May 24, 2014)

Just that.  Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  Recorded at the Sacramento Music Festival on May 24, 2014 — in a cozy room where I sat so close to the band (my preferred position) that I couldn’t get all of the quintet in at one time.  I hope Jeff Hamilton will forgive me for rendering him temporarily invisible (is this his superpower?) but he surely is delightfully audible.

The tunes — a 1922 Vincent Rose pop-song-turned-jazz-standard, LINGER AWHILE, and a pretty song that we might not have known had not the Jean Goldkette band recorded it, at a faster tempo, a few years later — IDOLIZING:

There’s no other band quite like this one, and we are so fortunate that they exist.

May your happiness increase!

FINE TIMES AT CLINE, 2013 AND COMING SOON (July 12, 2014)

One can get tired of the settings in which most jazz is found: small rooms, dark and dense with chatter; larger windowless ballrooms. Even someone who spends as much time indoors as I do enjoys hearing the music in a beautiful setting out of doors — where the only sound competing with the hot music for our attention is birdsong.

We had a wonderful time at the 2013 Cline Wine and Dixieland Festival: music hot and sweet in the open air, delicious wine and good food, and delight everywhere.  I can’t offer JAZZ LIVES readers a plate of oysters or pour anyone a glass, but I can share three videos I recorded on that fine summer day.

Ray Skjelbred in a pastoral solo recital:

The Black Diamond Blue Five (Clint Baker, Leon Oakley, Robert Young, Marty Eggers, and Bill Reinhart):

Scott Anthony’s Golden Gate Rhythm Machine (Bob Schulz, Jim Maihack, Clint Baker, Robert Young, Bob Hirsch, Bill Maginnis):

This year, Cline Cellars offers another delicious experience, on Saturday, July 12, 2014, from 11 AM to 6:15 PM, at Cline Cellars, 24737 Hwy 121, Sonoma, California, four miles north of the Sears Point (Infineon) Raceway.  Bands invited to perform — at this writing — are Black Diamond Blue Five, Devil Mountain Jazz Band, Golden Gate Rhythm Machine with Pat Yankee, Jambalaya Big Swing Band, Natural Gas Jazz Band, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, and there will be piano mini-concerts by Ray Skjelbred, Bob Hirsch, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor, Tom Barnebey.

Admission: $30 advance (before July 10), $35 at the gate. Wine, beer, food available. Or, bring your own picnic. Call 707-940-4025 for reservations, information.  Click here to buy reservations online. For those who don’t feel like walking long distances, there is a shuttle bus to the festival from the Jacuzzi Winery parking lot across the street. Wine enthusiasts who like to buy wine at Cline Cellars can receive a 15% discount on bottle or case sales on the festival date: show your festival badge. And other creature comforts: there are always several sites for music going on at once; shady or in the sun, with comfortable places to sit. We’ll be there.

May your happiness increase!

ALMOST THERE: THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 23-26, 2014)

Next Friday morning, I will be in my New Old Car, heading to Sacramento, California, to spend the Memorial Day weekend amidst music-making friends . . .

Here is the Festival’s site, and the complete list of artists is available here.

I’ll simply note a few JAZZ LIVES’ favorites (in an ecumenical alphabetical order): the Au Brothers, Gordon Au, Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band, Clint Baker, Dan Barrett, Dave Bennett and the Memphis Boys, Eddie Erickson, the Freebadge Serenaders, Grand Dominion, High Sierra, Katie Cavera, Kim Cusack, Meschiya Lake and the Lil Big Horns, Marc Caparone, Midiri Brothers, Mike Daugherty, Pat Yankee, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Hal Smith, Stephanie Trick, Allan Vache, Johnny Varro, Vaud and the Villains, Vince Bartels All-Stars . . . and more.

And for every band / performer listed above, there are four I haven’t named — all having a wonderful time in simultaneous sessions. I hope to meet readers new and already-known at Sacramento.

May your happiness increase!

LINGER AWHILE: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at SAN DIEGO (November 30, 2013)

Living in New York, twenty and more years ago, I had heard Ray Skjelbred in a variety of contexts: with Berkeley Rhythm, with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers featuring Bobby Gordon and Rebecca Kilgore, and on his own. One of the great pleasures of being on this coast is the chance to see him and his band at various festivals (at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 23-26; and at various California locations July 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 — see here for details).

I am glad that Ray and his Cubs have steady gigs on the West Coast, but I wish they were better known worldwide.

It would be ironic but somehow fitting if what I see as their essential virtues had kept them slightly out of prominence in the world of “traditional” jazz.  The group isn’t loud and it doesn’t have an identifying trademark unless you consider a deeply-rooted blues-based hot lyricism a trademark.  No parasol parades; no singing along. Just intense yet relaxed Chicago jazz for this century.

They call it music.

I shy away from “best” or “favorite,” but I am drawn to this band as if magnetically.  I know that a set from Ray or from Ray and his pals will make me feel better — and the side effects of deep elation and gratitude won’t wear off soon if at all.

The band in its most recent incarnation was Ray, piano, vocals, intuition; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass and tuba, vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

Here is a full set (why skimp on pleasure?) from the Thanksgiving 2013 San Diego Jazz Fest (November 30, 2013, to be exact).

LINGER AWHILE:

BULL FROG BLUES:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

SUGAR:

OUR MONDAY DATE:

OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE):

OUT OF NOWHERE (with a lovely streamlined homage to Bing by Mister Daugherty, man of many talents):

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON (Katie always gives such good advice);

SPECIAL DELIVERY BLUES:

THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:

As I said, we are so lucky to have them!

May your happiness increase! 

MAY WE? THE SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL IS COMING (May 23-26, 2014)

Although I’ve been coming to California on a regular basis only since summer 2010 (which hardly makes me a native plant) I’ve been attending the Memorial Day jazz weekend at Sacramento every year I could.

In fact, I seem to have brought my video camera and notebook with me in 2011 and 2012, too.  Evidence below.

But before any reader gets engrossed in Recent Glories, may I direct your attention — as the attorneys always say in courtroom dramas — to what is happening in May 2014?

Here is the Festival’s site.

Jazz purists, please don’t be alarmed if you don’t recognize all of the headliners: the SMF has taken a broader view of “Americana” and “roots music” than it did in earlier years, but there is a wide variety of pleasing sound for all.  The complete list of artists is available here.

I’ll simply note a few JAZZ LIVES’ favorites (in an ecumenical alphabetical order): the Au Brothers, Gordon Au, Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band, Clint Baker, Dave Bennett and the Memphis Boys, Eddie Erickson, the Freebadge Serenaders, Grand Dominion, High Sierra, Katie Cavera, Kim Cusack, Meschiya Lake and the Lil Big Horns, Marc Caparone, Midiri Brothers, Mike Daugherty, Pat Yankee, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Red Skunk Gipzee Swing, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Stephanie Trick, Vaud and the Villains, Vince Bartels All-Stars . . . and more.

The thought of all that, even spread out over multiple venues from Friday through Monday, is both elating and exhausting.  While I lie down, perhaps you’d like to peruse Years Gone By . . .

Hal Smith’s International Sextet

 
 
 
 
 
Come celebrate at the Sacramento Music Festival with us this year.
May your happiness increase!

“BLUE NOTES THAT FRAME THE PASSION”: RAY SKJELBRED’S TRIBAL WISDOM

Pianist / composer / scholar / poet Ray Skjelbred is one of the rare ones.

I don’t say this only because of his deeply rewarding piano playing — soloist, accompanist, bandleader — but because of the understanding that it rests upon.  Ray understands that he is one of long line of creators — members of the tribe of improvising storytellers, some of them no longer on the planet but their energies still vividly alive.

He doesn’t strive to copy or to “recreate”; rather, he honors and embodies in ways that words can only hint at.  Call it an enlightened reverence that takes its form in blues-based melodic inventions, and you’ll be close to understanding the essence of what Ray does, feels, and is.

Here are some of his own introspections: “I get ideas by trying to hear the world differently, sometimes even misunderstanding sound on purpose. . . . I like to see things differently, to shape a song, to make it mine. I like to make tempo changes, especially fast to slow, I like to make the notes as round and warm as possible and part of that comes from shading a composition with blue notes that frame the passion. I like to fill in harmonies when the melody feels a little bony to me. . . . I think music is an adventure, a chance to shape sound with your bare hands.”

I’ve admired his playing for some years now — before I knew him as a soloist, I heard him through ensembles on recordings led by other musicians, rather in the way one would hear Hines, Horace Henderson, Joe Sullivan, Frank Melrose, Jess Stacy, Zinky Cohn, Tut Soper, Cassino Simpson, Alex Hill, or a dozen others subversively and happily animating the largest group.

There are several ways to experience this magic — Ray making himself a portal through which the elders can speak, while adding his own personal experiences.  One, of course, is to witness his transformations in person.  To do this, you’d have to know where he is going to be playing — check out the bottom of the page here for his appearances in the near future.

Another way t0 have a portable Skjelbred festival is through his compact discs, recent and otherwise, listed here. I call two new issues to your attention.  One, RAGTIME PIANO, is — beneath its rather plain title — a continued exploration of subversive possibilities, witty and warm.

I remember the first time I began to listen to it — with small surprises popping through the surface like small flowers, catching me off guard, subtler than Monk creating his own version of stride piano but with some of the same effect.  Each track is a small hot sonata, with the surprises resurfacing to make the whole disc a suite of unusual yet comfortable syncopated dance music.

The sixteen solo piano performances offer classics, stretched and reconsidered: SWIPSEY CAKEWALK / SOMETHING DOING / WHOOPEE STOMP / LOUISIANA RAG / MOURNFUL SERENADE / DANCE OF THE WITCH HAZELS / PINEAPPLE RAG / AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING, as well as Ray’s originals — inspired by everyone from Emily Dickinson to Julia Child: SMILING RAG / LEAN AND GRIEFY RAG / DON’T CROWD THE MUSHROOMS / COCHINEAL RAG / LITTLE ELMER’S RAG / THE PICOT RAG / REFLECTIONS RAG / BALLS AND STRIKES FOREVER.

Another deep lesson in how to get the most music possible — and then some — from the piano can be found in Ray’s PIANO PORTRAITS, which demonstrates his range of endearing associations, from the Hot Five and early blues singers to Carl Kress and Eddie Lang, from Jimmie Noone and early Ellington to Bix, Hines, and Charlie Shavers. It’s a filling and fulfilling musical banquet: SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD / FEELING MY WAY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / WEATHER BIRD RAG / SQUEEZE ME / I NEED YOU BY MY SIDE / DINAH / READY FOR THE RIVER / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / CLARK AND RANDOLPH / CANNED MEAT RAG / BLUES FROM “CREOLE RHAPSODY” / BLUES FOR MILLIE LAMMOREUX / FATHER SWING / WHEN I DREAM OF YOU / A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND / MY HEART / MUGGLES / UNDECIDED.  Ray’s prose is as forthright and evocative as his playing, so this CD is worth reading as well as hearing for his recollections of Johnny Wittwer, Joe Sullivan, Burt Bales, Art Hodes, and Earl Hines.

Another way to experience Ray, his mastery of “those pretty notes and jangly octaves,” can be through these video performances.  He has been more than gracious to me, allowing me to capture him in a variety of settings.  I offer one here, BULL FROG BLUES, recorded on November 29, 2013, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — with his Cubs, that savory band: Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Mike Daugherty, drums:

Wherever Ray goes, whatever the context in which he makes music, it’s always rewarding.

May your happiness increase!