Tag Archives: Ray Skjelbred

HAMILTON!

This isn’t a blogpost about Alexander Hamilton, or about Lin-Manuel Miranda, or even about the Jeff Hamilton who plays drums with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.

It’s about “our” Jeff Hamilton, shown above — seriously “above,” some  years ago. He is one of the great subversives, often in all caps.  Evidence:

But his music is serious, even when Jeff is giggling.  Here he is on the drums, with Marc Caparone, cornet; Butch “John” Smith, alto; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Mike Fay, string bass in Paso Robles, California, in August 2013:

I first met Jeff as a pianist, a delightfully melodic, swinging one, through recordings.  Then I encountered the drummer, the rough-hewn lyrical trombonist, the secret vocalist . . . each of his selves completely rewarding. During my California sojourns, I saw Jeff play with Clint Baker, Ray Skjelbred, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Rebecca Kilgore, and others — always lifting the band.  And I will see and hear him again at this November’s San Diego Jazz Fest, which is a pleasure.

Photograph by Angela Bennett.

Most recently, Jeff Hamilton Jazz, a trio of Jeff, piano / vocal; Clint Baker, trumpet and more; Robert Young, saxophones, played a gig at Eric Whittington’s San Francisco   Bird and Beckett Books.  (Eric has extraordinarily good taste: note the Josef Skvorecky books on the table.)
The indefatigable videographer and fan Rae Ann Hopkins Berry —  known to her YouTube flock as  SFRaeAnn — was right in front on the evening of September 23, and she captured much of the music performed that night.

Here are several performances that give me special joy.  One is Jeff’s quiet vocal and eloquent piano on CABIN IN THE PINES (a song that triangulates perfectly, with vocal recordings by Bing, Mildred, and Louis) while Clint does his Louis on trumpet:

Here’s my favorite song of romantic self-abnegation, I SURRENDER, DEAR (with Jeff Hamilton Jazz at full strength):

Once the imaginary lovebirds settled who was surrendering to whom, and why, they could head to Capri to enjoy themselves, thanks to the ghost of Wingy Manone:

And, suitably enlightened, the couple could settle into Buddhist enlightenment, embracing uncertainty:

On December 2, the Baker / Hamilton Trio will again visit Bird & Beckett Books. Perhaps this time Jeff can be prevailed on to do his Fuzzy Knight tribute.  One can only hope.

Until then, I urge you to visit his website and learn the truth, that he is the REAL Hamilton.  Accept no imitations.

May your happiness increase!

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THE JOHN OCHS CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF SEATTLE: RAY SKJELBRED, JIM GOODWIN, HAM CARSON (April 8, 1988)

Jim Goodwin, photo courtesy of Dave Radlauer

There are musicians, and there are people who make the music possible: record producers, archivists, concert promoters, club owners, managers, and more. Think of George Wein, Norman Granz, Milt Gabler, Jerry Newman, (even) Joe Glaser, George Avakian, Bill Savory, the Ertegun brothers, and three dozen more.  To this list must be added the name (and living presence) of John Ochs, who has generously produced records and CDs on his Rhythm Master label. I have long admired those recordings, but hadn’t known of John as a video-archivist prince until meeting him (and wife Pamela) at the November 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, when he told me of the marvels I can share with you below.

A youthful Ray Skjelbred, again courtesy of Dave Radlauer.

John is also the authority of Northwest Pacific boxing promoter Jack Hurley, and has just published a three-volume bio-history.  Details here.  (I have no interest in boxing but was caught by these irresistible stories.)

But this post is about some treasured music — by heroes — that I hadn’t known existed.  It’s my pleasure to let John himself introduce it:

The video was recorded at the RhythmMaster recording session in my basement on April 8, 1988.  I borrowed a neighbor’s video camera with auto-focus (as you will see, only sometimes, and even then it was not very good).  The session featured primarily Ray Skjelbred on piano and Jim Goodwin on cornet.  I asked reed man Hamilton Carson to come around for second half of the session to add another voice. Unfortunately, the footage from the session’s first half (the entire portion of the session featuring Jim and Ray as a duo. Damn!) was stolen in a house break-in along with the VCR with which I had been reviewing it.

What remains is the last part of the session just as Ham had come aboard. Unfortunately, after a few tunes, our “cameraman,” had to leave early, and the special lighting was dimmed and the camera put on auto-pilot for the rest of the session.  The quality of the video is not up to your normal standard, but despite the major focus problems, I think it is worth sharing.

Goodwin’s cornet work here might seem a little ragged to some people.  Certainly he is blowing a very breathy horn.  There are several reasons for this.  For one thing, this session took place at a lull in Jim’s musical life when he had moved back to Portland to live with his mother.  What little music he played was mostly for himself on the upright piano in the living room rather than on the cornet.  So also, Jim being the Jim Goodwin we know and love so well, was never one to place a premium on the condition or quality of his horn.  If it had a few leaky valves or hadn’t been cleaned in a while, that was just a challenge to be navigated around rather than fixed.  Most importantly though, as a follower of such musicians as Wild Bill Davison (maybe his earliest as well and most enduring influence), Rex Stewart, Red Allen, and Herman Autrey, etc., Jim naturally gravitated to an expressive, earthy-toned method of horn playing.

These aspects of his style are in full display here, but, more importantly, the footage provides a visual closeup of the creative warmth and vitality Goodwin brought to his music and to the musicians in the band.  When Ham Carson blows an especially beautiful solo, Jim is right there listening and encouraging him. And when the solo ends, Jim can hardly wait to take his turn, not to upstage Ham, but to continue the mood and complement the good work he has done.  So too, when Skjelbred acknowledges Goodwin’s descending run with a tip of his own musical hat, Jim is quick to return the compliment with a smile even as he gets on with the business of making music.  It was this infectious use of his creativity, and his desire to make the band sound better, which made him such a joy to work with and to listen to.  Jim simply brought out the best in those around him. I hope that these video clips might help round out the picture of Jim Goodwin, the musician, and afford those who never saw him play an opportunity to visualize what was happening on the bandstand or studio when they listen to his other sound recordings.

This video also may serve to introduce many of your viewers to the music of clarinetist Ham Carson.  It may be hard to believe, but I am quite sure that neither Goodwin nor Skjelbred, who at the time lived in Berkeley, California, had met Ham prior to the the session. Ham moved to Seattle from Los Angeles about 10 years earlier and had been a fixture in Seattle’s jazz circles ever since. I was familiar with Ham’s affinity for Chicago-style (i. e., Pee Wee, Tesch) playing and thought the styles of the three musicians would be compatible.  Boy, for once, was I ever right!  Ham fit right in!  His playing here is impressive throughout — prodigious even.  As for Ray’s playing on the session, no comment is required.

My dear friend Candace Brown shared two pieces of journalism which are more than relevant.  Sadly, they are obituaries, but written with care and warmth: Ham Carson and Jim Goodwin.  If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know of my reverence for pianist Ray Skjelbred, who is very much with us as I write these words.  

But enough words.  To the music, which speaks louder.  Than.

PART ONE: Recorded by John Ochs, April 8, 1988. Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jim Goodwin, cornet; Ham Carson, clarinet: EMALINE; GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU; COPENHAGEN; RUNNIN’ WILD.

PART TWO: RUNNIN’ WILD (concluded); SQUEEZE ME (piano solo); I AIN’T GOT NOBODY; NOBODY’S SWEETHEART.

PART THREE:  NEW BALK BLUES; POOR BUTTERFLY (Carson-Skjelbred duet); DIGA DIGA DOO; SAY IT SIMPLE; TRYING TO STOP MY CRYING.

A few things need to be said.  First, ninety minutes of this!  Second, many “rarities” are more rare than gratifying: I hope you all will take the time to savor this hot chamber music recital.

To me, there are four heroes in these three videos: Skjelbred, Carson, Goodwin, and Ochs.  Their generosities uplift us, and we are grateful.

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 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!

“TORMENTED”: RAY SKJELBRED and MARC CAPARONE (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 25, 2016)

We have to thank the cultural phenomenon of the jukebox in the Thirties for — directly and indirectly — making so much memorable music possible.  Not only did it make it easy for larger audiences to hear new songs, but it created a market for recordings of contemporary pop tunes . . . often played and sung by people who wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance.  The records by Fats Waller and his Rhythm, by Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson (leading their own orchestras and in tandem) are well-known, but I cherish the lesser-known offerings of Cleo Brown, Bob Howard, Putney Dandridge, Wingy Manone, Louis Prima, and of course Henry “Red” Allen. . . . not only for his playing and singing, but for creating classics from songs that I think would otherwise be forgotten.  One of these is Will Hudson’s 1936 TORMENTED.

and here, for those who would like to try this out on their piano or sing along, is the little cardboard card which (I believe) served to identify a song for copyright purposes by offering the barest sketch of melody and lyrics, portably:

It’s another song of unrelieved yearning, but the version created by Ray Skjelbred, piano, and Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, is soulful, quietly impassioned, but not anything like the title:

The great paradox: art that chronicles pain makes us feel better, and it’s not the sharp-edged notion of Schadenfreude, but rather emotions and beauty, sent directly to us in one package.  Blessings on Ray, Marc, Red, and everyone else living this and other mysteries.

May your happiness increase!

xxx

“A REALLY PRETTY SONG”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, CLINT BAKER (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 25, 2016)

Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have the magical ability to play with Time (Einstein would be pleased) so that a nice steady medium-tempo groove from the band can also be ornamented with dreaming, almost motionless ruminations on the theme: it happens beautifully here.

The song is famous for Billie Holiday and Lester Young, although in 1937 it was simply another new pop tune, composed by Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb.  Carmen doesn’t get much credit for melodies — people are too busy sneering at the Lombardo reeds and vocalizing — but think of COQUETTE, SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, RIDIN’ AROUND IN THE RAIN, and even BOO HOO (I hear Jimmy Rushing singing that one with perfect swing sincerity).

This isn’t a post about the glories of Billie and Lester (even though they can’t be celebrated too much) but rather a wholly instrumental and wholly satisfying version of this song in our century, created by Ray, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar:

What beautiful dreamy music.  Blessings on these musicians and thanks for the San Diego Jazz Fest for providing a time and place (November 25, 2016) for the musicians and audience to feel such expansive comfort.

May your happiness increase!