Tag Archives: Ray Skjelbred

THEY HAVE THINGS TO TELL US: RAY SKJELBRED and MARC CAPARONE (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 25, 2016)

Maybe it’s human nature, but many duets between two improvisers become playfully combative. They sound so much like two elementary-school boys arguing over some debated fact or incident. Baseball cards, perhaps, or superheroes. I think of Irving Berlin’s ANYTHING YOU CAN DO (I CAN DO BETTER).

But true artists like Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, understand that the purpose of art is to pass feelings and sensations back and forth so that a duet isn’t a scuffle but a conversational exercise in friendly synergy. And our engagement in their conversation, which might be elegant or greasy or both, ennobles us as well as them.

The texts for these mellow sermons are two rarely-played Thirties tunes. The first, I’LL NEVER SAY ‘NEVER AGAIN’ AGAIN, I associate with Henry “Red” Allen:

And Dana Suesse’s MY SILENT LOVE, which Ray converted (upgraded), with lyrics, to MICE ISLAND LOVE:

It would be easy for the casual listener / viewer to say, “Oh, that’s just two guys playing duets at a festival. Where’s my favorite band, THE CRASHING CLIMAX, playing?” But music like this is beyond compare, and should it ever vanish from the planet, our skies would be so much grayer. Thank you, Ray, and thank you, Marc.

May your happiness increase!

“FINDING ANOTHER WORLD”: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS ASK A DEEP QUESTION (KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON, Sacramento, May 25, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred is more than comfortable with taking risks — not hang-gliding or sky-diving, but performing new songs in front of an audience, as he does here. The clues are simple: “Three choruses.” “My favorite Gershwin song,” and he and his Cubs — Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar — take us to another world:

Those of us who follow Ray, and Ray and his Cubs, might quickly associate them with the bedrock of Chicago jazz: dark-blue musings and skyrocket exuberance, and all that would be true. But their deep soulfulness comes out on a quiet but eloquent ballad performance such as this one.

The question is asked, and asked with feeling, leaving listeners to invent their own answers. Bless Ray, and all his friends.

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!

“YOU GET A NUMBER FOR A NAME”: SCOTT ANTHONY with BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND (Sacramento Music Festival, May 26, 2014)

Here’s a parable about someone who fools the “chumps,” who lies for power and profit.  (It’s also Country Bumpkin and City Slicker, or Crime Doesn’t Pay.)

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B (thanks to Amy King):

I’ve been thinking about WISE GUYS of late.  But first, a story.

My friend in graduate school, Sal, once told me, “My father grew up poor, so he had a very loose attitude toward property.  If it was unattached, it became his.  So I grew up thinking that was OK, that ‘everybody does it’ — sugar packets, office supplies.  Nothing big, but it was an attitude.  Then when somebody broke into my car and stole all the Christmas presents I had stashed in the trunk, I thought, ‘Somebody is trying to tell me something.’  Now, I don’t swipe anything.  I buy my own paper clips and it won’t break me.  You know I’m a dog-lover.  If your puppy is stealing a sock or a cookie, you make eye contact and say, ‘Is that yours?’ and he’ll drop it.  Why aren’t we that smart?”

WISE GUYS sounds as if written in 1890, but it was composed by Bonnie Windsor, about whom I know very little except that she collaborated with Tom Glazer on RUGGED BUT RIGHT c. 1952.  Our song was recorded and performed by Julia Lee, Turk Murphy, Pat Yankee, and John Gill.  (In his essay on Julia Lee, Bill Millar refers to its “anti-mobster” theme, but Windsor is describing behavior not limited to the Mafia.)

The message of WISE  GUYS is plain: cheating people is shameful and stupid, because you will be punished.  (Also, Windsor suggests that the people you are trying to fool are smarter than you, hence Bumpkin and Slicker.)

It’s performed here by Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Bob Schulz, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jim Maihack, tuba; Mike Daugherty, drums, at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 26, 2014:

Any resemblance to real-life characters is, of course, unintentional.

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!

 

FINE RIFFIN’ THAT EVENING: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE, STEVE PIKAL, RILEY BAKER (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

Jacob Zimmerman, Riley Baker, March 7, 2020, Monterey, California

Good music for a Saturday night, or anytime.  In performance at the 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay, this composition wasn’t announced by name, but it’s really Jacob Zimmerman’s RADIATOR — dedicated to Ray Skjelbred — an improvisation on the venerable theme SHINE. (And before you get all het up about SHINE, please read this to get the real story about that song, written by African-Americans as a proud affirmation. But I digress.) The result is some fine riffin’ by Jacob, alto saxophone and head arrangement; Marc Caparone, cornet; Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; guest star and friend Riley Baker, trombone.

Righteous stuff, wouldn’t you say?  I look forward to our next reunion, when all the cacophony (emotional, medical, political — you name it) has subsided.  I hear that medical staffs worldwide are working on a vaccine for hateful ignorance, too.

May your happiness increase!

“BUSY DOING NOTHING”: JACOB ZIMMERMAN TRIO (COLE SCHUSTER, MATT WEINER) — a NEW RELEASE on BANDCAMP

First, how about some music? — multi-layered and subtle, full of joy and surprises.  The creators are Jacob Zimmerman, reeds and arrangements; Cole Schuster, electric guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass:

Now, before we move on, a relevant and pleasing cat portrait:

You’ll have to ask Jacob and Elena about the curious feline: I stick to music.

The occasion here is the release of the Jacob Zimmerman Trio’s new record (or CD or download), called BUSY DOING NOTHING.  Don’t let the self-deprecating title fool you: it’s quietly warm music that remains in your feelings and thoughts.

I believe that when Jacob told me about his new project, I said, with all the delicate guile at my fingertips, “I want to write something for that,” and he graciously agreed.  Here is the Bandcamp link.  (My version of this link says “You own this,” because I do, but I hope that acts as an inducement to follow in my path after you’ve listened to LITTLE WHITE LIES.)

And here’s what I wrote about the music.

Some jazz listeners rhapsodize over the seismic power of a large ensemble. But such efforts make me say to no one in particular, before I stop the disc, “Please. Take the pianist, drummer, and all but one horn away. There’s a great Thai place two blocks south. Have lunch on me.” Many of the most beautiful sounds I know have been made by the smallest groups, austerely lovely, energetically romping, each a triumph of intuition and empathy: Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, Skeeter Best; Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Zutty Singleton; Duke and Blanton; Vic Dickenson and Ralph Sutton. And when the instrumentation is “unorthodox,” all the better.

It’s in this spirit that I greet and embrace BUSY DOING NOTHING, a sly title for these trio performances. They have a translucent sparseness yet they are also rich in melody and improvisation. Each chorus seems a complete composition in itself: BILL, for one gorgeous example. These three musicians create lovely textural variations as well as melodic embellishment and sweet harmonic delving, and the results feel honest, fresh but never self-consciously “adventurous.”

CHRISTMAS IN JAIL has a deep-blue moan to it – even though I would suspect that Jacob, Cole, and Matt have done nothing more criminal than parking tickets. Jacob told me that this session was inspired by the Braff-Barnes Quartet and the Jimmy Giuffre Trio – and this track has a close kinship with THE TRAIN AND THE RIVER, which is great praise. For uncomplicated irresistible swing, there’s MY GAL SAL – “good and groovy,” to quote Trummy Young. ALL OF YOU has, in its quiet pensive splendor, echoes of Brahms, if Brahms had been wiser. I WON’T DANCE is charming, expert, and hilarious: “Look what they did there!” is how I felt on first listening. THE BOY NEXT DOOR gave me chills – moving from unaffected tenderness to sophistication and back again.

BLUE ROSE holds a special place in my affections: when I last saw Jacob, an occasion that, pre-pandemic, seems a lifetime ago, at the March 2020 “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” he and Riley Baker joined me for a meal and conversation, then Jacob brought his tiny audio setup to my hotel room so that we could hear a track from this session. It was this, his gift to our hero Ray Skjelbred, an improvisation on a passage from the 1933 Horace Henderson record of HAPPY FEET. When I could form words, I said only, “Would you play that again?” It thrills me to know that I, and you, can play BLUE ROSE forever. There is an arching imagination behind this – composition and the trio’s playing – that makes me very glad. It feels like a three-dimensional aural ballet, airy and solid at once.
LAZYBONES is the soundtrack for a Swing Cowpoke short subject that hasn’t been filmed yet, with Matt, Cole, and Jacob rounding up the out-of-tune rustlers and getting them to play their parts correctly before riding off to educate the next bunch of amateurs. IDA of course harks back – how beautiful Matt’s arco sounds! – to Nichols, Rollini, and Livingston, but Jacob’s entrance reminds me of Lester, ten years later, and the whole performance is a sweet world that we are encouraged to make ourselves at home in. SOMEBODY LIKE YOU is one of Jacob’s discoveries of otherwise-forgotten Walter Donaldson music. It has an unaffected 1927 lope to it, dance music for another time and place, shined up by this trio so that we can delight in it right now. I love Cole’s chiming arpeggios and Matt’s serious two-four dance underneath Jacob’s bright-toned melodies. My only complaint about this track (and others as well) is that they are so sweetly terse that I said, on first hearing, “Wait. Is that over?” THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES suggests some lovely Sixties music heard at a distance – another dance, both saying, “Come join us.”

I wonder how listeners in 2021 and beyond will take this music in. It is so rewarding, track by track, that I hope they will not gobble it down in one sitting. I wistfully envision these thirteen performances as being issued as a set of Victor Red Seal or Keynote 12” discs in a cardboard “album” that one would have to reverently play, one after the other, placing each disc on the turntable and lowering the tone arm. The thirteenth side would be shiny and ungrooved, a reminder for us to go back to LITTLE WHITE LIES, in amazed delight at what Jacob, Cole, and Matt create for us. This session is immense fun, but approaching it with joyful astonishment would be right.

When you’ve heard the music, and I hope you will, you will understand that I did not overstate here.  And if you can find it in your heart and wallet to purchase this music on Juneteenth — June 19, 2020, Bandcamp has done something both moral and special.  I quote from their site:

The recent killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the ongoing state-sanctioned violence against black people in the US and around the world are horrific tragedies. We stand with those rightfully demanding justice, equality, and change, and people of color everywhere who live with racism every single day, including many of our fellow employees and artists and fans in the Bandcamp community.

So this this coming Juneteenth (June 19, from midnight to midnight PDT) and every Juneteenth hereafter, for any purchase you make on Bandcamp, we will be donating 100% of our share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that has a long history of effectively enacting racial justice and change through litigation, advocacy, and public education. We’re also allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.

The current moment is part of a long-standing, widespread, and entrenched system of structural oppression of people of color, and real progress requires a sustained and sincere commitment to political, social, and economic racial justice and change. We’ll continue to promote diversity and opportunity through our mission to support artists, the products we build to empower them, who we promote through the Bandcamp Daily, our relationships with local artists and organizations through our Oakland space, how we operate as a team, and who and how we hire.

Beyond that, we encourage everyone in the Bandcamp community to look for ways to support racial equality in your own local community, and as a company we’ll continue to look for more opportunities to support racial justice, equality and change.

Blessings on Jacob, Cole, and Matt, and thanks to Bandcamp for not only making this music accessible to us but also giving an extra moral push towards a kinder future for all.

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!

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part One): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM and SOLO at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: DAN LEVINSON, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, HAL SMITH (November 29 / 31, 2019)

An authenticated signature.

Festivals and jazz parties make it possible for me to greet old friends again and bask in their music, but a great thrill is being able to meet and hear someone I’ve admired for  years on record — people who come to mind are Bent Persson, Jim Dapogny, Ray Skjelbred, Carl Sonny Leyland, Rebecca Kilgore, Hal Smith (it’s a long list) and now the wonderful pianist John Royen, whom I met for the first time at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest.

At work / at play, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.  Photo by Alex Matthews.

For John’s New Orleans Rhythm, the first set, he was joined by Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums. I hear someone’s therapy dog, or an audience member was whimpering with delight.

SOME OF THESE DAYS:

WABASH BLUES:

WOLVERINE BLUES:

That was Friday.  We didn’t see John, and Conal Fowkes took his place at a set; we heard that John had decided (not really) on an internal home improvement, and had had a defibrillator installed at a nearby hospital.  This surprised me, because his beat has always been terribly regular.

But he reappeared magically on Sunday, looking like himself.  Virginia Tichenor graciously ceded some of her solo piano time so that he could play.  And play he did.

His solo playing was both assertive and delicate, spicy yet respectful of the originals.  John’s relations with the audience are so charming . . . and his playing, while not always fast or loud, is lively — lit brightly from within.

The Lion’s HERE COMES THE BAND:

ATLANTA BLUES, or MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:

and John’s delightful improvisations on MY INSPIRATION:

There will be a Part Two: John with Joe Goldberg, Marty Eggers, Riley Baker, and a brief visit from John Otto.  An honor to encounter the Captain, who creates such good music.

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

Cafe Borrone from the outside, in daylight.

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

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

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

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

The world can’t do without those Rhythm Men.

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

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bing, with added attractions Eddie Lang and Franklin Pangborn:

and in a Hawaiian mood:

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

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

May your happiness increase!

ANCIENT SONGS OF LOVE: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND at “SOUNDS OF MARDI GRAS,” Fresno, California: BOB SCHULZ, RAY TEMPLIN, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, SCOTT ANTHONY, JIM MAIHACK (February 9, 2019)

 

 

I don’t think we automatically perceive hot jazz as the music of romance.  After all, would you woo your Dearest One with ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, YOU RASCAL YOU, PANAMA, or GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD?  But the hot jazz expressions of the late Twenties onwards were based on the music of love as expressed in pop songs with lyrics.  These songs were accessible to the crowd, they could be danced to, and they could be swung.  Think of the recordings of Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Louis Prima, Eddie Condon, and a thousand others up to the present day.  (And I like the coincidence that the first song recorded by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five was MY HEART, by pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong.)

It seems that for every “You trampled on my soul, you heartless cad” song, there are two dozen celebrating the joys of fulfilling love: TEA FOR TWO, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, EXACTLY LIKE YOU, SWEET LORRAINE, AS LONG AS I LIVE, HONEY, WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, I WISH I WERE TWINS, AIN’T SHE SWEET, ALWAYS, SWEET AND SLOW, I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU, YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, I WANT TO BE HAPPY, and so on.

In that spirit, I present four swinging love songs (vocals by Bob Schulz and Scott Anthony) performed and recorded at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” in Fresno, California, on February 9, 2019.  The creators here are Bob Schulz, cornet, vocal; Doug Finke, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo, vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba, Ray Templin, drums, vocal.

Meaning no disrespect to the rest of the Frisco Jazz Band, please pay serious attention to what Mr. Skjelbred is doing, in ensemble as well as solo: I’d characterize it as his setting off small melodious fireworks in every performance.  As he does!

Here’s the most ancient chanson d’amour, Tony Jackson’s PRETTY BABY:

and the song Louis used as his entry to a huge popular following (while always remaining himself), I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

JUNE NIGHT, with a startling Skjelbred solo:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at a nice easy tempo:

This congenial, amiable ensemble will return to Fresno in February 2020.

May your happiness increase!

“FESTINA LENTE”: RAY SKJELBRED, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER at BIRD and BECKETT (July 11, 2019)

σπεῦδε βραδέως.  “Make haste slowly.” 

Yes, this post begins with classical Greek and a photograph of Louis Armstrong singing to a horse — all relevant to the performances below, recorded just ten days ago at the remarkable cultural shrine of San Francisco, Bird and Beckett Books and Records (653 Chenery Street).  Thanks, as always, to the faithful Rae Ann Berry for documenting this facet of Ray Skjelbred’s California tour.

As bands play familiar repertoire over the decades, tempos speed up.  Perhaps it’s to stimulate the audience; perhaps it’s a yearning to show off virtuosity . . . there are certainly other reasons, conscious as well as unexamined, that are part of this phenomenon.  But Medium Tempo remains a lush meadow for musicians to stroll in, and it’s always pleasing to me when they count off a familiar song at a groovy slower-than-expected tempo.  I present two particularly gratifying examples, created by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Clint Baker, trumpet; Riley Baker, drums.  Here, JEEPERS CREEPERS is taken at the Vic Dickenson Showcase tempo, or near to it, reminding us that it’s a love song, even if sung to a horse:

and a nice slow drag for AFTER YOU’VE GONE, in keeping with the lyrics:

I don’t know how many people have seen the film clip below from the 1938 Bing Crosby film GOING PLACES, where Louis Armstrong introduced the Harry Warren – Johnny Mercer song JEEPERS CREEPERS.  (There is a brief interruption in the video: the music will resume.)

For the full story of Louis, the horse (a mean one), and the movie, you’ll have to wait for Ricky Riccardi’s splendid book on Louis’s “middle years,” 1929-47, HEART FULL OF RHYTHM.  For now, who knows the uncredited rhythm section on this clip?. I imagine it to be Joe Sullivan and Bobby Sherwood, but that may be a fantasy, one I happily indulge myself in.

And what Eric Whittington makes happen at Bird and Beckett Books is no fantasy: he deserves our heartfelt thanks, whether in classical Greek or the San Francisco demotic of 2019.

May your happiness increase!

A DREAM COME TRUE: THE RETURN OF RAY SKJELBRED and CARL SONNY LEYLAND (WARREN JENNINGS’ HOUSE PARTY, July 14, 2019)

Both Ray Skjelbred and Carl Sonny Leyland are bright skies in my night sky, deep quirky soulful individualists.  Each is a strong-willed person and player.  Although they have some of the same ends in mind — swing, lyricism, and a deep immersion in the blues — they always take different routes to get to those ends.  Having them sit down at two pianos in a room is a great dream of mine; having them do so in front of a quiet audience with an expert videographer is almost more than I could hope for.  But it happened, as you will see.

I was at perhaps their first public conversation — at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 9, 2014 — which rings in my ears and heart, although the pianos were widely spaced making them hard to video simultaneously. However, the blessed jubilant evidence remains! — this and this and this, too.  (It makes me nostalgic for Monterey, but we’ll be there in March 2020 if the creeks don’t rise.)

But here, thanks to Rae Ann Berry, is a selection from their most recent collaboration.  I haven’t posted all of what happened at the Jennings’ house party — there are more than two dozen songs and one prose poem — but you can chase down the delights on your own.  Here are treasures.

SONG OF THE WANDERER:

Ray, musing his way through Fats Waller’s CHELSEA:

The Rhythmakers’ YES, SIR!:

KMH DRAG (for Max Kaminsky, Freddie Moore, Art Hodes):

Sonny’s RAT CATCHER’S BLUES:

PANAMA:

Sonny’s delicate boogie version of TOGETHER, which I would guess is in honor of Denis Gilmore:

an indigo reading of HOW LONG BLUES:

and a frolicsome SWIPSEY CAKEWALK, so wonderfully orchestral:

Living at a cosmic intersection where Sonny and Ray can create together is a great uplifting boon.  Bless them, Rae Ann, and Warren Jennings too.

May your happiness increase!

WON’T YOU PLEASE ARRANGE IT? (July 10, 2019)

We love Ray Skjelbred, who loves Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, and Joe Sullivan.  Here, he starts THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT — dedicated to Ginger, her hair a mass of shampoo-suds — as a rubato exploration, then shifts into dreamy dance music:

And here’s the original scene from SWING TIME, which makes me wish that the fantasies of 1936 were plausible: that our lovers could serenade us so tenderly through the bathroom door.  I don’t know where the RKO studio orchestra would fit themselves, but no matter.

Thanks to Ray for evoking such a sweet moment, and to Rae Ann Berry for the video.  And here‘s Ray’s November 2016 solo rendition of this song (he told me it was the first time he’d performed it) along with several other gems.

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!