Tag Archives: Ray Skjelbred

UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part Two): THE JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, GORDON AU, CHARLIE HALLORAN, JAMEY CUMMINS, ALEX BELHAJ, SAM ROCHA, JOSH COLLAZO (May 12, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

I think I first took notice of Jonathan Doyle — clarinetist, tenor saxophonist, later bass saxophonist, composer, arranger — when he was a member of the Thrift Set Orchestra some six years ago, then working with Hal Smith, leading his own groups, in combos with Ray Skjelbred, part of the Fat Babies, with Hal’s Swing Central, and more than I am no doubt leaving out.  By the time I met him in person, possibly at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest, I was already dazzled.

What Jonathan has and shares with us is a special emotional-spiritual energy, as if he’s connected to electric current, no matter how lazy the tempo might be.  I’ve never seen him coast or fall back on formula: he is fully present and fully engaged.  I offered these two splendid performances by his Swingtet at the Redwood Coast Music Festival (with Jacob Zimmerman, Charlie Halloran, Kris Tokarski, Jamey Cummins, Steve Pikal, Hal Smith) here and they deserved all the enthusiastic prose I could write and all the accolades from audience members.  A day later at the RCMF, Jonathan assembled a slightly different Swingtet: Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Jamey Cummins, Alex Belhaj, guitars.

I love this music dearly.

First, Jonathan’s original A SYBARITE’S DREAM, featuring Gordon, musing and soaring, in the fashion of an Ellington mood-piece but purely Doyle:

Then, an utterly captivating romp on Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, inspired by the 1933 Chocolate Dandies recording — a line on DIGA DIGA DOO.  Watch Gordon’s face as Jonathan solos: it tells you all you need to know.  And if you’d been sitting near me, you would have seen my even more dramatic look of astonished delight as Jonathan announced the song . . . as if I’d been given a lovely present.  I haven’t changed my mind at all since then:

Such remarkable passion, allied to an irresistible swing.  Bless Jonathan and his musicians, and Mark and Valerie Jansen for creating such a splendid space for beauties.  (The 2020 Redwood Coast Music Festival will be next May 7-10, and it will be a doozy, a honey, or a blast: you pick.  I think it will be all three.)

May your happiness increase!

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NINE BLOSSOMS ON THE BOUGH: RAY SKJELBRED, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MATT WEINER IN CONCERT at KENYON HALL, SEATTLE, WASHINGTON (April 20, 2019)

I’m thrilled that there are some people I know and hold dear who are doing what I do — documenting the jazz scene with video cameras and a respect for the music and musicians.  I may leave someone out, but first among them, Laura Wyman of Wyman Video and Eric Devine of CineDevine, and my esteemed California role model, Rae Ann Hopkins Berry.

To this list I now add the brilliant string bassist and very effective videographer Matt Weiner.  I’d heard and admired his playing on Jacob Zimmerman’s MORE OF THAT and I got to see him on video in a January 2019 performance here.  He may be mildly shocked by being the center of attention, but once you see the evidence you will understand why he deserves the bright lights and bouquets.

Going back a bit, I don’t recall seeing this announcement for a trio performance at Seattle’s Kenyon Hall:

My ignorance was all to the good, because I would have whined and sulked, “I can’t be there to hear or video this music.  How can they do this to me?” But Matt rescued me — and now you — from such dolorous utterances by not only recording nine selections by this wondrous trio but sending them to me, and thus to us.

Hence, delights.  If you don’t know the Masters here, Skjelbred and Zimmerman, you have fallen behind on your blog-homework and will be sent to blog-detention.  Matt is a noble member of this trio.  The videos below should unfold as a set of glories: lyrical, tender, hot, wise, and heartfelt.  A rare and lasting gift.

Blessings on these three fellows.  And gratitude.

May your happiness increase!

FOR NOONE IN PARTICULAR: The CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the JUVAE JAZZ SOCIETY MINI-FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, DAVE BOCK, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO (Decatur, Illinois: March 30, 2019)

I had a wonderful time last weekend at the one-day jazz festival — the little party thrown by the Juvae Jazz Society in Decatur, Illinois.  Friendly kind people, hot music, sweet sounds, and good feelings in the Flatland.

The two bands I made the trek to hear are Petra van Nuis’ Recession Seven (more about them soon) and the Chicago Cellar Boys: Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar.

Andy made his name with most jazz audiences (I saw him, with Dave Bock, first in 2007, alongside Dan Barrett at Jazz at Chautauqua) as a hot cornetist, the closest thing to “the dear boy” possible.  But in the intervening years, he’s branched out to embody a whole variety of cornet styles, and he’s also shown himself to be a fine tenor player in the Jack Pettis mold, and a spectacular  clarinetist, evoking Tesch, Mezz, and Jimmie.  That’s Teschemacher, Mezzrow, and Noone for the newcomers.

The last fellow on that list — facetiously called “Jimmie No-One” by Kenny Davern, who loved his playing, is our subject today.  Noone’s little Apex Club band featured himself on clarinet, Doc Poston on alto, Earl Hines on piano, Bud Scott on banjo, Johnny Wells on drums, and Lawson Buford or Bill Newton on tuba.  This little band’s most remarkable trademark was the interplay between Noone and Poston, who had worked with Freddie Keppard and Doc Cook earlier.  Incidentally, I’m told that the Apex Club was at 330 East 35th Street on the South Side of Chicago.  Here is a current view of that address, not inspiring.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

Even though the architecture is obliterated, the music remains, so here are the Chicago Cellar Boys becoming the Apex Club Orchestra on two selections — one unrelated to Noone, the other a direct hit.

EL RADO SCUFFLE was in the band’s book, and I read somewhere that the club Noone’s group was working at was the El Dorado, but some letters were missing from the sign or some lights didn’t function.  If that was the Scuffle or something larger I can’t know: create your own stories to this soundtrack:

I associate KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE with Bunny Berigan, Bud Freeman, Joe Marsala, Vic Lewis, Eddie Condon, Jim Goodwin and Ray Skjelbred, Marty Grosz, Bobby Gordon, Dan Levinson — so it is a song with a wonderful pedigree. Here the Cellar Boys are already grinning, and Trouble has left the building — Trouble don’t like verses:

Delicious.  And more to come.

May your happiness increase!

A FULL SET OF HOT AND SWEET MUSIC: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND (Part Three): BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

They continue to swing, which is very reassuring.  And here is a combination platter of lovely music from the Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras” jazz festival, recorded on February 8, 2019.  The generous creators are Bob Schulz, cornet, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo, vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba; Ray Templin, drums, vocal.

 

From that same rewarding weekend, here’s Part One and Two by the Frisco Jazz Band, whose secret is a lovely cohesive swing, no matter what the tempo.

But wait! There’s more!

NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE:

Walter Donaldson’s pretty MY BUDDY, sung by Scott:

The Horace Gerlach standard, SWING THAT MUSIC:

A blue suit and wedding bells for EMALINE:

For Irving Berlin and Bunny Berigan, MARIE:

For George and Gracie, also James P. and Max, LOVE NEST, sung by Ray:

The Hot Five’s ONCE IN A WHILE:

(WHEN IT’S) DARKNESS ON THE DELTA, sung by Scott:

And a closing statement of willingness-to-please, sung by Bob, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

And they do.

I don’t think the other gentlemen of the ensemble will mind my suggestion that once the intent listeners have savored these videos, that they go back and listen closely to the impish and passionate Ray Skjelbred, whose sly adept subversions in solo and accompaniment are beyond remarkable.  I seated myself where I did to video so that I could hear and see him with greater clarity, and his singular playing is singularly rewarding.

This set is in honor of my friend Judy Smith, who didn’t make it to the festival, but enjoys the musical bounces with great enthusiasm.

May your happiness increase!

ZIGZAG BEAUTIES: RAY SKJELBRED at the PIANO (San Diego Jazz Fest, Nov. 27, 2016)

Ralph Waldo Emerson would have admired Ray Skjelbred, who trusts himself, listens to his own heart, knows the sources and honors them but goes his own beautiful zigzag ways.  Soulful, whimsical, making the piano sing songs it didn’t know it could sing.

Here are four solo transformations created by Ray at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  How lovely and how surprising they — and he — are!

K.M.H. DRAG, in honor of Max Kaminsky, Freddie Moore, and Art Hodes:

You may call it MUSKRAT RAMBLE or SAVOYAGER’S STOMP.  Either will receive full credit:

Ellington’s 1933 BUNDLE OF BLUES (“from the motion picture of the same name”) — melodic and quixotic both:

I don’t think that there’s an alternate title for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, but please notice the cheerful subversions Ray works on it from the inside . . . laproscopically, perhaps?

When Ray sits down to the piano, beautiful memorable surprises spring up.

May your happiness increase!

ROLLING ALONG: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND (Part Two): BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

Just pure pleasure.  An expert gentle band at a friendly festival.  If you need program notes, they are Bob Schulz, cornet and vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba; Ray Templin, drums and vocal. This set took place on February 8, 2019, at the Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras.”

 

Here is the first part of this set — five easygoing swing performances.

And a thought.  Some audiences, and who am I to criticize them, need their jazz to be in broad strokes and bright colors.  They aren’t happy unless the band is Fast and Loud, as if they wanted their plate of fries with enough salt on them so that they resembled a winter scene.  Although Louis and Sidney Catlett and Bechet are deities to me, I prefer intriguing explorations in the middle register, in medium tempo, at a volume where listeners have to pay attention or they might miss something beautiful.  Traditional jazz doesn’t have to model itself on the 1812 Overture, or at least not all the time.

Bob and his colleagues understand this, and, better yet, they live it in every note.  So here are three more lovely performances from lovely Fresno.  Thanks to the players and the organizers and the friends of the music.

First, Bob plans a journey South and wonders about sleeping arrangements:

Ray bursts forth in romantic happiness, thanks to Alex Hill and Mr. Waller:

And a romping performance of the wearying classic to end the set:

There’s more to come.  I followed this band around devotedly, and you can understand why.

May your happiness increase!

EASYGOING SWING: BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND: BOB SCHULZ, KIM CUSACK, RAY SKJELBRED, DOUG FINKE, JIM MAIHACK, SCOTT ANTHONY, RAY TEMPLIN (Fresno “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” Feb. 8, 2019)

I see by my YouTube archives that I first heard / saw / videoed this band in 2012, and they still sound wonderful, seven years later.  Unlike more aggressive combinations, Bob‘s group is distinguished by consistent lyricism, and even more a refusal to hurry.  This band, although never dull, hurts no one’s ears; no chandeliers are set a-swaying; the Weather Channel never notes their presence as a threat.  Rather, they beautifully pursue the Golden Mean: swinging medium tempos, nicely modulated volume, and a decided lack of Special Effects.  And what results is lovely wise jazz: see their recorded legacy to date here.  Although the personnel of the Frisco Jazz Band has varied over the years, this edition was and is special: Bob, cornet and vocal; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Ray Templin, drums and vocal; Jim Maihack, tuba.

Here are five performances from the first set I caught: please relax and admire this group’s special relaxed glide.  And, without meaning to slight the rest of the band, I picked a vantage point that would bring me closer to Messrs. Skjelbred and Cusack, two heroes with delightful idiosyncracies that always catch the ear, sometimes unaware, but always with pleasure.  But those in the know will find pleasures in every performance, from each musician.

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND (with the verse!):

Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF, which always makes me recall Kenny Davern and friends, at a tempo I would call Stomping Lament:

Bob breaks out his tin-can mute to lend GEORGIA BO BO a certain needed grittiness, much appreciated:

Scott’s tender idiomatic treatment of I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA — pay close attention to Skjelbred’s musing interlude, a spiritual meal in itself:

Henri Woode’s ROSETTA (the proper sources concur on this credit):

There are many more equally gratifying videos to come from this group’s stint at the “Sounds of Mardi Gras”: one of several excellent reasons to be there.  (Hint: make plans for 2020.)

May your happiness increase!