Tag Archives: Ray Skjelbred

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!