Tag Archives: Ray Skjelbred

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!

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!

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!