Tag Archives: Ray Skjelbred

THE MANY LIVES OF THE BLUES: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO PIANO, AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Yesterday I posted two duets between pianist Ray Skjelbred and cornetist Marc Caparone, and encouraged my viewers to take a chance by watching and listening — even if they’d never heard either player — and some people did.  One of them wrote to me and asked if I could post some more of Ray.  Nothing simpler and nothing more gratifying, so here are a bundle of blues and blues-related solos from a set Ray did at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.  He introduces them, so you won’t need explanations from me:

Dr. Bunky Coleman’s BLUE GUAIAC BLUES [medical explication, not for the squeamish*]:

Jimmie Rodgers’ TUCK AWAY MY LONESOME BLUES:

Ray’s own SOUTH HALSTEAD STREET, for Jane Addams and Art Hodes:

THE ALLIGATOR POND WENT DRY (for and by Victoria Spivey):

SUNSET BOOGIE (for and by Joe Sullivan):

Ray Skjelbred is a poet — also when he gets up from the piano bench — of these shadings and tone-colors, of the rhythms of the train heading through the darkness.  We are fortunate to live on his planet.

May your happiness increase!

And the promised medical bulletin: [*guaiac is a resin found i our happiness increase!n certain trees, and it is used in medical testing to check for blood, otherwise invisible, in one’s stool.  If the guaiac turns blue, one has that problem described above.  Now you know.]

MICE IN THE AIR: RAY SKJELBRED and MARC CAPARONE at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Two by two, but no Ark in sight, none needed.

Not mice, but musicians: Ray Skjelbred and Marc Caparone, piano and cornet, respectively.

First, an impassioned performance of Dana Suesse’s MY SILENT LOVE by Ray Skjelbred, piano, and Marc Caparone, cornet — prefaced by a fragment of the original Skjelbredian lyrics to MICE ISLAND LOVE. And don’t be frightened by the initial thumping coming through the partition behind Marc and Ray: it’s only the Dixieland Storm Troopers, the hit of seven condiments. Manchego, anyone?

And the Skjelbred-Caparone blues tradition, their variations on the opening strain of Sidney Bechet’s BLUES IN THE AIR, renamed BLUE AIR BLUES. Incidentally, in ancient slang, “The air turned blue” meant someone had launched a torrent of vulgar language — not the case here:

These marvels of sustained feeling and swing took place at the San Diego Jazz Fest on Nov. 25, 2016.  But Ray and Marc make beautiful music — rhythm ballads, romping interludes, or deeply felt blues — no matter where they are.

And a comment on audience-awareness.  I know that many jazz fans are name-and-association driven.  Is it Turk?  Is it Pres?  Did he play with Duke?  Do I know her name?  Is it a song I like by a band I follow?  And if not, the busy fan passes right by in search of recognizable thrills, rather like someone wanting Carvel rather than ice cream or Coke rather than a generic brown carbonated beverage.  If you’ve never heard / heard of Ray and Marc before, put aside your desires for familiar recognizable Product and listen.  They are worth your time.

May your happiness increase!

TWO BY EDDIE: RAY SKJELBRED, DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Eddie Condon (pictured above in 1946) has a well-deserved reputation as a superb leader, a musical catalyst, a guitarist — but not as a composer of popular songs. He wrote only a few, but their melodies are memorable.

By way of illustration, a 1944 record label:

Although we associate Eddie more with the hard-charging small-band jazz he loved so well (think of Wild Bill, Pee Wee Russell, Lou McGarity, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, Cliff Leeman playing RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE) it’s clear he had a deeply romantic spirit, and WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE — not only De Vries’ lyrics — exemplifies this.

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, and Jeff Hamilton admire Eddie and his musicians, thus they happily gave shape to Marc’s tribute to Eddie as composer, which happened at the San Diego Jazz Fest last November 25, 2016.

Here is Dawn’s tender version of WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE:

and Eddie’s LIZA — written with George Rubens, not Gershwin — first performed on the 1927 McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans date:

For me, the test of a song is that it lodges in my ear and memory.  Those two Condon compositions do, helped immeasurably by the passion and swing of these musicians.

May your happiness increase!

“DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND”: MARC CAPARONE and RAY SKJELBRED at SAN DIEGO (November 26, 2016)

One of the pleasures of growing older is the freedom to speak one’s own truth, and not be so worried whether others might agree.  So I will say plainly that the performance that follows is a masterpiece.

dear-old-southland

The performance of DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND (a reworking of the song DEEP RIVER) was the joyous work of Marc Caparone, cornet, and Ray Skjelbred, piano, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, on November 26, 2016.  Their inspiration was the 1930 recording by Louis Armstrong and Buck Washington.  And this performance follows the same overall pattern: a slow rubato exposition of the dark yearning melody, then an shift into swingtime, a piano solo, four four-bar exchanges, a return to the duet, then a close in the original tempo with a long triumphant held note.  But it is by no means a recreation of the recording, which to me is very moving, as if Marc and Ray chose to be themselves in their chosen roles, honoring the ancestral innovators while being personally innovative.

I urge JAZZ LIVES readers and viewers to take this performance to their hearts: it is music that uplifts even while its strains are dark and grieving.  Thank you, Marc and Ray.  And I look forward to more brilliance from these two artists.

May your happiness increase!

RAY SKJELBRED AND THE BLUES (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 25, 2016)

skjelbred-at-piano

There might be other, very attractive galaxies and universes, but as far as I can tell, none of them has Ray Skjelbred . . . which is a very good argument for ours. It’s a true critical cliche to say of an artist that (s)he is “a poet,” but in Ray’s case this is true in several interlocking ways.  He is not simply someone who tosses off a poem now and again: he is a poet.  Here are two of his poems (three books of his poetry are available here.)

Sycamore

One day all the leaves blow away.
I have been worrying
about the wrong things.

*********************************************************************
Magic Show

You see him sawing a woman in half
and you know it’s real,
but how did he get her to keep smiling,
when he wheeled her head to one side of the stage
and her legs to the other?
That’s the trick, really,
and it’s a very old one.

Well, she needed a job,
people said she was pretty,
and she was willing to travel, somewhat.

Most of all she learned to stay silent,
never say how much it hurt.

******************************************************************

What makes those poems so quietly resonant?  Oh, their casual language that conveys deep feeling in sly ways; the way they ask us to look at what we think we already know as if we’d never seen it before; the way they go straight to our emotions without ever tugging at our clothing.  There is no self-conscious poeticizing about them, but they hit solidly without raising their volume.

I feel the same tendencies working through Ray’s piano playing. We know he is at the keyboard, but his reverence is for the song, its exoskeleton and internal turmoils, the possibility it offers for waywardness inside its established form. He is genuinely playing, with courage and ardor.
joe-sullivan-gin-mill-blues-honey

Here is his recent solo performance of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES from the November 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  He knows it by heart but he’s also so thoroughly internalized both Joe and the song itself that he’s free to revere it but also — a Huck Finn of Chicago Hot — free to leave his socks and shoes on the bank and wade in it, joyously and cautiously at once — having a good time and sharing his pleasures so generously with us:

O rare Ray Skjelbred — who looks and sees and embodies.

May your happiness increase!

THAT DANCING FEELING: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO PLAY FIELDS and MCHUGH at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 25, 2016)

I could have called this post WHY I WENT TO SAN DIEGO, but the music — not my travel itinerary — is the real subject.  For me, “San Diego” is not the city, but the Jazz Fest there, which unrolled happily during Thanksgiving weekend of this year, a true cornucopia of delights.

doin-the-new-lowdown

One such delight was a trio performance by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds — and this little gem, their cheerfully swinging exploration of the Fields and McHugh delight made famous by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, DOIN’ THE NEW LOW-DOWN:

“That dancing feeling / Has my feet in a trance,” state the lyrics by Dorothy Fields.  How true, when this trio is around — a sweet compact lesson in ensemble intelligence, generosity, and swing.  Happily, there’s more from this session to share with you.

May your happiness increase!

FOREVERMORE

forevermore

Three lovely statements on the theme of timelessness. And this very evocative song — full of simple intervals and whole notes — will stick in your mind, as it has in mine.  I first heard the Noone recording forty years ago, and FOREVERMORE has remained.

Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (Noone, Joe Poston, Earl Hines, Bud Scott, Johnny Wells) June 14, 1928, Chicago:

Joe Sullivan, March 28, 1941, New York:

Ray Skjelbred, November 26, 2016, San Diego:

What we love we make eternal.  Or perhaps the reverse: our fervent ability to love makes us eternal and we live after we have moved to other neighborhoods.

Thanks to the musicians above, and the friends: Milt Gabler, who made so much possible; Hal Smith, who led me to Ray Skjelbred’s music before I’d met either man; John L. Fell, who insisted that I listen closely to Sullivan; Candace Brown, who understands.

May your happiness increase!