Tag Archives: Riley Baker

REALLY, THEY COME OUT SWINGING! — Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND at SAN DIEGO (Part One: Nov. 30, 2019): BEN POLCER, RILEY BAKER, JOE GOLDBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSH GOUZY, HAL SMITH and JOHN GILL

One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band.  Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers.  The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.

A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it.  But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there.  Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm.  Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics.  So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.

DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:

SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:

Feeling low?  Feeling sore?  Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:

ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:

A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:

A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:

More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:

The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing.  You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here.  “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.

 

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part Three): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

I’ve described the pleasures of meeting and hearing Captain John Royen at the piano and at the microphone during the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest here and  here. I present the third part of Royen’s No Co-Pay Medicine for All Your Ills.  But come back when the videos are done . . . a few words will follow.

Something pretty, IF’N I HAD YOU:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, featuring Joe Goldberg:

CLARINET MARMALADE (with a good deal of audience commentary):

Jelly Roll’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, complete with history, etymology, and vocal:

and finally, PANAMA:

If you go to the New Orleans clubs where John plays, what I write will already be obvious.  But for those — audience members and festival promoters — who are encountering John or finding him anew, just this.  He is often presented as a stride pianist, and he is a superb one, treating Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and others, with respect and joyous creativity.

But the sets I saw John in, solo and as a band pianist, showed me immediately that he was a complete musician, not just someone locked into a particular style, someone who could immediately take a group of musicians new to him and to each other, and make them into a swinging cohesive band, someone who could take the most familiar repertoire and make it sound fresh.

He is a superb ensemble player, and it would be a fascinating study to listen closely, as I have, to what John does within a band, behind the soloists: he creates consistently uplifting orchestral piano, always swinging, light but intense, with interesting harmonies and variations.  Nothing formulaic, and all very satisfying.

He’s also a delight on the microphone — witty and able to improvise masterfully, no matter what the situation is.  You can’t see it in this room (I don’t walk around or do panoramic views) but John and his band kept a plenitude of dancers very happy.  I will be delighted to see him at festivals in future.  Thank you, Captain!

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part Two): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, JOHN OTTO, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

Photograph by Alex Matthews, 2014, with Marty Eggers and Katie Cavera.

John Royen is a masterful musician, and it was an honor to encounter him at the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here‘s the first part of the story, with performances including Hal Smith, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, and Dan Levinson, as well as a dramatic medical tale.

But wait! There’s more.

At the very end of the festival, John assembled a delightful small band with Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Riley Baker, drums [you can’t see him, but you can certainly feel his reassuring pulse]; Marty Eggers, string bass — and, on JUST TELEPHONE ME, the delightful reedman John Otto joined in.  Here are the first performances from that set.  Not only does John play up a storm, but he is a wonderful bandleader — directing traffic and entertaining us without jokes.  If you follow JAZZ LIVES, you already admire Marty Eggers, but Riley’s drumming is better than wonderful, and it’s lovely to hear Joe out in the open like this (he’s one of the sparkplugs of Hal Smith’s On the Levee Jazz Band also).  How they all swing!

I always think I am weary of INDIANA, since so many bands play it too fast in a perfunctory manner, but John’s version is a refreshing antidote to formula:

Then, a highlight of the whole weekend — John Otto brought his alto saxophone and John Royen led the band into a song you never hear north of NOLA — (WHENEVER YOU’RE LONELY) JUST TELEPHONE ME, with a particularly charming vocal — charming because it’s completely heartfelt:

Alas, John Otto “had to go to work,” so he couldn’t stay — I would subsidize a CD of this band, by the way.

I have some of the same feelings about AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ that I do about INDIANA — many bands run through it too quickly (it is a love song, dear friends) and call it when they can’t agree on the next selection . . . but here John, Joe, Marty, and Riley restore its original character.  And don’t miss John’s surprising bridge:

People who don’t know better will assert that SHINE is a “racist” song — they and you should read the real story — SHINE, RECONSIDERED  — and this performance shines with happy energy:

Since it doesn’t do anyone good to unload the whole truckload of joys at once, I will only say here that five more performances from this set are just waiting for a decent interval.  Watch this space.  And bless these inspired players.

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!

“TENDER EYES THAT SHINE”: DAWN LAMBETH and her RASCALS at MONTEREY (Part Two): DAWN LAMBETH, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, IKE HARRIS, JERRY KRAHN, RILEY BAKER (March 2, 2019)

There’s a wonderful tradition that began on records in the late Twenties: sweet and hot singing — female or male — backed by a small improvising combination.  To some, it reached its apex with the series of recordings done by Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson, but it continues on in this century, something I find reassuring.

Vocalion Records ceased production a long time ago, and the last time I was near a diner jukebox, it lacked Red McKenzie, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Putney Dandridge, Maxine Sullivan, Nan Wynn, Tempo King, Lee Wiley, Connee Boswell, or Dick Robertson, but our friend Dawn Lambeth embodies the tradition beautifully.  As do her Rascals, an ad hoc group of friends who swing.

Here’s the second half of a performance by a lovely little jam band of friends at the 2019 Jazz Bash by the Bay: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Riley Baker, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Ike Harris, string bass; Jerry Krahn, guitar; Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Clint Baker, trumpet.  And  here‘s the first part.

The very antidote to melancholy . . . with the verse, no less:

Dawn’s venture into rare cosmology:

Those nocturnal visions swing sweetly:

Memorable yet understated music.

May your happiness increase!

MELLOW IN MENLO PARK: CLINT BAKER, JESSICA KING, BILL REINHART, ROBERT YOUNG, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (July 19, 2019)

Refreshing evocations of Thirties New York City and of late-Twenties Chicago, with cooling iced tea to spare, at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California, captured for us by RaeAnn Berry on July 19, 2019.

Cafe Borrone from the outside.

The joyous creators are Clint Baker, clarinet and vocal; Robert Young, alto saxophone and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Riley Baker, string bass; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Jessica King, washboard and vocal.

IF I WERE YOU would have been a fairly obscure 1938 song by Buddy Bernier and Robert D. Emmerich had it not been recorded by Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson (with Nan Wynn) and Hot Lips Page — more recently, by Rebecca Kilgore and Dawn Lambeth.  Bernier is not especially famous as a composer, although he wrote THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, but he adapted melodies from other cultures — POINCIANA and OUR LOVE perhaps the most famous, so he is responsible for rewarding pop music.  Emmerich’s lyrics are sly, clever, another example of the Brill Building genius of making memorable songs from common phrases.

Jessica sings it with sweet understated conviction, supported in the best Fifty-Second Street tradition by Clint, Jeff, and Riley (without the dark haze of smoke and the taste of watered drinks that I am told were characteristics of Swing Street):

SWEET SUE, JUST YOU moves us back a decade and east to Chicago’s South Side, with Robert Young and Bill Reinhart added — Noone, Poston, and a vocal duet.  What could be sweeter?  Victor Young just texted me to say he approves:

California dreamin’ isn’t the property of the Beach Boys, I assure you.  If you can get to Cafe Borrone while Clint and friends are playing and singing, you will drive home with a smile.

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!