Tag Archives: Sacramento Music Festival

JAMMIN’ AT VINCE’S: VINCE BARTELS, DAN BARRETT, DAVE STONE, ALLAN VACHÉ, RUSS PHILLIPS, JOHNNY VARRO at SACRAMENTO (May 25, 2014)

Slightly less than a year ago I was a happy member of the throngs at the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival. I couldn’t make it there this year, but that’s no reason you and I can’t savor some wonderful music I recorded there. All but one performance is emerging from the JAZZ LIVES vaults (deep and extensive) for your listening, dining, and dancing pleasure.

Vince Bartels

The band here is led by drummer Vince Bartels — his All Stars — and they are accurately named.  Dan Barrett, cornet; Allan Vaché, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Johnny Varro, piano; Dave Stone, string bass.  The ambiance, for the most part, is an unabashed lovefest for the music Eddie Condon and friends made in the Fifties.  Not all the selections were in the Condon repertoire, but the band kicks along splendidly without any imitations.

SWING THAT MUSIC:

THE ONE I LOVE:

Condon Jam Session

THE SELFIE MEDLEY (which requires a little commentary. First, I think the selection of ballads — a beautiful thing — draws seriously on the Columbia recording of JAM SESSION COAST-TO-COAST, one of George Avakian’s nicest ideas.  I hadn’t known that Vince had a M.A. in improvisational theatre, but he puts it to good use here, asking the audience to come up, surround the band, take selfies of themselves and the band, put them on Facebook, send them to relatives overseas, or what you will.  Thus the visual is often a little obscured, but the music is delicious):

OH, BABY!:

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? (a heartfelt duo-feature for Russ and Dave):

MOTEN SWING:

JUBILEE:

Oh, joy was certainly spread in abundance.  More to come.

May your happiness increase!

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DEEP FEELING: VINCE BARTELS ALL STARS at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 23, 2014: DAN BARRETT, RUSS PHILLIPS, ALLAN VACHE, JOHNNY VARRO, DAVE STONE)

Vince Bartels, a superb drummer, takes his inspiration as a bandleader from Eddie Condon — so his programs are varied in every way.  Where other bands opt for Fast and Loud, Vince has a deep romantic streak which he encourages in his colleagues.  Thus the Migrant Jazz Workers (the band name created by Eddie Higgins) often pause to look lovingly at the scenery. They aren’t ashamed of sweetness, and they strive to create memorable beauty.

These marvels happened regularly when Vince and his band played at the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival — the Workers were Dave Stone, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano; Allan Vache, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Barrett, trumpet.

I offer three particularly deep performances — no self-consciousness, no dramatization . . . just beautiful music.

Their extraordinary, sensitive reading of the Ellington SOLITUDE:

Johnny Varro’s sparkling ONE MORNING IN MAY (which Hoagy Carmichael’s mother said was her favorite of her son’s songs):

Russ Phillips, singing and playing the Ellington AZALEA, inspired by Louis Armstrong’s memories of a New Orleans flowering bush that he could never forget.  (How beautifully Russ sings!):

Yes, “traditional jazz” can be sweet and lovely, too.  Thank you, Vince, for keeping this music alive.

May your happiness increase!

TEN MINUTES OF SPIRITED PLEASURE: RAY SKJELBRED and THE CUBS at SACRAMENTO (May 24, 2014)

Just that.  Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  Recorded at the Sacramento Music Festival on May 24, 2014 — in a cozy room where I sat so close to the band (my preferred position) that I couldn’t get all of the quintet in at one time.  I hope Jeff Hamilton will forgive me for rendering him temporarily invisible (is this his superpower?) but he surely is delightfully audible.

The tunes — a 1922 Vincent Rose pop-song-turned-jazz-standard, LINGER AWHILE, and a pretty song that we might not have known had not the Jean Goldkette band recorded it, at a faster tempo, a few years later — IDOLIZING:

There’s no other band quite like this one, and we are so fortunate that they exist.

May your happiness increase!

HOORAY FOR CAPTAIN SKJELBRED!

Today, November 2, is the birthday of one of our heroes — pianist / composer / singer / poet / imaginer / scholar Ray Skjelbred.  He is an original, even when he is letting the great traditions flow through him; he is both inscrutable and generously open; he continues to improve life in this century.

No formulaic cupcakes with candles for Captain Skjelbred!

I offer instead a small musical mosaic of his own subversive creations — the first three when no one was supposed to be paying attention (someone might call it “making friends with the piano”) that I captured on May 25, 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival.

Since I envision Captain Skjelbred as a quiet spy in the enemy country of mediocrity and repeater pencils, the fact that I caught him unaware might just be fair play.  He does the same for and to us: in the fourth video, MY GALVESTON GAL (performed with his Cubs — Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kim Cusack, clarinet) there is an odd and whimsical phrase Ray creates at 1:50 that makes me say, “What? What?” every time I hear it.

And he does it again, playing the piano, playing music, playing with our expectations — and always gratifying them in ways we didn’t know existed.

Thank you, Captain Skjelbred.  We are grateful you are here.

Music for Groucho — Kalmar and Ruby, 1930:

A little Monkishness, or is it Monkiania?:

Some blues, sun-warmed, locally grown, organic:

And a pop tune from 1933, MY GALVESTON GAL, featured by Henry Allen, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Morton — much-beloved silliness, with a particularly Skjelbredian interlude at 1:50:

And no one calls him schnorrer. (Julius can explain, or you could look it up.)

P.S.  Should anyone wonder, “Michael, now you’re posting clips that last less than a minute?  Have you run out of things to post?”  The answer is, in a hushed tone, “You have no idea of what remains to be seen.” The idea of a mosaic of orts and fragments appeals to me, and I hope also to the Captain.  Found poetry!

May your happiness increase!

FRESH-SQUEEZED: VINCE BARTELS, ALLAN VACHÉ, DAN BARRETT, RUSS PHILLIPS, JOHNNY VARRO, DAVE STONE at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 23, 2014)

Mister Waller would be delighted.  And we were too.

Vince Bartels had assembled a truly all-star band in the Condon tradition for the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival, with himself on drums, Dave Stone, string bass; Johnny Varro, piano; Allan Vaché, clarinet, Russ Phillips, trombone; Dan Barrett, trumpet. And they performed SQUEEZE ME and got every drop of sweetly lascivious energy out of it — a memorable performance indeed:

I mean my fellow-listeners no disrespect, but that performance deserved much more applause than it got.  Perhaps everyone was stunned into silence.  You may applaud now, as loudly as possible.  If you are someplace where applause might not be appropriate, I will settle for loud grinning and sending this blogpost on to others who might like to have their spirits uplifted.  OK?

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING FOR SIR CHARLES THOMPSON, WHO IS HAPPILY WITH US: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON (Sacramento Music Festival, May 2014)

I had to write that long title; if I just offered Ray’s song title — BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES — readers would jump to the most dire conclusions.  But no! Sir Charles Thompson is in his middle nineties, plays golf, lives in Japan, is happily married.  There’s hope for all of us, although I don’t intend to take up golf.

For about sixty years, Sir Charles has been one of the rare birds of jazz — emerging on record in 1940 with the Horace Henderson band and making his name with Charlie Parker in 1945, on recordings with Buck Clayton (the Jam Sessions and more), Joe Newman, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Morton, Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, and three-quarters of the Basie rhythm section.  Unlike the equally unheralded Nat Pierce, Charles’ version of Basie was stealthily his own, with boppish harmonic underpinnings that never got in the way of his floating swing.  Indeed, the recording Charles made of SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES with Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones (John Hammond admired him and welcomed him on sessions for Vanguard and Columbia) is one of the recordings I go to first if someone asks me, “What does swing mean to you?”

Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs were one of the highlights of the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival (they are a highlight wherever I encounter them) and this swinging blues shows them off beautifully — Kim Cusack, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar.

BLUES FOR [IN CELEBRATION OF!] SIR CHARLES THOMPSON:

This one’s for everyone who could use a little swing, and it’s especially for my pal Bill Gallagher, who is the official Sir Charles Thompson discographer.

May your happiness increase!

OF COURSE WE CAN, or THE ANSWER IS “YES”: DAVE STONE, RUSS PHILLIPS, VINCE BARTELS, JOHNNY VARRO at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 25, 2014)

The song that follows was created in 1929 by Kay Swift and Paul James; I learned it first from the duet of Ella and Louis, then from the heartfelt early Crosby version and a later Sinatra one. But even though the lyrics speak of heartbreak, this quartet — captured live at the 2014 Sacramento Music Festival — is sweetly optimistic rather than self-pitying. Hear the subtle variations on this theme created by string bassist Dave Stone, trombonist Russ Phillips, with unerring support from drummer / leader Vince Bartels and the invaluable pianist Johnny Varro.

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS?

Of course we can:

May your happiness increase!