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.”
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.
Here‘s the first part of a wonderful set at the San Diego Jazz Fest, where the Yerba Buena Stompers play and sing MILENBERG JOYS, SOME OF THESE DAYS, and THE TORCH. The Stompers are John Gill, banjo and vocal; Kevin Dorn, drums; Clint Baker, tuba; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Leon Oakley, cornet. And what fine noises they make.
“More!” the crowd shouts.
Here’s the ODJB’s CLARINET MARMALADE — as John Gill says, “For the kids”:
To the NORK, for TIN ROOF BLUES, with John’s down-home vocal:
A G minor vamp starts the BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:
and the Louis Hot Five ONCE IN A WHILE:
Alas, we won’t have a reunion in person this November, but I permit myself to hope for one in 2021.
For their first set at the San Diego Jazz Fest (November 28, 2019), the Yerba Buena Stompers did what your bank or insurance company requests — they “went paperless” and had a fine time playing some good old good ones. Here are the first three songs from that set, to remind you how solidly that band can rock. They are John Gill, banjo, vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.
NORK + Jelly = JOYS:
One of the most durable pop songs of 1920 — I remember Sophie Tucker on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday-night television show:
and a genuine TORCH song about the sorrow of what happens when the gang goes home . . . sung with special ardor by John, in fine voice:
More delights to come from this very durable band: people who know their stuff.
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.
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!
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.
Above, the musicians. Below, the text for the mellow sermon.
Now, this 1930 song seems a charming period piece. How many people, ninety years later, know the archaic vocabulary painfully current shortly after the stock market crash? It owes its immortality to Louis, as so much music does:
Marc Caparone acknowledges our debt to Mister Strong in his own way, with Danny Coots, drums; Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass:
Some concepts never die: I just heard someone speak of “being emotionally invested” in another person. May our psychic portfolios always gain in value.
And, speaking of value, the Holland-Coots Quintet will be appearing at the 40th Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, this March — and the Musician of the Year will be Mister Caparone. Good sounds await.
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:
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.
Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters — a Louis Armstrong trumpet — a few years ago.
I don’t know if people look to pianist Jess Stacy as a model for spiritual enlightenment, but perhaps they should. Yes, he’s rightly known for his solo on SING SING SING at the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert, and for subtle but memorable playing for decades, but he had a revelation in mid-life that has been one of my cherished stories since I first read it. I am paraphrasing because the book it comes from is in New York and I am in San Diego, but I have it close to my heart.
He had been successful as a Goodman sideman but had made the mistake of marrying Lee Wiley — they were spectacularly unsuited for each other, a story you can explore elsewhere on the blog — they had divorced, unpleasantly. And as Jess tells it, he was sitting on the bed in a hotel room, ruminating, despairing, feeling that there was little point in going on. He could, he thought, follow the lead of his friend Bix Beiderbecke, and “crawl into a bottle and die,” which had its own appeal, its own seductive melodramatic pull. But Stacy, although in misery, was curious about life and what it might offer. Musing more, he eventually came to a decision, and spoke to himself, briskly not not sternly, “All right, Stacy. Time to make new memories!”and he got off the bed and lived a fulfilling life.
I hear in that story something that we all have faced whether we are sitting on a hotel bed or not: stuck in our own lives, do we hug the past like a cherished stuffed bunny or do we “move on,” and see what happens? It’s not easy. Despair has a powerful attraction, and memories can feel like a suit of clothing that weighs tons — stifling ye familiar. And let us say what no one wants to say, that the future is always mildly terrifying as well as alluring.
All of this has been running through my own mind (I am not in danger of ending it all through alcohol, never fear) and I have told the story to a few friends in the past week. The wonderful trumpeter Marc Caparone provided a musical illustration of it just a few days ago at the San Diego Jazz Fest — with Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums — in his performance of MEMORIES OF YOU, a very dear song by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf. We don’t hear Razaf’s lyrics, but those who know the song well will have them as a subliminal second theme.
And here’s Marc’s very personal exploration of these themes: a model of passion and control, Louis-like but not Louis-imitative, music that I found very moving, as did others at the San Diego Jazz Fest . . .beauty at once somber and uplifting:
I think of Bobby Hackett, saying of Louis, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”
Thank you, Marc, Brian, Steve, and Danny — as well as Eubie and Andy, and of course Mister Stacy.
Let us hold the past for what’s dear in it, what it has to teach us, but let us not sit on the edge of the bed, musing, forever. Make new memories.
Ann Ronell’s 1932 song is a terribly sad one, a story of romance that failed. Here is the verse that few sing — perhaps because it is so openly melancholy:
Oh Lord, why did you send the darkness to me? Are the shadows forever to be? Where’s the light I’m longing to see? Oh Lord, once we met by the old willow tree Now you’ve gone and left nothing to me Nothing but a sweet memory.
But the instrumental version I present here — although its hues are dark — does not leave this listener feeling despondent. Rather, I admire the technical, lyrical, and emotional mastery of these players: Brian Holland, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, in this performance recorded at the 2019 Evergreen Jazz Festival:
One reason I call this post PARADOXES OF FEELING is that the five people playing such gloriously sad music are not in themselves depressives — to them it’s another artistic opportunity to enter an emotional world, fully inhabit it, and then move on to something of a different hue, perhaps CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN, and “be” that song as well.
Another reason, more personal, is that tomorrow morning, when it is still quite dark, I will be driving to the airport to travel to the San Diego Jazz Fest, where this band and others will work marvels right in front of us. The other bands? Hal Smith’s “On the Levee Jazz Band,” Grand Dominion, the Yerba Buena Stompers, John Royen’s New Orleans group, the Carl Sonny Leyland trio, the Chicago Cellar Boys, and too many others to mention . . . to say nothing of attending everyone’s set. I’ll see my friends and heroes Jeff Hamilton, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Katie Cavera, and others — even if only in passing in the halls.
If I’m not laid low by a spoiled avocado or attacked by an enraged fan who wants to know why his favorite band doesn’t receive sufficient coverage on JAZZ LIVES, I will return with evidence of beauties, sad or joyous, to share with you.
The 1932 best-seller (with a Will Rogers movie a few years later):
Even before I was 40, I was slightly suspicious of the idea, even though it came from better health and thus longer life expectancy. Was it an insult to the years that came before? And now that I’m past forty . . . .
The bands and soloists who will be featured include John Royen, Katie Cavera, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Grand Dominion, John Gill, On the Levee Jazz Band, the Mad Hat Hucksters, Carl Sonny Leyland, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, the Yerba Buena Stompers, the Chicago Cellar Boys, Titanic Jazz Band, the Night Blooming Jazzmen, and more than twenty others, with youth bands, sets for amateur jammers, and the Saturday-night dance extravaganza featuring On The Levee and the Mad Hat Hucksters.
The Festival is also greatly comfortable, because it is one of those divine ventures where the music is a two-to-five minute walk from the rooms at the Town and Country Convention Center.
is the “almost final” band schedule for Wednesday night through Sunday. I will wait until the “final” schedule comes out before I start circling sets in pen and highlighting them — but already I feel woozy with an abundance of anticipated and sometimes conflicting pleasures.
For most of the audience, one of the pleasures of the festival circuit is returning to the familiar. Is your trad heartthrob the duo Itch and Scratch, or the Seven Stolen Sugar Packets? At a festival, you can greet old friends both on the bandstand and in the halls. But there’s also the pleasure of new groups, and the special pleasure of getting to meet and hear someone like John Royen, whom I’ve admired on records for years but have never gotten a chance to meet.
Here’s John, playing Jelly:
And here are a few previously unseen videos from my visits to the Jazz Fest. First, one of my favorite bands ever, the band that Tim Laughlin and Connie Jones co-led, here with Doug Finke, Katie Cavera, Hal Smith, Chris Dawson, and Marty Eggers — in a 2014 performance of a Fats classic:
and the Chicago Cellar Boys — who will be at this year’s fest — in 2018. The CCB is or are Andy Schumm, John Otto, Paul Asaro, Johnny Donatowicz, and Dave Bock:
and for those deep in nostalgia for traditional jazz on a cosmic scale, how about High Sierra plus guests Justin Au and Doug Finke in 2014:
Pick the bands you like, explore those new to you, but I hope you can make it to this jolly explosion of music and friendship: it is worth the trip (and I’m flying from New York). You’ll have an unabridged experience and lose your anxieties!
I read recently that the Chicago Cellar Boys were celebrating being a band for two years: I don’t know whether we should wish them HAPPY BIRTHDAY or HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, but my impulse is to celebrate them: their wonderful mixture of exactitude and abandon is so very inspiring, so hot, so sweet. How do we celebrate here at JAZZ LIVES? We share video that you haven’t seen before unless you were at the gig. That’s what we do!
KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE, not only a good song but a fine life-maxim, performed in the style of the Apex Club Orchestra, with its verse as well:
ROSY CHEEKS, with an idiomatic vocal chorus by Paul Asaro:
Clarence Williams’ BOTTOMLAND, played at a yearning tempo:
A word about husbands who suffer; take it seriously or not, POOR PAPA:
Another song related to Jimmie Noone’s small band, which performed at the El Dorado Club — I read that EL RADO SCUFFLE was named because some of the lighting on the club’s sign was not working:
SO TIRED, which is obviously not the Cellar Boys’ theme song:
SWEET EMMALINE, recorded in 1928 by Clarence Williams. Is there any truth to the rumor, half-remembered, which has Clarence saying, late in life, that he wrote none of the music for which he took credit?
A great band!
Incidentally, parents in the JAZZ LIVES audience are surely familiar with “the terrible twos,” where the toddler says NO to everything, dramatically. The CCB say NO to many things: inauthentic music, badly played music, striped vests, stuffed pets on the gig, poor-quality snacks in the musicians’ room, too-tight polo shirts. To wonderful music they say YES, as do we.
Two other bits of relevant information. The Cellar Boys will be back at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, and they will have copies of their debut CD, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, which is a Rivermont Records production. Also for Rivermont, they’ve recorded a microgroove 78 rpm record (four songs) if it isn’t sold out by now.
And if you’ve never seen a copy of THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, you owe it to yourself to click on the bright-blue rectangle below, which is there for some good reasons.
These Boys don’t disappoint in their hot and sweet renditions of Twenties and Thirties Chicago-style jazz and pop music. The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba. I recorded these performances on November 15, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.
BLUES IN A MINOR honors the Blue Ribbon Syncopators, a reasonably obscure territory band from Buffalo, New York, who recorded this song in 1925 for OKeh. It’s not a blues; it’s not in A minor. An error in labeling? You’re on your own:
Jelly Roll Morton’s dark lesson in keeping your own counsel, BIG LIP BLUES:
Clarence Williams’ rousing CUSHION FOOT STOMP (and I need a good answer about the etymology of the title):
The very pretty melody, A GARDEN IN THE RAIN:
Cliff Jackson’s (stride pianist with intriguing bass patterns, also leading the “Krazy Kats”) THE TERROR:
I have more video of the CCB in various places, but you should also know about their debut CD for Rivermont Records, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, and that wonderful new oddity, a 10″ 78 rpm microgroove stereo vinyl record — a limited edition of 550 copies — that plays four songs in lovely fidelity while its ornate label rotates at the reassuringly high speed of a vanished time and place. Learn more, hear more, and buy more here.
I admire the Chicago Cellar Boys immensely, as JAZZ LIVES readers have seen since their inception in 2017, and I’ve been privileged to see and hear them in person (the most recent time just a day ago at the Juvae Jazz Mini-Fest in Decatur, Illinois . . . more from that occasion soon). I also hear that their debut CD is on the way.
Their virtues are considerable. They are that most glorious entity, a working band with beautiful arrangements, hot or sweet, wonderful solo and ensemble playing. But something that may not catch the listeners’ attention quickly is the breadth of their repertoire — visible in the thick black binders brought to the stage. Every CCB set has several tunes in it that I’ve known only as obscure recordings or ones I’ve never heard at all, and when they perform a “chestnut,” it is beautifully alive in its own idiomatic shape. They are: Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocals; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba. And here are six delights from the 39th San Diego Jazz Fest, performed on November 25, 2018.
First, a charming 1929 exclamation of delight:
and something cosmological from the same year, by Phil Baxter. Feel free to sing the special aviation-themed lyrics as the Cellar Boys soar lyrically:
Here’s Andy’s superbly indefatigable reading of the Johnny Dodds showcase, LITTLE BITS:
and a reading of THE SHEIK OF ARABY that owes more to Rudolph Valentino than to Hot Lips Page, but I don’t mind at all:
I’ve already posted the two videos below, but these exercises in spontaneous combustion, Chicago-style, deserve multiple watchings. Don’t be afraid to cheer! (As I write this, the first video has been seen 591 times. One person took the trouble to “dislike” it. What a pity, Sir!) Here the youthful multi-instrumentalist Colin Hancock sits in on cornet with the Cellar Boys (Andy switches to clarinet) and the results are ferocious:
Finally, a rousing WEARY BLUES:
I promise you there will be more of the Chicago Cellar Boys “while breath lasts,” as my dear benefactor Harriet Sheehy used to say. For now, enjoy the sweet heat.
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.
They’re back! And below I’ll have news of their appearance at a one-day Midwest festival on March 30, 2019.
The Chicago Cellar Boys made beautiful music at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest, and I caught as much of it as I could. (Type in CELLAR on the search bar and see for yourself.)
Here is part of a set that I recorded on November 24. The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor saxophone, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, guitar, banjo; Dave Bock, tuba. Dee-lightful.
INDIAN CRADLE SONG (in honor of the Dorsey Brothers and, faintly, Louis Armstrong). Andy told me that he had hidden another song in the “chorale” section, but he’s too smart for me. Maybe you’ll recognize it?:
BOSTON SKUFFLE (something for and by Jabbo Smith):
HOME, CRADLE OF HAPPINESS (a song popular in the early Twenties, recorded by a Sam Lanin group and by Ethel Waters):
FIDGETY FEET (a tribute to Bix and the Wolverines):
KING PORTER STOMP (the CCB’s homage to the 1924 Autograph duet session by King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton — also the band-within-the-band):
Aside from their inspiring playing and singing, hot and sweet, there are the marvelous arrangements that make this two-horn quintet sound like a large group, and the positively exciting repertoire. I know the music of this period fairly well, but I always go away from even one CCB set saying to myself, “I’ve never heard that wonderful tune before.”
And here — because listeners need to get away from their computers now and again (it’s good for us!) — is the festival they will be illuminating at the end of this month, along with Petra’s Recession Seven (featuring Petra van Nuis, Andy Brown, Russ Phillips, and other luminaries):
As an affirmation, “C’est si bon!” works for me — and it was a substantial hit for Louis, Eartha Kitt, and others in the early Fifties. Louis kept it in his repertoire for more than fifteen years, and it’s been recorded by Harry Allen, Eddie Erickson, Nicki Parrott, Abbey Lincoln, and Jaki Byard — which says that this simple tune has an appeal both deep and wide.
Here it is again — a sweet surprise when performed by Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 39th San Diego Jazz Fest last November:
I hope you caught Conal’s little offering of Louisness at :39. It would be reason to enjoy this video again. And as far as this trio: They’re so good!
Some children get upset if the green beans and mashed potato on their plate are touching. Some listeners separate “their” music into schools and styles, existing in the same space but kept at a safe distance. I just read a review of a festival where the writer delineated “trad” and “not trad at all,” which to me is a shame. Musicians know that they can play any repertoire in inventive ways, move in and out of rigidly defined “traditions” and create lasting satisfying art.
Here’s a shining example, the ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND(that’s the cover of their debut CD above). I’ve posted music from another performance here. To me, their joyous essence is a mixing of “genres”: soloists who know Blakeney, Darnell Howard, Don Ewell, but who are also aware of Buck Clayton, Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones. The secret is a flowing 4/4 — music for dancing as well as listening.
This most excellent small band is devoted to the music of Kid Ory in his later decades, led by drummer / scholar Hal Smith, and including Charlie Halloran, trombone, Ben Polcer, trumpet / vocal; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano, Alex Belhaj, guitar, Josh Gouzy, string bass. The set presented here was recorded on November 25, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.
. . . .and study war no more:
A problem with transporting a precious substance:
Hey, Dad — you coming back?
Some early Ellington with a debt to Joe Oliver:
“Honey, are you free on Monday?”:
Gus Mueller, if I recall, said decades after the fact that the title had no hidden meaning — they just liked the sound:
This one always comes in handy:
A song for parents of newborns or anyone embracing transformations:
For further announcements and more good news, visit here. I’m pleased to say I will see them three times in 2019: the Redwood Coast Music Festival, the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and the San Diego Jazz Fest. You come, too.
This wonderful little-known 1932 song by Fats Waller, Don Redman, and Andy Razaf, is yet another celebration of romantic devotion.
But it is one of the clever concoctions I call “backwards songs” for want of a better name. The lyricist and singer don’t say “This is love,” because that gambit had animated a thousand pop songs even by this date. Rather, the lyrics upend the expected conceit by asking, “If it ain’t love, why are its effects so powerful?” The parallel song is the Dietz-Schwartz THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU where the singer doesn’t state “I will never tire of you,” but proposes, “I will be tired of you when — and only when — these unimaginable cosmic events take place,” entering love’s house by the window.
Here’s a very tender performance of this song — only a few months ago — by three of my favorites: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — in performance at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 24, 2018:
I love drama in music: Louis soaring; Big Sid and Sidney Bechet rocking the once-stable world; the Basie band in a final joyous eruption in the outchorus. But I have a deep feeling for music like this, that tenderly caresses my soul, that comes in the ear like honey. Dawn, Conal, and Marc do more than play a song: they beam love out at us. And I, for one, am grateful.
The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on. Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast. People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more. They give great value!
I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.
I’ve posted other videos of them here, here, and (with Colin Hancock sitting in) here.
The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba. Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018. They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:
and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:
Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:
Bless Don Redman is what I say:
LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries). I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently. Here is the link to the film. Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):
Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):
Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:
There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend. So watch this space for more good news.
Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, at the 2017 San Diego Jazz Fest.
This venerable song — WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE — is a sweet reminiscence of love that lasts. It has become an ineradicable part of our popular culture: Exhibit A is a Big Top peanut butter glass (first a jar full of BTPB) devoted to the song:
I learned it first, decades ago, when I was young, from Vic Dickenson’s Vanguard version, which I can still play in the mental-emotional jukebox of the mind. But I am grateful that Marc Caparone and Conal Fowkes keep it fresh and green in this century, as they did at the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest:
Here’s another treasure, created on the spot. There are thousands of versions of George and Ira Gershwin’s vernacular yelp of delight, ‘S’WONDERFUL, but the one this reminds me of is an early-Fifties session for Vanguard, led by Mel Powell, supervised by John Hammond, featuring Mel, Buck Clayton, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jimmy Crawford. (That’s me applauding: if you have to ask why, you need to go back to Remedial Swing.)
Marc and Conal — what a pair of glorious musical artists, creating worlds of sound, rollicking and tender, for our pleasure.