Tag Archives: San Francisco Jazz

IT HAPPENS IN MONTEREY (March 7-9, 2014)

These two worthies found love at the Jazz Bash by the Bay:

I am not proposing that everyone who goes to this year’s festival (March 7-9) will come away with the Love of His / Her Life — maybe you are all already spoken for.

But the music will be wonderful. And I write this as someone who’s been there since 2010.

For me, the Jazz Bash by the Bay was a transformative experience.

I had not been to California since having been conceived there . . . . insert your own witticism here. And when I had the notion in March 2010 of going to see and hear the people I so admired in their video appearances, I expected to have a good time in a new jazz setting, perhaps make a few new friends.

It was a life-altering experience: I came back to New York and said to the Beloved, “I’ve never had such a good time in my life. Do you think we could spend the summer in California?”

Fast forward to 2014, where I am writing this from Novato, with serious plans to make the Golden State my retirement home.

So if the Jazz Bash by the Bay can make one couple find love; if it can make a native New Yorker say, “I’ll move to California,” I think its powers are . . . powerful.  But enough personal narratives.  What’s in store for you?

As always, a wide variety of well-played music.

You can visit the site to find out if Your Favorite Band is going to be there, but here are some kinds of music that will be played: blazing stride piano in solo and duo, boogie-woogie, sweet singing in so many forms, rocking small-band swing, New Orleans ensemble polyphony, trad, Dixieland, blues, zydeco, gypsy swing, classic songs from the Great American Songbook, Jazz Age hot dance music, ragtime piano, stomp, swing, music to dance to, San Francisco jazz, washboard rhythm, music to hold hands to.

And the stars?  Well . . . Ray Skjelbred, High Sierra, Carl Sonny Leyland, Bob Draga, Rebecca Kilgore Trio, Dan Barrett, Ivory and Gold, Ellis Island Boys, Marc Caparone, Le Jazz Hot, Jeff Hamilton, Dawn Lambeth, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Yve Evans, Katie Cavera, Paul Mehling, Clint Baker, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Frederick Hodges, Jim Buchmann, Eddie Erickson, Jason Wanner, John Cocuzzi, Howard Miyata, Big Mama Sue, Ed Metz, the Au Brothers, Bob Schulz, Pieter Meijers, Brady McKay, Tom Rigney, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra . . . and more, and more.

Important links.

The BAND LINEUP.

The all-important too-Much-Of-A-Good-Thing-Is-Wonderful SCHEDULE, which calls for careful planning (“If I go to see X, then I have to miss part of Y, but it puts me in a good place to be right up front for Z.  Anyone have a Tylenol?”) — with four or five sessions going on at the same time.

And most important — with a Sidney Catlett drum roll or a Vic Berton tympani flourish — the GET TICKETS NOW page.

I try to hold down the didactic tendencies that four decades of standing in front of sleepy (good-natured) young men and women have solidified, but I hope readers will permit me this basic logic exercise.  Festivals where people buy tickets last forever.  Festivals where people don’t vanish.  And then there is a wailing and a gnashing of teeth — very hard on the neighbors and harder on the dental work.  I think of the California festivals that have moved into The Great Memory even in my short acquaintanceship with this state.

(Or, as William Carlos Williams — or was it Philip Larkin? — wrote: “Want it to stay?  Do not delay.”)

So I hope to see throngs of friends and even strangers at the Jazz Bash by the Bay.  Anything that makes live jazz in profusion go on is a good thing.

P.S.  Need more evidence?  Go to YouTube and type in “Dixieland Monterey,” or “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” or the name of your favorite artist.  I, Rae Ann Berry, and Tom Warner, among others, have created many videos — enough to while away the hours in the most energized ways.  Proof!

May your happiness increase!

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“NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE”: YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 22, 2012)

For me, the 2012 San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival — or whatever more informal name you might know it by, such as the San Diego Jazz Fest — started with a shuffle.  A Shuffle is a good thing when it’s created by the Yerba Buena Stompers, a band full of power and delicacy, deeply rooted in the great New Orleans traditions.

The heroes onstage are John Gill, banjo and vocals; Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger, trumpets; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes (Grammy-winner!), piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.  (I have a special fondness for two-trumpet interplay: Leon and Duke light up the room.)

NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE:

EVERY TUB:

PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET:

PERDIDO STREET BLUES:

MINSTRELS OF ANNIE STREET:

LONESOME BLUES:

It was a splendid way to start a most rewarding weekend — I look forward to spending Thanksgiving amidst jazz friends in San Diego this year!  Paul Daspit certainly knows how to make us feel thankful.

May your happiness increase.

“WE WERE HAVING TOO MUCH FUN”: JIM LEIGH’S EL DORADO JAZZ BAND, 1955

Often highly publicized “rare” and “previously unheard” jazz reissues do not live up to their potential.  I can’t be the only listener who thinks, “Did they have to play every tune at the speed of light?”  “Someone should have shoved that piano off a cliff.”  “I know Kid Flublip is dead and legendary both, but he sure sounds lousy here.”  And so on.

But a recent CD by Jim Leigh’s El Dorado Jazz Band is a triumph.  Although the material comes from private tapes made onsite in 1955, the sound is clear and sarisfying; the repertoire is varied (as are the tempos and dynamics), and the twenty-one tracks were a delight rather than an test of my endurance.  I new Jim in the last months of his life as a fine writer and a player who understood how to balance technique, knowledge, feeling, and experimentation within an apparently “limited” idiom.  When I read his memoir, where he mourned the early death of clarinetist Rowland Working, I wondered if the evidence would live up to the legend.  It certainly does.

On this CD, Leigh is surrounded by lyrical players who could weave lines like rapidly-growing ivy.  Their inventions delight, but they sing on their instruments, which is the ideal (not always realized) of players trying to make brass and wood as personal as their speaking voices.  The players are Jim Borkenhagen, trumpet; Roland Working, clarinet — and he’s joined by Bob Helm on several tracks! — Pete Fay, piano; Danny Ruediger, banjo and vocals.  The repertoire offers classic Morton, Twenties jazz classics and pop tunes, Louis, and  ancient but still lively blues: JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / ST. JAMES INFIRMARY / CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME / GOOD TIME FLAT BLUES / SOME OF THESE DAYS / STRATFORD HUNCH / ACE IN THE HOLE / MILENBERG JOYS / TROUBLE IN MIND / BID BEAR STOMP / SIDEWALK BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / RIVERSIDE BLUES / CHATTANOOGA STOMP / DROP THAT SACK / FRANKIE AND JOHNNY / ALABAMA JUBILEE / SEE SEE RIDER / HOW LONG BLUES / WEARY BLUES.

And as a bittersweet bonus, Jim wrote a brief essay for this material in June 2011.  I so admire his writing — terse, affectionate, witty — that I reprint it here.

The members of the original five-piece El Dorado Jazz Band were all twenty somethings when the music on this CD was recorded.  If somebody had told us that summer of 1955 that 56 years later one of us (and I’m the lone survivor) would be writing liner notes for a kind of record that didn’t even exist then we probably wouldn’t have paid much attention.  We were having too much fun.  By 1958 Danny Ruediger had taken over the band, and I had moved to San Francisco.  Rowland and I were playing Watters charts in the Bay City Jazz Band on weekends.  On a Sunday boating and swimming outing with his wife Jane, BCJB pianist Art Nortier and his wife, Rowland drowned.  He was 28 years old.  So I’m extra glad that Dick Karner is putting out this music on Tradjazz; it will allow fans of this music to hear what a brilliant plater he was already in his own right.  He admired Bechet and Dodds — but his real exemplar was Helm himself.  So it was great good luck that brought them together for those few nights with a tape recorder running.  I can’t think of any other clarinet duets in traditional jazz which have the sympathetic brilliance of those two.  Indeed, there are a few places where you need a very good ear to tell them apart.  Helm’s wife Kay would tell me later that Bob was “overwhelmed” at hearing Rowland and thereafter never missed a chance to play with himm — or to fill in for him when the occasion arose.  Like any informal recordings of live performances, these come with a few warts.  We could not have played Morton’s “Stratford Hunch” more than half a dozen times in all and I was delighted it was a clean take.  Listen to the clarinets behind and next to the vocals on “After You’ve Gone” and “Trouble in Mind.”  There are a few tunes here you won’t hear too often lately: “Drop That Sack,” “Good Time Flat Blues,” and others.  Not many people besides Turk sang such complete versions of “St. James Infirmary” and “Frankie and Johnny” as Danny does here.  After so many years I’ll admit I get a lift, hearing how we tore into such indestructible warhorses as “Some Of These Days” and “Milenberg Joys” and, with the clarinets tearing it up, “Big Bear Stomp,” “Naughty Sweetie,” or “Weary Blues.”  If I have one regret it was that I didn’t have the wits to lay hands on an extra vocal mix for Danny, but you can hear that he never let that stop him.  I’m grateful to have been there with him, and Rowland, Bork, Pete, and Brother Red, when he strapped on his leather aviator’s helmet and drove his open-air MG down the peninsula to visit us.  I’m grateful, too, to Dick Karner at Tradjazz for digging up this evidence and making it available here.  It reminds me that I didn’t waste my youth.

To say that Jim and his colleagues — now all of them gone — didn’t waste their youth — would be a substantial understatement.  All I can say from this angle is that I haven’t wasted my time listening to this music, and I think you will agree.  Here are brief samples from tradjazz and cdbaby.  Listen for yourself.  And — just in the name of amused candor — if you had told me five years ago that I would be writing enthusiastically about Fifties “West Coast” “trad,” I would have looked horrified.  But the music is stronger than the boxes we try to force it into.

May your happiness increase.

SWINGING AT LE COLONIAL with ROB REICH, KALLY PRICE, DANNY BROWN, CLINT BAKER, ERIC GARLAND (August 2, 2012)

Le Colonial, hidden away on Cosmo Street in San Francisco, is known for its ambiance, drinks, cuisine . . . and intriguing music.  Last Thursday night I made my way there to hear a small group led by the inventive pianist / accordionist Rob Reich — with the soulful Kally Price on vocals — with reedman Danny Brown, drummer Eric Garland, and the reliably swinging Clint Baker on string bass.

Readers of JAZZ LIVES will know how much I admire the independent spirits Kally, Rob, and Clint — individualists each paddling their way upstream and sharing the surprises with us.  Rob continued to approach his keyboards from unexpected angles, the results energetic and full of feeling.  I distrust the accordion, having had a childhood involvement with that cumbersome instrument, but Rob has clearly left both left-hand chugging and melodrama behind him (in the case, no doubt).  And his piano work sounds like something heard in the right small club in 1946.

Clint swings the band no matter what he’s doing there — leading it on trumpet, supporting it on bass, tuba, drums, guitar, banjo . . . singing . . . and so on.  And what an eloquent soloist he is!

Kally Price is dramatic without artifice, searching for meaning, unwilling to sing any song if one phrase feels false to her, going beneath the comfortable surfaces of the familiar popular twists and turns to extract deep feeling. Hear what she does, for instance, with the verse of BORN TO LOVE or the whole of IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN.

Danny Brown and Eric Garland were new to me, but they provided musical conversion experiences.  As the evening progressed, Danny moved from a lazy late-Lester approach to a more assertive stance, suggesting that Jacquet and Dexter had returned to their California haunts.  He didn’t walk the bar or carry on, but his rough, dark energies were irresistible.  And Eric, playing wire brushes for most of the evening, just swung in his own way — not loud or overbearing, but reliably forceful with a beautiful steadiness in his time.

Here are some highlights.

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY — not too fast but certainly compelling from the first beat:

A Latin-flavored COCKTAILS FOR TWO with just a hint of ironic amusement — a Jazz Mojito with a twenty-first century twist:

Kally’s version of BORN TO LOVE, inspired by Billie Holiday but darker, more passionately raw:

RUSSIAN LULLABY, which made no one sleepy:

GETTING SOME FUN OUT OF LIFE, again thanks to Billie but taken quite seriously:

I associated THE DUMMY SONG with a 1953 performance by Louis, but I hadn’t known that the song dated back to 1925 — by Lew Brown, Billy Rose, and Ray Henderson.  The story is told in the verses: Johnny, a returning soldier, surely from the Great War, finds his sweetheart is unfaithful to him — first with a sergeant, than a colonel — so he sings this vindictive song:

A SMOOTH ONE, homage to Charlie Christian and tenor saxophonists who glide without forgetting how to be a little rough:

An utterly impassioned reading of IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN that dwells much more on the rejection, the slight, than it blithely suggests that the romance can be saved:

May your happiness increase.

EV FAREY’S BAY CITY JAZZ BAND (1958)

Sometimes the fabled past, unearthed, falls short of our expectations.  The rare recordings of the memorable band occasionally seem small: “Is that what we were waiting for all these years?” we ask.

But one disc by Ev Farey’s Bay City Jazz Band (TradJazz Productions CD 2123) has been a delight rather than a disappointment.

I first became interested in this music as after reading Jim Leigh’s insightful and witty memoir, HEAVEN ON THE SIDE — where he writes about this gig at the Sail ‘N.  And in the wake of Jim’s recent death, I have been listening even more to this disc — with great pleasure.

The band is led by cornetist Ev Farey (someone still playing beautifully — I can testify to this from seeing him in person just a few weeks ago); Jim on trombone; Tito Patri, banjo; Art Nortier, piano; Walt Yost, string bass . . . . and the remarkable Bob Helm on clarinet.

Some bands conspicuously exert themselves, as if they had to get our attention — but the 1958 Bay City Jazz Band knew how to take its time, to be intense without strain.  An easy-rocking momentum dominates the disc, whether the band is emulating Oliver on SNAKE RAG or building slow fires under RICHARD M. JONES BLUES and RIVERSIDE BLUES.  No one gets much out of the middle register; there are no long solos.  The emphasis is on a communal ensemble and each selection moves along on its own swinging path.  But the music is bright, imaginative, with no one tied to the original recordings.

The mood overall is lyrical — I found myself admiring Farey’s gentle, down-the-middle melodic embellishments, his singing tone, his amiable gliding motion.  Helm has long been celebrated as a nimble soloist but his ensemble playing doesn’t sound like anyone else’s (except perhaps his own version of Dodds and Simeon.)  Leigh’s  concise, homegrown ardor fits in neatly.  On recordings of this sort, often the front line and the rhythm section seem to be running on approximately parallel tracks — the two trios meet at the start and end of selections.  Not so here.

The repertoire comes from an imagined 1926 Chicago, with an emphasis on early Louis with a sideways glance at Morton and contemporaries: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE; JAZZIN’ BABIES BLUES; HOUSE OF DAVID BLUES; GEORGIA BO BO; NEW ORLEANS STOMP; SMOKEY MOKES; GUT BUCKET BLUES; SAN; MECCA FLAT BLUES; COME BACK SWEET PAPA; SAN; SKID-DAT-DE-DAT; WILLIE THE WEEPER; MILENBERG JOYS.  Turk’s tribute to Helm, BROTHER LOWDOWN, is here, as is another Murphy discovery, GOT DEM BLUES, an 1897 composition believed to be the earliest published blues.

And in case you were wondering about the sonic quality of 1958 tapes, they were recorded close to the band and have been well-treated, so the music comes through nicely.

One of the particular bittersweet pleasures about this issue is that Jim Leigh wrote the notes.  Here’s an excerpt:

The music here can speak for itself.  There is quite a lot of tape wound on the band during my time on board, and this is some of the very best.  Helm would not have been comfortable to hear it said, but he is the star as he had been three years earlier with our ElDorado JB, as he was so often, with no matter whom.  As always, it is impossible to say whether he was more brilliant as a soloist or an ensemble player; it is all one pure stream of music and there was no virtue he valued more highly than what he called continuity.  From having been lucky enough to play with the man many times in different groups, my impression is still deep that Helm’s presence on the stand invariably brought out the best in his band mates.  Not through competitiveness, but rather the joy he communicated and the sheer pleasure of listening to/playing with such a musician.

To hear samples from a wide range of the TradJazz Productions CDs — featuring Bob Helm, Ev Farey, Hal Smith, Claire Austin, Darnell Howard, Leon Oakley, Jim Leigh, Frank Chace, Bud Freeman, Clint Baker, Earl Scheelar, Russ Gilman, Floyd O’Brien, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Baby Dodds, Natty Dominique, and others, click here.

To purchase LIVE! AT THE SAIL’N and learn about the Trad Jazz Production label’s other issues, click here.  (I understand that there’s a new Leigh CD, just released . . . . more about that soon.)

May your happiness increase.

A PILGRIMAGE TO DECCA (August 2011)

There are some spiritual places on this planet.  Yours may be deep in the redwood forest, or on your yoga mat.  Mine is a wondrous record store in El Cerrito, California.  DOWN HOME MUSIC is at — or perhaps floats above —

10431 San Pablo Avenue.  The phone number is (510) 525-2129; the website is http://www.downhomemusic.com.  My good friend, trumpet player Tally Baker, took me there last week.  I spent seventy-five dollars and four cents, had the time of my record-collecting life, have no regrets, and want to go back again.  Here’s what I bought: some of it sentimental gap-filling (records to replace those lost in natural disasters), some of it “Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen a copy of that!,” some of it “Can you believe they have a copy of this record?”  And — to quote King Oliver — I MUST HAVE IT.  I found out that Down Home Music has live sessions, and is the beloved brainchild of Chris Strachwitz, who founded Arhoolie Records.  Long may he and the store and the music flourish.

The results of the pilgrimage, in no particular order.

MEL POWELL SEPTET (Vanguard): Powell, Buck Clayton, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, Jimmy Crawford.  Some of the music on this 10″ lp has been reissued on that hodgepodge series of Vanguard CDs — I fear they are now out of print — but they left out an extended I MUST HAVE THAT MAN that is as lovely and sad and groovy as anything I can think of.

WOLVERINE JAZZ (Decca): Bud Freeman, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Dave Bowman, Eddie Condon, Pete Peterson, Morey Feld.  This session doesn’t have Dave Tough, but it does have SUSIE (OF THE ISLANDS).  And I started laughing when I remembered that Eddie advanced the idea that the album should be called SONS OF BIXES.

DON EWELL (Windin’ Ball): Ewell, solo.  Through this blog, I have met Birch Smith, who is responsible for this session.  Blessings on Ewell’s head and on Birch’s, too.  And on his DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, Don mutters (at the appropriate juncture), “Oh, crawl that thing!”  Indeed.

PETE KELLY AT HOME (RCA Victor): Dick Cathcart, Abe Lincoln, Matty Matlock, Jack Chaney, Ray Sherman, Jud DeNaut, George Van Eps, Nick Fatool.  Who knew?  This has (among other surprises) LA CUCARACHA, and it features Mister Lincoln, one of my heroes.

THE FABULOUS FINNS: SYLVESTER AHOLA (Qaulity): Ahola with the Rhythm Maniacs, Night Club Kings, Ambrose, The Rhythmic Eight, Plihip Lewis, Arcadians, Ray Starita, Georgians, Piccadilly Players.  Plus an interview done with Ahola at his home — in Finnish.  Could you resist?  I couldn’t.

BOB MIELKE’S BEARCATS (Arhoolie): Mielke, P.T. Stanton, Bill Napier, Dick Oxtot, Pete Allen, Don Merchant, Bill Erickson, Burt Bales.  Tally had played me some of this music.  It rocked then; it rocks now.

DICK OXTOT’S GOLDEN AGE JAZZ BAND (Arhoolie): Jim Goodwin, Meilke, Bob Helm, Ray Skjelbred, Bill Bardin, Napier.  Goodwin and Skjelbred.  Who could pass this up?

CHICAGO HIGH LIFE (Euphonic): Ray Skjelbred, Clarence Jackson.  Ditto.

ON THE WATERFRONT WITH BURT BALES (Cavalier): Bales, solo.  Yeah, man.

PUTNEY DANDRIDGE (Rarities): Volumes 1 and 2, with Roy, Chu, Teddy, Red, Buster, Ben, Bobby Stark, Cozy Cole, John Kirby, Slick Jones.  Mr. Dandridge is an acquired taste, but the bands swing gently and ferociously.

Blessings all around!

P.S.  Jazz 78s and 45s too, and a turntable to play them on — so that I could assure myself that the never-seen Peg LaCentra with Jerry Sears on Bluebird was, in fact, dull.  Invaluable experience — like the old days — to be able to check out a disc before plunging two or three dollars on it.

“PEARL”: TAMAR KORN and GAUCHO

Thanks to Peter Varshavsky of Porto Franco Records, here is a fascinating video documentary of the musical meeting of the San Francisco band GAUCHO with Tamar Korn and friends.  Tamar sings “PEARL,” (music by Dave Ricketts, lyrics by Tamar) aided by Dave Ricketts and Michael Groh, guitar; Rob Reich, accordion, Pete Devine, drums, Ari Munkres, bass; Leon Oakley, cornet.

The session happened on January 24, 2010, and is captured here in lovely black and white.  It took place at Cafe Amnesia on Valencia Street in San Francisco, where Gaucho has been appearing for nine years.

Music from this session can be found on the Porto Franco CD of the same name: details available at  http://www.portofrancorecords.com.