Thanks to the ever=devoted SFRaeAnn, we have a five-minute treatise on the most inspired floating, created in front of an audience at America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, on June 30, 2019. The players here are Ray Skjelbred, making that old keyboard sound exactly like new; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Josh Roberts, guitar; Matt Weiner, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. And their particular text is LADY BE GOOD, by George and Ira Gershwin, first performed in 1924 and immediately taken up by jazz musicians, dance bands, and singers of all kinds — from Ben Bernie and the California Ramblers to the present day.
Perhaps because tempos in performance naturally increase, and because it is such a familiar set of chord changes (from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Incorporated recording on) it’s usually played at a brisk tempo. This performance is a sly glide, a paper airplane dreamily navigating the air currents before coming to a gentle landing. And — taking the Basie inspiration to new heights — this performance so lovingly balances appreciative silence with sound.
It doesn’t need my annotations: it reveals itself to anyone willing to pay attention. Watch the faces of the musicians; hear their delighted affirmations. As James Chirillo says, music was made:
Blessings on them all, past and present, visible and ectoplasmic. The Cubs lift us up but never drop us down.
I perceive this world as a place where authenticity must battle with fakery all the time — sushi is sometimes shoved aside for plastic food. So when a dining companion asks me how I like my dinner, I might say, “Tastes like food!” which few understand as sincere appreciation of genuineness. That expression works equally well for me in what I hear in improvised performance.
This morning, I checked YouTube and found videos — thanks to RaeAnn Hopkins Berry — of Clint Baker’s Golden Gate Swing Band at the Bootleggers’ Jamboree Weekend (I put the apostrophe there whether they like it or not) on May 26th. The band is Clint, trombone; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Paul Cosentino, reeds; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar [whose name I misspelled in my first, pre-coffee, version]; Katie Cavera, string bass; Riley Baker, drums.
I started with JIVE AT FIVE, and was content. Knowing that such music is possible — inspired by Basie but not copying the Decca 78 — is consoling:
and ROSETTA, at one of many good tempos:
Leaving Jabbo Smith out would be neither wise nor gracious, so here is Clint’s ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY:
and the song Pee Wee Russell would title THREE LITTLE BIRDS (with a Commodore ancestry):
RaeAnn shot twenty-four videos of this fine band (including vocals by Dawn Lambeth and Jessica King) — which I will leave to your investigation (also so that you can subscribe to her YouTube channel) — but those should make you feel delight in the presence of the Real.
One more from this delicious band — Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs — on their 2015 West Coast Tour. I posted a life-affirming (no, life-improving) selection from their July 9, 2015 concert at the Rossmoor Jazz Club here, and you could do worse than watch it again.
This delight — again thanks to SFRaeAnn (who is known to the law as Rae Ann Hopkins Berry) — comes from the very next night, when Ray and his Cubs performed at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California. For those who haven’t kept up, the band is Ray Skjelbred, piano / vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet / vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar / vocal; Clint Baker, string bass / vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
(About Cafe Borrone, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, were I there, I would be there.)
I pointed out in my previous post how much I enjoy Kim Cusack’s singing. Perhaps to the uninitiated, he sounds a little like a character in a good Warner Brothers film circa 1933, his phrases clipped, his delivery conversational (a useful corrective to so many singers orally swooning over their own long vowel movements). But listen closely to how he lingers over a note here and a note there, how he swings, how he delivers the goods.
I belong to a small select group of people who not only delight in Kim’s singing, but who treasure his elongation of certain sounds, especially in this case — at the end of the chorus, what he often does to NOW, stretching it out so that it reminds me of the annoyed comment of a Siamese cat whose imperial will is being disregarded. On this July 10 performance, it’s a little less cheerfully caustic than usual, but perhaps this was the last tune before a break and everyone was thinking of dinner.
I also adore — and I will stop shortly — his final hand gesture, amused yet charming: “Ladies, don’t rush the band. Don’t knock me off my stool. Form a single line and don’t push. Thank you, my people!”
AND THE BAND ITSELF. Swing made lucent and portable — the music stand on Ray’s keyboard was not the only thing rocking, I know. The ripe-peach rhythm wave of Clint and Katie, and the beautifully melodic waves of sound that Jeff creates.
If you’re not smiling, I urge you — as a healing practitioner — to play the video again until it has its proper palliative effect.
Many jazz bands — hoping to please their audiences — specialize in Fast and Loud. The team of F&L has their place, for sure, but they grow wearisome quickly.
A band that shows what can be done within the infinite variety of “medium tempo” and with remarkable dynamics is one led by pianist / singer / composer Ray Skjelbred — his CUBS. For this occasion, the Cubs are Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.
Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm!
And it seems to me that everyone in this band grows more lyrical each time I hear them — in solos and in their cohesive ensemble playing.
A lovely Thirties song immortalized by Billie, Lester, Teddy, Buck, and the Basie rhythm section without the Count, A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT:
Memories of Ethel Waters and Jack Teagarden in I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT, BABY — sung casually and with heart by Hal Smith:
Paul Dresser’s MY GAL SAL, with a conversational vocal chorus by Mr. Skjelbred (this performance is the source of my title):
BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES — that’s the still-active (at 93) swing master Sir Charles Thompson; in this performance the Cubs evoke the lovely glide that Charles and friends created on the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions:
Thanks to the peripatetic Rae Ann Berry for recording these videos for us, and the Fresno Dixieland Society for creating their “Sounds of Mardi Gras,” presented Feb. 9-12 in Fresno, California. If you visit Rae Ann’s YouTube channel, SFRaeAnn, you’ll see many more performances by the Cubs, by the Grand Dominion Jazz Band, and the Climax Jazz Band — beautifully captured for your listening and dancing pleasure.
More wonderful music from the 2011 San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Festival, proving that gratitude is a year-round phenomenon.
Here are eight gratifying performances by the Grand Dominion Jazz Band, recorded on November 24-25, 2011, and made available for JAZZ LIVES through the generosity of Rae Ann Berry, whose handiwork can be seen in two places (if you don’t encounter her at a concert, gig, or jazz party): her up-to-date list of hot jazz gigs in the area on www.sfraeann.com and her YouTube channel here.
Grand Dominion is led by pianist Bob Pelland, and features our friend Clint Baker — the wonderfully fulfilling multi-instrumentalist — here on trumpet, with Jeff Hamilton on drums giving the band just the right kind of relaxed drive from his kit. The other worthies are Mike Fay, string bass; Jim Armstrong, trombone and vocals; Gerry Green, reeds; Bill Dixon, banjo.
ALL THE GIRLS GO CRAZY ‘BOUT THE WAY I WALK had a less genteel title in its first incarnation, but this will do:
Still down in New Orleans, here’s the GRAVIER STREET BLUES, with Clint in a fine Mutt Carey mood:
ST. PHILIP STREET BREAKDOWN — recalling George Lewis — features Gerry Green and the rhythm section:
PANAMA (not “PANAMA RAG”) by William H. Tyers, gets a fine rocking treatment here, all of its strains treated respectfully and with heat:
WILD MAN BLUES reminds me of Red Allen’s 1957 version in its steady intensity — and that’s the highest compliment I can pay:
The New Orleanians — wherever they found themselves on the planet — liked to offer swinging versions of “pop tunes” for dancing, and INTO EACH LIFE SOME RAIN MUST FALL lends itself delightfully to this treatment, with fine solos after the sweet vocal:
Recalling the 1940 Decca session that paired Louis and Bechet, here’s a gutty PERDIDO STREET BLUES, with beautiful drumming from Jeff:
Asking the perennially nagging question, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? (and the answer is “Of course we do!):
Thanks to Paul Daspit and these glorious musicians. More to come!
Good for stompin’, to quote Oran Page. Here’s some truly heartfelt hot jazz from the 2011 San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival — thanks to Paul Daspit, who brought these glorious musicians together and made sure everyone on and off the stand was beaming, and more of the same to our own “SFRaeAnn,” Rae Ann Berry, whose devotion to the music sends it around the world in the very best ways: her up-to-date list of hot jazz gigs in the area on www.sfraeann.com and her YouTube channel here.
The Yerba Buena Stompers, led by banjoist / singer John Gill, improve the air whenever they play. In this incarnation, recorded on November 24 and 25, 2011, in two sets, the YBS took its repertoire in part from the songs that Alan Adams — the late trombonist and San Diego festival director — loved to play. Alan had good taste, and this is the way to be remembered!
In addition to Mister Gill, the band sported Kevin Dorn, drums; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet, and the brass superheroes Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger on cornet and trumpet, respectively.
Here’s MUSK(R)AT RAMBLE, played at the nice tempo it began its life at:
And that rocking lament, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, explicated by Duke:
Another GAL, who stayed where she was, was Paul Dresser’s loyal MY GAL SAL:
A brisk exploration of WABASH BLUES:
One of the great early hit songs of the last century, ROSES OF PICARDY (again taken at such a sweet tempo — balancing Hot and Sentimental perfectly). The trumpet conversation after Orange’s solo is priceless:
Something for Johnny Dodds — circa 1926, Chicago — FLAT FOOT:
A less-known invitation to the dance from the Hot Five repertoire, with an inviting vocal by John — and dig the trumpet / cornet sound on the verse, and their colloquy after the vocal:
Finally, an evocation of Louis and Papa Joe, RIVERSIDE BLUES:
There might be better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than in the company of a hot band playing King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton, but so far science has not found it. Think of the raised dopamine levels!
Rae Ann Berry, the guiding light for traditional jazz in the San Francisco Bay Area, brought me to the monthly meeting of the Napa Valley Dixieland Jazz Society — where the guest band was Ted Shafer’s Jelly Roll Jazz Band.
You can find out more about the NVDJS here. Their regular sessions take place at the Embassy Suites, 1075 California Blvd., in Napa, on the second Sunday of the month from 1-5 PM.
The band was Ted and Ken Keeler, banjo; Leon Oakley and Rick Holzgrafe on cornet and trumpet; Glenn Calkins, trombone; Pete Main, clarinet; Virgina Tichenor, piano; Jim O’Briant, tuba; Burt Thompson, drums.
And here’s some of the music they played:
CAMP MEETING BLUES:
WORKING MAN’S BLUES:
To learn more about what’s happening in the Bay Area jazz scene, visit Rae Ann’s site for an up-to-date listing, here — and check out her YouTube videos — well over two thousand at last count — www.youtube.com/sfraeann
I know it’s subjective, but I find some instruments intrinsically more pleasing than others. I am slightly ashamed that when someone asked, “Are you going to hear the four-banjo set at the Wharf Theatre?” the words “four” and “banjos” in such proximity made me a little nervous.
But then I got more information. “It should be good, Michael. The four banjos will be played by Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, Paul Mehling, and John Reynolds. Marc Caparone will play bass, and Ralf Reynolds will swing out on the washboard and blow his whistle whenever he hears a musical ‘Foul!'”
I headed north to the Wharf with expectations that it would be, well, not bad. I could endure four banjos . . .
The music I heard not only lifted me out of my seat but is a rebuke to my inherent jazz snobbery. This set swung as hard as anything I’ve ever heard live, and you will see that I ain’t jiving.
And since I am still grappling with a wicked cold as I write this post, I think of Aimee Gauvin’s words (when he put on his white coat and became Dr. Jazz): GOOD FOR WHAT AILS YOU!
For once, I will present with a minimum of comment. If this music needs explanation (and the onstage speakers are wonderfully, hilariously articulate), you need more than Sudafed.
Politically incorrect intro, please? CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:
Something for Louis! SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:
John explains that shiny thing! DIGA DIGA DOO:
Clint warns us — SOME OF THESE DAYS:
Did you know the secret rules of banjo culture? Now you do. And Katie (Baby Face) explains it all, in the key of Ab. I wanted so badly to sing along but didn’t want my voice to overwhelm the video, so you are encouraged to sing loudly at home:
Something pretty — the 1931 DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME:
Paul reinforces the banjo’s international theme with DARK EYES:
Once Katie explains the great gender-divide, we can head into what I think is a highlight of my life in 2011. If you watch only clip in this posting (perhaps being banjo-timid) please watch this one. Surprises abound! Watch out for flying cornets on CHARLEY, MY BOY:
Something hinting at Claude Hopkins and Fletcher Henderson c. 1932-33, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE. Identify the quotations and win the prize:
Since these folks love their home state, what would be a better closer than CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME with a cornet interlude:
My pal Ricky Riccardi says he wants to see the Reynolds Brothers on Mount Rushmore — a fine sentiment. But I am a man of more modest dreams. I’d like to hear the Reynolds Brothers’ music being played on jazz / vintage pop radio shows — do any of my readers have a radio program? Get in touch with me!
I’d like to see the Brothers appearing at jazz festivals outside of their home state. California will just have to stop being selfish and allow the boys to travel. We’ll change that restrictive law. What, New York doesn’t need ferocious, hilarious swing? England? Really!
These are the last of the videos I took at Monterey — a mere ninety or so. I am very proud of what I captured and have shared, and am only sad that I didn’t take more . . . But Rae Ann Berry (that’s SFRaeAnn to YouTube) has posted videos of a session or two that I didn’t catch, so head on over to YouTube to see more.
I know it is a bad idea to rush time away — with every day a wrapped box full of surprises! — but I can’t wait for the 2012 Jazz Bash By The Bay. Thanks to all of the musicians for lifting the stage up and up and up; thanks to Sue Kroninger for creating a wonderful world for all of us to float in for that weekend.
I will close with a very personal note.
At the end of the set, Clint — who has a heart as big as the Bay Area — asked all the musicians to sign his banjo head. I watched from a distance, not wanting to intrude. How sweet! His way of saying, “I never want to forget this moment, and we are all brothers and sisters.” Then he asked me to sign it also.
I have never been so honored in my life.
I’ve won awards. I’ve had my books reviewed in the New York Times. But to be handed a Sharpie and encouraged to sign was something I wouldn’t have had the temerity to dream of. I wrote only three words, “With deep love,” but that was what I felt and feel. No one is going to ask me to sit in by playing, and that’s a good thing for the jazz cosmos, but I’ve been embraced by the people I love and admire.
Because of the wonderful photographs that Charles Peterson and others took, some of my readers will be able to visualize the bandstand at Jimmy Ryan’s sixty-five years ago — crowded with hot musicians jamming on, say, BUGLE CALL RAG, with every luminary in New York City eagerly improvising at the peak of their powers.
Now imagine that scene with additions. A wondrous singer — let’s say Connee Boswell, Lee Wiley, or Mildred Bailey is joining in for a few numbers.
And, if your imagination can hold this, Django Reinhardt and some members of his group are also there, off to the side, having a fine time. Bob Wills is coming through the door, too.
Did this happen? If it did — in New York City, circa 1945 — it hasn’t been documented. But something very much like it happened last Friday, October 15, 2010, in Cafe Borrone, which sits happily in Menlo Park, California.
Cafe Borrone has — through the generosity and prescience of its owner, Roy Borrone — having Clint Baker’s All-Stars as its Friday night jazz band. For twenty years of Fridays, mind you. And the 15th was a twentieth-anniversary party.
And “SFRaeAnn,” who is Rae Ann Berry on her driver’s license, was there to record this occasion. Clint’s regulars were in attendance, but so were some instrumentally-minded friends. As was the eloquently hot Gypsy-tinged small group Gaucho, and New York’s own wonder, Tamar Korn. The musicians (collectively) are Clint Baker, playing everything expertly; Robert Young, saxophone; Leon Oakley, cornet; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar; Tom Wilson, trombone; Jim Klippert, trombone; Dave Ricketts, guitar; Rob Reich, accordion; Mike Groh, guitar; Ari Munkres, bass, J. Hansen, drums, Riley Baker, drums.
A word about GAUCHO — a group I’ve seen in San Francisco (and I’ve also listened happily to their recordings): many “Gypsy swing” groups that loosely resemble this one specialize in superhero-speedy readings of the Reinhart-Grappelly repertoire. In such cases, I agree with my friend Anthony Barnett when he proposes a moratorium on such endeavors. In my case, all I want is not to be pummelled with notes. But GAUCHO is superbly different. The overall affect is superficially of music you’d hear on the porch or in the living room, but that feeling is undercut by the instant awareness that no amateur musicians ever, ever sounded this good. Its two guitarists play and swap roles with grace and a stylish casualness. Rob Reich makes the accordion an instrument I would happily listen to, as he spins out wandering lines (I was traumatized by an accordion as a child.) And Ari Munkeres brings together Pops Foster and Paul Chambers very adeptly. The overall feeling brings together Teddy Bunn and Western swing and a whole host of refreshing improvisations on various subtle, profound models.
Here’s part of a delightful EXACTLY LIKE YOU, where Tamar and Leon converse:
And a full-fledged YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — where Tamar’s eyes and facial expressions reveal a great comic actress, singing the twisty lyrics at a rapid clip. (Not only that: she sings the verse twice!) This performance becomes a series of witty conversations and overlapping monologues, most fetchingly:
How about SOME OF THESE DAYS, with an incredible outchorus where instruments and Tamar (the Mills Sister) blend so exuberantly:
Here’s a delicate, unaffected I’M CONFESSIN’ — a performance where Ari’s arco bass, Leon’s Ziggy Elman – Harry James emoting, Robert’s sweet alto, and more theoretically disparate elements come together to create something terribly moving:
The simplistic philosophy of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING remains true — complain too much and even the dog walks out of the room — but what catches my eye in the first minute of this performance is that an audience member has asked Tamar to dance (unless I am missing the essential subtext). At what other site do band members dance with the audience? I ask you! And don’t miss the vocal duet between Tamar and Jim Klippert, a man who is having just too much fun to keep it to himself:
Tamar sat out PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE (perhaps the jitterbugging had worn her out for the moment?) and Clint took the vocal, with solos from everyone:
And the evening ended with a romp nothing short of ecstatic on BILL BAILEY (or, as Joe Wilder calls it, THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY), which should have you grinning for days:
I’m thrilled that this music was created and that the apparently tireless Rae Ann Berry saved it for us and for posterity. Bless Roy Borrone, all the musicians, and our own devoted videographer, too.
P.S. And I have it from good authority that GAUCHO’s new CD has Miss Korn and Mister Oakley in attendance — with some songs that Tamar has written lyrics for. I check the mailbox every day . . . and will let you know when it arrives!
What do Rae Ann Berry, Elin Smith, and Lisa (Mook) Ryan have in common? They’re all women who have a deep involvement in jazz, even though they don’t play instruments. Nor are they married to instrumentalists or players.
All three are very creative members of the jazz audience — which is often more male than female. But they do more than sit and applaud: they are improvisers behind the camera, video artists.
Rae Ann is known to many by her YouTube channel name — SFRaeAnn — and she takes her camera to jazz happenings on the West Coast: regularly, she finds Clint Baker and his band at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, or a solo piano recital by the esteemed Ray Skjelbred at Pier 23 in San Francisco, as well as regularly videorecording jazz fetival performances. Here are two of her most recent captures:
From July 20, 2010, here’s Ray working his deep-blue way through KMH DRAG, an impromptu blues line created by Max Kaminsky, Freddie Moore, and Art Hodes for a memorable Blue Note record date in (I believe) 1944:
And ten days later, Rae Ann recorded Clint and friends at Cafe Borrone, playing HINDUSTAN. That’s Clint, clarinet; Leon Oakley, trumpet and necktie; Jim Klippert, trombone; Jason Vanderford, guitar; Bill Reinhart, bass; Steve Apple, drums; and Robert Young, banjo. There’s good rocking tonight, New Orleans-style:
Elin Smith lives in England, and it was my good fortune to meet her and Ron, her husband, last year at Whitley Bay and again this year.
Elin loves to record jazz performances, but also is fascinated by composing films: her YouTube channel is “elinshouse,” and here she’s trained her lens on two performances by Thomas Winteler, who sounds more like Sidney Bechet than anyone I’ve ever heard. These songs are from the most recent Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, where Thomas was joined by my hero Bent Persson on trumpet, Michel Bard on reeds, Lou Laprete on piano, Henri Lamaire on bass, and Ron Houghton on drums for ALLIGATOR CRAWL:
And a triumphant POTATO HEAD BLUES. Like its predecessor, it suggests what might have happened if Sidney had brought his clarinet into the OKeh studios while Louis and his Hot Seven were recording:
Finally, there’s Lisa (Mook) Ryan, another Californian.
Lisa is intrigued not only by the music of Bix Beiderbecke but by the people who continue to investigate it, play it, and keep his legacy alive. She’s done wonderfully atmospheric films set to Bix’s music. Here’s IN THE DARK (as played by Dick Hyman) which she’s used atmospherically — creating juxtapositions of slowly-observed still photographs — to muse on what Bix experienced and felt in the year 1928, all seen as shades of light, shadow, and blackness. Other impressionistic creations of Lisa’s can be seen on her “MookRyan” channel:
Most recently, under the heading of “MookCam,” she’s captured cornetist Andy Schumm in performance. Although youthful, Andy has so many fans with video cameras (including myself) that he might be the most-documented jazz musician of the last two or three years — a singular tribute to his talent and the affection it inspires!
Here are Andy and His Gang at the Putnam Museum, on July 22, 2010. Andy is playing Bix’s cornet, John Otto on clarinet and sax, Vince Giordano on bass sax/tuba/string bass, Dave Bock on trombone, David Boeddinghaus on the Beiderbecke family piano, Leah Bezin on banjo, and Josh Duffee on drums for a merging of CLARINET MARMALADE and SINGIN’ THE BLUES:
The generous creativity of RaeAnn, Elin, and Lisa inspires us!
Rae Ann Berry took her video camera to Cafe Divine yesterday (that’s March 24, 2010) to capture the inspired duo of Clint Baker (trumpet, trombone, and more) and Craig Ventresco (the guitar-orchestra). These two videos are a special kind of jazz — the music that musicians play for themselves when they’re alone or when no one is listening too closely. It’s hot, fervent, and adventurous — if you make a mistake, you moan and keep playing, for this kind of relaxed playing needs a mistake or two to be real.
Here Clint and Craig perform a properly slow-moving version of SAVOY BLUES, from the Hot Five book:
And — also circa 1926 — here’s ORIENTAL MAN, complete with verse:
Divine stuff! I’m looking forward to meeting Rae Ann — in a non-cyber incarnation — this weekend in San Francisco, where I can say THANK YOU! in person.
Thanks to the energetic Rae Ann Berry, who took her nimble video camera to Fresno, California on February 6, 2010, for the Sounds of Mardi Gras (sponsored by the Fresno Dixieland Society), here are some lively videos of the New El Dorado Jazz Band, co-led by Hal Smith (on washboard) and Clint Baker (clarinet, banjo, vocals, and more) with HowardMiyata on trombone, Marc Caparone on trumpet, Mike Baird on clarinet, Katie Cavera on banjo, Carl Sonny Leyland on piano, Georgia Korba on bass — with a guest appearances by singer DawnLambeth and the multi-talented Jeff Hamilton.
Here they are on a romping BIG CHIEF BATTLE AXE, which Dawn once told me they called (privately) BIG CHEAP CADILLAC, a title I much prefer. Now the secret is out!
Here’s SNAG IT, a wonderful evocation of New Orleans – Chicago funk:
Marty Bloom’s improvisation on the theme of jazz sorrow, MELANCHOLY (with the verse):
Are you prey to violent urges? SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT might be the right theme music:
Jelly Roll Morton’s WININ’ BOY BLUES, at a splendid tempo, with Carl hilariously swerving around the more erotic lyrics not once but twice (send a quarter to this blog by email for the missing lines, if you’re over eighteen):
And a romping ORIENTAL MAN (which I would bet has wonderfully archaic and unpopular lyrics):
Here’s a delicious YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — even though Dawn’s microphone lets her down, the combination of her creamy legato approach and the band’s Louis / Moten riffs is irresistible:
In tribute to Papa Ray Ronnei, here’s his original, SALTY BUBBLE:
Here’s YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE — a wonderful song but bad advice in personal relationships. Howard’s shifted over to the massive helicon, and Jeff Hamilton sits in on trombone (not his usual drums or piano — who knew?):
Carl Sonny Leyland can certainly rock the blues, as he does here — see how Hal Smith is enjoying the tempo even before the band joins in for SONNY’S BLUES:
And a nearly dangerous ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU, with Howard and Jeff continuing. This band delivers the mail for sure.
This band has recorded a CD for Clint’s BURGUNDY STREET RECORDS: if you’re lucky enough to see members of the band on gigs, I’m sure they’ll have some, and Hal Smith promises that it will soon be available through his website. (http://www.halsmithmusic.com/hals_cdpage.html.) I’m buying some copies!
Does anyone have the lyrics to ORIENTAL MAN? Or the original sheet music to share?
P.P.S. For no reasons aside from personal pleasure, I’d like to know the “reach” of this blogpost. Who’s watching these clips from far, far away? A prize to the most distant viewer . . . !
On January 10, 2010, the energetic Rae Ann Berry captured these performances by the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation Staff and Directors Band — jamming at Nick’s at Rockaway Beach in Pacifica, California. It wasn’t the Nick’s of “sizzling steaks” and fabled memory, where Eddie Condon and his friends played before Eddie decided to open his own club in 1946, but the ambiance was the same. In fact, both selections — SUNDAY and AM I BLUE? — are played at those nice medium tempos that musicians of a certain age and musical education associate with Condon. And the solos — compact and eloquent — would have pleased him greatly.
The players are Bob Schulz, cornet; Bill Carter, clarinet; Marty Eggers, piano; Bill Reinhart, bass; Scott Anthony, guitar; and Virginia Tichenor, drums. It’s possible, if you get into the right mindset, to imagine — in your mind’s ear — that this is a session for Commodore or Decca, with Bob’s serious, flexible lead (Marsala, Max, or Muggsy), Bill’s curlicues (reminiscent of Pee Wee, Cless, or Marsala) and a strong rhythm section driven by Scott’s swinging guitar and Marty’s Stacyish piano. And — with apologies to the dozen fine trombonists I know — the simple two-man frontline is eager, dancing, and light on its feet.
Ignore the dancers; ignore the conversation: the music’s delightful. No one was embarking on a studious repertory recreation: they just got in the spirit and stayed there. All hail! (And Rae Ann has posted another substantial handful of performances by this band with guest singer Pat Yankee, doing old favorites and Hot Five tunes. Rewarding stuff!)
Brought to you through the good offices of Rae Ann Berry, another brief trip to San Diego (November 27, 2009) to visit with the Yerba Buena Stompers.
Make yourself to home. Coffee? Campari? Seltzer?
A great deal of music strikes me as pleasant and competent, but I need to hear it only once. “That’s nice,” the mind says, “and now we can move on!” But some performances, whether subversively quiet or shouting, make me think, “I have to hear that again,” my reason for posting the three clips below.
This edition of the Yerba Buena Stompers is led by John Gill, banjo and vocal; Marty Eggers, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Hal Smith, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger, trumpets. This band is my imagined version of what the Oliver band must have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens: it has the same steady rock at medium tempos. And the sweet interplay between Leon and Duke is a visual metaphor for Papa Joe and Little Louis.
Oddly, two of these performances have to do with melancholy; the first, BROKEN PROMISES, comes from the Lu Watters book, and is a simple song — almost a country-and-western lament, but it sticks in the mind. Leon’s half-chorus (backed by Hal on the cymbal) is a delight. Unfortunately, we can’t see John singing, but he still comes through:
The other bit of sadness is MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE, which starts with the verse, new to me.
When SFRaeAnn first posted this on YouTube, I started the clip and went some fifteen feet away to the kitchen. But the second instrumental chorus — a duet between Duke, part-muted, and Marty’s incisive piano, made me abandon the caffeine and come back to the monitor, delighted. No pyrotechnics but great skill!
The two performances made me think, not for the first time, about jazz musicians and singers who take the edge off of sad music (and lyrics) by raising the tempo, pushing the rhythm. When you’re thinking about your Hot Mama, who’s gone, or those Broken Promises, you can’t be quite so despairing if you’re tapping your foot. Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson get credit for this — consider Billie’s acidly swinging TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE — but it was happening before either of them was born.
And there’s MY LITTLE BIMBO (Down On A Bamboo Isle), a Walter Donaldson song whose subject is cross-cultural adultery. Could I ignore a song that describes the sultry Love Object as having a “shape like a ukulele”? Joy abounds.
My title comes from a Jelly Roll Morton record from his great Victor period — but it’s a close approximation of the phrase that came into my mind when I watched and heard this great small band from the recent San Diego Dixieland Jazz Festival, with these November 27, 2009 video clips coming to us through the apparently inexhaustible generosity of Rae Ann Berry.
The band? Led by the melifluous clarinetist Tim Laughlin, it features pianist Chris Dawson, recently celebrated in this blog, drummer Hal Smith, cornetist Connie Jones, trombonist Alan Adams, guitarist Katie Cavera, and bassist Marty Eggers — a nice mixture of Californians and New Orleanians, stirred and hot.
Here they are on WANG WANG BLUES. Catch Hal’s press rolls behind the opening ensemble, Tim’s melodic fluidity that hints at Noone by way of Davern, his beautiful tone; Connie’s mixture of gruffness and Bixian nimbleness; that rhythm section, with Chris light yet rocking, Marty and Katie fervent, Hal remembering all the things one can do with a hi-hat cymbal and its stem; Katie’s neat chorded solo. And then the ensemble choruses, starting calmly and getting Hot. There are rough edges here (it seems to have started the set) but I love it in an old-fashioned way:
Fats Waller’s KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW follows, situated midway between Dixieland conventions and the Vanguard recording featuring Vic Dickenson and Ruby Braff. Connie’s earnest vocal is a treat, and the ghosts of Wild Bill Davison and Teddy Wilson, apparently unlikely partners, share the stage in perfect harmony, before Marty’s melodic solo and the easily-rocking final ensemble:
Connie and Alan left the stage for a splendid quintet version of DOWN BY THE OLD MILL STREAM, which allows us to hear and see the uplifting work of Chris Dawson, his treble lines sparkling but never upstaging Tim. Katie’s chordal solo reminds me of Carmen Mastren’s playing on the 1940 Bechet-Spanier session, and that’s high praise. And this performance suggests some of the lilting playing of a Goodman – Wilson Thirties airshot without copying any of those patented licks:
Lester Young was born in 1909 and died before he reached fifty, so when we celebrate his hundredth birthday, it is with the wonder that he existed at all — and the sadness that his feelings were often “bruised,” to use his evocative word.
Just recently (Nov. 27, 2009) the drummer and swing master Hal Smith staged a tribute to Lester at America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Festival in San Diego, California, with some performances caught by our very own and most cherished SFRaeAnn, who signs her checks Rae Ann Berry.
Hal’s band — wittily dubbed “Hal’s Angels,” is comprised of Anita Thomas, tenor sax and clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal, Mike Earls, bass, and Hal himself. Hal and band led the audience through a brief musical tour of Lester’s life, from his pre-recording influences to his last decade. Here are several highlights:
To start things off, Hal and the band embarked on a rocking blues, the kind that Lester loved to play, early and late. This blues line comes from recordings made at a mid-Fifties gig in Washington, D.C. — and it’s in the key of G, hence the title: “G’S, IF YOU PLEASE”:
But before Lester ever got into a recording studio, he was astonishing fellow musicians and listeners — among them the writer Ralph Ellison. But Lester, for all his indefatigable originality, had heard other musicians in the Twenties. Jazz records were not easy to find, but his fellow reedman Eddie Barefield had acquired several of the 1927 OKeh records featuring Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer. Lester credited Trumbauer as an early influence, and if one listens to Tram throughout his career, the sound and approach that affected Lester are easy to appreciate. (In fact, Trumbauer’s final session for Capitol contains a near-ballad version of BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA that sounds for all the world like Lester on C-melody saxophone.)
Thus, a properly slow reading of Trumbauer’s solo on WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:
One of the glorious sessions Lester made was also his first — “Jones-Smith, Inc.” in late 1936, which produced LADY BE GOOD. Had Lester recorded nothing else, we would have this recording as evidence of his mastery. And his influence is heard throughout this performance, which shows off the uplifting rhythm section, even when Anita isn’t soloing:
With the Kansas City Six, Lester played clarinet, unmistakably, and Hal’s Angels turn to I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, with Carl offering a vocal that reminds us of Lester’s work alongside Jimmy Rushing in the Count Basie band. It’s the only time Anita offers a written-out Lester solo, and she has his tart tone and sideways phrasing down pat:
For perhaps three years, Lester and Billie Holiday turned out one recorded masterpiece after another: here is BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, with Katie singing, in their honor:
I don’t exaggerate when I write that Lester would have been delighted to play with this band. And since he called everyone “Lady,” I think he would have been most pleased by the playing of Lady Anita, who suggests some of his curving architecture without copying him. Although many famous players tried to copy him, their energetic imitations only show how individual he was, and how his essence eluded them. Better to “go for yourself,” as he said, as Hal’s Angels do so well here.
John Gill — hot guitarist, banjoist, trombonist, singer — has a deep love and understanding of Bing Crosby, as you can hear on his Stomp Off CD, LEARN TO CROON, where he and a wonderful New York band (his “Sentimental Serenaders”) pay heartfelt tribute to Bing.
I’m delighted that SFRaeAnn captured John and the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra just a few days ago (November 28, 2009) — at America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Festival in San Diego, California. And I believe all of the charts you hear are John’s own arrangements and transcriptions, expertly done and played.
I had to begin this post with John’s version of Ralph Rainger’s irreplaceable PLEASE:
Here’s JUST ONE MORE CHANCE, complete with a little bu-bu-bu-boo and those trademark dips and slides:
And a sweetly rocking dance-band version of IF I HAD YOU. with the unheard verse and appropriate playing from members of the HRO:
Seek and you shall find — the cheerfully romantic message of I FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR BABY (In a Five-and-Ten Cent Store). John makes the last sixteen bars shout:
And a rarity — an Irving Berlin song Bing sang in a cameo appearance in the 1931 REACHING FOR THE MOON, with a hugely elaborate title: WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THE MEAN LOWDOWN. All of that verbiage aside, please notice the smiles on the musicians’ faces:
Oh, so pretty — PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, with the lovely verse:
And here’s Bing’s theme, WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT (Meets The Gold Of The Day):
To quote John, “There you go!” Thank you, John, for wearing your heart so beautifully on your sleeve, for all of us to feel so deeply. And thanks (as always) to SFRaeAnn, for sharing these sentimental marvels.
It might be a New Yorker’s prejudice, but I don’t associate hot jazz with Arizona. In this, however, as in so many things, the evidence proves me wrong.
Our Hot benefactress, SFRaeAnn, took her video camera to the Arizona Classic Jazz Festival in Chandler, Arizona. Here are three performances she captured on November 6. The first is a set-closer by a Condonite band (with Ed Polcer up front and Kevin Dorn at the back, how could it be otherwise?) — Hoagy Carmichael’s RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE — with friendly assistance from Tom Fischer, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jeff Barnhart, piano; Jerry Krahn, guitar; Richard Simon, bass. Listen closely to Kevin Dorn’s shifting accompanying, his use of the bass drum, his varied, pushing cymbal work.
Then, RaeAnn caught two performances by the Yerba Buena Stompers: Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Marty Eggers, piano; John Gill, banjo / vocal; Clint Baker, tuba; Hal Smith, drums.
On 1919 RAG — even with sheets of music flying around — the YBS get very close to what I imagine the Oliver band must have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens: a group of ferocious individualists coming together to rock the room. The two trumpets, the trombone-clarinet passages — jazz hymns.
What could follow that? How about an easy, medium-tempo version of I’M A DING DONG DADDY with Duke Heitger giving us his own heroic version of Louis, and John Gill remembering the tongue-twisting lyrics, hilariously expert — four choruses of them!
I’ve revised my overall impressions of Arizona for the better, you’ll be happy to know.
Some history might be needed here. “A fig,” “a Moldy Fig,” even “a Mouldy Figge,” is now-archaic language invented during the Forties, when jazz found itself divided into warring factions called Dixieland and Bebop. This divisiveness may have splintered the music and its audiences irrevocably. Much of the noisy conflict was fomented by journalists and publicists seeking to attract audiences through controversy. At this distance, we know that GROOVIN’ HIGH is only WHISPERING with a new blouse, but people allowed themselves to ignore this. I find the poet Philip Larkin very endearing in his art and his vinegary energies, but his jazz prose embodies this point of view, where the world had reached an artistic peak in 1932 with the Rhythmakers recordings and had gone steadily downhill. I agree with the first part of this formulation but not the second.
I began my devotional listening as a Fig, so it took a long gradual period of contemplative immersion before I could understand that, say, John Coltrane wasn’t The Enemy out to destroy the music I loved. In truth, I was never an extremist but I had strong, narrow likes and dislikes. I remember having a brief conversation with another student in a middle-school Music Appreciation class who was deeply immersed in the New Thing — this was forty-plus years ago and the new thing was Archie Shepp, and the conversation went like this:
“Alan,” which might not be his name, but is a good guess: “I hear you like jazz.”
Me (brightening at having found a fellow subversive): “Oh, yes, I do!”
“Alan”: “Do you listen to Archie Shepp?”
Me (horrified that he hadn’t mentioned Louis, and coming up with a wise-acre New Yorker rejoinder): “Archie Shepp?! I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”
“Alan”: “Well, the hell with you!”
So goes critical discourse at its finest!
I would like to boast that I’ve seen the light and the scales have dropped from my eyes, but if you told me I had to choose only one jazz recording to spend eternity with, it still might be AFTER YOU’VE GONE by the Blue Note Jazzmen, even though I can understand and appreciate music that would have perplexed and repelled me in my youth. And the music was always there, I just didn’t get it.
This self-scrutiny is provoked by a phone conversation I had yesterday with Bob Rusch (or RDR), editor and chief spiritual guide of the quarterly journal devoted to Creative Improvised Music, CADENCE. Full disclosure requires me to say that I write reviews for CADENCE, and I continue to admire the journal’s honesty. And working with Bob has always been a pleasurable lesson in Emersonian candor: when I have felt an inexplicable need to tactfully cloak the truth in polite words, he has always asked, “Why?”
If you’ve never read CADENCE, you have been missing something special and rare. See for yourself (www.cadencebuilding.com).
In the course of our conversation — we speak infrequently, but over the past five years it has always been both bracing and affectionate — Bob said gently that he thought I was “getting more figgish,” and I agreed. But it made me think, and perhaps my experience will ring true with my readers.
There used to be “the jazz record industry,” and I am not talking about sixty-five years ago, the Commodore Music Shop, and listening booths. Ten years ago, perhaps, there were many more active companies producing compact discs. (If you want to have a sobering experience, casually inspect the spines of any fifty CDs in your library and note how many of those labels no longer exist.) This, of course, has to do with the economy, an aging audience, and more.
It has had an double-edged result. On one hand, no more new issues from Chiaroscuro, no more Pablo, fewer ways for musicians to be encouraged by a label. But because labels no longer exist, many energetic musicians have gone into business for themselves and produce their own discs.
This can be a boon: musicians can record what they want, have it sound the way they want, without the interference of recording engineers or the heads of record companies . . . and splendid personal statements emerge. But this asks musicians to be both courageous and affluent (or at least credit-worthy): a self-produced CD might require a $10,000 investment that the artist might get back over ten years of selling the discs one at a time on the gig. We should all live and be well!
(Musician joke: “My latest CD is a million-seller. I’ve got a million in my cellar.”)
Many players I know have made a virtue of necessity, but I think many of them look back nostalgically to the dear dead days when they got a call to go to a studio at noon to make a date, they played their hearts out, they got paid, and eight months later they knew that the disc they had appeared on was being sold all over the world. Yes, their control over the music was compromised, their pay was a percentage of the profit, but someone else was handling all the annoying business.
What this means for someone like myself, reviewing CDs, is that a good deal of what I am asked to listen to is by artists new to me (a good thing) who are offering their own music (potentially a good thing). And occasionally it leads me to sit up in my chair and say, “By God, (s)he’s got it!” Melissa Collard was new to me when I first heard her OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, and she is one of those singers whose work I most treasure. Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Danny Tobias, Lyle Ritz, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, and more.
But much of what I hear is both competent yet entirely forgettable. I know that Lips Page said, “The material is immaterial,” but hand me a CD full of original compositions by a player and I wonder, “Gee, you’ve already decided that there’s nothing new for you to say on the blues or on I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR?” Funny, that hasn’t occurred to Sonny Rollins.
And it is sad to receive a CD by a singer or musician, male or female, where great effort has gone into burnishing the exterior at the expense of other things. When the artist credits his or her hair stylist and wardrobe person first, I think, “Oh no. Repertoire, not manicure. No one listens to the cover.”
So my “figgishness” or “figitude” (both my own coinings) is a way to get back to what music means to me — a spiritual / intellectual / experience that makes me want to grin foolishly and shout exultantly. I would indeed rather hear a wonderful performance of an original composition by musicians I don’t know than a tired rendition of OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS, but I need to hear jazz that makes me remember why I began to listen to the music in the first place: joy, inventiveness, clear delight in being alive in the face of death. If your listening is purely an intellectual exercise and you find that gratifying, fine, but mine is tied up with the emotions. Is the music beautiful? Does it make me feel some strong emotion, preferably happiness? Can I admire the players?
So I close this post with a new example of FINEST FIG JAM — pure, organic, and locally sourced. It’s another YouTube clip from the lucky and generous SFRaeAnn of the Eldorado Serenaders, whose front line is Don Neely on reeds, Robert Young on reeds, trumpet, and vocal, Dave Frey, plectrum banjo, Jim Young, tenor banjo, Steven Rose, sousaphone, Stan Greenberg, percussion. This performance of BALTIMORE (one of those delightful songs-about-a-new-dance-craze) honors Bix and Wingy and Red, and I think this band is terribly, admirably brave to be shouting it out in a bookstore. “Fit audience, though few,” said Milton, but he never had to worry about the tip jar. It was recorded on October 25, 2009 at North Light Books in Cotati, California.
“RaeAnn Berry” is, I believe, what it says on her driver’s license — but for fans of Hot Music, she’s “SFRaeAnn,” and we owe her many thanks for the jazz she posts with unflagging regularity on YouTube. She takes her camera down to Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California, to record a few performance by Clint Baker’s All-Stars, and every week I watch the clips with pleasure. Two tiny mysteries always are a part of the experience: Clint is truly multi-instrumental and multi-talented, so I always wonder, “What instrument(s) will he be playing this week?” And most sessions feature the wonderful work of trumpeter Leon Oakley. But Leon always looks serious, pensive, even when he’s just played a beautiful impromptu creation. I was beginning to wonder about his worldview, although no unhappy man could play so well.
Thus, it is with elation and relief that I post two clips from the All-Stars’ performances of October 23, 2009. And, rather like the advertisements for early sound pictures that told us GARBO TALKS! — I report with pleasure that 1) Leon is playing splendidly, beyond splendidly, and 2) he grins now and again through these two performances. You had me worried, my man!
The first performance is EXACTLY LIKE YOU — which Leon starts off with a melodic improvisation instead of a straight melody line — quite fetching — and things get hotter from then on!
Then, a rarely-played Twenties favorite, paying tribute to that kid from New Orleans, PAPA DIP. Here, I delight in Clint’s directing of musical traffic during the breaks. Good job!
The other All-Stars are having a good time, as always: Clint on clarinet; Katie Cavera, banjo and vocal; Robert Young, alto and tenor sax; Jim Klippert, trombone; Bill Reinhart, bass; Tom Wilson, guitar; J. Hansen, drums. Visit Clint at: http://www.clintbakerjazz.com
Pianist Virginia Tichenor (casually fierce) and plectral shaman Craig Ventresco offer meditations on Joe Oliver’s RIVERSIDE BLUES (composed by Thomas A. Dorsey) — which contains blues and hymns superimposed. (MABEL’S DREAM has a similarly-shaped Trio section, in mood if not in chords — perhaps both of those multi-strain compositions owe much to brass-band march music.)
Silverware and dishes crash; someone in the audience unwisely attempts to whistle the melody. But none of this deters Virginia and Craig from their intense, holy, funky pursuits. Frank Melrose approves. Thanks once more to SFRae Ann and her magic camera!
On June 26, 2009, SFRaeAnn, that generous jazz videographer, took her camera to “America’s Festival,” in Lacey, Washington, and captured cornetist Bob Schultz’s Frisco Jazz Band playing the now-rare Irving Berlin song, “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A.”
Berlin wasn’t an anarchist; this 1920 song teasingly proposes a visit to a country where Prohibiition wasn’t law. (Other songs looked to Montreal for rehydration.)
The performance has an easy, tango-inflected swing, helped immeasurably by Hal Smith on drums — a master chef behind his set, mixing and flavoring with his wire brushes, swinging without getting louder or faster. I thought of Walter Johnson, among others: watch the way Hal moves! Cornetist Schultz has a fine Spanier-Marsala passion, matched by trombonist Doug Finke, whom I associate with rousing Stomp Off CDs by his Independence Hall Jazz Band.
I recently reviewed a Fifties jazz-goes-medieval effort where the participants earnestly jammed on recorders: they should have studied Jim Rothermel, sweetly wailing away. Thanks to Scott Anthony on banjo, who delivers the song stylishly, Chuck Stewart on tuba, and another one of my heroes, pianist Ray Skjelbred, for keeping the ship rocking but afloat.
Our travel plans for the summer have us heading north, not south — so I’ll content myself with this YouTube clip, spicy and sweet.