Tag Archives: solo piano

LOVE IN BLOOM: RUMINATIONS by RAY SKJELBRED (July 8, 2014)

Creating beauty is not easy. In surroundings that may be hostile to it, the energy necessary for creation requires a particular focus and perseverance. The act of creation may seem quietly defiant. In their diligence, the artists tell us, “We don’t really need you all to sit in rapt silence; we will keep on our own paths — doing what we know how to do, doing what we live for — even if you don’t notice.”

Such was the case when Ray Skjelbred played solo piano last month at Pier 23. And since “jazz” is often characterized as rhythmically propulsive, engaging our senses through hectic energy, I offer Ray’s musings on three pieces that are, like the voice of Cordelia, “soft and low.” Two are defined as love songs; the third sounds like one as well, even though its title has no romance in it.

Listen closely. Beauty never goes out of fashion.

MARY’S SPECIAL (for and by Mary Lou Williams):

YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME (with echoes of Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Rushing, Lester Young):

LOVE IN BLOOM (for Bing Crosby and Jack Benny):

When I sent these three videos to Ray for his comments, he wrote back, “Many years ago when I first started playing piano and visiting Berkeley I used to stay with Dick Oxtot and I learned later that his daughter would quietly stand behind me while I played, look at the pattern in my Hawaiian shirt, then imagine stories that went with the music and the pattern. Your point of view reminded me of that.”

I encourage you to invent their own sweet narratives while Ray creates his own variations on love in bloom, a garden of sounds.

May your happiness increase! 

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BEAUTIFUL, ELUSIVE, GONE: CLARENCE PROFIT (1912-1944)

By any estimation, the pianist Clarence Profit (June 26, 1912 – October 22, 1944) was immensely talented and short-lived. People who heard him play live, uptown, said he was a match for Art Tatum. He was proposed as a replacement for Teddy Wilson with Benny Goodman in 1939; Profit’s sleek drumless trio may have inspired Nat Cole’s.  Although his approach was spare rather than exhibitionistic, his harmonic subtleties were remarkable for their time, and his gentle touch and elegant playing are remarkable today. clarenceprofit One could collect every recording he made (fewer than fifty three-minute sides, less than half of them under his own name) on two compact discs, and his recording career was exceedingly brief: dates with the Washboard Serenaders, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and Teddy Bunn in 1930 and 1933, then Profit’s own piano trio (guitar and bass) and piano solos in 1939 and 1940. John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO OF JAZZ (1978) sums him up in a paragraph:

His father, Herman Profit, was professional pianist; his cousin was pianist Sinclair Mills. Played piano from the age of three, led own 10-piece band during his teens including Bamboo Inn, Renaissance, and the Alhambra. In 1930 and 1931 worked with Teddy Bunn in the Washboard Serenaders. In the early 1930s visited his grandparents in Antigua, remained in the West Indies for a few years, led own band in Antigua, Bermuda, etc. Returned to New York in November 1936 and began leading own successful trio at many New York clubs including George’s Tavern (1937-9), Ritz Carlton, Boston (1938), Yeah Man Club and Cafe Society (1939), Village Vanguard (1940), Kelly’s (1940-3), Performers and Music Guild Club (1942), Village Vanguard (1944). Was part-composer (with Edgar Sampson) of “Lullaby in Rhythm.”

I knew Profit’s work — solo, trio, and as a band member — for many years, but he has come back to my mind and ears because of a purchase made a few nights ago at the Haight Street Amoeba Music in San Francisco: a red-label Columbia 78 of BODY AND SOUL (take B) / I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, both Profit solos. I was so taken with them that I had to share them with you.

Each of the two performances begins with an exposition of the theme — simple yet quietly ornamented, with a spareness that is masterful, a peaceful, almost classical approach to the melody (but with elegant, often surprising harmonic choices beneath). He is patient; he doesn’t rush; he doesn’t attempt to impress us with pianisms. His playing verges on the formal, but it is based on a serene respect for the melody rather than a tied-to-the-notes stiffness.

Then, Profit moves into a more loosely swinging approach, which superficially sounds much like Wilson’s or a pared-down Tatum, but his choices of notes, harmonies, and his use of space are all his own. (There are suggestions of Waller in the bridge of the second chorus of I DIDN’T KNOW, but it is a cerebral, yet warm version of the stride motifs Waller tossed off to amaze and delight.)

Listen for yourself. The beauties of his style will not fully appear on one listening):

BODY AND SOUL:

I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS:

I know nothing of Profit’s early death, and can only speculate. Did he, like so many musicians of the time, succumb to tuberculosis or pneumonia?  I am not simply asking a medical question here, but a larger one: where did Clarence Profit go?  How could we lose him at such a young age? How many pianists under the age of sixty have heard these recordings? He left a void then, and it remains unfilled today.

Perhaps some readers have the Meritt Record Society issue above, or the Memoir CD devoted to Profit’s work, and can offer more information.

My own story of his elusiveness comes from this century. The parents of one of the Beloved’s New York friends had frequented Cafe Society and Fifty-Second Street.  Oh, yes, they had seen Clarence Profit — the name supplied voluntarily by the friend’s octogenarian mother — but it was so long ago she didn’t remember any details.  Like the jazz Cheshire Cat, all that remained was her smile as she said his name.

May your happiness increase!

FOR CAREN BRODSKY, A SMALL SWING ADIEU: JOHN SHERIDAN, SOLO (September 20, 2013)

I just learned yesterday of the death of Philadelphia-based jazz fan Caren Brodsky, someone deeply in love with the music. She died in her sleep on January 31.

Caren loved the hot jazz of the Twenties and the swing of the Thirties and Forties; her heroes were Marty Grosz and Vince Giordano. I believe I first met her at a Jazz at Chautauqua weekend. I am grieved that she left us so young.

Somehow, this sweet adieu — a farewell, for now — seems the right music.

The song is I HATE TO LEAVE YOU NOW (our man Thomas Waller, with lyrics by Harry Link and Dorothy Dick), played with great sweetness by John Sheridan, with a rapt audience at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) on September 20, 2013:

Two choruses, a key change, and an extended ending, conjuring up a beautiful world in under three minutes.

The unseen musical figure here is Louis, who recorded this lovely song in 1932.  Click here and be transported, thanks to Louis, Chick Webb, Mezz Mezzrow, and Ricky Riccardi.

Caren was a true enthusiast.  I post this in her honor, and send my sorrow to her husband Chris and her family.

Friends and family will be celebrating Caren’s life at Goldsteins’ Rosenberg’s Raphael Sacks memorial chapel, at 310 Second Street Pike, Southhampton, Pennsylvania 18966. It will be conducted on Sunday, February 9 at 3 pm.  Memorial contributions can be made to House Rabbit Society, Southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Chapter, 478 East Ayres Street, Newport DE 19084-2503, or Little Furries Rescue & Referral, 154 Newton Street, Browns Mills NJ 08015.

Caren, we will miss you.

BLUES BY BUTCH (at the 2013 STEAMBOAT STOMP in NEW ORLEANS)

I think of the slow (or medium-slow) blues, too rarely performed these days, as homeopathic medicine for our own ills.  If you listen to something serious and sad, pensive music with its own rhythmic momentum, a few clouds of your own might lift.

Here are two classic blues performances by a master of jazz improvisation with a steady lilt, someone who understands “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm” deeply — Butch Thompson.

I had the honor of meeting Butch for the first time last October at Duke Heitger’s inaugural Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.  Of course, like many others, I felt as if I’d known Butch for years through hearing his live performances and beautiful recordings — but the man in person was even more delightful: serious, light-hearted, and generous all at once.  (A good unofficial guardian, and a fine man to share late-night red beans and rice with!)

WORKING MAN’S BLUES:

HOW LONG (BLOOSE):

And a bit of New Orleans laginappe — Butch says a few words about the amazing player and teacher Manuel Manetta, who later opened a teaching studio at his Algiers, Louisiana home and had a tremendous influence on generations of players:

May your happiness increase!

LIFE, MEMORIES, YOUTH, HAPPINESS: DUNCAN SCHIEDT AT THE PIANO (September 2013)

Even if many jazz fans don’t know his name, we’ve all seen the photographs of Duncan Schiedt, who began chronicling the music in 1939.

I’ve been encountering Duncan at the Athenaeum Hotel — for the annual September Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Festival) — for the past nine years, and have always enjoyed his impromptu solo piano recitals in the parlor.

Undismayed by whatever might be going on around him — consider the wedding party trotting through the scene during YOUTH — Duncan moves easily from one song to another, keeping his left hand gently moving, modestly embellishing the melodies as he goes, making the piano sing in an understated way.  I had my camera with me this last September, and at the Beloved’s urging, I recorded a few minutes of an informal Schiedt recital.

Piano aficionados will hear the kind of sweet melodic homages we associate with Jess Stacy and with the more obscure Chicagoan Jack Gardner (with touches of Bix and Joe Sullivan also!) — a style that is tenderly respectful yet always moving along. I like to imagine that Duncan, without camera or notebook, himself embodies a great tradition by playing piano the way it used to be played, the common language of song in motion.

AS LONG AS I LIVE / MEMORIES OF YOU:

BLAME IT ON MY YOUTH:

SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY:

Now, knowing that Duncan goes back to 1939 in his jazz photography, one might guess that he is an Elder of the Tribe, and we know him to be an honored one.

But I offer him as proof that music — making it or being absorbed in it wholly — is a sure way to stay young.  The man at the piano was born in 1921, which would make him 92, more or less, at the time of these performances.

And whether subliminally or intentionally, his song choices come back to the verities of our and his existence: Life, Memories, Youth, and Happiness.  Thank you, Duncan, for reminding us of the beauty that never grows old.

May your happiness increase!

EHUD ASHERIE’S NEW GIG!

Ehud Asherie is one of my favorite pianists — with a deep inventive swinging sensibility.  He knows many more intriguing songs and is a sensitive accompanist and ensemble player as well as a hot soloist.  He isn’t limited by one narrow conception: in his heart, Bud Powell and Willie the Lion Smith talk amicably about where they get their suits and what Chinese restaurants they like.

Ehud has a new New York City gig!

He will be playing (solo with guests) Tuesday and Wednesday (Sept. 10 / 11) from 9:30 – 12:30 PM at the Knickerbocker — 33 University Place at Ninth Street.  Ehud says, “This might become a weekly solo gig so come on down! Musicians are welcome to sit in — please come! I get so lonely when I play solo.”

Here’s a sample of what Mr. Asherie accomplishes with such grace:

If you visit here and click SCHEDULE, you can keep up with his September gigs (solo, trio, with Wycliffe Gordon, Hilary Gardner, and more).  And if you see a man listening and watching intently at the Knickerbocker, with or without camera . . . it might be your faithful blogger, enjoying himself.

May your happiness increase!

A MUSICAL TREASURE FROM DECEMBER 26, 1941, THANKS TO MEL POWELL AND HIS DAUGHTER KATI

Kati Powell, daughter of Mel Powell and Martha Scott, has already graced JAZZ LIVES with generosity of spirit and wit.  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, I propose that you might click here.

But Kati has other treasures for us.  It’s one thing to recount tales of Melvin Epstein, Louis Armstrong, Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, and other luminaries.

Hearing Mel Powell, solo, in his prime, presumably at home, is something — as the Irish might say — “beyond the beyonds.”

Kati very generously allowed me to video-record this astonishingly rare recording and to share it with my readers and viewers.

I suspect that Mel had received or had purchased a home recording unit for the holidays (this recording is dated December 26) and he was relaxing at the piano.  I don’t know if the voice we hear is his: I doubt it, but other music scholars have said they think it is him, speaking.

Mel was then a member of the Benny Goodman Orchestra, and thanks to David Weiner and David Jessup, I can tell you that the band was playing at the Hotel New Yorker during that period.  The Sextet had a recording date for Columbia on the 24th and there are airchecks from the 27th, but nothing from this date, so I am sure this is a home recording, not a recording of a radio broadcast.  It’s glorious, no matter what the details are!

One:

Two:

Thanks and blessings to Melvin Epstein and Kathleen Powell!

May your happiness increase!