Tag Archives: Steve Wright

“YOU CAN GO AS FAR AS YOU LIKE WITH ME.”

JAZZ LIVES has not changed its nature to advertise automobiles, but this is one instance where the music related to the car is memorable to those who remember and I hope it will become irresistible to those who have never heard it.

Sheet music, 1931

From the subversive geniuses at the Fleischer Studios, in the early Thirties, this tuneful piece of advertising (as old as 1905) — thanks to Janette Walker:

I always hear the invitation of the lyrics as not too subtly lascivious, because I dimly remember the statistics that showed the birth rate in this country ascended once more people had automobiles . . . but the couple in the song is also headed for marriage, lest you worry that this blog condones sinful behavior.

Thanks to Emrah Erken, the beautiful transfer of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra’s 1927 version:

and the first take:

and a sweet-hot version from this century, by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band at the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society on December 18, 2011, with Ray Skjelbred, piano, leader; Chris Tyle, trumpet; Steve Wright, reeds; Jake Powel, banjo; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal:

and a two-minute wartime coda, reminding me of the days when music was our common language, when everyone knew the words and the tune:

The song suggests that one could have fun being with one’s sweetheart, which is always a wonderful goal.  The couple in the Oldsmobile were even speaking to each other — cellphones not being in evidence when the song was new.

Sheet music, 1905

Incidentally, this post is in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, who understand.

May your happiness increase!

(NORTH) WESTERN SWING, APRIL 2016: RAY SKJELBRED, STEVE WRIGHT, DAVE BROWN, MIKE DAUGHERTY

Maybe I should visit Washington State this summer.

4 R

4 R

Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Vashon Island.  I’ll have to give it some thought.  I know the scenery is lovely, the marionberries peerless, and the few people I know who hail from that state are grand.

But what would draw me is the hot jazz happening on a regular basis, in a quartet led by pianist / singer / expedition-leader Ray Skjelbred, with cohorts Mike Daugherty, drums / vocal; Dave Brown, string bass / vocal; Steve Wright, trumpet, cornet, clarinet, alto, C-melody / vocal.

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know I am especially entranced by Ray’s work and have been for a long time.  But you owe it to yourself to familiarize yourself (if you’re new to them) with the very swinging, melodic work of Steve, Dave, and Mike.

Here these four delightful players are as “the Yeti Chasers” at the Royal Room on April 16 of this year:

TAKE ME BACK TO MY BOOTS AND SADDLE:

BLUE AND BROKEN-HEARTED:

Here’s the same band (from a different angle) on April 2 at the Bellingham Traditional Jazz Society:

WHAT’S THE REASON (I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU)?:

HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY:

And a very tender SO SWEET, which I associate with the Sunshine Boys:

All of this hot goodness — organic, locally-sourced, cruelty-free, free-range, wild-caught — comes to us through the expert generosity of Steve Wright, who not only plays a half-dozen instruments and sings, but also knows how to video-record gigs like this.

What wonderful music from the Pacific Northwest, and how lucky are they to have it.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD FOR WHAT AILS YOU: STEVE WRIGHT, RAY SKJELBRED, DAVE BROWN, MIKE DAUGHERTY (January 24, 2015)

I am sitting in my suburban New York apartment awaiting a predicted blizzard, which means reacquainting myself with my essential inanimate pals, Ms. Down Parka and Mr. Snow Shovel.  The thought fills me with dread and gloom.

But there are always palliatives, and what I offer you requires no prescription, no copay, no trip to the pharmacy.  And it works just as well if the sun is blazing in through your windows.

Hot jazz — performed and recorded in this century — is the organic remedy offered here.

The thermodynamic healing practitioners are known both as the First Thursday Band and the Yeti Chasers: Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal, leader; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.  They created these sounds at the Royal Room in Seattle, Washington.

CARELESS LOVE is often performed as a dirge — a cautionary tale, “You see what careless love can do / has done?” but here it’s a swinging romp, with no weeping or moaning:

Another romp built on the threat of impending doom (thanks to Henry “Red” Allen for this and so many other inspirations), YOU’RE GONNA LOSE YOUR GAL.  Watch out for that cymbal (Mike’s performance-art piece in tribute to Zutty Singleton, 1928)!

And another tribute to the Red Allen small-band recordings, ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON, which is the only song that can make me think of J. C. Higginbotham and Bob Hoskins at once.  Steve Wright reminds us that this approach to the alto saxophone, so satisfying, did not utterly vanish in 1945:

Improvisers have always loved the subversive challenge of taking apparently inappropriate material (sweet love ballads) and making them swing.  Here’s a fine example: the Yeti Chasers’ LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

In honor of Mister Morton, who didn’t like snow either, the BLUE BLOOD BLUES:

Andy Razaf had it right — the world can’t do without THAT RHYTHM MAN (especially when he uplifts us at such a swinging tempo):

THE TORCH — evoking memories of Turk Murphy (commentary below*). It sounds as if it was written in 1885 to be performed in a barroom, which is emotionally although not factually correct:

Say the word.  You’ll be heard.  Ray’s always touching performance of ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE:

My favorite DIGA DIGA DOO, with a lovely leap into its second chorus before Ray’s Stacy ecstasy:

Finally, SKID ROAD BLUES, which I hope isn’t prophetic for future driving:

I don’t think this band needs a serious explication of its virtues, individual and collective.  Don’t they sound fine?  I feel better, and hope you do, too.

*Thanks to generous and erudite Bill Haesler, I now know everything worth knowing about THE TORCH:

“The song is called variously:
The Torch That Didn’t Go Out
The Kansas City Torch
The Torch of Kansas City
When You Carry The Torch
and was, allegedly, taught to Turk Murphy by Patsy Patton (cabaret
singer and wife of banjo player Pat Patton. We know him from when he
came to Sydney on the Matson Line ships). The first ‘jazz’ version was recorded by Turk Murphy for a Columbia LP on 19 Jan. 1953. The notes by George Avakian to that ‘Barrelhouse Jazz’ LP says that Turk came to it from the Castle Jazz Band (who recorded it later in Aug 1957) via Don Kinch and Bob Short, ex Castle band members).

It was composed (music and lyrics) in 1928 by the great Harry Warren
(we all know him) using the name Harry Herschel and originally
published by Robbins Music Corp.

WHEN YOU CARRY THE TORCH
[Verse]:When the gang has turned you down,
And you wander ’round the town,
Longing for someone in sympathy.
As you go from place to place,
Looking for some friendly face,
You can hear the old town clock strike three;
Then you wish you had your old gal back again.
You’re lonesome, oh, so lonesome,
And your poor hear cries in vain:

[Chorus]:
Oh, gee, but it’s tough,
When the gang’s gone home;
Out on the corner,
You stand alone;
You feel so blue
With nothing to do;
You’re cravin’ someone’s company.
The gang leaves you there
With an old time stall,
While you go home and gaze
At the four bare walls.
Ev’ry tear seems to scorch,
When you carry the torch
And the gang’s gone home.

[2nd Verse]:
When you haven’t got a friend,
And your worries never end,
When the future doesn’t look so bright.
As you sit there in the gloom
Of an empty silent room,
As the hallway clock ticks through the night,
Then you long to hear a knock upon your door.
You’re weary, oh, so dreary,
And your poor heart cries once more:

[Chorus]”

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC IN THE AIR: STEVE WRIGHT, RAY SKJELBRED, CANDACE BROWN, DAVE BROWN (October 3, 2013)

Thirty years ago, if you had told me that a quartet — Steve Wright (cornet, reeds), Ray Skjelbred (piano), Candace Brown (banjo, guitar), Dave Brown (string bass) had performed in a restaurant in Washington (a place beyond my reach at the moment), my thoughts would have run something like this, “Oh, I wish I had been there.  I wish I had heard them play.  Maybe someday they will make a record together and I can purchase it?”

The technology that we take for granted in this century, which can be so irritating at its worst, has made my wistful questions irrelevant.

Here are video-recordings of this delightful hot band on the job on October 3, 2013: the First Thursday Jazz Band at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  The associations reach far and wide: a jealous lover bent on vengeance, a Southern railroad line; Sigmund Romberg, Red McKenzie, Pee Wee Russell, boogie-woogie, Bing Crosby, Bix Beiderbecke, Irving Berlin, Earl Hines, King Oliver, and many other mythical figures — who come to life in the sounds of this quartet.

HELLO, LOLA:

LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

A very sweet WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD:

Asking the perennial question, HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY?:

A thoughtful BLUES IN THIRDS:

Ray plays Mary Lou Williams’ OVERHAND:

A romping YELLOW DOG BLUES:

The generous Mister Wright has also posted other videos on YouTube — see them here and on his Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

HOME, JAZZ. JAZZ, HOME: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY BAND (RAY SKJELBRED, STEVE WRIGHT, DAVE BROWN, JAKE POWEL: December 6, 2012)

Wherever there’s music like this — sweet, warm, hot, impassioned but restrained in its beauty, there’s home*.

These videos celebrate and document Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington, on December 6, 2012.  The players and singers are Ray, piano, trombone, vocal; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal, and videographer too; Jake Powel, banjo, guitar, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal.  

Here’s OH, BABY!  And in case you are tempted to say, “Oh, I’ve heard that song a thousand times since it was a new pop tune in 1920-whatever,” please sit still for the deliciously surprising duet of Steve (alto) and Ray (piano) in the first chorus.  And the duet between Jake and Dave is like a wonderful ripe tangerine for the ears:

I really try to wish no one harm, so please take this rocking rendition of YOU RASCAL YOU in the spirit of amused kindness — especially since the music is anything but threatening.  I suppose someone might fall out of his / her chair while smiling and having a good time, but just hold on:

WHEN DAY IS DONE, where Steve, on clarinet, sounds much like my heroes Bujie Centobie or Rod Cless — but primarily like my hero S. Wright.  Music to dream by:

And another sweet dream — the one the Rene brothers laid on Mr. Strong and he gave us all every night of his performing life for forty years, WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH — here performed as a Thirties romp — at a tempo Ruby Braff liked later in life.  It will keep you awake, but you’ll never regret it:

Would you care for some more?  Click here to visit Steve Wright’s YouTube channel, where he has posted THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME / ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE / ROAMIN’ / IT’S BEEN SO LONG / LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY / JIG SAW PUZZLE BLUES from this session, and more wonderful music — especially from a session that had Chris Tyle joining in.

*I thought of several things while listening to this video — all personal, so I place them down here to be less distracting.  One is that I can’t hear HOME — by Louis, by Jack Teagarden / Joe Thomas / Coleman Hawkins — without finding tears gather in my eyes.  Home, wherever you find it, and it could be a suitcase that has your cherished things in it, opened up in the motel room, is precious and we need to have something like it for ourselves.  This is why being “homeless,” however you define it, strikes terror at the very center of our beings.

But one other story about “home.”  I grew up in suburban Long Island, and my parents loved me.  When they set up my “new room” for me in the house (I was not yet six years old) they would not let me come in until it was all ready.  I had to close my eyes and when I opened them, there was my bed, a desk, and my phonograph playing my favorite music — a Danny Kaye children’s record.  So home is where you can hear the sounds that make you glad and even more glad that you are alive.  And, by the way, this incredibly fortunate little boy has grown up and still thinks himself lucky in ways that his five-year old mind could not have put into words.

May your happiness increase.

SWINGING “POP SONGS” in SEATTLE (Sept. 6, 2012)

The subject today is The Illusion of Musical Purity in Jazz.

I think it began in the Twenties, when jazzmen themselves made divisions between “commercial” and “hot” music.  The former was what you were paid to play — often trivial, unswinging, unimaginative — reading stock arrangements while someone in a tuxedo waved a baton.  The latter — the ideal — was what you played at 4 AM with enough gin or muggles or spaghetti (or all three) to make sure that everyone was mellow.  Later on, when the fans started to anatomize the music in ways the musicians had never cared to, the fans and journalists built walls stronger than the Berlin version.  “Commercial” music was “Swing,” where good guys played insipid pop tunes and took eight-bar solos once a night; “the real thing” was an ideal, rarely achieved.

Think of the posthumous scorn heaped on Paul Whiteman because his Orchestra wasn’t Bix and his Gang; think of those serious jazz fans who traced The Decline of Louis Armstrong to I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE taking the place of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP.

But the musicians themselves — while preferring looseness, open-mindedness, swing, and an escape from the paper — never much cared what songs they were playing.  Was PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA unworthy of Bunk Johnson?  He didn’t think so.  Did John Coltrane disdain MY FAVORITE THINGS, or Charlie Parker A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA?

I have remembered, more than once, Wild Bill Davison’s comment to an interviewer that he never learned or knew THAT’S A PLENTY until he came to New York: in Chicago, he and his friends played swinging improvisations on current and classic pop tunes.  As did Eddie Condon, Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey.

These thoughts were especially prominent in my mind when I found the latest videos from the estimable First Thursday Band — led by pianist Ray Skjelbred — at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington . . . on September 6, 2012.  The other members of the FTB are drummer Mike Daughterty, skilled at roll play; bassist Dave Brown, whose beat can’t be beat; multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright.  Some of the tunes you will see and hear below — by virtue of jazz instrumentalists playing them memorably — have become “jazz classics.”  But they were all popular tunes, premiered in vaudeville, Broadway musicals, the movies, around the parlor piano.

The ambiance here is so reminiscent of an otherwise unknown Chicago club, circa 1934, with the good guys having the time of their life playing requests and songs they like.  Close your eyes and you’ll hear not only Wright, Brown, Daugherty, and Skjelbred, but Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Alex Hill, Zinky Cohn; Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone, Frank Teschmacher, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett — the list of happily approving ghosts is very long.

I begin this history / music theory lesson with Wayne King’s theme song — in the wrong hands, as soggy as uncooked French toast, but here snappy and sweet:

THE WALTZ YOU SAVED FOR ME :

Richard Whiting’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, which had a life long before John Hammond handed it to Billie Holiday:

A zippy Harry Barris song from the film extravaganza THE KING OF JAZZ — in our century, adopted as music for penguins — HAPPY FEET (with the verse — and then Skjelbred leaps in like a man possessed):

Isham Jones’ pretty, mournful WHAT’S THE USE? (with a rhythm section that won’t quit):

And from 1919, one of those songs suggesting that happiness could be conveyed by facial expressions, in fact, by loving SMILES:

Purists, begone!  Visit here to see more.

May your happiness increase.

SEATTLE SUNSHINE: THE RAIN CITY BLUE BLOWERS (March 16, 2012)

Image courtesy of SWING FASHIONISTA (www.swingfashionista.com)

You’ll need these to watch the videos below.  Now, don’t fuss.  Put them on.  There!

I now have yet another Favorite Band.  In case you wonder, one can have a whole cornucopia of Favorites — and the Rain City Blue Blowers are just another example of what Roswell Rudd calls “playing your personality.”  The videos below come from their appearance at the Seattle Jazz Party on March 16, 2012.

Here they are, tenderly (but with a beat) exploring the possibly dark Jimmie Noone classic READY FOR THE RIVER:

Who ARE these gently brilliant folks?

Closest to us is the absurdly talented Steve Wright (cornet, trumpet, clarinet, vocal).  Hidden behind a forest of reeds is the delightful Paul Woltz (clarinet, soprano, tenor, alto, bass sax, vocal); the inquisitive Ray Skjelbred (piano); the unerringly rhythmic Candace Brown (banjo, guitar); the Swing Superhero Dave Brown (string bass, vocal); the rocking Mike Daugherty (drums, vocal).

An ebullient reading of one of my favorite songs — the happy shade of Louis stands behind it always — SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, with the rhythm section romping like the Luis Russell band, 1929:

Since humility and a readiness to admit you’ve made an error are among the most prized virtues, how about a smoothly hot I MAY BE WRONG to keep us in the mood?  It was the theme song of the Apollo Theatre when it opened in 1934, and the RCBB bring us back there with no hint of museum-stuffiness:

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS is or are the place I wish I was right now, even if her embrace would slightly impede my ability to type and blog.  Sing it, Mister Woltz!:

Truly wonderful!  In the groove, too: ARKANSAS BLUES:

I’ve been humming this tune all morning: no reason why you shouldn’t join in the cyber-chorus.  It’s MY SYNCOPATED MELODY MAN (think 1929, Lang, Venuti, and Red McKenzie, if you will):

One more — let the RCBB whisper swing in your shell-pink ears with WHISPERING.  (The front line knows the old trick of having one horn play a swinging version of the melody while the other horn dances around it — exhilarating!):

And just because we tend, naturally, to focus on the brilliance of the soloists — horns and reeds are shiny and catch our attention as if we were children in a toystore — may I quietly point out that the beauty of the RCBB starts in the rhythm section?  I have heard Paul and Steve generously and mightily lift bands where not everyone was on the same spiritual or rhythmic wavelength, so I greet them as epic heroes of hot jazz.

But what Candace, Dave, Mike, and Ray do on each number here is frankly magical.  “A house without a strong foundation cannot stand.”  It may be coarse of me to say that this rhythm section could “swing the dead,” but that is how I feel.  As an experiment in Rhythm, may I urge my readers to revisit the video they liked best — if they can make such hard choices — and listen hard, all through it, to The Groove that this foursome creates?  Better than a Master’s in Jazz Studies, I think.

The city that is home to such a band can’t be quite so damp and foreboding as popular myth would have it.  When the RCBB plays, the sun blazes.  A nice coat of sunscreen wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

And there’s more!  Visit swr2408018 for more meteorological wonders.

P.S.  If I were in charge of a jazz festival, I would be tripping over myself in my eagerness to book this band . . . am I being sufficiently subtle?  Please consider it!

May your happiness increase.

“WHO, ME?” “YES, ‘YOU’!”

My silly title shouldn’t distract you from the hot jazz to follow.  The song is YOU (no, not the Cole Porter classic) — music by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by Harold Adamson, performed first in the 1936 THE GREAT ZIEGFELD.  I think of it as the songwriter’s solution to the problem of potential sheet music buyers being unable to remember the title. 

Here’s a hot performance of YOU by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band — at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle on March 1, 2012: Steve Wright, alto; Ray, piano; Dave Brown, string bass; Mike Daugherty, drums:

I know that in this century we value NEW and IMPROVED very highly, but music isn’t detergent.  And what I love about this rocking performance is the way it eagerly and expertly brings musical styles of “the past” into “the present” so convincingly that these distinctions fall away.  Since everything is transitory, we may live in the Moment that this music offers so generously.  Yes, Virginia, people did play this way before Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Jimmy Garrison, and Max Roach changed the musical landscape — to say nothing of Ornette Coleman, whose radicalism is now fifty years old . . .

Anyway, put aside the musical categories and critical “schools” and listen to the beautiful swinging sounds: the sweet racing turns of Steve’s alto; the rollick and frolic of Ray’s right and left hands; the sustaining heartbeat of Mister Brown to You on the bass; the exuberant slap and dance of Mike’s drums. 

Music for YOU, YOU — and especially YOU!

Thanks to “islandstarfish” and “swr2408018,” a great team, for making it possible for us to see and hear this wonderful jazz.

SO SWEET: THE FIRST THURSDAY BAND (Feb. 2, 2012)

More from the First Thursday Band — a small hot jazz ensemble that appears on a particular day at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington.  They are Steve Wright on reeds and cornet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Dave Brown, string bass;  Mike Daugherty, drums.  Each member of the band occasionally takes a casual but expert vocal, and these four players swing as soloists — and, even better, as an ensemble.  Here are a few selections from their their Thursday date of 2.2.12 — a harmonious-looking date in itself.

A song I love deeply — could it be from hearing Louis, Bobby, Joe Thomas, Jack Teagarden, and others perform it? — HOME.  And this version perfectly balances Sweet and Hot:

SO SWEET comes from Jimmie Noone, and the title describes it perfectly:

Disorientation and perhaps even homelessness never swung so hard or sounded so good as in SONG OF THE WANDERER:

MOANIN’ should be a depressing exercise, but this performance is quite uplifting:

One of my favorite tunes — which other Thirties cowboy number has ties to Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, and a doomed Bob Hoskins?  Take another one, Mike!  ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

To me, this compact little band is a triumph of both sound and intuition.  The players hark back to a time when you could tell an instrumentalist or singer in a few notes — instantly recognizable personal identities, like the great film stars.  No one ever confused Bette Davis or Benny Morton with anyone else!  Each member of this quartet has his own identity, and although the whole concept honors the past (so you could, if you liked, talk about Charlie Holmes and Jess Stacy, George Wettling and Al Morgan among a hundred other heroic figures), you hear Skjelbred’s traceries, Brown’s resonant pulse, Daughterty’s cornucopia of rocking sounds, Wright’s lyrical messages.  And the quartet is more than simply four great players bundled together onstage: they remind me of the great string quartets who worked together for years and played better than four individuals with bigger names.  Intuition is at work here — so that each player is both advancing his own vision and listening deeply to what the other fellow just “said,” or anticipating what he thinks is coming next.  A little family of people who know the same language and love its possibilities.

I don’t know when I will end up in Seattle, but I would like it to be a First Thursday.

These videos — and more! — are posted on YouTube by the very gifted Mr. Wright — you might want to subscribe to his channel, swr2408018 — so you don’t miss even a four-bar break.

THE JAZZ CORNUCOPIA WITH RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (December 18, 2011)

A few days ago, I re-posted a few videos by this wonderful band  in performance at the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society, and I had hopes of more.  Now, thanks to Steve Wright and Candace Brown, the cornucopia has overflowed . . .

As I write this, twenty — twenty — new video performances have emerged on YouTube.  Not only are they notable for good clear sound and clear videography — the band is sweetly spectacular.  The jazz heroes on the stage are Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal, leader;  Chris Tyle, trumpet and vocal; Steve Wright, reeds and vocal; Jake Powell, banjo and guitar; Dave Brown, acoustic string bass (arco and pizzicato); Mike Daugherty, drums and vocal.

I won’t post all twenty here: the cornucopia overwhelms emails and I receive puzzled comments. You can visit Steve Wright’s channel

There, you’ll get the good stuff first-hand: romping ensembles, lyrical solos, swing from the first note, and a rhythm section that just won’t quit . . . but here are three tastes:

a musing, Commodore Records-in-mind JADA:

Who’s that coming down the street?  Looks like a boy from my home town — that’s Charlie Alexander.  How about a surprisingly swinging WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH (all those people are wide awake and cutting a rug in Puget Sound):

Feel like a drive?  Take the Goldkette band — I mean the First Thursday Jazz Band along — no matter how small your car is.  IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE (remember, “you can go as far as you like with me”):

I could explain why these performances are so life-enhancing, but you’d gain more by watching them — more than once, perhaps.  Students of what is called “jazz history” in “the academy” should put down their textbooks and enroll for this very lively, totally enlightened intensive workshop in swing: this is music aware of the traditions but happily situated in 2011: nothing antiquarian here.  Not nostalgic — just superb.  And I know “the state of the jazz economy” is just as dismal as you imagine it to be — but this band should be starring at festivals and have a shelf of CDs . . .

Why not?

FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS!: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society, Dec. 18, 2011)

These two elevating performances come from a Dec. 18, 2011, concert by Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Jazz Band for the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society in Seattle, Washington.  The band members are Ray Skjelbred (leader, piano), guest artist Chris Tyle (trumpet), Steve Wright (reeds), Mike Daugherty (drums), Dave Brown (bass), guest artist Jake Powell (guitar and banjo).

Echoes of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and a thousand other Twenties blues records, BARRELHOUSE BLUES.  But this performance, although deep-down, has a sweet propulsive Thirties rock to it — imagine an Albert Ammons band circa 1936 allowed to go on for a good long time.  Or one of those groups that we know Frank Melrose led in a smoky Chicago basement club:

And something equally gutty, NOBODY’S FAULT BUT MINE — a rocking jazz sermon by Pastor Skjelbred and friends:

I take my title from the notion that these two performances swing dangerously — not at high volume or excessive speed, but deep-down velocity.  And since the Beloved and I are going to be on a plane in a few days, I was reminded of the flight attendant’s often-stated reminder that I should fasten my seat belt “low and tight around my hips.”

I wanted to call this post — in tribute to this Hot Music — LOW AND TIGHT AROUND THE HIPS — but thought it might seem distracting.  You choose!

RAY SKJELBRED LIGHTS THE WAY

There’s electric power, wind-driven energy, solar power, and then there’s Ray Skjelbred.

I first heard this intelligently swinging pianist when my California friend and musical guide John L. Fell sent me cassettes of the Berkeley Rhythm band — a loosely floating jazz ensemble held together by goodwill, the desire to swing, and the gentle force of Mr. Skjelbred at the piano.

When you hear Ray improvise, you think of the great players: Stacy, Melrose, Hines, Sullivan . . . but his musical wisdom exhibits itself in the same way that Basie’s did — a gentle, understated reminder of The Way . . .

Since then, I’ve bought Ray’s CDs (solo and as a member of various ensembles, with everyone from Hal Smith and Becky Kilgore to Melissa Collard and Dawn Lambeth — most recently The First Thursday Jazz Band with Steve Wright) and always found myself uplifted.

Ray doesn’t have a collection of gestures and motifs, suitable for every time the band turns the corner from C7 to F at a medium-tempo.  Rather, he merges with the music and it pours through him: his energies becoming part of the band and vice versa.

For the past few years, people who don’t live close enough to Ray to see him in person have been able to do the next best thing through the generosity of Rae Ann Berry, who has been toting her video camera and tripod to festivals and jubilees where she knows Ray and his colleagues will be playing.

Most recently, Rae Ann drove from San Francisco to Oregon to capture Ray and his Cubs (named for his beloved Chicago Cubs) live at the 21st Annual Greater Olympia Dixieland Jazz Festival in Lacey WA.  Rae Ann is a woman of discernment and diligence, so she’s posted forty-two video performances by the Cubs, which to my way of thinking isn’t one too many.

The Cubs are Kim Cusack on reeds, Katie Cavera on guitar, Clint Baker on bass, and Jeff Hamilton on drums.  (Before you dive into the videos, you should also know that this band has made a wonderful CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO, for the Jazzology label.)

Here’s some of the Good Stuff:

BREEZE (BLOW MY BABY BACK TO ME):

And for the Goldkettians in the audience (I know there are many) here’s a slow-drag IDOLIZING:

One of my favorite songs is SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE.  (I do, however have a logical problem with the lyrics as delivered by Kim Cusack.  Can you imagine an army of lovers that would push Kim aside?  for the life of me, I can’t):

I purposely chose the three videos above — not because they’re especially good — because they find Ray performing on a keyboard, not a full-size acoustic piano.  Did you notice?  He makes that electronic object sound like a baby grand.

Here he is on an instrument more suited to his talent, even though it’s a spinet — rocking through SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

The good news is that there are thirty-eight more videos of the Cubs to savor.  And the Cubs have gigs for 2011 and 2012.

The bad news?  I’ll let Ray tell you himself, concisely:

“I broke my hip July 2, had surgery later that day, must put no weight on it for six weeks. I sadly had to cancel all my work in July and August. I believe I will be able to get back to it in September, if everything heals as it should.”

It pains me to offer that news — but I hope that for Ray and for those of us who admire and love him, those six weeks pass in the space of a George Wettling four-bar interlude.

And I would like to ask JAZZ LIVES readers to do something — not for me, but for one of our musical heroes.  Send no money and no boxtops — but if you’ve drawn joy and delight from anything Ray has ever played, would you send him some healing vibrations in return?  I would like to imagine the esteemed Mr. Skjelbred surrounded by love and empathy from every corner of the musical globe.  Although he’s a modest man, someone seriously unconcerned with the weight of “Western ego,” I don’t think Ray would mind if we wrapped his troubles in healing dreams.  And if you prefer to send your affection in the form of an email, then there’s rayskjelbred@gmail.com.

Thank you, Ray, Kim, Katie, Clint, Jeff, and Rae Ann — our generous heroes!

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! — THE FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (ON DISC and VIDEO)

Imagine a jam session after hours in Chicago, circa 1934 or so (the date, being imagined, is flexible).  Waiting their turn to play are Pee Wee Russell, Rod Cless, Omer Simeon, Boyce Brown, Guy Kelly, Jess Stacy, Earl Hines, Cassino Simpson, Frank Melrose, Joe Sullivan, Wellman Braud, Truck Parham, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, and others.

No, the late John Steiner didn’t record such a gathering of saints and heroes. 

But a modern evocation of such a gathering is to be found when one of my new-irreplaceable-favorite jazz groups, the FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND, comes to play. 

They are Ray Skjelbred, leader, piano; Steve Wright, reeds, cornet; Dave Brown, string bass, Mike Daugherty, drums.  Everyone in the quartet has been known to sing a chorus or two.  It’s a thrifty, focused, engaging quartet — listeners get more than their money’s worth!

I’ve shared some YouTube videos of the band, performing at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington — and more are at the bottom of this blogpost. 

But there’s good news tonight, as a famous radio broadcaster used to say.  The First Thursday Jazz Band has just come out with their debut CD — drop evertyhing and pay attention, please! 

It’s an old-fashioned production: recorded on the job (but with a sweetly attentive audience) in good sound, with a variety of songs and approaches — one of those CDs you can listen to the whole way through and come back to again right away. 

If you know anything about Ray Skjelbred, you know that he rocks — and he loves both classic and unusual material.  And people who admire him can argue (in the nicest of ways) if he is a greater soloist than an accompanist.  Like Stacy, Ray is so fine backing up someone else that occasionally I want to listen to the track again just to hear his bubbling down-home fills and figures. 

Ray’s partner in the rhythm section is the quietly propulsive Dave Brown.  String bassists tend to get less respect than they deserve, but rhythm is Dave’s business.  And business sure is swell.  He has a big plush sound (no amps, thank you kindly) but he doesn’t need one.  And his time is neither stodgy nor over-eager: I think of the Blessed Walter Page when I hear Dave play.

Mike Daugherty (the man with the red drum) is a jovial player with fine time and a whole galaxy of sonic effects from his kit.  He doesn’t opt for the usual tricks, but often just stays on his snare with a rich, padding brush carpet, or moves around his set in a way that feels just right.  No showboating, no look-at-me, not ever.

Steve Wright should get triple or quadruple pay, but I don’t think he’d even entertain the notion of asking for it.  A sweet alto player (a style I miss a great deal) with deep but casual lyricism, a clarinet player who can be Russell-tart or Darnell Howard-smooth, and a neat, unflurried Bixian trumpeter — sweetly to the point.

That’s the band — and these fellows are having a good time purling through the repertoire.  Their quiet pleasure comes through from the first note.

The CD is called simple RAY SKJELBRED and the FIRST THURSDAY BAND, and it’s on the Orangapoid label (number 103).  It has a wonderfully diverse repertoire — Don Redman and Chris Smith, Louis and Red McKenzie, old favorites, oddities, and deep blues.  (JAMES ALLEY BLUES, sung guttily by Bob Jackson, is priceless — immediately identifiable as authentic.) 

The songs are YELLOW DOG BLUES / YEARNING AND BLUE / CAVERNISM / SOLID ROCK / TRY GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP / DON’T BLAME ME / LOVER COME BACK TO ME / FAR AWAY BLUES / NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART / HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY / JAMES ALLEY BLUES / CHERRY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / SHAKE THAT JELLY ROLL. 

I wish I could send you to your local record shop and be assured that it would be there — several copies! — but I think those days are gone, gone, gone.  However.  Obviously if you meet Ray at a gig (or the other FT chaps) you can buy a copy for the pittance of $15.  But for most of us, the idea of meeting Ray or the FTJB in person has a certain dreamlike quality.  So for $18, Ray himself will mail you a copy.  He promises!  The details go like this.  Ray Skjelbred can be found at 19526 40th PL. NE., Lake Forest Park, Washington 98155.  If you need more information or want to make a quantity order of a hundred copies, feel free to let me know and I will tell Ray immediately.  Here’s what the cover looks like.

Now.  I promised some new YouTube clips (I regret that they aren’t mine, but they are still lovely) recorded at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant on June 2, 2011.

Let’s begin with a ruminative PENNIES FROM HEAVEN that has all sorts of bonuses — Ray plays the verse in fine Crosby fashion, and Steve solos on clarinet and cornet:

Something in memory of Frank Melrose and George Wettling (with Tesch and Bud in the dim background), the WAILING BLUES:

Want to be some place where they huggy and kissy nice?  How about NAGASAKI?

And two highly reason-able songs, with connections to Red McKenzie, Wingy Mannone, Jack Teagarden, Fats Waller — the first being NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU (vocalizing by Mike Daugherty):

And that eternal plaint, WHAT’S THE REASON (I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU)?

ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON might have been just another Thirties cowboy song if Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham hadn’t been handed it in the Vocalion studios.  “Take another one, Higgy!”  I think also of the version with vocal by Al Bowlly to which Bob Hoskins emoted in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  Vocal by Mike, doubling by Steve:

And THE SONG IS ENDED:

But that last song title (with apologies to Mr. Berlin) isn’t accurate.  There are more videos from this evening on YouTube, and — that new CD! 

Be the first one in your neighborhood to be walking around with a wide grin — and when someone says, “Why the hell are YOU so happy?” you can say, “Have you heard the new CD by The First Thursday Jazz Band?”  And — if you’re a really charitable spreader-of-the-good-word, you can share your headphones / iPod, or even invite them into your car for a few minutes of The Real Thing.

THOSE RHYTHM MEN: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (May 5, 2011)

Here are some more uplifting moments in jazz, courtesy of  on YouTube. 

The prime movers here are Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, performing at Seattle’s New Orleans Restaurant, on May 5, 2011.  That’s Ray on piano and vocal; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.

I would write “Four minds with but a single thought — to swing,” but that would be an oversimplification.  The beauty of this little band is that they are unified, presenting something irresistible, but each player shines through, his individual sensibility intact yet happily part of the group.  Ray, Steve, Dave, and Mike surely rock — in the best old-time-modern ways.  Savor those tempos!  Many bands with less feeling for the music play only Fast or Slow . . . . not this quartet.  But you don’t need me to tell you how good this band is: the music will do that in a minute. 

THAT RHYTHM MAN — connected to Louis and Fats in 1929 — was originally a dance number for the chorus line, I recall, so its tempo would have been hot.  The FTB takes it at an insinuating medium-tempo, just intoxicating:

Something for Bix — even if the debate goes on whether he is on the Irving Mills 1930 recording of this song — LOVED ONE:

Jelly Roll Morton’s tune WHY asks that puzzling question:

And for the vipers in the house . . . here’s a Thirties paean to the joys of muta.  Mike shows how it would feel to be Tall: he’s VIPER MAD:

More delights await — video performances of AVALON, STUMBLING, MOANIN’, ONE HOUR, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, and a favorite of mine, the lovely FOREVERMORE.

But wait!  There’s more!  “Informed sources,” as I used to read about in the New York Times, have told me that there is a First Thursday Band CD in the works.  What good news!  Watch this space!

TRULY WONDERFUL: THE RAIN CITY BLUE BLOWERS (May 7, 2011)

The post’s title isn’t hyperbole.  A friend sent me a few YouTube videos of this new band — holding forth on May 7, 2011, at the Bellingham Jazz Club (in Washington State).

I got through about fifteen seconds of the first clip before becoming so elated that I stopped the clip to make a few phone calls . . . their import being “You HAVE to see this band!  You won’t believe how wonderful they are!”

For a change, let’s begin with the rhythm section.  You can barely see Candace Brown, but you can hear her firm, flexible pulse — she’s playing a Thirties National steel guitar.  On her left is her husband Dave on string bass — strong yet fluid.  Closer to the camera is that monument of unaging swing, Ray Skjelbred on piano — the hero of the steady, varied left-hand and the splashing, striding right hand.  (His right hand knows what his left is doing: no worries!)  The front line is a mere duo but with multiple personalities — great for Jimmie Noone / Doc Poston ecstasies — of two gifted multi-instrumentalists.  On the left is Steve Wright — cornet, clarinet, soprano sax, vocal; to his right is Paul Woltz, bass, alto, soprano, tenor sax, and vocal.  Their repertoire moves from New Orleans / ancient pop classics to Bix and Tram to Condonite romps with a special emphasis on Noone’s Apex Club.

You’ll hear for yourself.  I began with MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (homage to Bing and to Cutty Cutshall, who called this tune MAHONEY’S . . . . ):

Pee Wee Russell had a girlfriend named Lola (this would have been in the late Twenties and onwards, before Mary came along); legend has it that Lola was violently jealous and when she got angry at Pee Wee, she’d take a big scissors and cut his clothes to bits.  The Mound City Blue Blowers (with Coleman Hawkins and Glenn Miller) recorded a wonderful song and called it HELLO LOLA — were they glad to see her or merely placating her, hoping she hadn’t brought her scissors along?  We’ll never know, but this version of HELLO, LOLA (with comma) has no sharp edges — at least none that would do anyone harm:

The young man from Davenport — forever young in our imaginations — is loved so intensely that the RCBB offer two evocations of his music.  Young Bix Beiderbecke is on everyone’s mind for a romping IDOLIZING (memories of those Goldkette Victors):

And we think of Bix at the end of his particular road — with I’LL BE A FRIEND (WITH PLEASURE):

Now do you understand why I find these performances so enlivening?  This band has tempo and swing, heart and soul, rhythm in its nursery rhymes!  Seriously — what lovely rocking ocean-motion, heartfelt soloing and ensemble playing.  This band knows and plays the verse and the tempos chosen are just right.  And that beat!

I want Ralph Peer or Tommy Rockwell to hear the RCBB and I want them to be under contract to Victor or OKeh right this minute!  I would invite John Hammond to hear them, but John tends to meddle so – – – he’d want to replace half the band with people he liked better.  And I can’t think of people I would prefer . . .

How about two more selections?

This one’s for Mister Strong — his composition, you know! It’s MUSKRAT RAMBLE at the nice Hot Five tempo:

And just for fun (and because Red McKenzie sang it so wonderfully), the DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL — with the verse:

By day and by profession, I am an academic — which explains the didactic streak in my character — but this is a suggestion aiming my readers towards happiness rather than a graded assignment.  You might want to consider visiting Steve Wright’s YouTube channel — “” and indulging yourself in the other performances by this band.  How about SWEET SUE, EVERY EVENING, KING JOE, ONE HOUR, STACK O’LEE, CHANGES MADE, GEORGIA CABIN, LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART, and I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY.

Multi-instrumentalist Steve Wright told me this about the band’s instant creation, gestation-while-you-wait:

“We pulled this together in a hurry.  Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Band was originally booked, but Chris got a call for some work in Europe and gave the gig to Dave and Candace (who play with him in Silver Leaf).  I play occasionally with the three of them in Candace’s Combo De Luxe, so I was looped in, and then we decided to pull in a second horn player (Paul) and Ray on piano.  I pulled together some leadsheets and two-reed arrangements from previous bands, and off we went.  Even the name was a rush job: I got a call from the Bellingham folks needing a band name for their publicity, and an hour to figure something out. Since I was already planning to use some Red McKenzie material from the First Thursday book (Hello Lola, for example), I thought of taking off from the Mound City Blue Blowers.”

Now . . . suppose the names of these players are new to you?  Ray Skjelbred has his own website — go there and feel good!

http://www.rayskjelbred.com/

— but Wright, Woltz, and the Browns might be less familiar to you.  Don’t fret.  Here are some facts for the factually-minded.

DAVE BROWN began his musical career decades ago, on banjo and guitar, later expanding his impressive talents to string bass.  He lays down solid rhythm with an energetic style influenced by Steve Brown and Pops Foster. Dave’s credits include membership in the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, Stumptown, Louisiana Joymakers, Chris Tyle’s Silver Leaf Jazz Band, Combo de Luxe, Glenn Crytzer’s Syncopators, Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band, Gerry Green’s Crescent City Shakers and others.  Many West Coast bands call Brown for gigs, including Simon Stribling’s New Orleans Ale Stars, Red Beans and Rice, Vancouver Classic, Solomon Douglas Sextet, and Jonathan Stout’s Campus Five.  Over the years he has appeared at national and international jazz festivals and has been privileged to play alongside jazz greats “Doc” Cheatham, Spiegle Willcox, Jim Goodwin, and others.

STEVE WRIGHT has been a sparkplug of many fine bands, including the Paramount Jazz of Boston, the Happy Feet Dance Orchestra, the Stomp Off “studio” band (The Back Bay Ramblers).  He’s even substituted a few times with the Black Eagles on clarinet.  After moving to Seattle in 1995, he  joined the Evergreen Jazz Band as a second reed player and then moved to mostly playing cornet as personnel changed.  In the last few years, he’s played a great deal with Candace’s and Ray’s bands, as well as with a local Lu Watters-style two-cornet band, Hume Street Jazz Band.

CANDACE BROWN is one-half of the Jazzstrings duo with husband Dave, Combo de Luxe, Louisiana Joymakers, and she has subbed in many other bands (including Simon Stribling’s Ale Stars and Mighty Aphrodite) as well as playing in the pit orchestra for musical theater. Candace has been heard at a number of festivals including the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, on an Alaskan jazz cruise, at several jazz society concerts, and in July of 2007 she was a member of the pit orchestra for a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”  Candace is also a splendid writer — if you haven’t read her inspiring blog, GOOD LIFE NORTHWEST, you’re missing out on deep pleasure:  http://goodlifenw.blogspot.com/

PAUL WOLTZ began playing music in his youth, in California.  He performed frequently at Disneyland for a decade, worked as a studio musician in Hollywood, and was a member of the Golden Eagle Jazz Band.  In the Seattle/Everett area, he is a member of the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band (with whom he has performed at countless jazz festivals and on jazz cruises) is principal bassoonist in the Cascade Symphony, occasionally performs with the 5th Ave Theater, and is called as a sub in numerous bands in the Puget Sound area and beyond — all over the United States and abroad.

TRULY WONDERFUL!

THE FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (April 7, 2011)

The First Thursday Jazz Band — a delightful small group paying homage to Pee Wee Russell, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis (Armstrong and Prima) among others — was caught live for five video performances at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Pioneer Square, Seattle, Washington.

The quiet heroes up there are Ray Skjelbred, piano; Steve Wright, trumpet, reeds; Dave Brown, bass; Mike Daugherty, drums.  For further information, visit the “islandstarfish” YouTube channel, where you can hear and see this band perform HELLO, LOLA!, CHASIN SHADOWS, a groovy BLUES IN THIRDS, and a tender IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.

Here’s a sweetly meditative I’M ON THE CREST OF A WAVE — for Bix and Bing and the King of Jazz:

http://youtu.be/4PBw_dcvF8E

I hope to see more of this band!