Tag Archives: the blues

THE MANY LIVES OF THE BLUES: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO PIANO, AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Yesterday I posted two duets between pianist Ray Skjelbred and cornetist Marc Caparone, and encouraged my viewers to take a chance by watching and listening — even if they’d never heard either player — and some people did.  One of them wrote to me and asked if I could post some more of Ray.  Nothing simpler and nothing more gratifying, so here are a bundle of blues and blues-related solos from a set Ray did at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 25, 2016.  He introduces them, so you won’t need explanations from me:

Dr. Bunky Coleman’s BLUE GUAIAC BLUES [medical explication, not for the squeamish*]:

Jimmie Rodgers’ TUCK AWAY MY LONESOME BLUES:

Ray’s own SOUTH HALSTEAD STREET, for Jane Addams and Art Hodes:

THE ALLIGATOR POND WENT DRY (for and by Victoria Spivey):

SUNSET BOOGIE (for and by Joe Sullivan):

Ray Skjelbred is a poet — also when he gets up from the piano bench — of these shadings and tone-colors, of the rhythms of the train heading through the darkness.  We are fortunate to live on his planet.

May your happiness increase!

And the promised medical bulletin: [*guaiac is a resin found i our happiness increase!n certain trees, and it is used in medical testing to check for blood, otherwise invisible, in one’s stool.  If the guaiac turns blue, one has that problem described above.  Now you know.]

RAY SKJELBRED AND THE BLUES (San Diego Jazz Fest, November 25, 2016)

skjelbred-at-piano

There might be other, very attractive galaxies and universes, but as far as I can tell, none of them has Ray Skjelbred . . . which is a very good argument for ours. It’s a true critical cliche to say of an artist that (s)he is “a poet,” but in Ray’s case this is true in several interlocking ways.  He is not simply someone who tosses off a poem now and again: he is a poet.  Here are two of his poems (three books of his poetry are available here.)

Sycamore

One day all the leaves blow away.
I have been worrying
about the wrong things.

*********************************************************************
Magic Show

You see him sawing a woman in half
and you know it’s real,
but how did he get her to keep smiling,
when he wheeled her head to one side of the stage
and her legs to the other?
That’s the trick, really,
and it’s a very old one.

Well, she needed a job,
people said she was pretty,
and she was willing to travel, somewhat.

Most of all she learned to stay silent,
never say how much it hurt.

******************************************************************

What makes those poems so quietly resonant?  Oh, their casual language that conveys deep feeling in sly ways; the way they ask us to look at what we think we already know as if we’d never seen it before; the way they go straight to our emotions without ever tugging at our clothing.  There is no self-conscious poeticizing about them, but they hit solidly without raising their volume.

I feel the same tendencies working through Ray’s piano playing. We know he is at the keyboard, but his reverence is for the song, its exoskeleton and internal turmoils, the possibility it offers for waywardness inside its established form. He is genuinely playing, with courage and ardor.
joe-sullivan-gin-mill-blues-honey

Here is his recent solo performance of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES from the November 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  He knows it by heart but he’s also so thoroughly internalized both Joe and the song itself that he’s free to revere it but also — a Huck Finn of Chicago Hot — free to leave his socks and shoes on the bank and wade in it, joyously and cautiously at once — having a good time and sharing his pleasures so generously with us:

O rare Ray Skjelbred — who looks and sees and embodies.

May your happiness increase!

TWO CHAMPIONS: “FLEA CIRCUS,” PETE SIERS DUO FEATURING MR. B

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Webster Kirksey, basketball champion

Now I have to narrate, with embarrassment, how I waited some time to review an excellent jazz CD because its title made me itchy all over.   Here’s Exhibit A:

FLEA CIRCUS

Before you start scratching, too, use those hands to click here for sound samples from this disc. (It’s also available through iTunes and Amazon.)

The duo here — really a trio, but with two musicians, which I call good conservation of energy, is Pete Siers, drums, and “Mr. B,” who is Mark Lincoln Braun, piano, vocals, and perhaps a little more.

I relaxed when I read in the excellent notes by arwulf arwulf, that Pete has always wanted to play in the circus — or is it “with” the circus?  No matter.  So I assume that FLEA CIRCUS refers only to the compact size of the enterprise.

Enough of that.  FLEA CIRCUS is a deeply felt album of deep blues and related songs, sung* and played by two men who are wholly in the tradition.  The sixteen titles here are varied not only in tempo,  key, and composer, but also in mood. Each one is a small dramatic playlet, intense or free-wheeling, with its own mood: funky, rueful, hilarious, romping, woebegone, tender, Friday-night-paycheck-at-the-bar.  No listener would find an hour with these two creative spirits too much: rather, when the disc was over, I said, “Is that it?” which speaks well for a return engagement for Pete and Mark.

Here are the songs: VICKSBURG BLUES (in honor of Little Brother Montgomery) / SHE’S TOUGH* / JIMMY’S SPECIAL (for Jimmy Yancey) / WHAT WAS I THINKING OF?* / I LIKE WHAT YOU DID (WHEN YOU DO WHAT YOU DID LAST NIGHT) a variation on Roosevelt Sykes’ immortal theme / KIRKSEY FLASH, for Web Kirksey, pictured above / TREMBLIN’ BLUES / MOJO HAND* / COW COW BLUES (for and by Cow Cow Davenport) / LITTLE BROTHER / TEXAS STOMP / TOO SMART TOO SOON* / WAY DOWN UPON THE SWANEE RIVER (in honor of Albert Ammons) / WHEN I LOST MY BABY (for Blind John Davis) / NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE IT (with a guest appearance by trombonist Christopher Smith) / YPSI GYPSI (a world of its own) //

Both of these musicians know how to take their time, so this isn’t a boogie-woogie extravaganza with Niagara Falls of notes that overwhelm the listener. Were I introducing the CD to someone new to it, I would start off with what I believe is Mark’s original, SHE’S TOUGH, where the Love Object stops clocks, distracts college professors, and silently effects a cease-fire.  The lyrics are delightful, but the piano playing is even better, and Pete’s silken accompaniment is a lesson for all drummers.  TOO SMART TOO SOON should have been recorded by Walter Brown with Jay McShann, if you know that reference.  Mark’s singing, throughout, is perfectly focused — honoring rather than copying — and the recording adds just a touch of what I hear as Fifties reverb to his voice, adding a good deal to the atmosphere without making this an exercise in play-acting.

Even though Pete is the nominal leader on this disc, it is not a percussionist’s narcissistic dream.  I heard only two drum solos — very brief but delightful, but what I truly heard and appreciated was his unerringly thoughtful and swinging support, nothing formulaic or mechanical.

Together, Pete and Mark evoke the very best of vocal blues, piano blues, boogie-woogie, with sweet nods to R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll.

The result is delightful, and I hope many people listen, download, purchase.  Don’t be like me and be put off by the idea of dancing insects, please.  FLEA CIRCUS is the real thing, full of flavors.  It rocks.

May your happiness increase!

FOR THE TROOPS: BLUES AT V-DISC (MARCH 12,1944)

EDDIE CONDON V-DISC CD

It’s possible you have never heard this nine-minute treasure before, and its intended audience did not either.  Recorded for V-Disc on March 12, 1944, it is one of Eddie Condon’s IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLES — that is, a blues with surprises — a concert finale reproduced most happily in a recording studio.  I don’t know whether it was a collaboration between Eddie and recording supervisor George T. Simon, but the pairing is memorable.  The basic personnel is a “Condon group”: Wild Bill Davison, cornet; George Lugg, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Joe Bushkin, piano; Pops Foster, bass; Kansas Fields, drums.  The delightful guests are James P. Johnson, piano; Ed Hall, clarinet, Jimmy Rushing, vocal.

(The picture above is of the CD issue of these V-Disc sides, which can be found online if one is willing to search for a minute or two.)

A very similar band had played (and they had been recorded) at Town Hall the day before, with the results also issued on an out-of-print CD, so there is some connection: I don’t know whether the V-Disc sides, which can be slightly wayward, were recorded after midnight the next day.

However.  I post this not only because I delight in the music, and because many JAZZ LIVES readers will find it new, but it is also my quiet rebuke to those who can’t tolerate stylistic encroachment of any kind.  You know: this isn’t “authentic,” it’s not “jazz,” but it’s been corrupted by “swing” — the people who divide the music into schools.  Pops Foster?  He’s a New Orleans bassist.  James P. Johnson?  A Harlem stride pianist.  Jimmy Rushing?  A Kansas City blues shouter.  But the musicians had no interest in such restrictive labeling.  And I am uncomfortable with the notion of Eddie as an intent political activist specializing in racial equality.  These were guys who could play, and that was all.  The results are precious.

May your happiness increase!

MY HONEY, THAT THING, A SWEETIE, NEVER THE SAME, A JUMP: RAY SKJELBRED, JONATHAN DOYLE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 29, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred

Ray Skjelbred

I keep coming back to the videos I’ve shot at several yearly incarnations of the San Diego Jazz Fest — and finding treasures and marvels I’d overlooked.  (I also keep coming back to the actual Fest, but that should startle no one.)

Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan Doyle

Here are some highlights from a long quartet set performed by Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jonathan Doyle, the swing star from Austin, Texas; Beau Sample, string bass and leader of the Fat Babies; Hal Smith, who’s played with and swung everyone who deserves it.

Beau Sample

Beau Sample

My titles are an expression of whimsical shorthand, but there’s nothing left out in these performances.  First, a swing trio (Chicago pays San Diego a visit) then quartet improvisations that are delightful inducements to the dance, even if you are sitting in a chair.

Hal Smith

Hal Smith

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (scored for trio):

A song I associate with Bessie Smith, I’M WILD ABOUT THAT THING (decide for yourself what THAT THING is, but no need to write in, because no prizes will be awarded for the best answer).  I’m wild about this performance, I feel compelled to say:

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (in a medium tempo sitting nicely between Noone and Condon):

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (evoking Venuti and Lang, Billie and Lester, or both):

Finally, THE 313 JUMP, whose title has a new pop culture / numerological significance — just Ducky:

See you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest — Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-27.  Of course.

A postscript.  The jazz-scholar part of my being says that I could have written a thousand words on Influences and Echoes, with a long list of names, including Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Frank Melrose, Rod Cless, Frank Teschemacher, Lester Young, Eddie Miller, Wellman Braud, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Milt Hinton . . . but I will let you do the research for yourself — in whatever way offers the most satisfying results.  I’d rather revel in the actual sounds made by Smith, Sample, Doyle, and Skjelbred on a late November day in 2014.

May your happiness increase!

“THOSE DELICIOUS BLUES”: HARRY ALLEN, DAN BLOCK, DAN BARRETT, EHUD ASHERIE, FRANK TATE, RICKY MALICHI at the ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (September 10, 2015)

delicious fruit

I don’t know their name, but they are delicious.

What I mean is . . . here is a nearly eleven-minute improvised blues performed by six absolute masters of the idiom at the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party (September 10, 2015): Dan Block, Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Ehud Asherie, piano (with all sorts of delicious jazz in-jokes); Frank Tate, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.

Is the overall ambiance Basie-esque, Ellingtonian, Four Brothers, or do the riffs come from Blue Note hard bop, Gene Ammons, Al and Zoot?  I don’t know and I am sure that someone will leap right in and inform me.  But until that day, I will happily listen in a state of deep swing gratitude.

Such delightful interludes happen all the time at the Allegheny Jazz Party.  You should know.

(And, as an aside, I picked the graphic at top of green fruits because it was one of the few inoffensive ones that emerged when I idly entered “delicious” into Google Images.)

May your happiness increase!

THERE’S A PARTY AT CARL’S!

Relaxing at Pier 23, San Francisco

Relaxing at Pier 23, San Francisco

I present to you one of the finest CDs I’ve ever heard.  But it’s also one of the least-known.

It is a House Party.  And Carl is pianist / singer / composer Carl Sonny Leyland. He invites all of us to share the joys with Marc Caparone, trumpet / string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Clint Baker, string bass / clarinet.

CSL cover

This exact group has not been videoed, but you can hear a good deal of the exuberant spirit Carl, Marc, and Jeff bring to the music — with the help of Butch Smith, alto saxophone, and Mike Fay, string bass:

Now, I know that some listeners pigeonhole Father Leyland as an eight-to-the bar wizard, a boogie-woogie marvel.  And in this they would be correct.  But he is a musician and a fine jazz improviser whose talent is not constricted by a label, so he goes where the music takes him, most often to the land of Swing.  The sounds you’ll hear on this CD make me think of Kansas City — the small-band music made by Hot Lips Page, Pete Johnson, Walter Page, Jo Jones and their friends.  And when Carl starts to sing the blues . . . we could be back at the Reno Club in 1935.  (The original premise was, I think, a contemporary evocation of Pete Johnson’s 1944 add-an-instrument “Housewarming” records — a good lively model to have.)

Many jazz recordings hew to a certain stylistic definition (I think of the pigeonholes in which one inserts mail) and that’s fine if that is what you’re in the mood for.  Here’s the reproduction of Fly and his Swatters; here’s the tribute to “Unknown White Teenager”; here’s the solo xylophone recital of early Sondheim.  (My examples are satirical but not too far from CDs now on my kitchen counter.)

Carl and his friends have a different end in view, which is why this CD is a House Party — recorded in Marc Caparone’s living room in Paso Robles, California. Carl explains, “Armed with good faith and plenty of liquor, the four of us got together and made the music you are hearing now.  There was no rehearsing, and in most cases I just launched directly into whatever came into my head at that moment.  Spontaneous creativity is what really turns me on in music and I will gladly take it over ‘tight,’ ‘clever,’ and ‘refined,’ every time.  I believe the results we attained that day combined spontaneous creativity with honest emotion.  Unrestricted by notions of trying to please anyone than ourselves, we played without inhibition.  Chances were taken, nothing was held back, and in addition to being artistically gratifying, it was a heck of a lot of fun.” 

I find the music that Carl, Marc, Clint, and Jeff make on this disc wholly life-affirming, whether it’s a groovy slow blues with a dark theme or a romp on a time-honored standard . . . but I also support the philosophy stated above.  This is honest music, aimed at our hearts.  So in my ideal world, this band would be headlining at festivals and concert halls, appearing at schools across the world. Until that happens, I urge you to invite yourselves to Carl’s House Party.

To buy the CD (and to hear and see much more of Carl), visit his website.

May your happiness increase!