Ray Skjelbred

Seattle, Washington
Added 9/11/2003

Ray Skjelbred is a Chicago native. That fact becomes readily apparent when he sits down to play piano and the sounds of the Windy City emanate from the keyboard. His inspirations are Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Earl Hines, Art Hodes and the "goofy guys" --players with unique, eccentric styles such as George Zack, Cassino Simpson, Zinky Cohn, Alex Hill and "Kansas City Frank" Melrose. Still, Ray's tastes are anything but one-dimensional. His musical heroes include figures as diverse as Charles Ives, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry and Dick Lammi. According to drummer Hal Smith, Ray's playing is the "ultimate illustration of jazz as 'the sound of surprise.'"

Although Ray was born in Chicago (and played accordion there), he didn't become aware of jazz or take up piano until he moved to Seattle and met Johnny Wittwer, a major jazz and ragtime figure who gave Ray lessons and introduced him to public performing. Next, Ray fell in with a group of young musicians and wound up co leading the Great Excelsior Jazz Band with bassist Mike Duffy and cornetist Bob Jackson. During his time in Seattle he also worked with Monte Ballou's Castle Jazz Band and developed a long musical partnership with Portland's Jim Goodwin.

Ray moved to the Bay Area in 1969 where he immediately became part of the local music scene and played with all the most noted musicians and bands, among them Dick Oxtot, Bob Helm, Ev Farey, Turk Murphy, Bill Napier, Bob Mielke, Richard Hadlock, Bob Short and many others. He also has led his own groups --- Berkeley Rhythm, The Yeti Chasers, The Monogram Boys and the Ray Skjelbred quartet, and has worked as chosen accompanist for singers such as Victoria Spivey, Barbara Lashley, Barbara Dane, Pat Yankee, Carol Leigh and Claire Austin.

During Ray's years in the Bay Area, he maintained a long friendship/learning association with legendary San Francisco pianist Burt Bales and developed friendships with Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan and Art Hodes. In Earl Hines' last years he used to come out to see Ray and Barbara Lashley perform at local jazz clubs.

Ray is the composer of many musical compositions and has also published three books of poetry in addition to his recordings which are available on CD and LP. San Francisco Examiner jazz critic Phil Elwood called Ray "The best jazz pianist in the Bay Area" and Jess Stacy simply said, "You are great."

He is also a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.