All That Jass

If you’ve ever attended Montecito Association’s annual Village Fourth Parade & Celebration that draws some 2,500 parade watchers and participants every Fourth of July, you are probably familiar with Randolph Siple’s “De Siples of Jazz” Dixieland Jazz band. He and his group have entertained Fourth of July celebrants for the past eight years, both on the back of his vintage fire truck during the parade and at lower Manning Park afterwards as featured performers. If you’ve enjoyed that music and wish to hear more of it and aren’t willing to wait for this year’s parade, there is an option: attend a “First Sunday” jam session at Siple’s Rincon Mountain redoubt.

Randolph and his wife, Susan Siple, live about a mile past Gobernador Canyon along Route 150 on the way to Ojai on a ranch purchased in 1979. The couple open up their property from 1 pm to 5 pm on the first Sunday of every month (except January) to friends, fellow musicians, and the general public, to conduct a lively impromptu and very professional Dixieland Jazz jam session.

“I’m a nut about this music,” the neatly bearded winemaker/musician says during a conversation on the patio of his ranch/vineyard overlooking Carpinteria Valley and the Pacific Ocean. His madness extends to a lively and informative monthly newsletter called Jass News that he publishes and which boasts that the West Coast Traditional Jass Club he runs is “the last bastion of traditional jass.” The latest eight-page issue of the newsletter contains a schedule of various jazz events, a profile of legendary jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, a rundown of various web jazz stations (dismuke.org seems particularly interesting with its 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year program of pop music from the ‘20s and ‘30s), and a smattering of small ads.

On Top Of Ol’ Smokey

His Rincon Mountain top was called “Old Smokey” by earlier inhabitants, because of oil deposits that would regularly catch on fire. Now, it may be called “Old Smokey,” at least on the first Sunday of the month, for a completely different reason: that’s when Randolph, Susan, and the crew fire up two barbecue pits and invite guests to throw their own meat on the grill. Cooking starts at 1 pm, eating at 2 pm, and the music shortly thereafter, first with a set from The Untouchables, followed by a jam session in which “people are welcome to bring their instrument and join in. We invite anyone that likes this kind of music to come on up and enjoy it with us.”

Many do, including on occasion, big names in jazz. Siple says, for example, he hopes to lure noted boogie-woogie pianist Sunni Leland to join him in an upcoming First Sunday jam session. “He’s played with the band before,” Randolph says, “and he’s in the L.A. area, so I’m going to try to get him up here for a boogie woogie session.” Other polished musicians show up regularly and mix easily in a crowd that includes talented teenagers, untested amateurs, and grizzled pros.

Randolph has been with “The Untouchables,” since 1983, when they began playing as a band at the Scotch & Sirloin at Ventura Harbor. He is a jazz master and plays with a Pismo Beach jazz club called the Basin Street Regulars every last Sunday of the month. He opened up his winery for jam sessions because “it’s so tough to find gigs playing this kind of music, that you end up kind of begging for jobs; I was so busy doing other things, I just decided we’d do it once a month, here.”

Randolph and Susan met in the early 1980s when she worked for him as his secretary; they married in May, 1984. He has since retired as a practicing attorney and Susan is now a lawyer specializing in estate planning, wills, trusts, trust administration, probates, and conservatorships.

The Siples grow four varieties of wine on their property but have a 60-acre vineyard in Bakersfield, from which they ship their grapes, and make seven varieties of wine on this property, all organic and all under their “Piper’s Winery” label. “We don’t filter it,” Randolph says, adding that he hopes to reintroduce “the ancient art of decanting” to wine aficionados. “It does a couple of things,” he says: “it gets rid of the sediment, and it also aerates the wine.”

From JASS to JAZZ

Researching the roots of the word “jass” leads down many paths, but the version that makes the most sense is that it is taken from the French word “jaser,” which translated, means “to chatter or speak loosely.” The term was used as early as 1722 (in French) as a verb meaning “spouting or blowing,” or “speaking off the top of the head.” Since jazz was born in New Orleans, the French genesis seems likely. The spelling was changed from “jass” to “jazz” in 1917, apparently because of youngsters’ tendencies to erase the first letter from record labels and sheet music.

According to Randolph Siple, there are four types of Dixieland Jazz: New Orleans (“mostly ensemble playing rather than solo”), Chicago (“which has gone away from the tuba and banjo to a guitar and string bass; the same music, but softer”), New York (“more Swing like; when the microphone was invented in 1925, tubas were replaced by string bass and the banjo was replaced with a guitar, forming the development of the Swing band.”), and West Coast style, created by Lu Waters in San Francisco (“think Disneyland: skimmer hats, red & white shirts, The Firehouse Five Plus Two”). There is a fifth type “if you count Europe,” which has its own distinctive sound.

“All this kind of music came from New Orleans,” Siple says, “and traveled up to Chicago after 1918, when New Orleans’s red-light zone (Storyville) was shut down and musicians had no place to play.”

Siple’s band plays mostly West Coast style Dixieland, “but also a little Chicago.”

Performances and jam sessions that formerly took place in a garage on the property now occur in an expanded music room in a larger building, complete with neat and clean (and separate) men’s and women’s toilets. A stage at one end and a substantial bar taken from another building on the opposite end dominate the music building. Old photos, beer signs, neon advertisements, black and white photographs, and other mementos from the past decorate the structure’s walls.

For directions and other pertinent information to 6500 Casitas Pass Road (the next jam session is scheduled for Sunday, April 1) you are invited to call: 805-684-3929, 684-6494, or online (www.westcoasttradjass.com). Follow the road signs along the way, and after you enter the gate, look for white buckets with the words “Jass” on it. “Watch out for hawks, eagles, stray and lost musicians,” Randolph warns. The club supplies the barbecue pits, beans, salad, bread, and “libations.” Guests are advised, however, to “Bring your own protein.”

You can listen to “Dr. Jass” every Friday morning from 10 am to noon on KCSB (91.9 FM) or on the web at: www.KCSB.org.

The Shell Game

The former Shell station at the intersection of Hot Springs, Old Coast Highway, and Coast Village Road has been empty and unoccupied for nearly four years. Noticing some new activity at the corner, we investigated what we thought portended imminent change in the corner’s status.

Santa Barbara Bank & Trust is the leasing agent for the property, so we called Carolle Van Sande, SBB&T vice-president and senior transactional manager, to find out what, if anything, is happening.

“We are well aware that it’s not being used and we’re all anxious to see it completed,” she said during a short telephone conversation.

Carolle advised us that Shell had recently switched environmental consultants and that she, a representative from the County, and members of the family that owns the center, talked to the new Shell consultant about any plan that may be devised.

“With some new energy and push,” Ms Van Sande reports, “Shell has renewed interest in getting the property remediated.” She adds, however, that, after four years, “there is no system even designed yet.” Monitoring wells have been installed and have been collecting data, and once those data are studied, she explains, along with core samples taken from the site, they may then have enough information to design a system to remediate whatever contamination they find. But, “up to this point,” she says, “it has all been testing.”

As for a completion schedule, they know what the issues are now but that it will probably take six months to a year for the proposed remediation system to be approved and implemented. “Then, it’s anybody’s guess; it could be two or three years from today” for that remediation to take place, Carolle says.

“In the meantime,” Carolle notes with some frustration, “it is not legal or safe to use the property. It cannot be turned into a park, and we can’t put a building on it because someone could sue us later. You know what tort laws are like, so no one’s going to go there. You have to get a clean bill of health from the County before it can be used,” she stresses. Shell, which apparently has many similar sites, still pays rent on the parcel and it is their responsibility to pay for all the remediation work.

SBB&T is looking at a proposal to add more hedging, “something green and pretty,” instead of asphalt. The bank will, however, have to pay for it, which it is prepared to do. “We got tired of chasing Shell down,” Carolle says.

As to what may eventually go there: “Something commercial,” she says. “It can support maybe 6,000 square feet commercial, depending upon what the City will allow.”