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28 November 2014


I was invited to play in a little jazz band at a wedding reception and this is where we performed, with the guests enjoying their drinks and canapés on the lawn below. It was fun. Our hosts called it a 'tree house', though on the day it became a slightly unusual bandstand.
I am interested in unusual bandstands - and in the history of these amenities generally; even more so since so many jazz band concerts are given in such bandstands these days.

Last summer I spotted this bandstand in a Bangkok Park:
Unfortunately no concert was in progress, though there was a film crew making a movie nearby.
It was a visit to a brass band concert in the grounds of Nottingham Castle that first set me thinking about bandstands.

During the Nineteenth Century, when the brass band movement flourished without any competition from radio, television or cinema, people could enjoy wonderful free entertainment in the parks. And they did so in massive numbers. Many of those early bandstands were manufactured in the iron foundries of Scotland.

In the U.K., bandstands appeared in pretty well every town and - as in this picture - at seaside resorts.
The same thing happened elsewhere, notably in the U.S.A., Canada and in Australia. Local authorities and philanthropists were happy to pay for these curious pieces of architecture. And attendance at the concerts must have been quite something, as the picture above suggests.

Here is a typical English bandstand of the time. It is in the beautiful Pavilion Gardens at Buxton, Derbyshire. To this day, it is still used for brass band concerts during the summer.
The bandstands were usually round and open-sided. They were sometimes elaborately decorated, especially along the roof-line, and they often had ornate wrought-iron railings. The structure was ideal for both acoustics and weather protection on a fine day, but I am sure wind and rain must have spoiled many a concert, for audience and bandsmen alike.

Here's a charming Edwardian bandstand scene.
In those days, I believe the musicians were all men.

But in the Twenty-First Century there have been conspicuous changes. The audiences are smaller. There are ladies in the bands. The bandstands are used by jazz bands, rock groups and other musical combinations as well as the long-established brass bands. But alas, dozens of the Victorian bandstands fell into disuse and have been removed.

I have sometimes played jazz in the carousel bandstand at New Park in Melton Mowbray. Here's how it looks:
This bandstand was built in 1908, at the same time as this former grazing land became a park.

Good news is that occasionally a new bandstand has appeared, such as the one built in Jedburgh (Scotland) in 2006 and the Deal Memorial Bandstand of 1993, erected in honour of eleven bandsmen murdered by terrorists.

In 2010 this bright new bandstand was opened in Roberts Park, Saltaire (near Bradford in England):
And Hans Rosenkamp has sent me information about his local situation in Deventer, in the centre of the Netherlands. There has been a park in the town for over 300 years. A bandstand was first erected almost 200 years ago. But this bandstand was demolished in the 1950s. Flood damage affected the nature and size of the park at the end of the Twentieth Century. But recently there has been a major restoration programme and by 2012 a new bandstand was erected. The good news, Hans says, is that there are now 20 concerts in the bandstand every summer.

I sometimes visit Horsham in Sussex, where I photographed this lovely bandstand, ideally placed right in the town centre. Its summer concerts are very popular.
I was amazed to learn this Horsham bandstand was manufactured in Glasgow in 1892!

In total, I have had the pleasure of playing in about a dozen bandstands in the London area, with The Hornsey British Legion Silver Band about seventy years ago.

And here's the audience relaxing during the interval in Wisbech Park when I was in a jazz band on the bandstand in the 1990s.
Not quite like Victorian times, but very enjoyable nevertheless. Here's an audience at the same Wisbech Park Bandstand about 90 years before I played there!

Thanks to their solidity, many of the old bandstands still exist. That’s good news, because I can’t imagine many local authorities these days paying to have such magnificent gems of architecture erected.

A concert that set me thinking about bandstands was this one:
The band was the very fine Shirebrook Miners Welfare Band and the bandstand was in the gardens of Nottingham Castle.

This particular bandstand is Edwardian rather than Victorian but it has already stood for over 100 years. Thousands of performances must have been given there. The pleasures enjoyed by the audiences and the musicians over those years have been immeasurable.

This Nottingham example is rather unusual. As you can see, unlike most bandstands, it resembles a conservatory, with plenty of windows. There are about 400 panes of glass. These windows are specially useful during chilly, windy or wet weather, when the musicians can keep dry and warm.
But the windows can be raised, like giant versions of domestic sash windows, ensuring the glorious sound is radiated out on all sides. As you can see, that’s how it was in the sunshine when I was there.

The bandstand is also unusual in having beneath it a 'dungeon' - a storeroom in which bandstand furniture and seats for the audience can be secured.
Another Nottingham bandstand is this one in the Arboretum:
It is considered an Art Deco building and it was erected in 1935, replacing an earlier bandstand of which the roof appears to have been made of canvas. The original may not have been a very good bandstand but the concerts drew huge audiences.

This Arboretum bandstand also has a room beneath: it provides warm-up facilities for the musicians as well as a washroom.

In London I took this photograph of the famous old bandstand in Hyde Park.
I remember attending a wonderful concert here in which the great Foden's Motor Works Band was conducted by Harry Mortimer. The year must have been - oh - 1955, I think.

Amazingly, this bandstand was moved to this site in 1886 from Kensington Gardens, where it had been used since 1869. Back in the 1890s, band concerts were given here three times a week. These days it is still used for occasional concerts.

I was pleased to come across this lovely example in Lytham St. Anne's.
This bandstand was erected in 1897. It has a sandstone base and is noted for its slender columns. As you would expect, they are made of cast iron. The columns have elaborately ornamental brackets and fluted bases. I'm pleased to say the bandstand is still in regular use for summer concerts.

In 2011, I was in Auckland, New Zealand, and came upon this lovely bandstand in the extensive park known as The Domain.
It reminded me of park bandstands here in Britain, though this New Zealand example was much better maintained than many of ours. It was built, I am told, in 1912; and an interesting time in its history came a few years later when, during an influenza outbreak in which thousands of New Zealanders died, it was used as a temporary mortuary.

It is still in regular use for concerts. I am sorry I didn't get to hear one. It must be glorious to sit here in the sun, listening to music.
That's me, giving you a wave.

Here is Auckland’s other bandstand. It is in the little Albert Park, right in the centre of Auckland, not far from the harbour.
From 1848 until 1871, Albert Park was a military base. After that, it was developed as a pleasant civic amenity. James Slater, an architect, won the competition to design it. He made Albert Park a very Victorian ‘English’ place – with appropriate statues, floral clock, gas lamp, fountain, war memorial and so on. It took twenty years to complete the Park, so it must have occupied much of his working life and I’m sure it was his pride and joy.

The bandstand was erected right at the end of the project, in 1900. It seems to have followed Slater's personal design. He gave it the elegant octagonal shape, with its scalloped roof topped by the onion dome. He opted for a painted floral frieze and the trellis cornice. Here's how it looked shortly after its construction.

As someone interested in both the history of the English Language and the history of brass bands, I was pleased recently to come across the origin of the expression 'one-night stand'.

In the early days of the brass band movement in America (I'm talking of the middle of the Nineteenth Century), most concerts were given in the open air. At that time, not many towns had yet built permanent bandstands. So some of the bands had their own bandstand in portable kit form.

Rather like the equipment of travelling circuses, the portable bandstand could be erected for a single performance and rapidly dismantled afterwards. That is why such bandstands became known as 'one-night stands'; and that is the origin of the expression.
These bandstands were moved around on horse-drawn carts. And incidentally, carts themselves were often used as 'bandstands'.

It's interesting how such expressions change their usage over the decades. People today speak of a 'one-night stand' without any idea that the original 'stand' was a bandstand.

Even in more recent times, bands sometimes appear on the backs of carts. Here's one in Wisbech, England, in the 1980s.

Wally Bamberger of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, knowing that I am a cornet player, rightly guessed I would be interested in his local bandstand in King Square. He sent me some pictures. Just look at the apex!
Here is the complete bandstand.
I wondered why the musicians' playing area was so elevated. Wally has explained that a 'pool and fountain pre-existed the construction of the bandstand, the upper level being so merely to clear the fountain, eventually proving to be a fortunate and most enjoyable aesthetic feature.

By the way, the building trying to hide behind the bandstand is the Imperial Theatre. It dates from the onset of vaudeville and probably hosted some fine early standard jazz performances. It has a whispering stage.

The Bandstand was revitalized last year with the removal of a century's worth of wear and tear. The roof has been returned to its original copper lustre and the cornet, a Boosey and Hawkes, being replaced by a replica, the original now being honourably immortalized in our local museum.'
Wally says the proper name of the bandstand is The King Edward VII Memorial Bandstand. It was built in 1908 without a weather vane.
A couple of years later, an instrument was added, but it was a flugelhorn. This was stolen and replaced by another flugelhorn. In 1978, the bandstand was renovated and the flugelhorn was replaced by the Boosey and Hawkes cornet. The latest cornet is another Boosey and Hawkes, but it was purchased on EBay!

What a wonderful resource bandstands are. Long may they continue!
Sketch by my friend Mrs. Harris of
the Bandstand
in Loughborough Park, England.

27 November 2014

When Barbershop Met Traditional Jazz

When Barbershop meets Traditional Jazz: here's a possible programme. Can you think of any more titles?

I Wish I Could Shampoo Like My Sister Kate
Just a Closer Shave
When You Wore a Toupee
My Old Kentucky Comb
Bye Bye Black Beard
Somebody Stole My Curl
Wig Shall Not Be Moved
Joe Avery's HairPiece
Some Day You'll Be Baldy
Razors of Picardy
There's Soap Soap in Your Eyes
When You and I Were Young, Goatee
Moustache's Gone, Goodbye
Moonlight and Razors
Stubble in Mind
My Little Gel
You Always Cut The One You Shave
Is It True What They Say About Trichology?

First response:
Hi Ivan,
Had a quick try at barber etc. related tunes, sort of OK, some nearly work.
How Come You Shave Me Like You Do Do Do
Its Only A Paper Towel
Barbers Chair(Rockin' Chair)
Soap Gets In Your Eyes
The Haircut With The Fringe On Top
Aint Ever Shavin'(Misbehavin')
Shaven  Face(Baby Face)
Mack The Razor
Begin The Shaving
Bye Bye Beard
Heat Shave

26 November 2014

The 'Sweet Sue' Chord Progression

Among the many chord progressions at the opening of famous tunes is the one known to traditional jazz musicians as the SWEET SUE PROGRESSION.

It begins on the Dominant 7th, with the Tonic as the next chord. (Often this pattern is then repeated before further developments.) To put it simply, if you’re in the key of C, you begin these tunes on G7th (usually two bars) and then move on to C. 

This progression is very useful when composers fancy bouncing back and forth between the dominant and the tonic. It is simple and therefore popular with improvisers.


April Showers 
Auf Wiedersehen 
Black Bottom Stomp [final strain] 
Dallas Rag
Do What Ory Say 
His Eye Is On The Sparrow 
I'm Blue and Lonesome, Nobody Cares for Me
I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate 
Miss Annabelle Lee 
My Life Will Be Sweeter Some Day
Pretty Baby 
Say Si Si 
So Do I 
South [second strain] 
Sweet Sue 
That’s A Plenty [final strain] 
Up Jumped the Devil
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans 
Willy The Weeper [second strain] 
Winin’ Boy Blues 

It is also the basis of several tunes known as 'Stomps'.

25 November 2014

Harmonic Impact of the First Note in a Popular Song

I wanted to find out on what chord most popular songs start, and what effect this chord has.

I carried out an unscientific survey. But I believe my general conclusions are about right.

I selected at random 60 songs that have stood the test of time - tunes such as Tea for Two and I Can't Give You Anything But Love and It Had To Be You. I then noted the chord with which they start. I am referring to the first chord of the first bar of the Chorus (i.e., omitting any anacrusis).

Five of the tunes turned out to be in minor keys. That's just 8% of the total. These tunes certainly had a 'minor' feel but this did not necessarily make them sad.

I am going to give my attention to the other 92% - those in major keys.

Of these, no fewer than 50 tunes (that's a whopping 83% of all the tunes I looked at) started on the major chord of the tune's key. A tune in the key of F, for example, would start on the chord of F major.

I found the effect of this is to establish firmly and clearly where we are: there's no attempt at subtlety.

Of these 50 tunes, I categorised 38 as bright and cheerful in character, which means about 63% of all popular tunes are likely to be bright, cheerful, un-challenging and starting on the major chord of the home key.

The figure is about what I would have expected; and probably you would too.

But this leaves twelve tunes (20% of all I studied) that begin on the major chord of the home key but are more subtle and complex, perhaps with elements of sadness, nostalgia or melancholy. These include such tunes as I'm In The Mood For LoveSmoke Gets In Your Eyes and I'm Getting Sentimental Over You. If you look at the inner workings of these tunes you find minor chords, diminished chords and other surprises (such as a 7th based on the flattened third note of the scale in I'm In The Mood For Love). These chords make the tunes harder to learn but they also give the songs their distinctive colours and make them linger in our minds, it seems to me.

The only tunes from my original 60 not yet mentioned are five in major keys that do not start on the chord of the major key, so that's just 8% of the total. Four of these are 'bright' tunes, the other one less so. These tunes do not seem to lose any impact as a result of not starting on the key chord. Usually they begin on the Dominant 7th, and very quickly inform our ear of the key we are in. An example is (The Bells Are RingingFor Me And My Girl.

To sum up my main findings:

83% of popular songs are in major keys and begin on the major chord of the home key.

8% of popular songs are in minor keys.

(Note: all percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.)

24 November 2014

Recording Jazz in the Early Days

What a performance it was, recording music in the early days - round about 1920, for example.
The sound had to be picked up through a funnel (centre of picture above) and - to achieve some kind of balance - the musicians had to be disposed at various distances from it. The vocalist, if any, would presumably sing straight into the funnel.
On  a related subject, here's a video you may find interesting. It shows Andy Schumm and fellow musicians, with the recording expertise of Shawn Borri, in 2012 recreating the wax cylinder recording techniques of about 100 years earlier.
To hear the amazing end product in full,