Type topic to search


27 November 2015

Playing Traditional Jazz : Sensational Stuff From Japan

Wow! What about this very recent video from Tokyo?!!
It's a band playing Dans Les Rues d'Antibes; and although there's no trumpet or trombone on the scene, it's one of the most exciting YouTube performances of 2015. All five of the young musicians are terrific.

(With thanks to video-maker ragtimecave)

26 November 2015

'Shake It and Break It': Sorting out the Traditional Jazz Confusion

You may have noticed that our jazz bands play two quite different tunes that are both called Shake It and Break It. This used to cause me confusion and I learn from correspondents that it has puzzled some of you too.

Although I may be wrong on some points, I will try to sort out the confusion by explaining what seems to have happened, as far as I can tell.


This tune was composed in 1920 by Lou Chiha (music) and H. Qualli Clark (lyrics). No, I did not make these names up!

It consists, after an Intro, of three strains of 16 bars each.

As played by our jazz bands, the first strain (normally played twice) seems to be in a minor key and involves some arpeggios being prettily run around. The second strain is in the related major key and its main characteristic is that it is a stuttering melody allowing for two two-bar breaks.  This is the strain used by most bands for the improvising of solo choruses.

The original words of the song suggest that it's about a 'new dance' in which the ladies 'shake' their taffeta dresses.

There is a terrific recording of the King Oliver Band playing what I have described so far. They play that first strain and then stick entirely on the second strain. Listen to the recording by clicking here.

Today's top band - Tuba Skinny - uses only the same two strains as King Oliver: CLICK HERE.

Many other bands (like Oliver's and Tuba Skinny) omit the third strain completely - finding quite enough to work on in the first two strains.

However, the tune and lyrics of the third strain dominate in blues singer Charlie Patton's recording entitled Shake It and Break It from 1929. So, although this has the same title, it sounds quite different from the King Oliver version. Charlie plays just this melody - not the two strains heard on the Oliver recording.

When the tune is played today by jazz bands, the third strain is sometimes added to the two previous strains and is played in the same key as the second strain and there is a vocal for this third strain only - a vocal that freely adapts the words of the original.

A reader has kindly sent me a photo-copy of Chiha and Clark's original printed music:

This tune is often introduced by bands as Shake It and Break It; but it is actually Weary Blues, composed in 1915 by Gates, Matthews and Green. As you probably know, Weary Blues (which sounds anything but weary), has three strains. The first two are both 12-bar blues, usually played in F. The melodies are snappy and memorable.

Then there is a third strain, usually in Bb. This is exciting, with rapid riffs full of quavers, and a chord sequence on which musicians love to improvise. So this is the strain on which solo choruses are played.

Why do some bands announce this tune as Shake It and Break It? I am fairly sure it is because they fit words to that third strain. They are pretty well the same as those of the third strain in the 'official' Shake It and Break It ('Shake it! Break it! Hang it on the wall', etc). That, I think, is what has caused the confusion.

CLICK HERE for a performance of Weary Blues - played brilliantly by one of today's greatest bands and without the vocal - but under the title of Shake It and Break It.
For a performance of Weary Blues (correctly titled) but with the Shake it and Break It lyrics sung by Ben Polcer at  4 minutes 11 secs, click here.


By the way, it could be that there is even more confusion than I had noticed. Since I wrote the above, reader David in New Zealand has since sent me this:

...in 2003 Chris Barber recorded a CD with a Vancouver band called Sweet Papa Lowdown. The CD is called 'One Of Your Smiles.' I purchased a copy direct from the band leader, Jeff Shucard in Vancouver. On this CD is a recording of a tune called Shake It 'N Break it. It is nothing like the two versions you have written about. Unfortunately I can't put my hand on the CD at the moment as some of my effects are in storage, but Sweet Papa Lowdon also recorded this track on another CD called 'Til Times Get Better. 

Playing Traditional Jazz: Thoughts on 'Thoughts'

A lovely new tune to appear on YouTube is Thoughts, played by Tuba Skinny and composed by their percussionist Robin Rapuzzi. It is a tune of which he has every right to feel proud.

You can hear Tuba Skinny playing it by clicking here (with thanks to the excellent video-maker RaoulDuke504 for capturing the performance and alerting the world to it).

Thoughts is played wistfully, at a gentle tempo. In this video (click on) you can see them taking trouble to get the tempo just right before playing it.

When you first hear it, you can easily fall into the trap of thinking it has a standard 32-bar structure (A - A - B - A) because it begins like that and also it runs to 96 bars (measures) in total - which normally would suggest it's played through three times (3 x 32).

But listen carefully and you find it is much more complex. The initial tune seems to comprise 40 bars, not 32 (A - A - B - A - A).

The 'A' theme is of a pretty rocking and 'descending the ladder' type. Its first four bars sound to me like this:

and the 'B' theme seems to have a deliberate echo of 'Mood Indigo'. It begins:

But after these forty bars, something different happens. There is a 16-bar 'Interlude' (let's call it Theme 'C') which seems to me to be using the related minor key. It begins something like this:

By the end of that, we have completed 56 bars.

So, 40 bars to go? Presumably the Main Theme (A - A - B -  A - A ) to be played again?

Well, yes, but not quite. What we get is A - A - (a strange) B - B - A.

In these final 40 bars, the first sixteen (led by the clarinet) are indeed the same as the opening sixteen (Theme A twice). But then we have the first four bars only of the 'B' (Mood Indigo) theme followed by 4 leaping new bars of melody. Then the full 'B' (eight bars) again, but with a slightly different ending from the first time it was played.

88 bars completed. 8 to go. These 8 turn out to be a final run through of Theme 'A'.

So in total, the 8-bar theme 'A' has been played seven times. It lingers is your head and you will be humming it for the rest of the day.

Robin wrote this piece during the band's Summer 2015 tour. It was - as he puts it - at first planned as a tune for 'Squeaky Violin'! But, he says: 'Sure sounds a lot better when the band plays it'!

I had the great pleasure of meeting Robin at the French Quarter Festival in April 2015.We had a very enjoyable chat as he prepared his washboard (and his fingers) to go on stage.
I hope we shall hear more of Robin's compositions in the future.

'Breaking News' : Global Traditional Jazz Concerts on YouTube

A correspondent from Connecticut set me thinking. She said it is a wonderful thing that - thanks to YouTube - performances by the bands on Royal Street, New Orleans, can be enjoyed within hours by viewers all over the world. She said it's as if we are all attending a 'Global Concert'.

That's exactly how it is. I constantly receive e-mails from fans saying 'Have you seen this latest YouTube  video? It's terrific.' In my turn, I pass on such tips to other friends. So these performances become what journalists call 'Breaking News', spreading rapidly throughout the world.

The quality of much of the video work is first-class. A recent e-mailer told me that watching some of the videos is 'almost like being right there in the street'. We are all grateful, I'm sure, to the video-makers - those with the codenames digitalalexa, RaoulDuke504, jazzbo43, Dmitriy Prityikin, Wild Bill, guitarded71 and many more.

The musicianship is some of the best to be witnessed anywhere. So we must also be grateful to the musicians, who do not mind their performances being enjoyed free of charge throughout many different countries.
In its turn, however, YouTube is helping to spread the fame of these great bands. Correspondents often tell me they would never have heard of such bands as Tuba Skinny and The Smoking Time Jazz Club and The Shotgun Jazz Band, had it not been for YouTube. And many say they decided to take a vacation in New Orleans as a result of watching these videos.

Yes, how things have changed since the days when the best that fans could do was to save up for the latest 78 rpm record of Jelly Roll Morton or Louis Armstrong. We are indeed fortunate to enjoy the immediate aural and visual gratification that comes from living in the great technological age of Traditional Jazz Concert 'Breaking News'.