14 June 2018

Post 611 : THE END

In his old age, the composer Joseph Haydn sent to his publishers a final fragment of music (Opus 103) which he no longer felt able to complete.

'Gone is all my strength,' he wrote. 'I am old and weak.'

I'm thinking of the great man's words at this moment, because that is how I feel as I bring this blog to an end. What's more, I am a good deal older than Joseph Haydn was when he wrote those words.

I took up writing these articles a few years ago to keep my mind active in old age and to share with anybody who cared to read them some of the joys that traditional jazz was giving me.

Over the years, dozens of readers kindly emailed to thank me for enhancing their appreciation of the music and for introducing them to bands that have become their favourites, particularly through YouTube. Musicians have told me they have benefited from my occasional suggestions and opinions. I am grateful for such responses: they have been my reward.

Email correspondence from all over the world has introduced me to many new friends and fellow enthusiasts.

But every road must come to an end.

I will not remove the blog from the Internet because people constantly come to its archived articles via search engines.

But I expect the blog will disappear when some Force In The Sky detects that it is defunct and decides to remove it.

Meanwhile, from Pops Coffee: thanks, farewell and good wishes to all readers.

Pops, when aged 80.

13 June 2018


Bringing this Blog to an end, I leave you some recommendations for videos of traditional jazz bands active in recent years. If you have not seen these videos before, I hope you will enjoy them. If you have seen them, I am sure you will enjoy watching them again!

First, for a relaxed, moving, unpretentious but beautifully-played performance, showing just how perfect a musical form traditional jazz can be, try Whenever You're Lonesome, Just Telephone Me played by members of The Shotgun Jazz Band. The video runs for about five minutes:

For an example of a great jazz band playing one of the very complex tunes from our repertoire - Deep Henderson - watch Tuba Skinny in this next video. It runs for a little over three minutes. Notice how all members of the band, working from memory rather than printed arrangements, play wonderfully as an ensemble through all three sections of this challenging piece, not to mention taking in their stride a change of key and linking passages:

Now, for some passionate 'no frills' traditional jazz, coupled with brilliant musicianship and generating great excitement, I would like to offer you a performance of Royal Garden Blues that I myself had the privilege of filming. This one runs for under five minutes:

Next, I offer you a performance of a good old jazz standard - Savoy Blues - played by The Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band. This video runs for a little under five minutes. I recommend it because it shows what happens when six outstanding musicians come together and - with great respect for each other - play wonderfully as a team, just as our bands should. This performance too is unpretentious and yet you will hardly find a better rendition of this piece anywhere:

Finally, if you have time to sit back for a full half hour and watch six outstanding musicians play a varied programme ranging from storming stuff such as Climax Rag to the tender Love Songs of the Nile, may I urge you to watch this video? You will also hear such tunes as Oriental Man, Yearning, Mobile Stomp and I Can't Escape From You. As one observer said, 'It's the kind of music that makes you cry with joy!' Click on it here:

In my opinion, this is the best 'half-hour live concert' video to have appeared in several years.

12 June 2018


Thank goodness the young are keeping our music going.

There is a band called Ragstretch, formed by young people in 2012.
It is impossible for me to work out where this band is based, because its members are Australians and Scandinavians and some of them seem to be living in New York. The musicians also play in other bands and most of them are already well-known on the traditional jazz scene. But when the band Ragstretch comes together, they give brilliant, sparkling, tasteful performances. There are plenty of videos of them for you to explore on YouTube. You could try this version of Panama (played in Copenhagen) for starters: 

In St. Louis, Missouri, The Sidney Street Shakers play exactly the kind of jazz I like best - unpretentious, straightforward, exciting, with good teamwork and just right for dancers.

And note elsewhere The California Feet Warmers - a fairly young band playing slick, well-prepared traditional jazz.

And even in Britain there is hope for the future. Have a look at the videos of The Brownfield/Byrne Hot Six to discover some technically-brilliant swinging jazz being played by chaps who seem to be still in their twenties.

Also from Britain, seek out the videos of Adrian Cox, or Ben Cummings, or The Graham Hughes Sunshine Kings, or Giacomo Smith, or The Basin Street Brawlers. You will have a pleasant surprise.

And in May 2017 a band called The Ten Bells Rag Band was formed in London. The musicians are relatively young and are inspired by such bands as Tuba Skinny in New Orleans. They play some very pleasant traditional jazz.

Elsewhere, you may find such good young bands as Magic Shook Heads and The Hippocampus Jass Gang in the south of France: their videos are worth watching. And in Buenos Aires, you have the Jazz Friends - a terrific, fluent band, whose range of instruments sometimes includes the 'pinkullo' - a South American flute.

In the North-Eastern corner of Italy we find the young Adovabadan Jazz Band of Treviso playing some very tasteful traditional jazz. For example, click here to see them performing Cake Walking Babies From Home.

In Horten (population 27,000), Norway, a group of beginners aged 35 to 55 got together in 2016, modestly called themselves The Sloppy Jazz Newbies, and by the following year were making good progress and starting to attract gigs. You can hear them tackling Big Chief Battleaxe BY CLICKING HERE.

In the Rhine-Neckar area of Germany, a newly-formed band of energetic and enthusiastic young musicians has shown what can be achieved even with a limited range of instruments. They call themselves Die Selbsthilfe-Gruppe (The Self-Help Group) and you can find examples of their work on YouTube.

In Japan, of course, there is a terrific jazz scene around Tokyo. Most of the musicians are still quite young. For an immediate example, have a look at a video of Over The Waves to see what I mean:
Another band formed in recent years is The Stone Arch Jazz Band of Minneapolis, founded by the talented and tasteful clarinet-player Richard Lund. Have a look at their website: Click here to view. And note that the band has already made some stylish videos, such as this one: Click here to view.

The band called The Fat Babies, based in Chicago, are highly respected and I am told they play regularly at The Green Mill Bar in that City. You can find plenty of their videos on YouTube.

And The Dirty River Dixie Band, founded in Texas and playing a very energetic kind of dixieland music, was able to announce towards the end of 2017 that the average age of its members was under 26.

The Dizzy Birds Jazz Band in Berlin is terrific.

And have a listen to The Old Fashion Jazz Band of Santiago, Chile, by clicking here.

And correspondent Michael Meissner has introduced me to Queen Porter Stomp in Sydney, Australia. Here they are, and you can easily find examples of this fine young band's work on YouTube:
Regular correspondent Robert Duis recommends looking at videos of Malo's Hot Five and Attila's Rollini Project; and my friend Anders Winnberg in Sweden has assured me there are plenty of good bands operating in his country, where the Gothenburg Jazz Festival is a major event. Anders reports that the Festival is always held at the beginning of September and that last year there were lots of young people, both in the audience and in the bands. And Ray Andrew in Perth, Australia, has told me the traditional jazz scene is very strong in his city and that the young are being attracted to it. Even Finland - a country remote from New Orleans and with a population of well under six million - has the very pleasant Birger's Ragtime BandAlso in Finland there is a band called Doctor Jazz: it seems to me to be bright and recently formed; and several of the players are relatively young.

Regular reader Phil in the USA has recommended the Moscow-based young bands The Kickipickles and The Moscow Ragtime Band. You may find their work on YouTube.

Above all, of course, there is great old-time jazz being played by YOUNG people on the streets of New Orleans. They offer hope for the future, because the Internet and visits from overseas musician-tourists are spreading their influence very rapidly.

In the days before Hurricane Katrina, you would have thought of Bourbon Street as the main hub for jazz in New Orleans. But now it is Frenchmen Street, in the Faubourg Marigny - a road full of jazz bars and clubs. There are over twenty traditional jazz bands playing professionally in New Orleans - more than at any previous time in jazz history.

To see what I mean, even if you can't get to New Orleans, try spending some time visiting the City on YouTube. You will be amazed at the quality of the traditional jazz being produced by instrumentalists mostly under forty years of age; and there are plenty of singers of outstanding ability too.

You may try any of these groups on YouTube. Just type their names in and indulge yourself with some fine music:

Tuba Skinny
Rhythm Wizards Jazz Band (CLICK HERE to sample their tasteful playing)
Loose Marbles
Little Big Horns
The Cottonmouth Kings
The Dapper Dandies
Smoking Time Jazz Band
Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess
Jenavieve Cook and the Royal Street Winding Boys
Yes Ma'am String Band
The Shotgun JazzBand (led by the dynamic Canadian trumpeter and singer Marla Dixon: CLICK HERE for an exciting example of their work)
Stalebread Scottie and His Gang
The Gentilly Stompers
Eight Dice Cloth
The Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band
Emily Estrella and the Faux Barrio Billionaires (Emily is originally from Cincinatti)
Hokum High Rollers
The Messy Cookers
The Sluetown Strutters
The Palmetto Bug Stompers
John Zarsky and the Trad Stars
The Jazz Vipers
The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys
Orleans 6 (led by the excellent Ben Polcer)
Sour Mash Hug Band
Baby Soda


The book 'Enjoying Traditional Jazz' by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.

11 June 2018


I'm pleased to say there are people (well, three or four!) who regularly turn up to hear the bands in which I play. One of them recently requested that we should include Cheek to Cheek in our next performance.

This caused some consternation. We wondered whether Cheek to Cheek was a suitable tune for a traditional jazz band. It's trickier than standard 32-bar songs, because it runs to 72 bars and the structure is A-A-B-C-A. (Part C is just 8 bars, mainly using minor and diminished chords.)
Our supporter pointed out that the Ken Colyer Band recorded it in 1959. Listen to this by CLICKING HERE.

So we decided to attempt it (in the key of C - as used by Colyer). We adopted Colyer's solution to the challenges. He simply played Cheek to Cheek through three times in a fairly formal manner (total 216 bars [3 x 72]), with ensemble all the way, apart from in a few bars.

We also thought just three choruses would be quite enough. We played two ensemble, with our clarinet player providing a pretty good vocal between them. It turned out reasonably well, but I think it would be foolhardy for anyone (in our band at least) to attempt a full improvised chorus over the 72 bars.


The book Playing Traditional Jazz by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.