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21 December 2014

Traditional Jazz: Ending the Tune

A musician who is uneasy about confusion in bands when they are bringing tunes to an end has asked me to write on this topic. I'm happy to do so, for reasons that will become obvious.

I don't enjoy hearing bands ending a tune in a messy way - and I'm sorry to say this happens all too often. At worst, some of the players in the band think they are on the Out-Chorus and play an 'ending' while others keep going into another Chorus. The result is a shambles. Another type of messy ending occurs when one or two clever-dick players at the end of the tune take it upon themselves to play a few extra notes or start a two-bar or four-bar 'tag', forcing the other players to snatch up their instruments and try (unsuccessfully) to give the impression this was intended.

So this is a topic every band should talk about. A policy should be agreed.

The simplest solution is the 'chopped' ending. I like this. For example, every player stops dead on the first or third beat of the 32nd bar in a 32-bar Out-Chorus. This always has an impact, it sounds dramatic and it impresses the audience. Listen to the end of this performance for example:

But if you must add something, then everybody needs to know that there will be a 2-bar or 4-bar tag (usually through the chord sequence IIm  -  V7  -  I), or even possibly that the final eight bars will be repeated. These endings should be polished at a rehearsal. Or at least they should be discussed and agreed in advance.

Of course it's essential that all members of the band know when the Out-Chorus is happening. The simplest solution is for one musician (most often the trumpet player) to give an indication by raising his instrument and ensuring that all can see it. (When playing seated, sticking out a leg has become a fashionable signal.) But there are more subtle methods. You can surely devise one with your colleagues easily enough.

Sometimes a problem is caused when a singer is delivering the lyrics in what might or might not be the final Chorus. Do we play one more instrumental Chorus after the singer, or do we bring the song to a conclusion on the singer's final note? Someone must clearly decide and signal. 

Another idea is to get away occasionally from the conventional barn-storming Out-Chorus ending. This requires pre-planning or discussion. How about devising a quiet low-octane ending (possibly with only two or three instruments playing the final 16 bars)? It can be very effective and give the audience a pleasant surprise.

Several famous tunes have acquired special codas and endings that have become an almost obligatory part of the performance. Think of Screamin' The BluesJoe Avery's PiecePanama Rag, PasadenaIf you are playing such tunes, you probably know what is required. But in such cases there's no harm in checking first that all members of the band are clear about what they have to do at the end.

Most bands these days play a great fun ending to Climax Rag (an ending which, incidentally, could be used with many other tunes). Everyone needs to know it's coming and that the little 2-bar phrase will be played twice - no more, no less:

20 December 2014

Latest on The Stamford Stompers : A New Band for 2015

Under the leadership of my friend Derek - a clarinet player - four of us recently formed The Stamford Stompers.
We come from towns in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire - counties in the Midlands of England.

Our plan for 2015 is to provide street entertainment from time to time throughout our region. We also hope this may lead occasionally to an invitation to play at a party or wedding or similar event.
Derek has set up a website for the band:
Enter it by clicking here.  And to hear us in action during one of our first appearances on the street (at The Willow Place Shopping Centre in Corby), CLICK HERE.

I'm pleased to say we have already been invited to play at a wedding reception on 12 September.

19 December 2014

Shaye Cohn, Tuba Skinny and 'Salamanca Blues'

A reader asked me who composed Salamanca Blues, which can be heard on Tuba Skinny's 2012 CD 'Rag Band'.

Shaye  (Photo courtesy of an Australian correspondent)
Well, it was composed by none other than Shaye Cohn. As performed on the CD, it is a short, unpretentious, medium-tempo, charming and melodic piece, without a vocal. The whole thing is over in less than three minutes and it comprises just 76 bars (measures), which are made up of six segments:

1. 12-bar simple blues in F, firmly stated as a trombone solo by Barnabus Jones.

2. 16-bar soaring theme in F, just as firmly stated on Shaye's cornet - starting on the high F. There is some lovely tremolo support from the banjo and the harmonies are beautiful.

3. A key change! With no modulation, the full ensemble is straight and decisively led by the cornet into a 12-bar blues in Ab.

4. A second 12-bar ensemble in Ab.

5. Another 12-bar in Ab, this time stated by the banjo with (from Jonathan Doyle's clarinet) some cascading sweetness over a Db chord and also a two-bar solo 'break' - the only break in the 76 bars.

6. A final 12-bar ensemble blues chorus, again firmly started by Shaye on the high F - turning the chord into an Ab6. But, with a slight rallentando, all is brought to a calm neat ending.

Why did Shaye call her composition Salamanca Blues? I don't know. But my guess is it was named for Salamanca in Spain. Tuba Skinny have visited that country, though it seems Shaye may have composed it during a tour in Australia.

By the way, I didn't think there was a YouTube video of Tuba Skinny playing this number; but, since I wrote the above, my friend David Wiseman has let me know that you can watch Tuba Skinny playing Salamanca Blues at 3 minutes 22 seconds into this video:
Better still, do what I did: buy the CD, which also contains such treats as Jackson Stomp, Banjoreno and Russian Rag. Order by going to :  http://tubaskinny.tk/

18 December 2014

'Nearer My God to Thee'

I added Nearer My God to Thee to the handwritten collection of music in my mini filofaxes. It's easy to find on the Internet.

I was surprised to discover that although the famous words of this hymn were composed in 1841 (as a religious poem) they were not set to the music we know them by today until 15 years later.

The poet was Sarah Flower Adams of Loughton, Essex, in England. Here she is:

Her sister Eliza set the poem to music, but Eliza's version did not catch on.

Sarah died young (in 1848) and so did not live long enough to hear her poem become famous when performed to music by Lowell Mason. How very sad!

But Mason, the prolific American composer of hymn tunes, who set it to music in 1856, lived to the age of 80.

Later, other composers - including Sir Arthur Sullivan - produced yet more tunes to which this poem could be sung.

I thought it useful to have Mason's tune in my collection because jazz bands are on rare occasions called upon to play it.

They are also often called on to play What a Friend We Have in Jesus - another hymn that appeared first as a poem. It was written in 1855 by Joseph M. Scriven, an Irishman who had settled in Canada. Fate dealt him severe blows: twice in his life he was engaged to be married and both fiancées died before the marriage could take place.

He wrote the poem as a present to comfort his mother, back in Ireland, with no idea that it would ever be published.

It wasn't until 1868 that Charles Crozat Converse set it to music. Crozat was an American lawyer and composer, who had studied in Leipzig, Germany, and at the Albany Law School in the USA.

17 December 2014

'Meet Me By the Ice House, Lizzie'

Friend Ralph was playing at a jazz gig when someone in the audience requested Meet Me by the Ice House, Lizzie. Unfortunately the band could not oblige as they didn't know this song.

Ralph later did his homework and then told me I might find this number enjoyable if I looked for it on You Tube.

It turned out that Meet Me by the Ice House, Lizzie was made famous in the 1930s by the Hoosier Hotshots. The Hoosier Hotshots (based in America) seem to have combined vaudeville with very good musicianship (including some unusual home-made musical instruments) to produce comic song  recordings that were popular through the middle of the Twentieth Century.

According to one source, Meet Me By the Ice House, Lizzie was composed in 1935 by someone called Cletus M. Wickens.

So I listened to the song performed on YouTube by the Hoosier Hotshots and I had to agree it was a very attractive, amusing number, and well suited to traditional jazz. This is mainly because it has a simple 32-bar structure (16 + 16 [no Middle Eight]), with an elementary chord sequence. Its words are of course comical, so adding a vocal - if your band has a willing singer - would be fun too.

I tried to work it out by ear and came up with the following lead sheet for Meet Me by the Ice House, Lizzie. On the recording, The Hoosiers perform it in the unusual Key of D; but I have put it into F, as this is more comfortable for me on the cornet.