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17 September 2014

Recommended Jazz From Japan: The New Orleans Jazz Hounds

American friend and correspondent Richard Lund recommended that I should take a look at The New Orleans Jazz Hounds filmed not long ago at the Asakusa Hub, Tokyo, Japan, playing the great old Sam Morgan number Bogalusa Strut. The result was a delight:

The video had been put up by a generous video-maker codenamed ragtimecave.

Give it a try. This is traditional jazz as it should be played, in the opinion of many, including myself. It is relaxed, melodious and unpretentious. Ensemble playing is of a high class, with the obviously happy musicians responding well to each other. There are one or two microphones around (really for vocals) but essentially the band plays acoustically and fairly quietly. There is no overblowing or exhibitionism. Every instrument can be clearly heard. We are allowed to enjoy the instruments of the back line (notably the very impressive young lad on banjo) just as much as those of the front.

The musical arrangement (including such devices as 'taking fours') is not complex but it avoids the usual tedious series of clarinet-trumpet-trombone solos. Watch the video by clicking here.

One thing leads to another. I discovered there are plenty more videos of this band on YouTube - nearly all of them familiar traditional jazz numbers given the same refreshing treatment.

You may think it's easy to form a band like this one: it all looks so simple. But believe me it is not. All members need to have the same philosophy and approach to teamwork and presentation. It's a rare achievement to assemble seven musicians like The New Orleans Jazz Hounds and produce traiditonal jazz of that quality.

16 September 2014

Great New CD From The Shotgun Jazz Band

The Shotgun Jazz Band has recently released a CD that is likely to prove very popular. If you would like to buy it, go to 

and follow the instructions. You can download it directly to your computer. It is expected that hard copies will also be on sale soon.

All sixteen tracks of the CD were recorded in one session without an audience at Luthjen's Dance Hall in New Orleans. For bands with less stamina, it would have been an exhausting undertaking. The acoustics are terrific but obviously the emptiness of the building meant that it lacked the atmosphere that comes from having an audience. The recording is well balanced: you hear all instruments and vocals clearly.

The Band on the day comprised Marla Dixon (trumpet), John Dixon (banjo), Tyler Thomson (string bass), Justin Peake (percussion), Ben Polcer (piano), Charlie Halloran (trombone) and James Evans (reeds).

As well as playing the trumpet in a bold, forthright manner, Marla also delivers lusty, emotional vocals, in which one of her specialities is the thrilling rising glissando.

The rock-steady rhythm section, which is responsible for much of the band's distinctive house style, is on superb form throughout. The combination of Justin Peake (one of my favourite drummers), Tyler Thomson and John Dixon would be hard to beat. What a joy it must be for any 'front-line' players to be pumped along by them.

Here are the tunes on the CD:

I Believe I Can Make It By Myself
Sammy Penn with the Kid Thomas Band used to make a big feature of this 12-bar tune in Bb. The Shotgun Band gives it a raw treatment, with much trumpet growling and flattened thirds as well as a lusty vocal from Marla.
You Always Hurt The One You Love
This sets a great foot-tapping tempo. The rhythm section shines. Note the unusual key change - after a start in Bb, Marla sings the vocal gently in Eb and later more powerfully in Bb.
Get A Working Man
Marla offers a vocal with a message for the ladies. A new song to me. It seems to have a 16-bar verse and a 32-bar chorus (to my ear harmonically very much like It's a Long Way to Tipperary). James' fluid solo (backed so well by Charlie and the Rhythm Section) distinctly demonstrates the Shotgun house style.
This raggy number which I think Lil Hardin composed for King Oliver's Band in 1923 (when they recorded it) is technically challenging but the Shotguns make light work of it. The tune is played fast (as by King Oliver) and, although it's full ensemble all the way, there are some nice 'breaks' for James.
Marla delivers a pleasant vocal (complete with Verse) right from the start, with solid backing from Ben, John, Tyler and Justin. Then there's a nice relaxed chorus featuring the clarinet and trombone again, with the chosen key (F) suited very well to James' higher register.
This standard from 1925 seems to be a favourite with the Shotgun players. They played it in the great Abita Springs video. (Click here to see it.) Marla offers a punchy trumpet and vocal and there is a pleasant 16-bars-each chorus shared by James and Charlie.
Every band plays this tune from 1918. So how do the Shotguns make it fresh? With terrific front-line interplay; some Kid Thomas-style attack; and a vocal from Marla.
He'll Have To Go
This is one of two tunes in waltz time on the CD. Imagine Careless Love played slowly in 3/4. It's harmonically similar. Composed by Joe and Audrey Allison, it was a hit for Jim Reeves in 1959. Much of the performance consists of a gentle vocal from Marla, well supported by Ben. There are a few bars of special beauty when James leads with the melody in the ensemble. 
Over In The Gloryland
This spiritual is another tune that most bands play. Some musicians don't like it because of its very limited harmonic pattern. But the Shotguns make it last for over six minutes and leave you wanting more. There is hearty singing and great collective improvisation. (The song is also played sensationally well in the Abita Springs video mentioned above.)
I Love You So Much It Hurts
This is a country and western number recorded (and probably written) by Floyd Tillman in 1948. The Shotguns give a no-frills straight-ahead performance of the 32-bar simple tune. They choose not to offer a vocal.
Kentucky Blues
I don't know the origin of this tune. (There are at least two other different tunes with this title). It seems to have two themes (16-bar and a standard 12-bar). The arrangement is the most sophisticated on this CD - from a band that normally does not bother with very sophisticated arrangements. The lovely clarinet of James Evans is well featured.
Love In Bloom
James is singing this one a great deal recently at the band's performances. He is no mean vocalist. It's a very nice song composed in 1934 by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger. James also plays some lovely fluid clarinet with Marla (unconventionally using a standard mute) in the background. It's one of two tunes played in Ab. The other is Gloryland, of course.
Mobile Stomp
This famous number (written and recorded by the Sam Morgan Band in 1927) is also on the Abita Springs video. I like the rock-steady work from all members of the band, especially at its more delicate moments. Note the saxophone's second chorus against offbeats; and the amusing 'quadruple' ending.
You Broke Your Promise
This 1949 pop song by Wyle, Taylor and Pole was a favourite with the early Preservation Hall bands. In an unpretentious performance of this 32-bar tune, Marla offers a nice clear vocal - a help to those of us who want to learn the words. As in You Always Hurt The One You Love, above, she drops the key (to C) for her first vocal but sings her second vocal higher - in F - the key in which the rest of the performance is played. This must be a device she enjoys. It certainly is effective in setting the two vocals in contrast.
Tennessee Waltz
This is the second tune in 3/4 time. It's also the most touching tune on the CD. Marla sings the sad words about lost love, with good instrumental support from James and Charlie. A beautiful melody, gently presented.
I'll See You In My Dreams
The famous Isham Jones and Sammy Kahn song from 1924. No vocal is offered; and they do not make the mistake of taking it too slowly. Charlie's trombone gives a melodious lead; and there is some lovely ensemble playing.

14 September 2014

Traditional Jazz: Managing A Band

It's tough being a traditional jazz band manager. That's why I think it's the duty of all members of a band to support their manager in every way they can and to appreciate his efforts on their behalf.

What do you think is the most important skill a band manager needs? Playing an instrument outstandingly well? Wrong. If you want to run a band that attracts plenty of worthwhile gigs, your business skills are likely to be more important than your musical skills.

In my view, here's what a band manager needs.

1. Business and marketing skills
Publicise your band in the most effective ways. And always have business cards available. 
2. Customer-relation skills
Courteous and meticulous attention to customers' comments and correspondence.
3. Common sense
For example, don't waste time quoting a fee the client obviously can't afford. Don't play music inappropriate to the occasion.
4. Musical expertise
Obviously essential, but less important than business skills.
5. Optimism
Don't be disheartened by knocks and setbacks. Always smile and look cheerful on stage.
6. Policy
Costume, style, repertoire, etc. Read my blog post about this by clicking here.
7. Willingness to devolve
Let other members of the band be the Musical Director and the Announcer if they are better qualified for these duties.
8. Man management
Recruit the right musicians and keep all members of your band content and well-behaved - and happy to be part of the team.
9. A sense of humour
An obvious help - especially in the jazz world.

10 September 2014

Fletcher Henderson's 'Variety Stomp'; and The Low Down Sires

Regular readers may remember I spent time a year ago trying to find out the title of a tune played in a video of Tuba Skinny. It's a tricky, exciting tune with three themes and a couple of bridges. It's in G minor and Bb. Have a listen.

Well, there was a response to my plea for help, so I informed the person who posted the video and who was also asking for the title. So the title was added to the video.

Mick Glasgow was the kind gentleman who sent me the title:

It is Variety Stomp, recorded by the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in 1927. The composers were given on the original recording as Joe Trent, Ray Henderson and Bud Green.

I was so grateful to Mick Glasgow, as he put an end to my sleepless nights!

had not heard of Mick before, but he plays trumpet or cornet in a band called The Low Down Sires and they are based in Asheville, North Carolina.

With great pleasure, I checked out Mick's band on YouTube. They seem to go out usually as a five-piece, with a three-man rhythm section but no reed player. They play their jazz just how I like it - tunefully and unpretentiously. You can find them in several videos, but this one is a special joy because it shows what a wonderful effect our music can have on VERY small children.

8 September 2014

Speaking To Your Audience: It's Traditional Jazz

I remember a classical music concert at the Wigmore Hall in London. At the start, amidst applause, the musicians walked on to the stage, and without a word took their seats, played their two pieces, bowed and went off. After the Interval, exactly the same procedure occurred.

The musicians were some of the best in the world. Their playing was sublime. But throughout the two hours of the concert, nobody spoke one word to the audience. This is a convention with some classical music performers, but I think it is a pity. 

I have attended some classical concerts where the musicians have told the audience something about the music and have given a few other bits of information about themselves and where else they will be playing. On one occasion The Wihan String Quartet pleased the audience with a question-and-answer session.

In traditional jazz, too, when you have been booked to give a formal concert and your audience is politely seated, listening attentively to all you play, I think it is important for the band leader - or someone acting as spokesperson/announcer - to have a few words with the audience between tunes.
Speaking to the Audience:
Kenny Ball was a jazz musician who
set a good example.
This is good for achieving a rapport and is also helpful in letting the audience know something about the tunes, the history of our music and about the band.

It is inexcusable to take no notice of the audience between the end of one tune and the start of another, as I have often seen bands do. Why do some bands not even tell the audience the titles of tunes with which they may be unfamiliar?

Remarks to audiences don't have to be profound or scholarly. They can be relatively trivial. For example, you could say which towns the musicians come from. You could say where you have been performing recently. You could tell them it's the banjo player's birthday. Little scraps like this help to establish a good relationship.

And don't feel compelled to tell jokes. There's no need to do so unless your timing and delivery are good and the jokes are of a kind that will not give offence.

Speaking to an audience is not easy. So regard this as another skill you need to develop. It may even be worth practising things you will say.

Something else to avoid is the poor discipline we often witness. Between tunes, members of the band on stage talk among themselves and guffaw at each other's comments - while the audience is left with no idea what is going on.

And there's no excuse for the band members to argue among themselves about what to play next, while the audience sits waiting. From the audience's point of view, this kind of behaviour is irritating. But some bands are guilty. Cut it out!