7 December 2016

Post 453: AMPLIFICATION

I have written before about the amplification of music by electronic methods. My opinion has always been that - whenever and wherever possible - musicians should play without artificial amplification. Nothing is better than hearing the tones of all the instruments (and of the 'conversations' between them) in their natural glory. It's the same with chamber music: who would want to hear the sweet notes of a string quartet distorted through an amplification system?

In the street, and in smaller indoor venues, it is usually possible for traditional jazz bands to play very effectively without a microphone or P.A. system in sight.

However, I accept there are occasions when the use of some amplification is unavoidable. Maybe the singer needs to use a microphone in order to be clearly heard. Maybe, in large venues, most of the instruments have to be amplified over a P.A. system, with several microphones in use.

I mention the subject again because a recent conversation gave me further food for thought. A clarinet-player friend of mine, who has been playing traditional jazz for decades, told me the following story about a concert he attended many years ago.

He said Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen were giving a performance and for some reason (maybe a technical problem) they had to play the entire first set without any amplification. My friend said they sounded like a good but ordinary 'amateur' band. But for the second set the powerful P.A. system was working and suddenly they sounded like a different band - very professional - the Kenny Ball Band people knew and loved.

I wonder why that was. My theory is that the audience was familiar with the tunes as recorded through microphones in the studios (Kenny had a number of 'hits' - think of So Do I, Midnight in Moscow, Samantha, The Green Leaves of Summer) and - over the P.A. system they suddenly sounded more like the records fans had been hearing on the radio and buying in the shops. That is to say, the music was complete with the effects produced when electricity was allowed to process it a little. This would be helped by the fact that in public performances the Band virtually always played exactly the same arrangements as it had used on the records.

But maybe I am wrong.

4 December 2016

Post 452: 'I CAN'T ESCAPE' - 'YOU CAN'T ESCAPE' ?

Here's something we need to sort out.

In 1936, Leo Robin and Richard Whiting composed a song called I Can't Escape From You. You can watch Bing Crosby singing it in the 1936 movie 'Rhythm on the Range' BY CLICKING HERE.  

Then in 1939, a song called You Can't Escape From Me was composed by Charles French (words) and Sammy Lowe and Erskine Hawkins (music). You can hear the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra recording of it BY CLICKING HERE.

And in 1944 George Lewis recorded (in the San Jacinto Hall) a tune he called San Jacinto Stomp, though it is clearly the Erskine Hawkins tune You Can't Escape From Me. You can check this: listen to George Lewis BY CLICKING HERE. Many traditional jazz bands since then have played it under the title San Jacinto Stomp.

But, adding to the confusion, I Can't Escape From You and You Can't Escape From Me are very similar in structure. They use virtually the same chord progression. So it's not surprising that bandleaders often (incorrectly) tell you that I Can't Escape is also known as San Jacinto Stomp.

The words of You Can't Escape From Me are nothing special. On the other hand, the words of I Can't Escape From You (you heard them in the Bing Crosby film clip) are fun to sing.

So, it's possible today to play a song you call I Can't Escape, actually using the tune of You Can't Escape, even though your words are those of I Can't Escape! Confusing, isn't it?

The result can be exhilarating. It's what happens when Marla Dixon performs with The Shotgun Jazz Band. Sample her performance BY CLICKING HERE.

Marla's husband, John, has added further enlightenment (or confusion!) by telling me the song is also Not to be confused with 'I Can't Escape From You' by Hank Williams, the lyrics of which also work on top of that familiar 32-bar pattern! You can find the Hank Williams performance on YouTube.

Finally, with deepest gratitude to my friend John Whitehorn, here is the sheet music for You Can't Escape:

1 December 2016

Post 451: BLOGGING ABOUT OUR MUSIC

New Orleans, April 2015
Mrs. Pops Coffee met one of our favourite musicians:
Todd Burdick
('Mr. Tuba Skinny' himself)
I mentioned to Mrs. Pops Coffee yesterday that I sometimes feel guilty spending so much time at my computer when I ought to be doing something of practical use to my family. I am typically six hours a day in front of the screen, mostly answering jazz-related correspondence, but also planning, researching, and writing articles, striving to achieve a balance of observation, opinion and scholarship.

I took up blogging as a hobby, to share what I was learning about traditional jazz. But now - though totally without pay - it feels like a full-time job! There have been almost half a million 'visits' to this Blog. My sitemeter tells me most of my readers are in the USA, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, France, Sweden, Russia, The Netherlands and Canada - in that order. Many of you have let me know you appreciate what I am trying to do. That is very rewarding.

My wife, by the way, replied that writing a blog was the ideal hobby for a very old guy like me because it has slowed down the progress of dementia.

Maybe; but it hasn't helped me remember what I was looking for when I came into the room.

28 November 2016

Post 450: WHERE CAN I BUY THE SHEET MUSIC?

I often receive emails from people who ask me whether I can help them by providing music, usually for particular tunes that have taken their fancy. More often than not, I am unable to do so.

I was also approached after a performance by a young man in the audience who said he was learning the trumpet and asked whether he could 'borrow the music for a few days' so that he could learn the tunes our jazz band had just played. Unfortunately, I could not oblige: the 'music' was in our heads and not on paper.

So, if you are learning to play a musical instrument and want eventually to be in a traditional jazz band, where can you get the music? 

Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible these days to go into a music shop and buy off the shelf a dixieland band arrangement of, say, Maple Leaf Rag, or sheet music for Steamboat Stomp.

So picking tunes up from old recordings by ear is one solution. And it is a method we occasionally resort to.

But if you hunt on the Internet, you can find some sites that will help you. In particular I recommend the site of that fine, generous, Swedish musician Lasse Collin:
If you use Lasse's materials, you will have enough to keep your band going for years. He provides clear lead sheets, giving the melody line and the chords in a simple form. That's just what you and your band need.

Another possibility is to buy buskers' books (fake books). These also provide collections of lead sheets.
Second-hand copies of these are cheaply available on Internet auctions. But be careful to buy those that contain tunes that will definitely be of use in traditional jazz. Many fake books - despite their bulk - contain very little that will be of use to you.