27 July 2017

Post 531: WHAT IS GOING ON?

I received an interesting request. A reader said he likes traditional jazz but doesn't understand how it works. He asked me to pick a video of a band playing a tune and to 'talk him through it', explaining what is going on.

I am happy to do this and will try not to be too technical, though I think you may appreciate it if I at least make a small number of technical points that everyone should be able to grasp.
I have selected The Loose Marbles playing Take Me Out To The Ball Game in the video you may watch by clicking on this link:

We have to thank the video-maker 'Wild Bill' for filming it.

As it happens, this is also a very good performance, demonstrating well what great musicians can do with simple material.

So what do we find?

Take Me Out To The Ball Game - like hundreds of our tunes, comprises 32 bars. This means that, to get through it once, you beat one-two-three-four 32 times. The Loose Marbles choose to play through it seven times, so they play 7 x 32 = 224 bars in all. To put it another way, this means the performance contains 224 x 4 beats, making 896 beats in all - if you should wish to count! They play the tune entirely in the key of Bb, which is the most commonly used key in traditional jazz.

Throughout the performance, note how the rhythm players beat out a pulsating  but fairly gentle four-to-the bar, driving the music along in a most exciting way. (So many bands fail to achieve this.)

I have said the band runs through the tune seven times. So what happens in each of those seven choruses?

CHORUS ONE: 01 seconds - 32 seconds. Unusually, it is the clarinet who firmly states the tune, but note how tastefully he is supported by the trombone and trumpet.

CHORUS TWO: 32 seconds - 1 minute 03 seconds. This time, Barnabus on trombone presents the melody, but the clarinet and trumpet now provide decoration.

CHORUS THREE: 1 minute 03 seconds - 1 minute 36 seconds. Now the trumpet takes the lead; but the clarinet and trombone do not drop out. They give subtle, decorative support. By the end of this Chorus, the rhythm players have obviously had to go through the tune's chord progression three times, pumping out 3  x 32 x 4 beats = 384 beats! Get it? All of the rhythm players are working to the same chord chart. If they didn't, something would sound wrong. Here's how the chords for the 32 bars of this tune seem (to me) to run. You will notice that the musicians do not need to have this chart in front of them. They have memorised it.
Bb
Bb
Cm
F7
Bb
Bb
Cm
F7
G7
G7
Cm
Cm
C7
C7
F7
F7
Bb
Bb
F7
F7
Bb
Bb7
Eb
Eb
Cm7
Gb7
Bb
G7
C7
F7
Bb
Bb

CHORUS FOUR: 1 minute 36 seconds - 2 minutes 06 seconds. For variety (and to give the 'front row' a little rest), this chorus is taken by the banjo. The great John Dixon gives us a very fine 32 bars.

CHORUS FIVE: 2 minutes 07 seconds - 2 minutes 39 seconds. Robin plays this as a percussion solo, improvising 32 bars for us. Note that, while he does so, Todd, Julie and John provide punctuation, striking some chords (for example, the first beat of every other bar) to remind us where we are in the tune.

CHORUS SIX: 2 minutes 39 - 3 minutes 08 seconds. Marla takes this as a vocal. Note how the pulsating 4-to-the-bar rhythm is maintained behind her. And, at 3 minutes 05 seconds, watch the leader Michael hold up one finger to signal to the band that he wants just one more chorus. So everybody clearly knows when the tune must be brought to an end and they can work to make this final chorus something of a climax.

CHORUS SEVEN: 3 minutes 09 seconds - 3 minutes 42 seconds. This is indeed a fine ensemble chorus. You may also note that Robin plays a double beat on the drum at 3 minutes 34 seconds and again at 3 minutes 35 seconds. This respects a very old tradition: for many decades it has been the custom in marching brass bands for the drummer to give this signal just eight bars before the end of a tune, to make absolutely sure everybody knows it is coming to an end.

The last thing to observe is that the tune ends abruptly on the third beat of the final bar - the 32nd bar. The fourth beat (the 896th beat of the performance) is left completely silent. This a clever and effective way of ending tunes - especially quick ones. Its use is widespread. (Sometimes a band adds a 'tag' or 'coda' - an extra little phrase to round the piece off; but I like the chopped 'sudden death' ending, as demonstrated so well here by The Loose Marbles.)

24 July 2017

Post 530: LOTS OF SUGAR

Maceo Pinkard
He also composed 'Sweet Georgia Brown'
and 'Them There Eyes'
Robert Duis, who frequently emails me and is a band-leader in Holland, discovered that there is more than one song called Sugar that traditional jazz bands play.

I suppose it's not surprising that composers used this word as a title at a time when it was very fashionable to call your sweetheart 'Sugar'.

And, if you think about it, you recall that 'sugar' appears frequently in titles and lyrics, for example, Sugar Blues, Sugar BabeWhen I Take My Sugar To Tea, When My Sugar Walks Down The Street and 'You're My Sugar' (in Honeysuckle Rose).

With my interest aroused by Robert's email, I explored this topic.

The tune I have always thought of as Sugar was composed by Maceo Pinkard, Sidney D. Mitchell, and Edna Alexander and was recorded by Ethel Waters in 1926. It has a pleasant story-telling Verse and then a 32-bar Chorus beginning with the words The name is 'Sugar'. I call my baby my 'Sugar'. It is a song with a Middle Eight and an aaba structure. You can hear Ethel singing it BY CLICKING HERE.

But, as Robert discovered, there is a different Sugar recorded by Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra the following year (1927). It seems that this one was composed by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager. Its bouncy Chorus begins with the words Don't you know who she is? Looking right at me is 'Sugar'.  You can hear this song BY CLICKING HERE. It is another 32-bar (but this time 16 + 16), very pleasant and easy to improvise on. In the recording it has no Verse and I do not know whether it ever had one. You can also hear the Red Nichols' Stompers playing it in 1927 BY CLICKING HERE.

And - would you believe it? - there was yet another Sugar. This was composed by George W. Meyer and Joe Young. It was recorded by Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra in 1931. It is a bright up-tempo tune and includes a Verse. The distinguishing first words of the Chorus are Sugar, that's what I'll name you, Sugar. I'll come and claim you, Sugar. This is probably the easiest of the three to play. It has a very simple chord sequence. Enjoy this one BY CLICKING HERE.
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Finally, wow! Almost as soon as this post appeared, I received this email from friend and frequent correspondent David Withers in New Zealand:-

Hi Ivan,
The Temperance Seven recorded all of these versions of Sugar and called it 'The Tate & Lyle Suite.' A very English title no doubt. I have it somewhere in my CD collection, but since the earthquakes when we had to move out of our house for repairs I don't know which box it is in. I do know however, that it was a Lake Records CD (i.e. a British CD label).
Regards,
David Withers
Christchurch, NZ

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Footnote: I have found it in the Lake Records catalogue. The CD is called:

THE TEMPERANCE SEVEN – PASADENA & THE LOST CYLINDERS

21 July 2017

Post 529: THE GOLD STANDARD - A RECENT CORRESPONDENCE

E-MAIL 1
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Hi I,
Just to set on record how much Barry, Bruce and I thoroughly enjoyed this lunchtime's jazz session at the D&G. What a splendid group of musicians, and all of you 'gelling' in the tunes you played. We agreed that it was the most enjoyable musical event we'd been to for a very long time. I hope the same group can be gathered again for another performance - it really was outstandingly good.
Goes to prove a theory I developed decades ago that the functions one thinks could be a bit 'dodgy' - you had warned me! - often turn out to be excellent.
C.
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E-MAIL 2
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Hi C,
Thanks very much for the kind compliments. I am glad you enjoyed the performance.
I thought we did well but that so much could have been better. I have been spoilt by frequent exposure to the playing of Tuba Skinny and The Shotgun Jazz Band. They are the Gold Standard. So, whenever I play in any band, I am all too aware of how our performance compares with theirs.
Always, I find us defective in many respects. I think we could improve our playing just a little if we had rehearsals and if we discussed and analysed our playing intelligently and critically.
But the truth is: we old guys are simply not good enough. We do our best and can be reasonably entertaining but we are many miles short of the top-quality stuff.
Best wishes,
I.
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E-MAIL 3
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Hi I,
I think we can all appreciate the Gold Standard whenever we come across it, whether it be in the arts, sport or any other field of human endeavour. That it's given to so few people to reach is what makes it special and admirable.
But if we all tried to reach that sort of standard in our chosen fields of activity, there would be much disappointment and the suicide rate would rocket!
We live in the English East Midlands, not in New Orleans, and I think we should treasure the talent that the region has to offer us - not least musically. OK, not Shotgun or Tuba Skinny, but I really don't think that matters at all - Thursday's outing to the D&G had three of us singing the band's praises on the way home.
Incidentally, the ride to and from the D&G in Bruce's new, automatic, 4-seater sports Mercedes was a treat in itself: the technology in that car is quite remarkable. It can do just about everything short of making a dry martini!
C.
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E-MAIL 4
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Dear C,
Thanks as ever for talking good sense to me.
I think if you want a Mercedes that serves dry martini, you need the 2017 E Class Coupé.
I don't feel 'suicidal' about my inability to play like the youngsters in New Orleans, though I am envious and frustrated.
Your comparison with sport is spot on. When, long ago (in 1988) I took part in The London Marathon, even though I finished 10956th, two hours behind the winner, I was on a high for days afterwards. It's the same with playing jazz: I feel exhilarated by the attempt, despite the frustrations.
Best wishes,
I.

18 July 2017

Post 528: EH LA BAS - LET'S TALK CREOLE PATOIS

There are a few good old songs in our repertoire that date from the days when Creole patois was still widely spoken in Louisiana. I believe it probably is still spoken. I well remember, on my first visit to America about 30 years ago, somewhere near Lafayette meeting a couple of elderly gentlemen who were sheltering from the heat in the shade of a moss-covered oak. One of them was playing an accordion. They were speaking in 'Creole' and I struggled to converse in my almost-forgotten schoolboy French, but we managed to understand each other enough to exchange plenty of thoughts.

If you know a bit of French, you can get some of the meaning; but you notice that most of the rules of French grammar and spelling have gone to the wall, and familiar words are compressed.

The great Humphrey Lyttelton used to play an exciting tune called Ce Mossieu Qui Parle. This was taken to mean 'This man who is speaking'. But, as Humphrey himself said, it might originally have been C'est moi seule qui parle ('It's only me who's speaking.')

The most famous of the tunes our bands still play is Eh La Bas. Potentially, it has plenty of verses. But here is quite enough of the song for most people (with French and English translations):

Eh la bas! Eh la bas! Eh la bas, chèri! Komon sa va?
(Eh la bas! Eh la bas! Eh la bas, chéri. Comment  ça va?)

(Hey there! Hey there! Hey there, m'love! How's things?)

Mo chè kouzen, mo chè kouzin, mo lenme la kizin!

(Mon cher cousin, ma chère cousine, j'aime la cuisine)
(My dear cousin, my dear cousin(ess), I love cooking)

Mo manje plen, mo bwa diven, e sa pa kout ariyen.
(Je mange beaucoup, je bois du vin et ça ne coûte rien.)
(I eat plenty, I drink wine and that costs nothing.)

Ye tchwe kochon, ye tchwe lapen, e mo manje plen.
(On tue cochon, on tue lapin, et je mange beaucoup.)
(They kill a  pig, they kill a rabbit, and I eat till I'm full.)

Ye fe gonmbo, mo manje tro, e sa fe mon malad.
(On fait gumbo, je mange trop et ça me rend malade.)
(They make gumbo, I eat too much and that makes me sick.)

The reason why I am thinking of this topic today is that I enjoyed the performance of this song by the all-ladies Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band at the Abita Springs Buskers Festival in April 2017. Marla Dixon had a really good shot at singing the words (all the above and more, I think!). You can watch the performance again by going to

https://livestream.com/accounts/21714146/events/7258879

Click on the second from the top of the four available videos. You will then need to slide the control button along to 1 hour 40 minutes 30 seconds, which is where the song begins.

You can also enjoy the late great Danny Barker performing the song clearly and with many verses BY CLICKING HERE.