25 April 2017


On Sunday 23 April 2017 the annual Buskers Festival was held at Abita Springs, on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. For those of you who don't know the area, it's about 45 miles north of New Orleans.

Six fine bands played for an hour each between midday and early evening. They included some of our favourites, such as The Hokum High Rollers, The Gentilly Stompers, the all-ladies Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band and Tuba Skinny

It was a glorious event; and the great news is that the New Orleans radio station WW0Z made excellent videos of the entire proceedings. 

Many of you have told me you have become big fans of the Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band. They gave a lovely performance in which, as usual, the ladies played some outstanding traditional jazz, while making it all look so relaxed and simple, which of course it isn't. The fluidity of some of Chloe's improvisations was mind-boggling; but the playing from the entire band was outstanding. And Molly was a power-house on guitar and also contributed vocals on Sweet Substitute and My Silent Love.

The programme included those old favourites The Onions (though surprisingly the audience did not seem aware that they were required to shout 'Onions' in all the breaks!) and Eh La Bas, with Marla singing the original creole patois. Dizzy's playing was spot-on as usual; and she was featured on Washboard Wiggles.

And Haruka was on her usual fine form.

Other highlights were Savoy Blues, Shake It and Break It and When You Wore a Tulip – one of several vocals delivered by Chloe.

It was so good to be able to watch Julie in close-up and admire what a fine string bass player she has become. She told me in 2016 (the only occasion when I have had the privilege of speaking with her) that she had not been playing the instrument for many months.
Yet now Julie is one of the best bass players on the New Orleans scene, accurate, rock-solid - a driving force.

I imagine this band rarely has the chance to get together to discuss repertoire and rehearse, so the slickness and teamwork are all the more impressive.

But enough from me. Watch the video for yourself. Go to:
There you will see (on the right of the page) that the entire Festival has been divided into four videos. To find Shake 'Em Up, click on the second from the top - the one that runs for 2 hours and 8 minutes. Slide the time bar to about 1 hour 9 minutes for the start of their performance.

Elsewhere in the four videos, you will be able to listen to all the other bands at the Festival, including Tuba Skinny playing such tunes as Pearl River Stomp, Cold Morning Shout, Bellamina, Fireworks, Kansas City Stomps and (for the first time on video?) Come On and Stomp Stomp Stomp.

22 April 2017


There are plenty of wonderful young musicians around the globe who have discovered the musical styles and repertoire of a century ago and are playing traditional jazz with great skill and passion.

Recently two more groups have come to my attention. In Brazil, guitarist Cleber Guimarães has been developing his fine, swinging band called Fizz Jazz, and you can watch a good example of their work - 'Sunday Swing' - a piece composed by Cleber himself - BY CLICKING HERE. 

The other group is The Milk Crate Bandits, based in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and led by banjo-playing singer Jack Ray. You can easily find examples of their work on YouTube. Late in 2016 they travelled to New Orleans and, for a great acoustic, recorded several tunes in the building that was the former Luthjen's Dance Hall - and is today the Marigny Recording Studios. I understand that two EPs should be available from May 2017 onwards.

For an immediate example of what is going on in Japan, where there are many well-trained traditional jazz musicians, have a look at a video of Over The Waves played by young musicians in Tokyo:
I constantly hear of new young bands setting up, (though sadly not as many as I would wish in my own country). There is The Stone Arch Jazz Band in 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 2016 that the average age of its members was under 25.

The situation in such countries as Australia, Germany, Canada, Spain, Italy and Denmark, as far as I can tell, gives some encouragement.

The Dizzy Birds Jazz Band in Berlin is terrific.

And correspondent Michael Meissner 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 from Holland 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. 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.

And in Japan, especially, as I indicated above, traditional jazz seems to be going through a boom period. Some of the best in the world is being played in Tokyo. Seek out the performances on YouTube made by the video-maker codenamed ragtimecave.

So, we do not have to accept that traditional jazz is on the way out!

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.

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 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.

All terrific stuff. So heart-warming; and giving great hope for the future.

Above all, I can tell you there is great old-time jazz being played by YOUNG people on the streets of New Orleans; and I believe the Internet is spreading their influence so rapidly that there will be yet another big revival of this kind of music.

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 on YouTube. You will be amazed at the quality of the traditional jazz being produced by instrumentalists in their twenties and thirties; and there are plenty of singers of outstanding ability too.

I have written before about Tuba Skinny and The Shotgun Jazz Band - currently the best of all the groups. They are not only technically brilliant; they also take great care over arrangements and presentation of tunes, and they have been reviving great old melodies that were in danger of being forgotten. Have a good look and listen to their work. But here are some examples of other New Orleans bands you may care to investigate on YouTube:

Rhythm Wizards Jazz Band (CLICK HERE to sample their tasteful playing)
Loose Marbles
Little Big Horns
The Cottonmouth Kings
Smoking Time Jazz Band
Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess
Jenavieve Cook and the Royal Street Winding Boys
Yes Ma'am String Band
The Gentilly Stompers
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)

And even in Britain there is some hope.

The great Ewan Bleach, who spent several months in New Orleans playing regularly with Tuba Skinny and other bands, is involved in several enterprises. In particular, he leads The Cable Street Rag Band in the Limehouse area of London. Robin Rapuzzi recommends this band. He told me: 'I've had the honor of playing with them the last couple summers. Those guys are great. They can play everything from straight and narrow ragtime compositions to gorgeous waltzes and hot, hot dance numbers'. Try them for yourself: there are several videos on YouTube. 'Hot' they certainly are. (You should spot Robin himself guesting on washboard in one of the videos.)

And 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.

am sure there must be many other such bands around the world. I would be pleased to receive more information.

19 April 2017


W. C. Handy's house in Memphis.
Friend and video-maker James Sterling filmed The Shotgun Jazz Band playing W. C. Handy's Ole Miss Rag at The Spotted Cat in New Orleans. It is a remarkable performance, not least because of the 'authentic' interpretation of this tune that Marla Dixon and her colleagues offer us.

Numerous tunes over the decades have become altered, simplified or corrupted, so that jazz bands playing the tunes today can offer various versions - and they are all accepted as 'correct'.

When we play Ole Miss Rag, we usually treat it as having just two simple themes. I am sure you know them. The first starts with these four bars:
This theme comprises 16 bars (played twice to make 32), though there is usually a 'tag' stretching them to 20 bars as they lead into the second theme, which is also played in F. Its first four bars are:

And bands stick on that second theme for their improvisations. That's all there is to it!

At least, that's how hundreds of bands play this piece, including (I admit) bands in which I have played.

But we are all WRONG! Marla and her team have given us a version that is faithful and authentic in sticking to what Handy wrote - and what he himself played. Listen to a wonderful historic recording of Handy's own band playing the piece in 1917:
Notice how it has a well-composed Introduction and also a substantial middle theme of 32 bars. We have dropped both of those features from our performances. What's more, it changes key from F to Bb for the final theme (correctly known as the 'Trio'). Today's bands have forgotten this key change.

Now watch and listen to The Shotgun's version:
Note how from 23 seconds until 1 minute 03 seconds the band is playing the middle section that the rest of us omit. And note how, for the final theme (the 'Trio') at 1 minute 23 seconds they correctly switch into the key of Bb, while the rest of us incorrectly stay in F.

In 'Comments' beneath the video, Shotgun member John Dixon has said All the credit to Twerk, James and Boeddinghaus for transcribing the original W. C. Handy version - what may best be described as the beautiful mess. There's so many little weird and anachronistic parts to the original that it's no wonder it's gone through changes.

This shows us what a lot of hard work is done behind the scenes in order for the top traditional jazz bands of today to be able to present us with performances such as this. The Shotgun Band included this tune in this 'correct' version on their CD (entitled Stepping on The Gas) early in 2017 and David Boeddinghaus is to be heard playing piano on that.

Well done, Shotgun. A lesson to us all.

Here's what Handy actually wrote.
Then comes the theme most bands have dropped.
And on the bottom half of the final page comes the 'second theme' we all know and play - though most of us fail the key change test.
By the way, the Ole Miss of the title was the train that used to run from Memphis to New Orleans.
It's just occurred to me that I enjoyed that very journey by rail on 18 October 2016, though Amtrak had some new rolling stock since Handy's time. Here we were - boarding the double-decker train at Memphis Station at 6am:

16 April 2017


The most important and influential traditional jazz band to emerge anywhere in the world in the Twenty-First Century has undoubtedly been The Loose Marbles. This band was given its name by its founder, Michael Magro, who grew up in Philadelphia. Its first performance was in Providence, Rhode Island, way back in September 2000.

I have explained in the past why this band is so important in the history of our music. To read my article, CLICK HERE.

The good news is that Michael is still leading the band and setting an example to us all. A 26-minute video of Loose Marbles in one its latest manifestations - as a six-piece - has recently appeared on YouTube; and I commend it to you.

There is nothing exhibitionist or pretentious in this music. Leading from the clarinet, Michael likes to play good, simply-structured, pretty tunes in a relaxed way, with the emphasis on melody and teamwork. He is often the first to state the melody, usually (as in Winin' Boy Blues) in a very interesting way. Michael's playing is reminiscent of his heroes George Lewis and Albert Burbank. And it is interesting to hear Marla playing one complete chorus with a double-section stonelined 'cleartone' mute. (I must remember to add one to my Christmas wish-list!) The three rhythm players are exemplary throughout, with their clockwork 4/4 support.

I hope you will enjoy this entertaining and sincere performance, filmed in Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, at The Louisiana Music Factory, which, in case you don't know, is a very large shop with a terrific stock of jazz recordings.