22 October 2017


I have written two books about traditional jazz. They are both available from Amazon either as paperbacks or as e-books.

The first is called Playing Traditional Jazz, and it contains 42 chapters mainly for musicians at whatever level of accomplishment who want to play the music as well as possible.
The other is called Enjoying Traditional Jazz and is for anyone who enjoys this kind of music. It covers over 80 topics.
If you may be interested in reading one of the books, use your Search Engine and type in:
'Pops Coffee Enjoying Traditional Jazz Book'
'Pops Coffee Playing Traditional Jazz Book'.

That should lead you to more details, including an opportunity to sample the books.

19 October 2017


When many bands decide to add a new tune to their repertoire, somebody beats it in, and off they go.

The results are often slapdash, with spur-of-the-moment arrangements, and everyone hoping for the best.

Of course it sometimes happens, where the musicians are very talented and listen well to each other, that the result is quite good.

But that great young band in New Orleans - Tuba Skinny - has shown us in the last few years how you need to approach the music more seriously if you are to achieve results that are truly outstanding.

There is nothing slapdash in their approach. When they tackle a new tune, they begin with a clear vision of what they want to achieve. They have a unity of purpose. Every individual is focused on the agreed arrangements. There is no room for compromise. Only the best will do.
A good illustration of this is their 2014 performance in Italy of Jelly Roll Morton's Grandpa's Spells. You can find it at https://vimeo.com/101422951. On the face of it, this is just a merry busking session in a public square.

Yet note the meticulous care that has been taken to present the tune. It is never muddled, despite its complexity. Everybody knows who is to do what, and when. There is no need for printed music on stands in front of the musicians, as we find with many bands playing such a tricky piece. Everybody has taken the trouble to learn what he must do.

Obviously, the band must have studied the original recording by Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers in detail, because they follow it closely.

The structure goes like this:

Both bands start in the key of C.

Four bars 'running up the ladder'

Featuring guitar breaks and then the cornet

but with the break in bars 7 and 8 taken by the piano (Red Hot Peppers) and by the banjo (Tuba Skinny - not having a piano at the time)

THEME B second time
Clarinet leads throughout, including the break (Red Hot Peppers)
Clarinet leads but washboard takes the break (Tuba Skinny)

THEME B third time 
Trombone and string bass alternate the lead (Red Hot Peppers)
Trombone and Tuba alternate the lead (Tuba Skinny)

Without any need for a signal, there is then a seamless transition into the key of F (occurring at 1 minute 41 seconds into the Tuba Skinny video).

Melody (a firm statement stabbing out the notes of the chords) played by the cornet

THEME C second time
Ensemble, featuring the clarinet on the flowing runs

THEME C third time
Taken as a piano solo (Red Hot Peppers) but as a Trombone solo (Tuba Skinny)

THEME C fourth time
Ensemble out-chorus (Red Hot Peppers)
Chorus led by Tuba (Tuba Skinny)

(The Red Hot Peppers version - under 3 minutes in total - ends at this point, but with a neat two-bar coda)

THEME C fifth time
Ensemble (Tuba Skinny - everyone swinging joyously)

THEME C sixth time
Ensemble (Tuba Skinny - again everyone swinging joyously). Simple end. No coda.

Note how nobody puts a foot wrong with the various two-bar breaks. Notice too how even Erika (whose main rôle is as vocalist) gets the bass drum beats exactly right - stopping at those moments when 'silent beats' are required. Notice how there is no need for signals from Shaye, though she gives the slightest indication (hardly required) at 2 minutes 35 seconds that Todd is leading the next chorus.

By the time when I videoed them playing the tune in Royal Street, New Orleans, three years later, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUICxSTjzPc), they had very slightly tweaked the arrangement, with minor alterations to the structures and playing of the breaks, for example. Have fun spotting the differences. They had added a Coda too.

Obviously, to get all that right, from memory, the members of the band have to put in plenty of hard work in the woodshed. Their dedication is an example to us all.

16 October 2017


Milton Ager, who lived from 1893 until 1979, was an important composer in the history of our music. He wrote dozens of well-known songs. Our bands still play Ain't She Sweet, I'm Nobody's Baby, Hard-Hearted Hannah, I Wonder What's Become of Sally, Big Bad Bill, and Happy Days are Here Again, to give just a few examples.

However, today I would like to highlight another of his tunes - Glad Rag Doll.
In its Chorus, Glad Rag Doll has a conventional Middle Eight, which offers a really good demonstration of the effectiveness of the 'Circle of Fifths'.

To begin with, the Middle Eight's first chord is III7 (for example E7th in the key of C). This happens in the Middle Eight of dozens of our tunes.

And over the eight bars, we find two bars on each of the 'Circle of Fifth' chords as we head towards the usual V7th.

To make clear what I am trying to explain, the result (in the key of C) is:

E7 | E7 | A7 | A7 | D7 | D7 | G7 | G7

How does it sound? Surprisingly effective, in this and a huge number of other tunes our bands play.

If you listen to this early Ted Lewis recording (CLICK ON HERE), you can sample the Middle Eight between 39 seconds and 52 seconds (where it is led by the trombone) and between 1 minute 40 seconds and 1 minute 51 seconds (with vocalist) and finally between 2 minutes 29 seconds and 2 minutes 41 seconds (led by the clarinet).

13 October 2017


I watched and listened to two well-filmed YouTube performances by traditional jazz bands. While doing so, I jotted down my thoughts. They were:

Band A
Opaque sound, bottom-heavy; bland interpretation; succession of tedious 32-bar solo choruses; lethargic; tempo dragging; textures blurred; musicians looking bored; two players chatting to each other during another's solo chorus; not much sense of teamwork; lack of variety in the dynamics; clichés; signs of strain in the playing.

Band B
Plenty of drive; bustling energy, even in supporting teamwork; clear textures; well-judged tempo; meticulous attention to detail; delicacy of shading; superb ensembles and attack; varied dynamics.

There is such a wide range in the quality of traditional jazz to be seen on YouTube!

Which two bands were these? It would be invidious to name them. But I can tell you the first was a well-known elderly English band filmed at an English jazz club. The other was a band directed by a young lady on cornet, filmed in a New Orleans street.