26 June 2016

Lunchtime Traditional Jazz Update: 'The Secret Jazz Band'

Regular readers will know I'm strongly in favour of having jazz performances at lunchtimes, especially in pubs here in England, because the elderly folk who make up most of the audience prefer to go out for a leisurely pub lunch and hear some good music, rather than be out late at night, having to make their way home from a jazz club at 11pm. Many of them have told me so. Another reason is that the music gets heard by some younger people too, and that is surely important.

Recent good news is that yet another pub in the English Midlands has started to have traditional jazz in the lunchtimes. The pub is The Boathouse at Barrow-on-Soar (beautifully situated on the river bank between Loughborough and Leicester). The Secret Jazz Band has been booked to play every second Monday of the month, between 12.30pm and 2.30pm. The band gave its first performance on 9 May 2016, when there was some fine music and a good audience enjoying the sunshine at the tables overlooking the river.
Some of the boating people moored up and stopped to have a lunch and hear the jazz, too.

The band's next performances at the Boathouse will always be the second Monday of the month) starting at 12.30pm, but they are also giving a bonus performance at that time tomorrow, Monday 27 June. If you live in the region, why not give the music your support? You can see a YouTube clip of the band by clicking on here.

The Secret Jazz Band was formed in June 2014. The percussionist Alan Cole had been invited to provide a six-piece traditional jazz band for a once-a-month Thursday lunchtime session at another public house - The Dog and Gun in Syston, Leicester. He agreed to do this - and then set about forming a band.
Alan Cole at The Dog and Gun
Alan gave the band the working title of 'The Secret Jazz Band' (secret because he did not know who the musicians would be) – and the name has stuck.

Alan did not have much difficulty in finding players who said they would be happy to spend a lunchtime, at least occasionally, taking part in a relaxed jam session. They knew it would provide a good opportunity to have fun and keep in practice.

Since then, The Secret Jazz Band has played every month at The Dog and Gun. The pub belongs to the 'Steamin' Billy' chain, whose management team are keen supporters of live music.
It is a pub that looks after its customers well, with a cosy log fire:
And if offers a good lunch:
With such a pool of musicians, the fans never know who will be in the band.
Pete Crebbin often turns up and plays trombone.
The Secret Jazz Band plays at The Dog and Gun from 12.30pm until 2.30pm on the first Thursday of every month.
The band does not get together to rehearse, so it wisely sticks to familiar, uncomplicated numbers – tunes such as Make Me A Pallet on the Floor, Running Wild, Alexander's Ragtime BandWhen You're Smiling, The Girls Go Crazy, Hindustan, Careless Love. The Band also welcomes sitters-in.
The audience grew over the months and - when I was present at the performance on 7 January 2016 - numbered 45, so the bar was crowded.

Band manager Alan eventually had some business cards printed. He became ambitious enough to hope The Secret Jazz Band might attract bookings beyond the confines of The Dog and Gun!

With the additional bookings at The Boathouse, The secret is certainly out.

24 June 2016

Playing Traditional Jazz: 'Moonlight Bay'

Moonlight Bay - often called On Moonlight Bay - is one of those very pleasant memorable songs from over a century ago that are easy to play and to improvise on. And yet I have heard very few traditional jazz bands playing it in recent years.

So it was a great pleasure to come upon a video uploaded on to YouTube by the excellent Louisiana-based video-maker codenamed RaoulDuke504. It shows The Shotgun Jazz Band (in its five-piece form, with Charlie Halloran on trombone) giving a most tasteful, gentle performance of this song at Covington Trailhead, which is a lovely new public park about 35 miles north of New Orleans. This was in the middle of June 2016.

You can watch the video of The Shotgun Jazz Band by clicking here.

This performance is unusual because it includes the VERSE as well as the familiar Chorus. The width of Marla Dixon's repertoire and the depth of her memory constantly amaze me. I ought not to have been surprised that she knew the Verse or that she sings the vocal. Is there any song for which Marla does not know the words by heart?!

Apart from its great melody, it is the simplicity and structure of the Chorus that should make it appeal to many more traditional jazz bands. After all, it is virtually nothing but an eight-bar three-chorder. (Well, actually the eight bars are played twice; but you see what I mean.)

The chord pattern (without subtleties) is:

  I   |  I7:4  |  I    |  I   |   V7   |   V7  |  I  |  I:(V7)

In recent years we have been given plenty of lessons in what great musicians can achieve with even the simplest 8-bar themes. Think especially of Tuba Skinny and Late Hour Blues, Untrue Blues, Mississippi River Blues, Lonesome Drag, I'll See You in the Spring, Owl Call Blues, All I Want is a Spoonful, Papa Let Me Lay It On You, Too Tight Blues, Got a Mind To Ramble, Ice Man and so on. All these tunes have a basic eight-bar theme repeated many times, but with great creativity and subtlety in the variations.

The music for Moonlight Bay was written in 1912 by Percy Wenrich; the lyrics were by Edward Madden. Both men died in 1952.

Madden also wrote the words for such songs as By The Light of the Silvery Moon, Down in Jungle Town and Silver Bell.

Percy Wenrich was born in Missouri but from the age of 20 worked mainly in New York City. He composed rags such as The Smiler and Peaches and Cream, but he is probably best remembered for When You Wore a Tulip, Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet and of course Moonlight Bay.

Just in case my attempt may be of some use to a beginner, here's how I have worked it out with Band-in-a-Box. As usual, I can't guarantee 100% accuracy. Shotgun plays it in F:
But if, as a Bb instrument player, you prefer to see it in G, it works out like this.

The Most Important Traditional Jazz Band of the 21st Century? The Loose Marbles!

If you were asked to name the most important traditional jazz band so far in the 21st Century, what would your answer be?

My own, unhesitatingly, is The Loose Marbles.


To put it briefly, because this band has done the most to regenerate our music and to encourage and stimulate the terrific resurgence of traditional jazz among the younger generation (particularly those now based in New Orleans) and because, with the help of YouTube and CDs, it has also encouraged a resurgence of our music throughout the world.

Many people believe (I used to be one of them) that The Loose Marbles were formed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The truth is, however, that The Loose Marbles gave their first performance much earlier - in Providence, Rhode Island, way back in September 2000.

The band was given its name by its founder, the clarinet-player Michael Magro, who grew up in Philadelphia, and he is still running the band today. I have met Michael only once - in New Orleans on 11 April 2016. I found him most friendly, serious-minded and eager to talk about his music.
Michael Magro
After all these years, none of his enthusiasm has diminished. Deeply influenced by the recordings of George Lewis, Albert Burbank and Jim Robinson, he is as passionate as ever about the music; and he is clear about how he wants to play it. I think it's fair to say that he likes to put the emphasis on ensemble work. He prefers the kind of traditional jazz that was played before Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five set the fashion for sequences of 'solo' choruses.

Yet Michael did not begin to teach himself the clarinet until he was in his mid-twenties.

Michael told me about those early days. He chose the memorable name Loose Marbles partly because of the connotations of the expression but also because the concept of 'looseness' was always part of his plan. This was to be a band without a regular fixed line-up. All good and like-minded musicians would be welcome in his pool of players. The Band played for a year or so before a break in its history.

Then Michael met Ben Polcer (trumpet and piano). Ben, the son of Ed Polcer, the traditional jazz trumpeter, had graduated at the Music School of the University of Michigan. He joined Michael in the Loose Marbles enterprise and has been driving The Loose Marbles along ever since. For a while they were based in Brooklyn, New York. In 2006 they developed for a few months by playing street music in Washington Square Park, New York City.

Then, the year after Hurricane Katrina, Michael and Ben permanently relocated to New Orleans, trying their luck by playing for tips on the streets. They have been based there ever since. On occasions, they would return to New York City in the summer months, again giving street performances.

I heard that they sometimes had so many musicians available that there would be two Loose Marbles bands in two different locations simultaneously.
The early days in New Orleans.
Michael is on the right. Shaye Cohn is playing piano.
During the following three or four years, so many of today's great traditional jazz musicians migrated to New Orleans and appeared as Marbles, honing their skills in the company of Ben and Michael. These included such people as Charlie Halloran, Aaron Gunn, Tomas Majcherski, Jason Jurzak, John Rodli, Robert Snow, Jon Gross, Dan Levinson, Alynda Lee Segarra, Kiowa Wells, Ryan Baer, John Royen, Peter Loggins, Robin Rapuzzi, Joseph Faison, Matt Bell, Max Bien-Kahn, Jonathan Doyle and many others. Shaye Cohn frequently worked with the band, but mainly on piano in the early post-Katrina days; and Barnabus Jones, who had recently taken up the trombone (in addition to being already a good violinist and banjo-player), was frequently present. They had a powerful vocalist in Meschiya Lake.

There is a video of considerable historical interest of The Loose Marbles in a 2008 configuration, performing at Preservation Hall. You can watch it by clicking here. And see them in the street the same year (with Kiowa singing and Shaye on piano) by clicking here.

As dancers migrated to New Orleans, they tended to join the Loose Marbles family too - stars such as Chance Bushman and Amy Johnson; and they became part of the spectacle. The band busked in Europe in 2007: enjoy the dancing by clicking here.

John and Marla Dixon (now at the heart of The Shotgun Jazz Band) arrived a little later, but they too intermingled with the Marbles and still work closely with them to this day.

Some of the musicians who played in The Loose Marbles have gone on to form bands of their own. Think of Tom Saunders and the Tom Cats, for example. And Meschiya Lake, branching out into a wide range of musical styles, now sings with her own very popular band Meschiya Lake and The Little Big Horns. Above all, there is Tuba Skinny. Shaye Cohn of Tuba Skinny has said: 'One thing really important to The Loose Marbles was ensemble playing. When I first started with them, I was playing second trumpet. So I had to work to find a voice where I could fit in. It taught me to play very simply, and to listen.'

So The Loose Marbles still exists and is attracting plenty of gigs. As the sixty or so musicians who have played in Loose Marbles all still feel part of the family, it is easy enough for Ben and Michael to put together half a dozen of them to play at a gig.

To view a really pleasing and exhilarating video of the band in 2015 CLICK HERE. Michael is still in a central rôle, leading off with the melody in the first chorus. Marla is on trumpet and vocal.

Interesting to think that, although we fans in our seventies and eighties regard all those musicians currently working so well in New Orleans as the 'young generation', the years seem to have passed so rapidly since Hurricane Katrina that it won't be long before Ben and Michael are considered the 'elder statesmen' of traditional jazz!

Bob Andersen of San Diego has sent me this comment:
Yes, that band is the one that sparked new life into trad jazz in NOLA, the US and really around the world. I met them when they came to San Diego for a New Year's Swing Dance Fest in '07 (put on by Chance Bushman). They came without a trombone player and I think Chance hooked us up. Well, I played the weekend with them, kept in touch and played about 30 gigs with them over the next few years. And just played a couple gigs with them last year in NOLA. Playing with them upped my tromboning considerably and I learned an awful lot that I've used with my own band. So, here's another Loose Marbles-influenced band here in San Diego.
And here is a picture Bob Andersen sent me of a Loose Marbles 2009 line-up. He scanned it from a newspaper of the time.
Bob says:
The pic was taken at the Portland, Oregon Blues and Jazz Fest.
That's Shaye on piano, Robert Bell from Minneapolis on guitar, Jason on Tuba, me, Benji Bohannon on drums and Ben and Michael. We played 8 concerts/dances in 5 days on that tour.

Traditional Jazz: Chloe, Albanie and 'What a Little Moonlight Can Do'

One of the loveliest videos I have seen recently was filmed by James Sterling of Florida when he spent a long weekend in New Orleans during June 2016.

Like me, James is a fan of Chloe Feoranzo and Albanie Falletta, so, when he heard that they had recently got together and would be playing with Kaladeva Chandra and John Joyce in a quartet at the d.b.a. music club in Frenchmen Street, he eagerly went to see them.

James requested one of his favourites - What a Little Moonlight Can Do. They told him they had never played it together before. However, after a little chat among themselves about how to tackle it and in which key, off they went.
The result is so good that I really must recommend it to you. All four musicians are brilliant and Albanie's singing is utterly charming. Watch the video BY CLICKING HERE.

By the way, What a Little Moonlight Can Do was composed (both words and music) in 1934 by Harry Woods. He wrote it for the movie Road House, which was filmed in England while Harry was working for a brief spell in London. It was sung in the movie by Violet Lorraine.

What a phenomenal contribution Harry made to our music: The Clouds Will Soon Roll By, I Wish't I Was in Peoria, I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover, Paddlin' Madeline Home, River - Stay Away From My Door, Side By Side, That's All There Is - There Ain't No More; Try a Little Tenderness, We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye, When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful, When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain, When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along, - all of these are examples of the songs he composed.

Harry Woods lived from 1896 until 1970. Two sad points about him are these: he was born without fingers on his left hand; and he died when knocked down by a car right outside his house in Glendale, Arizona.

What a Little Moonlight Can Do is a little unusual. Most popular songs of this kind were at the time constructed in 32 bars, usually consisting of four sets of 8 bars. Harry Woods has 'doubled up' in the structure of this song. There are four sets of 16 bars, making 64 bars in total. The first 32 bars have much in common with the second 32. In fact, Bars 1 - 11 are Bars 33 - 43 are identical in melody and chord structure.

As an aide-mémoire for playing the tune on my cornet, I have this sheet in my filofax. I make no claim that's it's 100% accurate. I put the tune in the key of C, as that is comfortable for me. But in the video, Albanie and Co. play it in G, as you may have noticed.