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2 December 2019

Post 611: RECOMMENDED GREAT TRADITIONAL JAZZ VIDEOS

I leave you some recommendations for videos of traditional jazz bands active in recent years. If you have not seen these videos before, I hope you will enjoy them. If you have seen them, I am sure you will enjoy watching them again!

First, for a relaxed, moving, unpretentious but beautifully-played performance, showing just how perfect a musical form traditional jazz can be, try Whenever You're Lonesome, Just Telephone Me played by members of The Shotgun Jazz Band. The video runs for about five minutes:

For an example of a great jazz band playing one of the very complex tunes from our repertoire - Deep Henderson - watch Tuba Skinny in this next video. It runs for a little over three minutes. Notice how all members of the band, working from memory rather than printed arrangements, play wonderfully as an ensemble through all three sections of this challenging piece, not to mention taking in their stride a change of key and linking passages:


Now, for some passionate 'no frills' traditional jazz, coupled with brilliant musicianship and generating great excitement, I would like to offer you a performance of Royal Garden Blues that I myself had the privilege of filming. This one runs for under five minutes:


Next, I offer you a performance of a good old jazz standard - Savoy Blues - played by The Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band. This video runs for a little under five minutes. I recommend it because it shows what happens when six outstanding musicians come together and - with great respect for each other - play wonderfully as a team, just as our bands should. This performance too is unpretentious and yet you will hardly find a better rendition of this piece anywhere:


Finally, if you have time to sit back for a full half hour and watch six outstanding musicians play a varied programme ranging from storming stuff such as Climax Rag to the tender Love Songs of the Nile, may I urge you to watch this video? You will also hear such tunes as Oriental Man, Yearning, Mobile Stomp and I Can't Escape From You. As one observer said, 'It's the kind of music that makes you cry with joy!' Click on it here:


In my opinion, this is the best 'half-hour live concert' video to have appeared in several years.

1 December 2019

Post 610: TUBA SKINNY RE-CREATING GEMS FROM THE PAST

I have been hugely impressed in recent months - as I'm sure most fans have - by the meticulous care Tuba Skinny take whenever they select a forgotten or near-forgotten recording from the 1920s and decide to add it to their repertoire. Though they have to adapt the piece to suit their own resources, talents and instrumentation, they keep closely to the spirit of the original, often including the order of events, the structure of the piece and even sometimes the exact notes originally played in two-bar breaks.

Take, for example, their rifacimento of Got No Blues - Lil Hardin's composition recorded by the Hot Five. Have a look at this performance, kindly filmed by James Sterling:

I love the sensible way Shaye tackles Louis' two-bar cornet break at 32 seconds. And note the key-changing subtleties: on the Hot Five original, a banjo interlude craftily slides us from the key of Eb to the key of F. In Tuba Skinny's performance, hear Jason do exactly the same (54 seconds to 1 minute 05 seconds). Later, just as Louis plays a succession of notes to transpose the piece back into Eb before handing the next solo on to clarinet-player Johnny Dodds, so Shaye plays a similar pattern of notes (1 minute 48 seconds to 1 minute 54 seconds) to return the tune to Eb and so hands it on to Craig in that key.

These things don't just happen. They require hours of preparation, coordination and practice. Then, when the tune is ready for public performance, every player knows exactly what is happening and what he is required to do, and when.

Next, consider I Got The Cryin' Blues. It was composed by Sara Martin and Tom Johnson, and recorded in September 1924 by Sara Martin and her Jug Band. Here's their version of it played by Tuba Skinny:
As you can hear, it has an 8-bar Verse (played just once) and a 16-bar Chorus. But here's the interesting thing: the Chorus is sometimes played with the addition of a two-bar tag! You can hear Erika sing the tag at 2 mins. 21 secs. You can hear Shaye play it at 1 min. 41 secs; and again right at the end, before the Coda. And guess what? Tuba Skinny have followed the structure of the original Sara Martin recording and have punctiliously placed the Tags exactly where Sara and her Band played them. Of course the whole Band knows exactly when they are coming. Nobody makes a mistake. That's a further illustration of the meticulous care  the band takes in its preparation of tunes for our entertainment.

And consider how they recreate King Oliver's 1929 recording of Too Late, which was composed by Dave Nelson and Oliver himself. Click on this performance:
This is a 32-bar tune with a simple chord progression. With Rhadamanthine scrupulosity, Tuba Skinny begin with the extraordinary 'speeding up fanfare' Introduction of Oliver's recording. Then they follow the equally extraordinary example set by Oliver of dropping the key from Eb to C for one Chorus only - the second. Even Oliver's two-bar breaks are scrupulously respected. Shaye herself faithfully copies (at 3 mins. 53 secs.) the break that occurs in Bars 15 and 16 of the 32. To do this, she has to play the highest note I have heard her play anywhere in a YouTube video. She is not one of those soulless players who like to show off by playing lots of high notes all the time, but in this moment she proves she can hit such a note when she wants to be faithful to the original recording.

Cushion Foot Stomp has proved very popular with audiences. Here is a Tuba Skinny performance of this piece:
Although Tuba Skinny sensibly do not include the scat vocal to be heard on the original Clarence Williams recording from 1927, the Coda and Shaye's 'decorations' (exactly as cornet-player Ed Allen provided on the original recording) illustrate well the band's attention to detail when they set about producing a rifacimento of a classic recording from the past.

For the benefit of anyone who may have difficulty following the ichnography of jazz classics from the 1920s, here's the lay-out of this one. You will note that it has three themes, like many of the jazz classics of that era.

Tuba Skinny follow Clarence Williams, by playing the piece in the key of Eb.
(1) EIGHT-BAR INTRODUCTION : 28 seconds - 38 seconds.
(2) THEME A (standard 12-bar) : 39 secs. - 54 secs. Craig leading with the main melody.
(3) THEME B (24 bars) : Todd leading, with Shaye 'decorating' : 55 secs. - 1 min. 27 secs.
(4) THEME B (24 bars) : Craig leading, with Shaye 'decorating’ : 1 min. 28 secs - 1 min. 59 secs.
(5) THEME A (the 12-bar again) : 2 mins. 00 secs. - 2 mins. 16 secs.
(6) BRIDGE (4 bars, leading into THEME C): 2 mins. 17 secs. - 2 min. 21 secs.
(7) THEME C [Classically known as the TRIO. This is the Main Theme on which the piece settles, and is used as the basis for improvised solos. It consists of 16 bars, always with a ‘break’ on Bars 7 and 8] : Taken by Barnabus, and indeed with the ‘break’ : 2 mins. 22 secs. – 2 mins. 43 secs. (You can hear his ‘break’ at 2 mins. 30 secs. - 2 mins. 32 secs.)
(8) THEME C : Taken by Craig and including the ‘break’ - 2 mins. 44 secs. – 3 mins. 04 secs.
(9) THEME C : Taken by Shaye and including the ‘break’ - 3 mins. 05 secs. – 3 mins. 26 secs.
(10) THEME C : Taken by Jason and including the ‘break’ - 3 mins. 27 secs. – 3 mins. 47 secs.
(11) THEME C : Taken by Todd and including the ‘break’ - 3 mins. 48 secs. – 4 mins. 08 secs.
(12) THEME C : Taken by Robin and including the ‘break’ - 4 mins. 09 secs. – 4 mins. 29 secs.
(13) THEME C : Taken by the full ensemble but with collective ‘break’ on signal from Shaye - 4 mins. 30 secs. – 4 mins. 50 secs.
(14) CODA (4 bars) : Initiated by Robin – 4 mins. 51 secs – 4 mins. 59 secs.

Finally, have a listen to Tuba Skinny's re-creation of Kiss Me Sweet:
This song was composed by Steve J. Lewis and Armand J. Piron in 1923. Like Piron, Tuba Skinny play it in the key of C; and they play the 16-bar Verse only once. Also like Piron they take Bars 7 and 8 of the 20-bar Chorus as a 'break'. You can hear Todd play it at 1 min 14 secs and 3 mins 45 secs, Barnabus at 1 min 52 secs, Craig at 2 mins 29 secs, Max at 3 mins 08 secs and Robin at 4 mins 22 secs. There is an amusing Coda in the Piron recording which - surprisingly - Tuba Skinny omit, though they have a lovely rallentando ending instead.

The interesting rhythmic backing to Craig's solo is the kind of thing Tuba Skinny devise and execute so well, as is the way Craig and Shaye play harmonies behind Barnabus's solo chorus.

Though Tuba Skinny choose not to have a vocal, there are words to this tune. For the words of the Chorus, go to Piron's original recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7HuZNF77IQ - or if you would like to hear the words of the Verse as well as the Chorus, go to the King Oliver recording (he plays it in the key of G):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJTecT7DHOQ

20-bar Choruses are unusual, though there was a fashion for them at the time. Think of After You've Gone, What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes At Me For?, Oh You Beautiful Doll, The Darktown Strutters Ball, Drop That Sack, Hard-Hearted Hannah, You've Got the Right Key but the Wrong Keyhole and Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries, for example.

One final bit of tedious analysis: when it's Shaye's turn to play the 20-bar Chorus as a solo (2 mins 55 secs), she plays the first six bars and then gives the next two (the break) to Max; she then plays Bars 9 to 12 and leaves the remaining eight to Max. This is a typical Tuba Skinny stratagem - and a lesson to us all in how to make the music interesting.

Almost all Tuba Skinny performances are masterclasses for the rest of the world's traditional jazz bands. There. You will be relieved to hear I've finished and will now go and have a cup of coffee.

===============
Footnote

The book 'Tuba Skinny and Shaye Cohn' is available from Amazon.

12 June 2018

Post 609: THE YOUNG KEEP TRADITIONAL JAZZ GOING

Thank goodness the young are keeping our music going.

There is a band called Ragstretch, formed by young people in 2012.
It is impossible for me to work out where this band is based, because its members are Australians and Scandinavians and some of them seem to be living in New York. The musicians also play in other bands and most of them are already well-known on the traditional jazz scene. But when the band Ragstretch comes together, they give brilliant, sparkling, tasteful performances. There are plenty of videos of them for you to explore on YouTube. You could try this version of Panama (played in Copenhagen) for starters: 

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.

And even in Britain there is hope for the future. 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.

And in May 2017 a band called The Ten Bells Rag Band was formed in London. The musicians are relatively young and are inspired by such bands as Tuba Skinny in New Orleans. They play some very pleasant traditional jazz.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, we find The Tenement Jazz Band.
I have not had the pleasure of seeing these musicians in person but their videos and recordings suggest to me that they also have been much inspired by the repertoires of Tuba Skinny, The Shotgun Jazz Band and The Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band.

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 Horten (population 27,000), Norway, a group of beginners aged 35 to 55 got together in 2016, modestly called themselves The Sloppy Jazz Newbies, and by the following year were making good progress and starting to attract gigs. You can hear them tackling Big Chief Battleaxe BY CLICKING HERE.

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.

In Japan, of course, there is a terrific jazz scene around Tokyo. Most of the musicians are still quite young. For an immediate example, have a look at a video of Over The Waves to see what I mean:
Another band formed in recent years is The Stone Arch Jazz Band of 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 2017 that the average age of its members was under 26.

The Dizzy Birds Jazz Band in Berlin is terrific.

And have a listen to The Old Fashion Jazz Band of Santiago, Chile, by clicking here.

And correspondent Michael Meissner has 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 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. Anders reports that the Festival is always held at the beginning of September and that last year there were lots of young people, both in the audience and in the bands. 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.

Above all, of course, there is great old-time jazz being played by YOUNG people on the streets of New Orleans. They offer hope for the future, because the Internet and visits from overseas musician-tourists are spreading their influence very rapidly.

In the days before Hurricane Katrina, you would have thought of Bourbon Street as the main hub for jazz in New Orleans. But now it is Frenchmen Street, in the Faubourg Marigny - a road full of jazz bars and clubs. 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 visiting the City on YouTube. You will be amazed at the quality of the traditional jazz being produced by instrumentalists mostly under forty years of age; and there are plenty of singers of outstanding ability too.

You may try any of these groups on YouTube. Just type their names in and indulge yourself with some fine music:

Tuba Skinny
Rhythm Wizards Jazz Band (CLICK HERE to sample their tasteful playing)
Loose Marbles
Little Big Horns
The Cottonmouth Kings
The Dapper Dandies
Smoking Time Jazz Band
Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess
Jenavieve Cook and the Royal Street Winding Boys
Yes Ma'am String Band
The Shotgun JazzBand (led by the dynamic Canadian trumpeter and singer Marla Dixon: CLICK HERE for an exciting example of their work)
Stalebread Scottie and His Gang
The Gentilly Stompers
Eight Dice Cloth
The Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band
Emily Estrella and the Faux Barrio Billionaires (Emily is originally from Cincinatti)
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)
Sour Mash Hug Band
Baby Soda


Footnote

The book 'Enjoying Traditional Jazz' by Pops Coffee is available from Amazon.

11 June 2018

Post 608: FROG AND HENRY

Have you come across the wonderful band called 'Frog and Henry'?
Well, they are just as much a concept as a band, as they appear with any number of players from two to about seven (but mostly six) and the personnel changes constantly. But what you can always be sure of is that they offer the highest standards of musicianship and teamwork.

Have a look at these two videos:

(1) Shreveport Stomp (performed on tour in France):
(2) That's a Plenty (performed in New Orleans):

Different line-ups; but you see what I mean?

Frog and Henry describes itself as 'a brass and string band specializing in early Jazz, Ragtime, and Jug Band music'. If you explore the videos of the band, you will see how brilliantly it achieves these aims.

They do indeed use strings, including violin, frequently with a couple of reed players. Their house-style does not normally seem to require a full-kit drummer or a trombone but there is sometimes a cornet or trumpet player.

The band has toured in Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, Austria, the U.K., Poland and Canada, as well as performing frequently in the U.S.A., notably in New Orleans. Not bad, eh? And it has more tours planned for the future.

I have never had the pleasure of seeing Frog and Henry in performance but my impression is that the band's guiding spirit is Ryan Baer - a charming and modest young man who is a multi-instrumentalist but mainly plays the banjo or guitar or mandolin with the group. Ryan, who is a Canadian, I believe,  used to be a member of Tuba Skinny. Wherever he is - in the USA or Europe - he manages to attract some of the most gifted local musicians from other bands; and they join him in lovingly and dexterously playing the wonderful old tunes. I have noticed that Robin Rapuzzi and Ewan Bleach enjoy playing in this band. Ewan even composed 'Berlin Rags' specially for them. CLICK HERE to enjoy their performance of Ewan's tune.

The band has recorded two albums (as at 2018). Full information is available on Bandcamp.