19 September 2017


I suppose most of us play Stephen Foster songs from time to time. They are among the oldest tunes in our repertoire. Foster wrote over 200 songs - an amazing output, considering that he died at the age of only 37, and that he was largely self-taught in musical theory and instrument playing.

I am particularly fond of Beautiful Dreamer (1864) and Way Down Upon the Swanee River (1851; also known as Old Folks at Home) and I get to play them quite a lot. It is always a poignant thought that Stephen died only a few days after composing Beautiful Dreamer. He did not live to see it published and probably never heard it played by a professional musician.

Foster's tunes may seem somewhat basic, compared with the rags that were added to our repertoire fifty years later. But I believe they should not be under-estimated. He was absolutely brilliant at producing a good melody within everybody's vocal range and with enough repeated phrases to make it easy to learn. His tunes also used very simple chord progressions that made the tunes a doddle to play in those nineteenth-century homesteads, where families had to make their own entertainment and where everybody aspired to own a piano or harmonium or fiddle or accordion or banjo. Also he tended to write 32-bar tunes, using the a-a-b-a structure (four eight-bar blocks) which was to become the standard in popular songs for decades.

And all those features make his tunes very pleasant and straightforward for us to play. Have you noticed how effectively The Shotgun Jazz Band (with Tyler Thomson singing) has been playing My Old Kentucky Home in recent months?

Here's how the wonderful and generous Lasse Collin has made Beautiful Dreamer available to us on his website[ http://cjam.lassecollin.se/ ]:

You see what I mean about the simple lines of the melody and the exceptionally simple chord sequence? But it is a gem of a tune to play. And audiences still love it.

16 September 2017


Here are the answers to the puzzle set in Post 547.

When You Wore a Tulip
Egyptian Ella
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Blue Turning Grey Over You
Give Me Your Telephone Number
Red Roses for a Blue Lady
Buddy Bolden’s Blues
I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate

Congratulations to everyone who sent in the correct answers, especially the following, whose replies arrived almost instantly!

David Withers (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Chris Rule (Sheffield, England)

Henry Kiel (Hamburg, Germany)

Cleber Guimarães (Brazil)

Pat Patterson (Concord, California)

Susan Enefer (Vancouver, Canada)

13 September 2017


Here's another of my occasional puzzles.

These are eight titles of tunes played by our bands.

They are all slightly wrong.

When You Wore a Turnip
Egyptian Fella
You’re the Fly in My Coffee
Blue Turning Green Over You
Give Me Your Cardinal Number
Red Roses for a Fat Lady
Buddy Bolden’s Boots
I Wish I Could Simmer Like My Sister Kate

What are the correct titles? Answers to:

ivantrad (@) outlook (dot) com

Winners' names will be given in my next post - Post 547 on 16 September.

10 September 2017


Once again, those of us who live thousands of miles from New Orleans are indebted to my friend Randy, who makes videos under the name RaoulDuke504. Despite his busy and hard-working life as a chef, he managed to get across the Lake to attend the performance by the all-ladies Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art on 7 September 2017. 
And what a performance it was! This band - which was formed initially just to give a demonstration at a girls' summer camp in 2016 - has continued in existence, flourished and is now one of the most exciting and best traditional jazz bands in the world.

Watch Randy's video of them playing Margie in this recent concert: CLICK HERE.

Yes, I know it's a simple 'standard' that all bands play. But what musicianship!

The three rhythm players have established a kind of 'alternative' gently-pulsating New Orleans-style background that really drives the music and keeps your feet tapping. They are unusual in having no drum kit, no tuba, no banjo, no piano. It's all done in this video by Albanie's guitar, Molly's string bass and Dizzy's subtle work on the washboard (listen to the way she uses her 'cymbal' on the offbeats in the final chorus). I should explain that Julie was out of town so Albanie joined the band. In one half of the concert, she played guitar and Molly the string bass; in the other half, they switched rôles. What versatile and brilliant musicians they are!

After a neat final-eight intro from Haruka, Albanie provides a lovely clear vocal at the start.

Then excitement gradually builds, first with a super solo chorus from Haruka, and next with one of amazing fluency from Chloe on clarinet, while the three rhythm ladies keep that gentle, hypnotic pulse going. Just listen to those notes in Chloe's improvisation. Jazz doesn't get any better than that. Then we hear one of Marla's specials - a chorus brilliantly demonstrating what she can achieve with the plunger mute - hugely creative. After this we have a most exciting chorus, with all three front-line ladies collectively improvising around the melody. How well they listen to each other!

After Albanie sings the vocal again, there is a final ensemble chorus that leaves you desperate to hear more from this band.

And yet the whole performance is achieved with restraint. Everyone is relaxed, comfortable and totally in control. There is no over-blowing, no excessive noise. The notes are allowed to do the work. What we have here are great musicians with a common purpose, working brilliantly as a team and expressing the soul of the music.

I could go on about the other videos from this performance.... But seek them out for yourselves. 'Savoy Blues' and 'Shake 'Em Up' are played in ways that will also take your breath away.

By the way, the cavernous acoustics in the Museum are notoriously bad. So Randy did really well to get close to the band and capture the sound in such high quality.