9 March 2013


I have been listening again to recordings made in 1927 by the great Sam Morgan's Jazz Band. Their versions of Bogalousa Strut and Mobile Stomp are both completed in under three minutes.

I also listened to some of the historic recordings made by the Armand Piron Orchestra in the 1920s. Their recording of the tricky 3-parter Bouncing Around runs for less than three minutes. The classic Mamma's Gone Goodbye takes just over three minutes.

So brief?

And yet these recordings are classics - totally enjoyable and satisfying. They do not leave us with a feeling that they are too short or that the tune is incomplete. The arrangements and the ensemble work are exciting and tight. The performances even incorporate clever little introductions and codas, perfectly executed.

Compare this with the performances of so many bands today where tunes are spun out for seven or more minutes with almost all members of the band taking 32-bar solo choruses (sometimes two choruses). The tune drags on repetitively even though the band has nothing more to 'say'.

Yes, I know those early recordings were limited to about three minutes because that is all the recording processes of the time could cope with. But this discipline made the musicians produce their very best - distilling music of the highest quality into the imposed time limit.

Occasionally in these blogs, I have suggested ways in which traditional jazz bands could improve their performances. I think BREVITY is another.

We can learn something from those 1920s recordings. Even tunes with two or three themes can be given a very good performance in under four minutes if they are well presented, with the emphasis on ensemble work.

One bandleader friend has recently adopted this approach. Within his programme he deliberately includes a number of good tunes that he wants his band to play in about three minutes. This is achieved by omitting solo choruses and putting the emphasis on getting the tunes right, with clever interplay between the instruments. May I suggest more bands try this approach?

To hear how it was done - way back in 1927 - click on this video. It's the Sam Morgan Band.


Brevity - remember - is the soul of wit.