8 April 2013

Post 39: 'MEMPHIS SHAKE'


This tune was recorded in 1926 by a group known as The Dixieland Jug Blowers in Chicago. Though called a 'jug' band, they had such instruments as trombone, piano and saxophone in their line-up. What made their recording of 'Memphis Shake' special was that the great clarinettist Johnny Dodds was sitting in with them, and his contribution is very effective on the old recording. (You can hear it on You Tube.)

Not much is known about The Dixieland Jug Blowers. It seems to have been a short-term amalgamation of two early 'jug' bands - run respectively by old-timer Earle McDonald (banjo and jug) and Clifford Hayes (violin). It is believed that Clifford Hayes was the composer of 'Memphis Shake'.

Actually, it's not so much a tune as a simple sequence of chords that are an effective basis for improvisation. As I have tried to show above, the tune has a four-bar introduction and then is in two parts.

The most distinctive feature of the chords is the repeated use of two bars on the diminished tonic. These give 'Memphis Shake' its particular flavour.

Part B of the tune - with the 4-beat notes over the first four bars (during which the banjo can indulge in some luscious tremolos), provides a good contrast with the bulk of the tune and improvisations, which are based on Part A.

There is a YouTube video of Tuba Skinny making a great job of this tune. Enjoy it by clicking here. Or watch a later video that I filmed of them playing the tune when I visited New Orleans in April 2016 by clicking here.