10 October 2015


Erika Lewis
I continue to marvel at the wonderful playing of Tuba Skinny, that great young band based in New Orleans. What a privilege that they have produced five CDs - all downloadable from their internet site:

- and that generous folk have put up dozens of videos of their performances on You Tube.

I've been listening this morning to two of the tunes on the CD - 'Rag Band'.

'Jackson Stomp' is a tune about which I have written before. The extraordinary thing about it is that it is 11 bars (measures) in length.

Virtually all traditional jazz tunes (in common with most popular music of the first half of the Twentieth Century) are in multiples of FOUR bars. Musicians feel, think and play the music in four-bar phrases.

So eleven should not work!

Jackson Stomp is really a 12-bar blues with the ninth bar missing. In theory, it should sound awkward. Yet Tuba Skinny sail through it, chorus after chorus, with their usual brilliant collective improvisations, as if an eleven-bar song was the most natural thing in the world. (Unusually - and this is another illustration of the band's versatility -  on the CD  they even record it without trombone or cornet: Shaye switches to violin.)

Shaye Cohn
And what about Crow Jane? I had never heard of this song before Tuba Skinny introduced me to it. Apparently it was made up and recorded by Nehemiah 'Skip' James 85 years ago!

The tricky thing about this number is that, although it is basically a repetitive eight-bar tune, it also has an optional 2-bar tag.

Tuba Skinny deal with this tag in different ways in their various You Tube performances. On the CD version, they choose to have the band playing four choruses of eight bars, then Erika singing five choruses in 10-bar form - apart from the penultimate, which she takes as 8 bars. The band then plays more eight-bar choruses, Erika returns with some ten-bars, and the band rounds things off with choruses of eight bars; and yet there is one more twist: a TWELVE-bar chorus (including a four-bar tag) to finish. Sounds complicated? Yes. But such is the discipline and understanding within this band that nobody trips up, nobody puts a foot wrong. They play it as one. And, as usual, the improvisations on the basic theme are mind-boggling.