28 November 2015


Can you name ANY band that plays five or more of the following twenty-five tunes? Big Chief BattleaxeBilly Goat StompCannon Ball BluesCarpet Alley BreakdownChocolate AvenueDear AlmanzoerDreaming The Hours AwayFourth Street Mess AroundGladiolus RagGood Time Flat BluesIn Harlem's Araby, Jazz BattleJubilee Stomp, Kansas City Stomps, Michigander BluesMinor DragNew Orleans BumpOriental StrutPerdido Street BluesPyramid StrutRussian RagSkid-Dat-De-DatVariety Stomp and Wild Man Blues.

I certainly can't - apart from Tuba Skinny.

These are just a few of the tunes - mostly tricky and complicated in structure - that this wonderful band has magnificently mastered in its short existence. Yes, Tuba Skinny plays all twenty-five.

Listen to any programme given by your average traditional jazz band and the chances are that more than 90% of the tunes will be the usual standards structured in 32 bars (measures) or - in the case of blues - 12 bars. Of course a tune may have a short introduction and possibly a coda, but essentially the 32-bar or 12-bar melodies dominate our music.

But - as in so many other respects - the great young band Tuba Skinny is making us re-think this aspect of our playing.

How many bands do you know who play 10-bar tunes? Tuba Skinny do. Think of Frisco Bound.

How many bands do you know who play 11-bar tunes? Absolutely none, I guess. Apart from Tuba Skinny, with Jackson Stomp.

And what about 24-bar tunes? Can you even name one such tune (not counting 12-bar blues with two themes)?

Well, Tuba Skinny play a 24-bar tune: I'm Blue and Lonesome (Nobody Cares for Me). It is in no sense a double 12-bar. It begins with The Sweet Sue Chord Progression and then in bars 17 - 20 incorporates The Magnolia Chord Progression.

They introduced us to Ice Man (8 bars and only two chords!), a fun number with a simple theme.

Then there's Crow Jane - another tune well established in their repertoire. How many bars long is it? It uses both 8-bar and 10-bar lengths.

We have to admire Tuba Skinny for their fearless tackling of these unusually shaped tunes and the enormous range of their material.

They enjoy mastering difficult old classics, such as Fred Rose's Deep Henderson. This tune presents a challenge to any musicians. It is usually played by jazz bands in the key of F, modulating to the key of Db in Theme C (the Trio). Fred Rose's original piano music showed no key change.
Here's how it is structured:
8 BARS : Introduction, with various instruments taking a bar each in Bars 5, 6, 7 and 8.
32 BARS : THEME A. Rapid, tricky work for the reed player and a thrilling free-style middle eight.
32 BARS : THEME B. Interplay between two melodies. With a famous leaping middle eight that has to be played just right.
4 BARS : MODULATION, normally ending on Ab7, neatly leading into the key change to the unusual key of Db.
32 BARS : THEME C (THE TRIO). A super rhythmic riff in the new key. The middle eight is thrilling, with the cornet tearing through eight arpeggios on tricky chords including B7 (that's an awkward C#7 to the Bb instrument player!).

That gives you a total of  108 bars to be mastered and memorised, not counting any repeats or solo choruses that the band chooses to insert. Tuba Skinny play it magnificently. You can see and hear them do so on YouTube: