29 May 2015


Tuba Skinny has given us a mind-boggling performance that serves as a lesson to us all. We have to thank the generous and prolific film-maker codenamed digitalalexa for making it available to us on YouTube. (I will give you the Link to it shortly.)

am speaking about Almost Afraid to Love. This is a song I had never heard of. But banjo-player Stan Cummings of Sacramento kindly informed me it was composed by Ann Turner in 1938 and made famous at that time by the great blues singer Georgia White.
Georgia White
On the face of it, no performance could be simpler. It's just seven choruses of a 12-bar blues in C - 84 bars of music in all.

But the way it is interpreted is exemplary - demonstrating all that is great about traditional jazz at its best. Just listen.

Chorus 1: Against a solid foundation provided by the tuba, washboard, guitar and bass drum, the cornet introduces us to the tune; but the music is like a conversation between three old friends. Using her cup mute, Shaye makes the sad statements and Barnabus (trombone) and Ewan (clarinet) respond sympathetically to everything the cornet says.

Chorus 2: Erika begins to sing, telling the story with an uncluttered accompaniment. What a solid foundation Todd gives (as usual) on the tuba!

Chorus 3: Erika completes the story - with Shaye providing tasteful background colouring, using the cup mute.

Chorus 4: Ensemble. Both the cornet and trombone are muted now. This is another chorus sounding like a conversation between three old friends. It reminds me of the string quartets of Haydn and Mozart. Some of the phrases are exquisite - such as Shaye's phrase responding to the trombone at 1 min. 49secs.
[I think this must be one of Shaye's favourite phrases - you hear it frequently in her playing.]

Chorus 5: The 'conversation' continues; with Evan making assertive statements on his clarinet, while the cornet and trombone reply 'Yes, we know. It's a shame. You're so right!'

Chorus 6: Erika resumes the song.

Chorus 7: Erika completes the song, but with the others performing like the Greek Chorus from Oedipus Rex - commenting sympathetically on the events of the story. It is outstandingly good four-part interplay with the singer. And as the performance comes to an end, there's one more surprise in store. Shaye picks up her 'jam funnel' mute for a strong conclusive effect in the final two bars, descending a C minor arpeggio.

There is nothing strenuous or over-loud or showy or raucous about this performance. There are no screaming high notes. The playing gives the illusion of being totally relaxed, simple and effortless. But the apparent simplicity conceals art of the highest order.