23 December 2015


As you probably know, Tuba Skinny occasionally spend a week in Italy. For the end-of-2013 trip, they had John Doyle on reeds. By then, I had come to the conclusion that he is one of the greatest clarinet players in the history of traditional jazz; and I am now even more convinced. His technique and inventiveness are amazing, and yet he subjects his talents (as do all players in this great band) to the Tuba Skinny house style, in which everyone puts teamwork first and there is no room for exhibitionists.

In these videos (we must be very grateful to a film-maker codenamed NewOrleansJS for presenting them to us), we can enjoy these performances:

Big Chief Battleaxe (Thomas S. Allen, 1907). This is a routine performance by Tuba Skinny standards, which means it is far better than most bands could produce. But it seems to be the first number in their programme. You sense they are 'loosening up' and perhaps slightly affected by some tiredness after the long journey from New Orleans. As usual, Shaye directs the operation with all those little signals she has developed.

Crazy 'Bout You (Big Bill Broonzy and the State Street Boys, 1935). This is a simple, catchy 16-bar tune. Shaye starts on cornet and then switches to piano, taking a solo that reminds us she is also one of the best New Orleans pianists at present. It's a very happy number and Erika has the audience clapping along with her spirited, rocking vocal.

Willie the Weeper (Walter Melrose, Marty Bloom and Grant Rymal, 1920). The band plays a 4-bar Introduction; and then they go into the second theme of Willie The Weeper. Barnabus and John contribute lustily throughout. There is fine ensemble work and great backed solos on the second theme, though Shaye alone takes a solo (one of her amazing arabesques) on the first (G minor) theme. Note Shaye's direction of the band again. She takes so much trouble before they start - to get the tempo exactly right. Also note the brilliant final few notes with which she chops the tune off at the end.

Weary Blues (Artie Matthews, Mort Greene and George Gates, 1915). Unfortunately this recording starts well into the tune, missing the opening themes (in F) but we still have the Bb theme, with plenty of amazing, exciting stuff, played at a cracking pace. One of the highlights occurs where Shaye plays a terrific solo against offbeats from all six of the other players.

Six Feet Down (Erika Lewis, 2009). Erika sings her own superb composition in F; and there is a great solo by John, against ensemble background. The ever-popular Robin Rapuzzi also struts his stuff on washboard.

How can you view these videos? Go to YouTube and type in 'Tuba Skinny Orvieto 2013'. That should bring them all up.