7 March 2015


I wish there was more variety of treatments of choruses in the performances of our bands. There are many ways of making 'solo' choruses more interesting. The use of long held notes (as backing) is one. Another is the use of stop chords (for example, the rest of the band - apart from the soloist - playing just the first two beats of each bar).

One of my favourites is the use of OFFBEAT stop chords. In other words, the soloist plays fluently over all four beats of the bar, while the rest of the band plays only the second and fourth beats.

Similarly, you can have the full rhythm section playing a chorus of offbeats only while the melody instruments all continue to play normally. That is very effective.

Like all good things, the device should be used sparingly. For example, in a 32-bar chorus, one instrument could play 16 bars against offbeat stop chords, with another taking over for the remaining 16 bars accompanied by conventional rhythm section backing.

The use of offbeat stop chords impresses audiences and indeed it does not always come easily to the musicians. In particular, the soloist must not let himself or herself be thrown by the unusual rhythm. It takes practice. When taking a solo against offbeat backing, it's best to hit the first note of the bar firmly, at least at the start, to establish clearly where it actually is!

The offbeat stratagem is not at all new. It is an authentic part of the New Orleans tradition.

You can hear Louis Dumaine demonstrating it well with his Jazzola Eight in 1927. Louis himself plays a chorus of Pretty Audrey against such a rhythmic background.
Notice what happens at 1 minute 15 seconds into the recording. Louis plays a full fast 32 bars against stop chords. It is an exciting effect.

In the same year, the great Sam Morgan Band made recordings in New Orleans. Notice what happens in the band's recording of Mobile Stomp.
At 1 minute 28 seconds, for the third chorus, the rhythm section switches to a stop chord offbeat rhythm, against which the reeds continue to improvise prettily over the full bars.

Let us all try more of these variations. Of course, the best bands already do.
for a clever variant in which the front line (cornet, trombone and reeds) plays the stop chords while the banjo takes the solo. Note what happens at 1 minute 37 seconds. What about that as an example to us all?