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20 August 2014

Post 132: SPIRITUALS, GOSPEL SONGS, TUBA SKINNY AND 'JUST A CLOSER WALK'

Ever since the great Sam Morgan Band recorded Over in The Gloryland (in New Orleans, 1927), it has been customary for our bands to include some hymns, spirituals and gospel music in their repertoire. Think, for example, of these tunes. All of our bands play at least a few of them.

Amazing Grace
At The Cross
By and By
Does Jesus Care?
Down By The Riverside
God Will Take Care of Me
Higher Ground
His Eye is on the Sparrow
How Great Thou Art
In the Garden
In the Sweet By and By
In the Upper Garden
It's Nobody's Fault But Mine
Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Just a Little While To Stay Here
Lead Me Saviour
Let the Light from the Lighthouse Shine on Me
Lily of the Valley
Lonesome Road
Lord, Lord, Lord, You Sure Been Good to Me
Man from Galilee
The Old Rugged Cross
This Little Light of Mine
Old-Time Religion
Only a Look
On Revival Day
Over in the Gloryland
Precious Lord, Lead Me On
Pass Me Not, Oh Gentle Saviour
Peace in the Valley
Rock Me
Roll Jordan Roll
Royal Telephone
Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down
Sometimes My Burden is Too Hard to Bear
Walking With the King
We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
When I Move to the Sky
When the Saints Go Marching In
Where He Leads Me

The wonderful young band Tuba Skinny has hitherto devoted its energies to reviving obscure numbers from the rags and blues of the 1920s, though in its early days (before Alynda Lee Segarra left the band) they made beautiful recordings of the spirituals Rock Me and Peace in the Valley.

In recent months, they seem to have turned their attention just a little more to the 'conventional' repertoire popular with other bands. For example, they have started playing High Society.

And in the field of gospel music and spirituals they have introduced Just a Closer Walk With Thee. This is among the best-known and most frequently played of all the spirituals. It is much in demand at jazz funerals. It is played in various ways and at contrasting tempos.

I was surprised when I noticed this week the new video put up by our friend the wonderful video-maker codenamed digitalalexa. I hardly expected Tuba Skinny ever to play this tune.

Everything they touch seems to turn to gold. It has happened again with Just a Closer Walk. You may have heard hundreds of performances of this tune. But have you ever heard one better than this?
Digitalalexa has done well with both the sound recording and the pictures. It never seems to be easy for video-makers to get good sound recordings in Royal Street, but this one succeeds. (Unfortunately, there are also a few street 'noises off' but these do not detract from the beauty of the performance.)

The Band maintains a slow, gentle tempo. Erika sings the song with great feeling, in a manner reminiscent of her performance of 'Owl Call Blues'. She makes the most of the long-held notes, pitching perfectly and using rubato in a most subtle manner. The treatment of the tune by the rest of the band proves yet again what great art there can be behind apparent simplicity. First the theme is stated by Barnabus on trombone. Then Shaye and Craig join in, adding close harmony. After Erika's first vocal, we have two stunningly beautiful instrumental ensemble choruses, with first the clarinet and then the cornet taking the lead. Shaye plays some lovely muted cornet behind Erika's second vocal. The banjo, tuba and washboard throughout provide a solid and respectful foundation.

It is all made to look simple. But what a performance!

Commentator Alan Bates writes it 'brings tears to the eyes.....best one yet'. Well said, Alan.