17 June 2015


Chris Reilley
I have received an article for publication written by my friend Chris Reilley, who has played piano in bands here in the English Midlands for several decades. Thank you, Chris, and I hope many readers will find this technical material very informative. Here is the article.

Devices: Breaks, Stops, Riffs, Rhythms and More

One of the most interesting aspects to me in playing Jazz (Jass) music is the playing of the above types of additions to the tune arrangements as these additions bring new excitement and anticipation both to listeners and dancers which is not heard in any other form of Dance Music.

In my case and in bands I have played with I have used the “Break” in one of my solos independently of the established “Break point” by calling “Break” to the rest of the Rhythm section at a point of my own choice and this can change from performance to performance. Sometimes other members of the front line do the same with a direct signal during their solo. This can be risky on occasion and we all have to be on our toes, but the unexpected act can create a thrilling spontaneous effect.

Now to explain each term used becomes somewhat more difficult as these “terms” are used mostly in jazz music and so far I have not found a book which deals with this in any way whatsoever. The “AB Guide To Music Theory" by Eric Taylor which I have used on past occasions makes no mention of the terms “Breaks”, “Stops” or “Riffs” and anyway I suspect that these terms are more likely covered by books on Musical Arrangement (which I do not own). So the following are my interpretation of these terms:-

Break:- A rhythmical pause in the music which allows one (or more) instruments to play an improvised passage of arranged length without accompaniment.

For example see:- Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers – Doctor Jazz:
The breaks start in the first 8 Bars of the introduction and continue throughout the rest of the tune, including the vocal. See my Chords – below.
An interesting comparison is the same recording by Joe “King” Oliver – the composer of this tune can be heard on:-
where the arrangement is slightly different and they also play the verse.

Also a fine example of a “Split Break” where two instrumentalists share an 8-beat Break, the first taking 1 Bar followed rapidly by the other. For example see:- Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang, 1927 – At The Jazz Band Ball
For those as long in the tooth as I am, a treat from 1954 with a well-known British band: Humphrey Lyttelton's The Onions. Originally recorded by Sidney Bechet, one of the few tunes to feature an Audience Vocal Break:-

Stops:- A series of one or several beat notes played as short breaks played behind a soloist by the rest of the band in rhythm.

For example see Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five – Once in a While (not the well-known song)
This also features breaks as well. It is interesting to hear even the great Kid Ory drops a “Cod” on this not easy “Stops” passage near the end.

Another example is by Clarence Williams' Washboard Four – Candy Lips
The stops come in on the Washboard Solo again near the end.

Riffs:- A riff is more commonly associated with swing bands, but it is used with many smaller jazz bands as well. You may suggest that there is no difference between Stops and a Riff. My response would be that the Stops usually include the Rhythm section but with a Riff the rhythm is not broken. 

It is found usually when a solo is being taken by a member of the band and the remaining front line (and sometimes part of the rhythm section also) will play a rhythmic passage (i.e. in the form of an “Answer” theme) behind the soloist. Sometimes just repeating a single note of the chord. For example see Duke Ellington playing Cotton Club Stomp:

For a later recording by Sidney Bechet of All Of Me see:-

The Riffs at the beginning and end are long notes only, whereas in the Trumpet's and Bechet's solo they are repeating notes.

Rhythms:- Apart from the most common which is the Waltz, most Traditional Jazz Tunes have been composed in Common time, i.e. 4/4. There are some notable exceptions, for example the verse of Saint Louis Blues by W.C. Handy where the verse is played in a Minor key and with a Latin Rhythm. 

N.B. “Latin Rhythm” is a generic term which covers a wide range of styles, some of which are referenced below.

An example of this is:- St. Louis Blues. Blues legend Bessie Smith's only film appearance. Uncut 1929. See:-

Some Bands play the Latin Rhythm Verse first. Others go into it after playing the Chorus. The above film gives a rare insight into Bessie Smith performing in moving picture form. 

There is also a tune called Mamanita by Jelly Roll Morton. See:-

Jelly Roll Morton used many “Devices” which he describes in the Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress recordings which are worth a listen, including Latin Rhythms. See:- 

One very sadly missed English trumpet player – Dan Pawson - took great pride in playing unusual tunes in his own inimitable style, some of which were hits from the early days of Music Hall and he played several tunes in a Latin Rhythm. One of these is by Dan Pawson's Artesian Hall Stompers, called Take Her To Jamaica. See:-
Yet another by the same band is Amor. See:- 

Another source of Latin Rhythm is heard in some New Orleans Parade Bands. This example is of The Treme Brass Band at the Red Beans and Rice Parade – 2013 playing Big Chief. See:-

March Time (2/4) – commonly called “two beat”. Again a very general term but below are some examples:-

One of these is a very well-known performance of a pseudo March. It can be heard in the Glen Miller version of Saint Louis Blues. See:- 

In New Orleans there are still “Parade Bands” that play very authentic New Orleans March Styles. An early example of this is the recording of Eureka Brass Band - Lady Be Good. See:- 

As these bands were more often followed by a “second line” (dancers), the March Style had to be played with a grand amount of “swing”.

Introductions and Endings


From the earliest Rags originally composed for Piano. See The Entertainer (Piano Ragtime, Joplin):

and The Ragtime Dance - (Scott Joplin, 1906):

......to a modern film score with both tunes. The Entertainer/Rag Time Dance:-

Most early composers incorporated a “Scored Introduction” into their composition. It has been suggested that the reason for the “Introduction” was for the dancers to appreciate being given an idea of what the tune was called, its style (e.g. “One Step”, “Two Step”, “Waltz” or even “Latin”) and its tempo, before deciding to take part in the dance. This followed the arrangements of earlier formal dance types (e.g. barcarolle, mazurka and polonaise).

From the early days of classic jazz bands (e.g. Joe “King” Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, etc.) the bands would play the “scored” arrangement, or play the last 4 or 8 Bars of the Chorus instead.

See the Bunk Johnson version of I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate:
or the Graham Bell Version – same tune with verse:-
or by Wild Bill Davidson – with verse, using a very common (some say “corny”) ending:-
See My Chords:-

These tend to follow a similar framework to the “Introductions”, with a repeat of the last 8, 4 or even 2 Bars of the Chorus. There are, however some notable exceptions:-

For instance an example from Jimmy Yancey, playing Yancey Stomp, where the ending bars are in a different key:-

Bouncing Around by A.J. Piron:-

My chords with New Orleans Hot Shots arrangement:-
or by Piron again New Orleans Wiggle:-

As A.J. Piron and Peter Bocage composed both of these tunes, the sheet music would have had not only the Ending but also the Introduction as recorded.

Also see Sister Kate by Wild Bill Davidson – above.

For standard 32 Bar tunes with no arranged ending, the lead (normally the Horn) will signal to the rest of the Band when he/she would like the tune to end and will wind up with a well-established phrase, usually copied from a well-known instrumentalist in a previous time.

There are numerous examples, of which I relate only a few:-

You Tell Me Your Dream by the Mardi Gras Jazz Band :-

Any Time by Kid Thomas:-

Percy Humphrey's Crescent City Joy Makers - Over In The Gloryland:-

Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five - Knee Drops 1928:-

Dinah - Muggsy Spanier and his Ragtime Band:-

See My Chords:-
Poor Butterfly - Bunk Johnson & Don Ewell:-

Ken Colyer: Postman´s Lament:-

Wynton Marsalis plays Buddy Bolden Blues:-

Tempo Change

The effect of Tempo Change can be a bit disconcerting for those who wish to dance to a tune being played by a jazz band (or for that matter any dance band ) as the dancers have to be prepared for it.

Two examples:- Bix Beiderbecke - Since My Best Girl Turned Me Down:
Dinah - Muggsy Spanier and his Ragtime Band:-

Again the reader might know of many other recordings which have this feature.

Please note the chords included are from my own personal collection (still building from existing 800+ tunes). Any enquires for availability can be made through this Blog.

I have chosen all the “Devices” which are of the most interest to me as a piano player. I have not included references to “Key Changes” as this might be covered at a later date and it tends to be more complicated, but if the reader has any additional ideas that he/she would like to be added, please let me know.
                Chris Reilley. (February, 2015)