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1 March 2014

Post 126: 'ORIENTAL STRUT', JOHNNY ST. CYR, LOUIS, AND TUBA SKINNY

An appearance on YouTube of Tuba Skinny playing Oriental Strut (CLICK HERE to watch it) prompted me to give some thought to this tune, which is a little more complex than most, and not easy to play.

It was written in 1926 by Johnny St. Cyr and famously recorded that year by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five (with St. Cyr himself on banjo).

Tuba Skinny take it at a slightly quicker pace than Armstrong. Their performance lasts for 3 minutes 13 seconds (about 4 seconds longer than Armstrong's) but with Tuba Skinny you get 32 more bars.

It may be heresy to say so, but - as an arrangement - I prefer Tuba Skinny's to Armstrong's.

The key for Tuba Skinny is F (and the related key D minor). The Armstrong version today sounds (very improbably) in E, but I think 90 years ago the standard pitch was different; so he was most likely also playing it in F (D minor).

Tuba Skinny differs from Armstrong in going back to play Themes A and B again - after two choruses of Theme C. Also the cornet player (Shaye Cohn) chooses to play only 16 bars against stop chords in her 'solo', whereas Armstrong plays the full 32 bars - not sharing with another player.

HOT FIVE
TUBA SKINNY
1. Introduction: 4 bars clearly establishing the D minor key; followed by 4 bars – piano – vamping on the D minor key.
Introduction: 4 bars clearly establishing the D minor key; followed by 4 bars – tuba-led – vamping on the D minor key.
2. THEME A: 16 bars strongly on D minor, with a vamp (piano) at Bars 7 – 8.
THEME A: 16 bars strongly on D minor.
3. THEME B: 16 bars - brighter because now in the related major key of F. Using The Salty Dog Chord Sequence and ending on the chord of C7 to lead neatly into THEME C. THEME B: 16 bars - brighter because now in the related major key of F. Using The Salty Dog Chord Sequence and ending on the chord of C7 to lead neatly into THEME C.
4. THEME C: 32-bar Main Theme in F. Trombone takes first 16 bars, Clarinet the next 16. Banjo 2-bar link in bars 31-32 (the composer's chance to shine!) THEME C: 32-bar Main Theme in F. Trombone takes all 32 bars, but with backing from cornet and clarinet in the final 16.
5. THEME C: 32-bar Main Theme in F. This is Louis's solo and chance to shine against stop chords. But the whole band joins in at the final eight. THEME C: 32-bar Main Theme in F. Ensemble, but this time the clarinet takes a sprightly lead.
6. THEME C: 32-bar Main Theme in F. All ensemble but with Louis's cornet dominating (and Johnny St. Cyr again taking a two-bar break at bars 15-16). A clever 32-bar surprise: Back to THEME A: 16 bars in D minor, with the tuba taking the first eight and the full ensemble the next eight. THEME B: 16 bars in F played ensemble but ending with a washboard two-bar offbeat break.
7. Very pleasant rallentando coda, two bars. THEME C: 32-bar Main Theme in F. This is Shaye's solo against stop chords, but unlike Louis she chooses to play only the first 16 bars in this way. We then have the washboard for 8 bars against dotted crotchet double stop chords, and the whole band back in for the final 8 bars.
8.

Two bar tag, no rallentando, with neat 'chopped' ending.