24 October 2015


When you come across an Englishman who is still in his early 20s and who enjoys playing traditional jazz and has strong opinions about it, you have to sit up and take notice.

Laurence  Marshall (sousaphone, trumpet, washboard, whistles, trombone, vocals) while still at school in Scarborough (on the north-east coast of England) organised the young group that calls itself The Jelly Roll Jazz Band. They are still playing together a few years later.

I found the opinions of this young man well worth noting.

I sort of got into trad jazz around the time I was getting into the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. I was into magic and art and stuff, and I think trad jazz is just good fun.

We initially set up the band for a church fayre. As I wanted to play sousaphone, I borrowed a tuba and wrote out some march cards with tunes on that I'd picked out from listening to bands and from what sheet music I could get hold of. We soon started busking - I eventually bought a sousaphone. We did a lot of busking, and trad was perfect as the repertoire we played was happy and upbeat and lots of people know the tunes in the backs of their heads. It always made us some pocket money and it's very fun music to play as you can do whatever you want really. 

I don't think it's particularly intellectual or academic music, which draws me even more to it. It is about making a good vibe, and as buskers we're good at that - we have a laugh and muck around and enjoy the more abstract instruments such as the spoons and washboard. So really it wasn't that I got into trad: it got into me.

It is just a music which I think suits certain people, as I feel it definitely has an ethos to it. We all get a lot of enjoyment out of playing it, and listening to other people who like doing the same sort of stuff as us. 

I now play full-time - mainly old jazz, r'n'b, and novelty music as well as everything else. I like to stay open to a lot of music, unlike a lot of trad fans. I've had people walk out of trad jazz clubs because there was a violin in the band. I think this is the reason a lot of young people don't get into trad - because of some of the narrow-minded older people who work hard to put people off. These people have no ownership of it. Although they came up through a trad revival in the fifties, this was all just copied. Neither the fans nor the musicians had anything to do with the origins of the music, and in fact did little to develop the genre. This is why fans should be open to creativity and development within the genre. Otherwise they are pinning it down, saying it has been made so now let's box it up and look at it in a reminiscent way, back to when we had "our" revival. 

But if trad is to attract a younger audience, young musicians playing this style must be celebrated and the ways they change and embrace the music must be encouraged, or we are just trying to remake a remake. I think a big thing for clubs would be to lose the word 'jazz', as a lot of people misinterpret that as meaning atonal, eyes-down, non-entertaining and non-inclusive. But trad is the opposite to that, and it seems popular as a jazz sub-genre because there are many young people who enjoy the associated fashions and swing dancing. 

As a musician I enjoy the accessibility and the room for self-expression. I enjoy the effects and trickster ways in which you can play your instrument, and the ways in which gags and a bit of goofing around only add to the music. 

This is a bit of a rant, but I think that the trad community needs ranting at, as although what I have said is not true of everyone (I have had wonderful times and seen nothing but encouragement from many clubs), it does apply to those who are stuck in their ways and do not offer a welcoming, open audience for bands, new fans and dancers and who therefore may put off young people. I suspect many of these kinds of people don't want young people in 'their' clubs, but without breaking down age barriers and integrating, the music will be buried with its audience. 

We should all love trad together and embrace how the music is living and breathing now in our modern society, so that we can all share a lot of stories of past gigs, future ideas and silly lyrics, and have a good knees-up.

What a lot of wisdom from young Laurence!