18 August 2015


The first time I heard Take Me Out To The Ball Game, it was being played by Dave Donohoe's Band in Peterborough, England - probably in about 1988. It must have struck me forcibly at the time; otherwise, how would I still remember the occasion?
Now I have come across the song on YouTube being played in New Orleans by Loose Marbles. These musicians (some of whom you will recognise as being also members of Tuba Skinny and The Shotgun Jazz Band) play in New Orleans, to the highest standards, virtually every day; and to them this was probably just another routine performance. But to the rest of us it is a most exhilarating example of how to play traditional jazz really well. The tune romps along, supported by a driving rhythm section of Robin, John, Julie and Todd (the latter on guitar on this occasion). The melody is led in turn by Michael (clarinet), Barnabus (trombone) and Marla (trumpet). Note how brilliantly during the opening choruses these three support each other with the subtlest of quiet background colouring: for me, this is our kind of music at its very best.  And there is a terrific ensemble chorus at the end: you could say it's restrained or understated (nobody is over-blowing) and yet WOW! What excitement! Yes, the playing succeeds in being tasteful and yet thrilling throughout. Marla's vocal is delivered naturally - as ever - from the heart, without electronic amplification.

You can watch the video by clicking on here. Many thanks to the video-maker codenamed Wild Bill for filming it.

Amazing to think Take Me Out To The Ball Game was written as long ago as 1908. The composer was Albert Von Tilzer. Lyrics were provided by Jack Norworth (Take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjack. I don't care if I never get back...etc. As Marla sings it - no doubt thinking of her Toronto background! - If the Blue Jays don't win it's a shame!)

It was originally a waltz, complete with a 32-bar Verse; but for traditional jazz purposes it works brilliantly in 4/4 time if you play just the 32-bar Chorus [16 + 16 structure] in stomping fashion. Improvising is easy. It doesn't use the Bill Bailey chords but the sequence is simple, involving some familiar four-bar blocks, such as the Four-Leaf and Magnolia Progressions.

For those of us outside the USA, this is all very exciting; but correspondent James Sterling tells me Americans still sing the tune all the time, especially at the ball games, and in the original waltz tempo. For example, have a look at this video - click on here.

Here's how I have written it out for my own purposes in my mini-filofax aide-mémoire system.