21 January 2016


On the streets of New Orleans, there are now several great young 'string bands' to be heard. It is not just standard traditional jazz bands that have flourished there in the last ten years.
The Hokum High Rollers -
busking at night in Frenchmen Street
The string bands are direct descendants of the string and jug bands from the 1930s, such as The Dixieland Jug Blowers, The South Street Trio, The State Street Boys, The Dallas String Band, The Mississippi Sheiks, The Memphis Jug Band, The Grinnell GiggersThe Mississippi Mud Steppers, Bo Carter's Bands, King David's Jug Band and many others, who have inspired them and from whom they derive much of their repertoire. The music of string bands also of course fed directly into the 'country' and 'bluegrass' genres.

One of the best of today's bands is The Hokum High Rollers. There are plenty of good videos of them on YouTube. If you haven't yet watched it, try this one as an example of their brilliance: Click Here.

And have a look at this remarkable video of a tune they added to their repertoire at the end of 2016. It is Toots, a great ragtime number composed by Felix Arndt and recorded in 1914 by Arndt himself on piano with Dr. Clarence Penney on mandolin:
What vituosos they are! And if you wish to hear how true to the original their recording is, you can listen to the 1914 recording by Arndt and Penney here:

I was delighted to come across The Hokum High Rollers busking in Royal Street during my April 2016 visit to New Orleans. Listening and watching from close quarters showed me they work hard, take their playing very seriously and have attained the highest technical standard of musicianship. They gave a very entertaining performance.

I recorded a video of them. You can watch it BY CLICKING HERE.

'But is this strictly traditional jazz?' you ask. Well, it certainly works in exactly the same way as traditional jazz and much of the repertoire overlaps. The main difference from more conventional traditional jazz lies in the instrumentation. But string bands even occasionally include a clarinet - or a cornet or trombone.

And the musicians are comfortable whether playing in a string band or in a stock traditional jazz band. For example, you will notice that two members of The Hokum High Rollers in my video are also members of Tuba Skinny. And the tune they are playing - Michigander Blues - has also become popular with many jazz bands since Tuba Skinny started playing it a few years ago.