16 November 2016

Post 446: IS OUR MUSIC DYING OUT?

Is our music dying out? Thank goodness, despite certain causes for alarm in my country, the answer is 'NO!'

There are plenty of wonderful young musicians around the globe who have discovered the musical styles and repertoire of a century ago and are playing traditional jazz with great skill and passion. For an immediate example, have a look at a video of Don't Go Away, Nobody played by young musicians in Tokyo (CLICK HERE) to see what I mean.
But let me tell you about what has happened here in England.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, traditional jazz was extremely popular in Britain. There were hundreds of bands, from full-time professionals performing at the Royal Festival Hall to enthusiastic amateurs who entertained in the back rooms of pubs. Their music was inspired by the New Orleans and Chicago jazz of the period 1910 - 1930 and also by the revival of traditional jazz after the Second World War by bands such as that of George Lewis.

Occasionally a record made by a British jazz band would even make it into the week's 'Top Ten'.

But from the era of the Beatles and disco music onwards, traditional jazz fell into decline. It is now given very little air time on British radio and virtually none on television.

Ten years ago, I noticed audiences at traditional jazz club concerts in England were becoming sparse and the average age of members of the bands was about 65.

Now, it's even worse: there are places where you can find trad jazz being played in Britain (usually still in the back rooms of pubs) but the musicians are dying out. A typical pub band today comprises musicians aged 75 or over.
The kind of retired people I have known in such bands over these years include men who formerly worked as a plasterer, a dentist, an electrician, two doctors - one of them a heavy-smoker(!), two maths teachers, a laboratory technician, a car dealer, a builder, a music shop salesman, a school caretaker and a telephone engineer. On one night a week, they would come together and make pretty good music. Their reward? Nothing, other than a 'first drink free' from the bar.

Traditional jazz in Britain has become the pursuit of a tiny minority. But at least it is still alive - just about. Pretty well every month I hear of yet another jazz club (some of them that have been running for decades) closing down because of poor attendances and lack of revenue.

But I constantly hear of new young bands setting up, especially elsewhere in the world. One of the latest is The Stone Arch Jazz Band in Minneapolis, founded by the talented and tasteful clarinet-player Richard Lund. Have a look at their website: Click here to view. And note that the band has already made some stylish videos, such as this one: Click here to view.


The band called The Fat Babies, based in Chicago, are highly respected and I am told they play regularly at The Green Mill Bar in that City. You can find plenty of their videos on YouTube.

And The Dirty River Dixie Band, founded in Texas and playing a very energetic kind of dixieland music, was able to announce towards the end of 2016 that the average age of its members was under 25.

The situation in such countries as Australia, Germany, Canada, Spain, Italy and Denmark, as far as I can tell, gives some encouragement. Correspondent Michael Meissner has introduced me to Queen Porter Stomp in Sydney, Australia. Here they are, and you can easily find examples of this fine young band's work on YouTube:
Regular correspondent Robert Duis recommends looking at videos of Malo's Hot Five and Attila's Rollini Project; and my friend Anders Winnberg in Sweden has assured me there are plenty of good bands operating in his country, where the Gothenburg Jazz Festival is a major event. And Ray Andrew in Perth, Australia, has told me the traditional jazz scene is very strong in his city and that the young are being attracted to it. Even Finland - a country remote from New Orleans and with a population of well under six million - has the very pleasant Birger's Ragtime BandAlso in Finland there is a band called Doctor Jazz: it seems to me to be bright and recently formed; and several of the players are relatively young.

Regular reader Phil in the USA has recommended the Moscow-based young bands The Kickipickles and The Moscow Ragtime Band. You may find their work on YouTube.

And in Japan, especially, as I indicated above, traditional jazz seems to be going through a boom period. Some of the best in the world is being played in Tokyo. Seek out the performances on YouTube made by the video-maker codenamed ragtimecave.

So, we do not have to accept that traditional jazz is on the way out!

Above all, I can tell you there is great old-time jazz being played by YOUNG people on the streets of New Orleans. They are the hope for the future; and I believe the Internet is spreading their influence so rapidly that there will be yet another big revival of this kind of music.

In the days before Hurricane Katrina, you would have thought of Bourbon Street as the main hub for jazz in New Orleans. But now it is Frenchmen Street, in the Faubourg Marigny - a road full of jazz bars and clubs. There are over twenty traditional jazz bands playing professionally in New Orleans - more than at any previous time in jazz history.

To see what I mean, even if you can't get to New Orleans, try spending some time on YouTube. You will be amazed at the quality of the traditional jazz being produced by instrumentalists mostly in their twenties and thirties; and there are plenty of singers of outstanding ability too.

I have written before about Tuba Skinny - currently considered the best of all the groups. They are not only technically brilliant; they also take great care over arrangements and presentation of tunes, and they have been reviving great old melodies that were in danger of being forgotten. Have a good look and listen to their work. But you may also care to try any of these groups on YouTube. Just type their names in and indulge yourself with some fine music:

Tuba Skinny
Rhythm Wizards Jazz Band (CLICK HERE to sample their tasteful playing)
Loose Marbles
Little Big Horns
The Cottonmouth Kings
Smoking Time Jazz Band
Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess
Jenavieve Cook and the Royal Street Winding Boys
Yes Ma'am String Band
The Shotgun JazzBand (led by the dynamic Canadian trumpeter and singer Marla Dixon: CLICK HERE for an exciting example of their work)
Stalebread Scottie and His Gang
The Gentilly Stompers
Emily Estrella and the Faux Barrio Billionaires (Emily is originally from Cincinatti)
Hokum High Rollers
The Sluetown Strutters
The Palmetto Bug Stompers
The Jazz Vipers
The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys
Orleans 6 (led by the excellent Ben Polcer)
Sour Mash Hug Band
Baby Soda

In St. Louis, Missouri, The Sidney Street Shakers play exactly the kind of jazz I like best - unpretentious, straightforward, exciting, with good teamwork and just right for dancers. And note elsewhere The California Feet Warmers - a fairly young band playing slick, well-prepared traditional jazz.

All terrific stuff. So heart-warming; and giving great hope for the future.

And even in Britain there is hope. Have a look at the videos of The Brownfield/Byrne Hot Six to discover some technically-brilliant swinging jazz being played by chaps who seem to be still in their twenties.

Also from Britain, seek out the videos of Adrian Cox, or Ben Cummings, or The Graham Hughes Sunshine Kings, or Giacomo Smith, or The Basin Street Brawlers. You will have a pleasant surprise.

Elsewhere, you may find such good young bands as Magic Shook Heads and The Hippocampus Jass Gang in the south of France: their videos are worth watching. And in Buenos Aires, you have the Jazz Friends - a terrific, fluent band, whose range of instruments sometimes includes the 'pinkullo' - a South American flute.

In the North-Eastern corner of Italy we find the young Adovabadan Jazz Band of Treviso playing some very tasteful traditional jazz. For example, click here to see them performing Cake Walking Babies From Home.

In the Rhine-Neckar area of Germany, a newly-formed band of energetic and enthusiastic young musicians has shown what can be achieved even with a limited range of instruments. They call themselves Die Selbsthilfe-Gruppe (The Self-Help Group) and you can find examples of their work on YouTube.

am sure there must be many other such bands around the world. I would be pleased to receive more information.

And on top of all that, the astonishing response to this blog proves there is still great interest in the music. I started the blog in 2013 - just as a little hobby in my old age - and I am amazed to find that it is now being looked more than 15,000 times a month by people from all over the world.