23 February 2017


The Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band, made up entirely of great lady musicians who are based in New Orleans, is to play at The Umbria Jazz Festival in mid-July 2017. The Festival is held in Perugia, Italy.

Shaye Cohn, who founded the band, has now dropped out and her place is to be taken on trombone by Haruka Kikuchi - the superb Japanese-born musician.

In case you are unaware, let me tell you that in the summer of 2016, Shaye Cohn put together in New Orleans this traditional jazz band comprising only ladies. We are lucky to live at a time when so many of the greatest traditional jazz musicians are ladies and when so many of them happen to have settled in that city.

And in this band, you find SIX of them making up what may well be one of the greatest all-female bands ever.

Another interesting feature of the band is that Shaye Cohn played trombone - something I had never seen her do before. Is there nothing that young lady can't master? Even before this, she had become established as one of the finest trad jazz piano and cornet players of all time, as well as being very good on violin, string bass and accordion. The other ladies are Chloe Feoranzo, Marla Dixon, Defne Incirlioglu, Julie Schexnayder, and Molly Chaffin Reeves - every one a heroine of our musical times.

Shaye's original purpose was to give a demonstration of traditional jazz at the Girls' Summer Band Camp in New Orleans. But the all-ladies band - once formed - was too good to waste and fans pleaded for them to play elsewhere.

They were invited to play at the famous Abita Springs Opry on 19 November. 

The concert they gave was traditional jazz of the finest kind - tasteful and yet always exciting and full of intelligent ideas. They opened with Some Day Sweetheart and then continued with Root, Hog; or Die!Sugar Blues, When You Wore A TulipMake Me A Pallet on the Floor, and - to finish - Hindustan.

Having done the good work behind the scenes, Shaye gave herself a secondary role in performance, leaving Marla to play the trumpet, lead the band and do the announcing.

Everyone was interested to see how Shaye would fare playing her newest instrument.
What she did was exactly what we might expect of her: she played a perfect and accurate though simple and basic line, fully conscious of the harmonising and rhythmic responsibilities of the trombone in our music. On Sugar Blues (played in the rarely-used key of G) she took a complete solo chorus and the audience loved it.

Root, Hog; Or Die! - played in C minor - romped along, with plenty of mini-solos and Marla providing the vocal.

Among the highlights of the concert were a beautiful two-chorus solo by Chloe on Make Me a Pallet (which they played in F) and an exquisite vocal duet at the end of When You Wore A Tulip (played in Ab) with Chloe singing the melody and Marla perfectly harmonising on lower notes. Chloe was also the vocalist on Sugar Blues, which she sang with great passion.

(I am mentioning keys because they differ from those sometimes used for the tunes in question.)

Pumping the band along, Molly on guitar and Julie on string bass provided the chords very solidly, four to the bar; and 'Dizzy' as ever maintained metronomic gentle percussion on the washboard, and took very neat solos, including a full chorus on When You Wore a Tulip.

Molly is a fine singer, as well as being a brilliant player of the guitar and banjo;  and she gave a lovely rendition of Make Me a Pallet. In fact, Make Me a Pallet is my favourite performance in this video. Molly reminds me of Carol Leigh singing with Kid Thomas; and every member of the band plays it beautifully, with terrific teamwork.

Chloe's clarinet was stunningly eloquent throughout and Marla was her usual exuberant self – passionately singing and also playing some wonderful stuff on the trumpet. On this occasion she did not use her famous Derby mute but her playing with the plunger mute on Sugar Blues and Pallet on the Floor was outstanding.

What a treat for us all! Let's hope this band - in addition to its performances in Italy - will continue to get together from time to time and that there will be many more videos for us to enjoy all over the world. The signs are good. The band has continued to accept occasional gigs. For example, they made their début at The Spotted Cat on 25 June 2017.

Shaye herself decided to leave the band early in 2017, and her place on trombone was taken by the great Haruka Kikuchi. And when Molly Reeves was not available, her place was taken by the excellent singer-guitarist Cristina Perez Edmunds.

You can watch the Abita Springs performance by going to Abita Springs' own site and then clicking on the arrow by the name of the band:
It is also to be seen here:
Sure enough, the ladies seem to have had a great time and to have been popular in Italy. There are on YouTube several videos of them at the Festival.
I am deeply indebted to my blog-reading friend and Louisiana resident Michael Brooks for supplying me with some of the information.