4 May 2017


On 17 September 1926 King Oliver took his Jazz Band into the Chicago Studio to record his composition Snag It. Two takes of the tune survive. Both are available on YouTube.

VERSION ONE: This strikes me as the weaker version, but it has some interesting features (a Chorus led by the tuba; and a 2-bar Coda) that were not on the better version. Also, there is no vocal. My guess is that Oliver would not have been too happy with his own playing (some superfluous notes in the Introduction; and the now-famous four-bar break taken a  shade too hastily) and that he would have considered the final two choruses less tidy than on VERSION TWO.

VERSION TWO: This is better played overall. In structure, the main differences are that it drops the tuba solo chorus and substitutes a vocal chorus. There is also some vocal commenting (which I could have done without) over the final two choruses. Also, Version Two drops the Coda.

Both versions, however, were well crafted, using pretty much the same scheme (the 8-bar Introduction followed by seven 12-bar blues choruses, all in Eb). Oliver had clearly given the piece a lot of thought. It was to have that striking dramatic eight-bar Introduction and then an ensemble first chorus before a second chorus in which the trombone would take the lead against a gentle long-note accompaniment. He would begin the fifth chorus on his cornet with the four-bar break which has since become the one thing in the recording that everybody remembers. The final two choruses would be based on a pleasant riff (played gently by the reeds, with a counter-melody from the cornet and steady soft accompaniment).

But what I have deliberately not mentioned so far is something that strikes me as one of the most interesting features - the rhythmic accompaniment to the third chorus. The clarinet plays the melody, supported by a repeated two-bar rhythmic pattern that goes like this:| 

If that seems hard to follow, listen to it at 1 minute 14 seconds into this YouTube version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6fkstiMAbc

This inventive, unusual rhythmic pattern is, for me, one of the best things in 'Snag It'. I think it is something we could all attempt (not only when playing this tune) as it would give badly-needed variety to our rhythmic accompaniments.

It is quite tricky to get the drums, guitar or banjo, bass and piano all hitting this rhythm precisely together. It may need practice. But it is well worth the effort.

Listen again to the full King Oliver recording and see what you think.